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)
Think back to that first time we see Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
We've a bar full of "scum and villainy" in a desert town with some swaggering...moreThink back to that first time we see Han Solo in the Mos Eisley Cantina.
We've a bar full of "scum and villainy" in a desert town with some swaggering Federales (a.k.a. Stormtroopers). We've the big, mute(-ish) sidekick. We've local hicks seeking out a gun-for-hire. And we've a bounty hunter about to bring our pseudo-hero in alive (somewhere), or dead if necessary.
So our gunslinger leans back in his chair, preps his gun, and casually and remorselessly blows away the bounty hunter. The archetype is clear. Han Solo is a "space cowboy."
There's still some of that in Empire Strikes Back, yet he's already a bit more like Shane -- the retired and reluctant gunslinger -- and it's pretty much all gone by the time he's out of carbon freeze in Return of the Jedi.
Never fear, though, space cowboy, gunslinging, bad ass Han Solo is still on full magnificent display in 1979's Han Solo's Revenge, and thanks to Brian Daley's robust telling, Han gets to wear the cowboy as a second skin.
Solo shows off his piloting (riding) skills in a couple of breathtaking chases. He gets into some dirty-fighting hand-to-hand combat, dishing out bites and head butts whenever required. And he even winds up in a duel (which ends in a nice little twist) with a classic, moustachioed interstellar gunslinger named Gallandro.
Sounds good, doesn't it? It is, but there's more.
If you like Han Solo as he is meant to be, you will love Brian Daley’s Chewbacca. Forget the cuddly oversized puppy dog, this Chewie is the Wookie of legend -– a furry behemoth who really is capable of pulling people's arms out of their sockets. He is a kick-ass first, don’t bother asking questions kinda Wookie, and it is easy to believe that he’d be an intimidating character hovering over Han’s shoulder.
So if you want a Han Solo tale that tells it like it was, that offers Han as he was meant to be, Han Solo’s Revenge is for you. And if you think it is better that Greedo shoots first you need to stay away, and I am sorry, but there is no cure for your affliction. (less)
I am not sure why she couldn't simply have finished her story before the Star's End adventure happened (but I haven't finished her book either. I paused my reading so that I could read Daley's book, so I will return to her book tonight), but since I had the Daley books handy, she nudged me into reading the source of the interlude, and it would have been better for Crispin's Han Solo if I hadn't been diverted.
See my Han Solo love runs deep. It burst out fully formed in 1977 when I watched him blow away Greedo, then nonchalnatly toss a credit to the barkeep, saying, "Sorry about the mess." My Han Solo was a genuine criminal. A drug running, pragmatic, mercenary S.O.B., whose only redeeming qualities were charm, skill and loyalty. And it was the latter which would lead him into becoming the only Star Wars character with a genuine arc. Come Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo found himself sucked into the Rebellion with a burgeoning love for Leia and a feeling of responsibility for Luke. Once there his other natural gifts flourished, and he began to change in a logical, believable way. He slowly became a "good man."
Unfortunately, much of that was undermined in Return of the Jedi when Solo began to make decisions that made no sense at all -- like giving Lando, his betrayer, the Falcon, behaving like an idiot schoolboy in his relationship with Leia, and behaving like a knob everywhen else (and it didn't help at all that Lucas had Solo dispatch Boba Fett through sheer luck rather than ruthlessness or skill).
The message of Return of the Jedi (particularly when coupled with Lucas's later decision to have Greedo shoot first) was that Han Solo was weak, and he'd always been a good man. He just hadn't been surrounded by the right people. And that's the Han that AC Crispin loves and embraces. Don't get me wrong. That Han's okay, and I was enjoying reading about him. And Crispin genuinely loves that Han. But that Han is not my Solo, and I miss the character I fell in love with as a kid.
Crispin led me back to him, though.
He is fully present in Daley's Han Solo at Star's End. A little more hard SciFi than contemporary Star Wars books, along with clunkier dialogue and a heavy reliance on space tech, the first in Daley's trilogy was published in 1979 -- one year before Empire Strikes Back appeared on screens -- and it breathes freely without the density of the now massive Star Wars canon. So Daley's Han Solo is the original Han Solo. His Han Solo is still the Han Solo who would publicly execute a bounty hunter without remorse, and go charging after a pack of stormtroopers at the heart of the Empire's ulimate weapon.
And what does this original Han Solo do in Daley's book? Well, he cares first and foremost about his ship, which is right and proper; he cares next about Chewbacca; and these loyalties, the Falcon and Chewie, embroil him in the Star's End adventure -- not some bullshit, post-Empire apologetic idealism. And while he's busy improving the Falcon and saving Chewie from some nasty torture, he vents a traitor into space with brutal pragmatism. He kills anyone who gets in the way of his goals, and aids anyone who can help him achieve the same. He slaughters hundreds, maybe thousands of prisoners with a split second decision that is good only for him and his closest friends, then saves a droid to which he's suddenly become loyal over the course of his adventure. He does what is good for Solo, and everything else can suck his vapour trail.
This isn't just Daley's Han Solo. This is my Han Solo, and it was nice to have him back, even if it was only for one hundred and eighty pages. But now I am faced with the prospect of returning to George Lucas' butchered Han Solo in the hands of AC Crispin. A Han Solo who is heroic on an epic scale, a Han Solo who takes in stray street kids, loathes slavery, and is already busy working for the Rebellion without even knowing it, and I am pretty sure it isn't going to be anywhere near as fun as it was before I was sent off to read Han Solo at Star's End.
Nice job, Crispin. Whatever star rating you receive for Rebel Dawn will be all your fault. (less)
Rebel Dawn would deserve ★★★★★ stars for the clever and entertaining way A.C. Crispin works us to the moment when Han meets Luke & Obi-Wan, if onl...moreRebel Dawn would deserve ★★★★★ stars for the clever and entertaining way A.C. Crispin works us to the moment when Han meets Luke & Obi-Wan, if only ...
Rebel Dawn would deserve ★★★★ stars had it not claimed to be a Han Solo book. The interesting part of the story, what actually drives the tale along, is the fascinating battle between Jabba's Desilijic clan and Durga's Besadii clan. For the bulk of this book, Jabba and Durga appear to be protagonist and antagonist. This book would have been really good, if only ...
Rebel Dawn would deserve ★★★ stars as a romance. The love story of Bria Tharen (rich girl turned religious junky turned Rebel leader) and Han Solo is okay, probably more than okay if you're into grocery store romances, especially if one ignores what it does to Han's growth as a character in Episodes IV & V. There's tension, there's betrayal, there's stupidity (and not on the side of Han, which is refreshing), and there's some love too. This would have been an interesting tale, if only ...
Rebel Dawn really wouldn't deserve ★★ stars under any circumstances (well ... I suppose if I had just finished a nice bottle of red wine after a yummy meal I could muster that extra star). Aaaah, if only ...
If only A.C. Crispin had left Brian Daley's Han Solo Adventures alone. But she didn't. For a bizarre ninety-nine pages, over a quarter of this book, Han Solo is nowhere to be seen because he is off in the Corporate Sector and Tion Hegemony having genuine Han Solo (and Indiana Jones) adventures.
For three chapters, Crispin turns her final Han Solo novel into a Lando Calrissian-Bria Theran-Boba Fett-Jabba the Hutt-fest, and the only glimpse we get of Han is a crappy, italicized encapsulation of Daley's novels (okay, we do get a glimpse of Han in those ninety-nine pages). That's not what I signed up for, and it pissed me off.
And it wasn't necessary. There must have been a way to work it so that her timeline would not interfere with the timeline of the Han Solo Adventures. Surely she could have written her adventures so Daley's fit between her books. The big problem, though, is that Daley's books are BETTER. They are more fun. They are better representations of the Han Solo that I love rather than the Han Solo of Lucas' "fixes." And they are actually about Han Solo rather than all the people he will meet in the movies.
But Crispin forces the juxtaposition between her books and Daley's. Her interjections of Daley's plots pushed me to interrupt my reading of her books and read his instead. And every time I finished one of his books, I hated this final Crispin book more and more. ★ star is all this is worth now. No matter how good some parts of this novel were, Crispin damaged my enjoyment too deeply by begging me to compare her to Daley. Bad call, Crispin. I'd like to think it wasn't yours, that you were forced into it by Uncle George. It wouldn't surprise me, but it wouldn't make a difference to my rating either.(less)
This is one of the greatest comic book story arcs ever told.
It has early, rough around the back-hair Wolverine. It has Cyclops at his leadership best....moreThis is one of the greatest comic book story arcs ever told.
It has early, rough around the back-hair Wolverine. It has Cyclops at his leadership best. It has Colossus and Nightcrawler and Storm -- the Russian, the German and the African woman -- at their eighties expectation-blowing pomp. It has the Hellfire Club, the Avengers (embodied by Beast) and the Shi'ar. It has Angel and Professor X. And it has Jean Grey - Phoenix - Dark Phoenix.
Did I mention it has Jean Grey - Phoenix - Dark Phoenix? It does.
It is perfect but for the end. I mean perfect.
Chris Claremont is one of the all time great Marvel writers. His dialogue works, his plotting works, his mind scores multiple hits when it comes to what needs to be said and done. He was the Hitchcock of the Marvel Universe. And his partner was John Byrne. I don't know what tastes are today. I don't care. What I do know is that John Byrne's art spoke to me like no other's. Byrne was a Calgarian (my home town) and he gave birth both to Canada's greatest hero -- Wolvie -- and our greatest superteam -- Alpha Flight -- but he also pencilled some of the greatest sequences in comic history -- and the Dark Phoenix saga was the best of them all.
I hated the ending (and all its humanist drivel), but the rest of the story was unparalleled. I am so glad I reread this after rereading Secret Wars. I would have hated the reread of the latter if I'd reread the former first.
Now, though, I must take a break. If I were to read another comic now, it would suffer by comparison, and there is no way I could be fair. The Dark Phoenix Saga is one of the best stories ever told. What a shame they fucked it up in the X-Men movies. I'd have given anything to see it done right. (less)
Three stars is all I could muster, but I did have fun with this book. It was a great way to rest my brain after finishing Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward....moreThree stars is all I could muster, but I did have fun with this book. It was a great way to rest my brain after finishing Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward.
★★: This was the finest episode of Corellia 90210 EVER! I had no idea until rereading this that Young Han Solo was actually played (at least in the mind of A.C. Crispin) by a Young Luke Perry. Bad boy Han hanging out with the richies from Corellia (some family, and some family of the girl he loves), and he's so handsome and dashing and such a great surfer (oops ... pilot).
+★: Han himself was pretty damn groovy. You can tell that Crispin really has an affinity for his character (or else a love for Harrison Ford), and she delivers a pretty satisfying childhood full of Oliver Twist-y incidents (can you say F8-GN? Clever name for a droid, eh?), abuse at the hands of a bounty hunting bully, and believable dreams of becoming an Imperial Officer. There are some disappointments though ...
-★: ...and those come with the language Han uses. Yeah, yeah, Han says "Sweetheart" plenty in the Trilogy, but does he have to say "Honey" and "Sweetheart" so bloody much? I'd say know. And if I had to read about how "scruffy looking" he was one more time I would have thrown the book across the room (then dutifully picked it up and continued).
-★★: Did Han really need a giant black tiger man as his sidekick/bodyguard? Muuurgh was cool enough, but he was so blatantly a replacement for Chewbacca, and so cheesily a part of another "utopian" society being oppressed by the Empire, that I was more than a little pissed. I was a lot pissed actually, and with Han already spending time with his foster mother, Dewlanna (a fierce old Wookie woman who dies for his freedom), I thought there was more than enough Chewie related idiocy for one book.
+★: But Coruscant was super fucking cool. I kept waiting for a Replicant to leap out from behind a building and break Deckerd's fingers.
+★★★: And I really loved the spice processing planet of Ylesia. The fact that most of the book was set there, with its weak-ass Hutt overlord, Zavval, its Exultation inducing Rhino Priests, the T'landa Til, its Glitterstim factory, its uber-fungus and mud pits, and "High Priest" Teroenza's museum of galactic artifacts -- giving Crispin a chance to weave in some Indiana Jones -- it was a fun place to spend my fantasy hours for a couple of days. I am not entirely convinced the T'landa Til were as "evil" as Crispin wanted them to be -- even for slavers -- but they were still a good set of antagonists for Han.
-★: There was no need for the Princess Leia cameo. Enough of the fangirl crap already. :P
So ... lots of fun, and I'm very glad I gave this a second read. Candy for the brain is good.
Egyptian legends. Bloodthirsty giant felines that spring from common household cats. An über-Cat apocalypse. Armies on the ropes. Only one man who has...moreEgyptian legends. Bloodthirsty giant felines that spring from common household cats. An über-Cat apocalypse. Armies on the ropes. Only one man who has the key to save what's left of humanity. There was real potential here for a seriously fun B-movie, Golden Age of Hollywood style story, or at the very least, something so bad it was good like an Ed Wood Z-movie.
But nope. Jersey Shore musician Johnny Flora's novel is more like an N-movie -- nowhere near good enough to be good and not bad enough to be great.
The fault is in Flora's penchant for exposition and the fact that every character in the book, from an Egyptian neurosurgeon turned world saver to an African American national guardsman to the President of the United States (named Clancy. A tip of the hat to author Tom?), is another version of Johnny Flora.
Exposition first. For the first 53 pages, Alasham (the aforementioned neurosurgeon) listens to his grandfather, Arim (a famous Egyptologist), go on and on about the legend of Zalanon. We hear of ancient battles, Pharaohonic egotism, a plan to save humanity from a future of global warming and overpopulation, all as the two men sit static on the Giza Plateau and bake in the midday sun.
This is when "show, don't tell" would have been a great benefit to the author and reader alike. A prologue with all of that action, with Zalanon and Ramses and Cleeves and Bastet and Zagusah, all doing what they did to force the coming of the über-Cats, would have been a magnificent B-movie beginning. Then, BAM, we could have been thrown into the present where Alasham's grandfather is dead, and Alasham reveals to us that Arim entrusted him with the scrolls and the secret to saving humanity from the Spell of Zalanon.
But nope. We watch the grass grow, then skip twenty-five years to the day of reckoning and the über-Cat apocalypse.
Now the characters. I am going to talk specifically about Alasham. He is a highly educated, Egyptian neurosurgeon. He lives in San Diego when the real action begins, and he has been living there for 25 years. Still, his formative years, the first half of his life, were spent in Cairo. Yet here's how he thinks:
Their restless behavior was the prequel of an impending attack. The landscape was covered with these predators like onions on a T-bone steak. There were more lions on these hills than hippies at the Woodstock festival, except they weren't there for free love. I felt like Davy Crockett looking out of the Alamo at the vast Santa Anna army that hopelessly outnumbered his brave Texas militia.
Quite the string of similes, and a string that is hard to imagine in the brain of an Egyptian neurosurgeon. Not a medical or North African reference in the bunch. And exactly twenty pages later a completely different character, an American military Captain, thinks this: "He couldn't help but feel like Daniel Bowie [sic] at the Alamo as he looked at the fear in the expressions on their faces." Really?! Two men from totally different cultural backgrounds are going to think about the Alamo when the odds are against them. Oh well, at least Flora got the details right.
But nope. It was Jim Bowie at the Alamo, not "Daniel Bowie." And it wasn't "Crockett's ... brave Texas militia," but Bowie's then Travis' men who were hopelessly outnumbered. Surely that's a one or two off, though?
But nope. He even implies that the American Civil War predated Napolean's Hundred Days:
In all of history no battle would be more violent and ferocious, not Gettysburg, Waterloo, or the Invasion of Normandy.
And nowhere in there does he mention any battle from WWI. I admit these are personal annoyances, but when they are added to The Spell of Zalanon's other problems, they are unforgivable.
As is Flora's constant confusing of there - their - they're. As are his lack of punctuation and apostrophe errors. As is the Liger.
Did I say Liger? Yep. I sure did. Sekhmet, a bad ass Egyptian cat-goddess takes the form of a 2,000lb Liger., which could have been silly fun if the rest of the story had achieved its B-movie promise. But in the end it was just silly.
If only The World House had been an episode from The Original Series of Star Trek. I'd have liked it much, much better, although I did like it enough...moreIf only The World House had been an episode from The Original Series of Star Trek. I'd have liked it much, much better, although I did like it enough (surprise, surprise) that I intend to read the sequel. I know ,,, I'm a sucker.
STAR TREK NEXT VOYAGE
KIRK: Captain's Log Stardate 3634.8. After finishing our eventful shore leave on Argelius II, we received orders from Starfleet to return immediately to the Terran System. Months long subspace negotiations between the the Daimoni and the Federation have been interrupted by the sudden onset of an inexplicable cosmic disturbance. Before the Daimoni will return to discussions to officially join the United Federation of Planets, we must discover the source of this strange occurrence and set things right. Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Lt. Pearce -- our old Earth historian and weapons expert -- and I will beam down to heart of the disturbance and do our best to put things right.
INT. ENTERPRISE BRIDGE. WORKING HOURS
SPOCK looks over his shoulder from the direction of his science station.
SPOCK: The temporal disturbance is increasing, Captain. I recommend that immediate action be taken.
KIRK punches his console, and speaks:
KIRK: Dr. McCoy, Lt. Pearce, meet us in the transporter room.
KIRK rises and heads to the lift.
KIRK (CONT'D): Mr. Scott. You have the bridge.
SCOTT (crossing to the Captain's seat): Aye, sir.
Pausing before the lift, KIRK waves SPOCK through the doors.
KIRK: After you, Mr. Spock.
EXT. OLD EARTH. ALLEYWAY. DAY
BONES crouches over the body of LT. PEARCE, checking her vitals with his medical scanner. He looks up.
BONES: She's dead Jim.
KIRK stares spitefully at ASHE, a gun wielding, elderly man in a fedora and raincoat, whose gun is trained on the Captain.
ASHE: I'm afraid you're next, Captain.
SPOCK: The box you hold, Captain, is the heart of the temporal displacement.
KIRK (holding up a non-descript wooden box with Chinese characters): This box?
ASHE: That box, Captain.
ASHE pulls the trigger and the gun barrel flashes.
CAPTAIN KIRK drops from a ladder to avoid a giant, vicious snakes, then shoulder rolls to avoid its strike. He fights a creepy chef in a gleaming kitchen, delivering a double axe handle to the base of the CHEF's neck. He trudges through the snow only to kill a deadly polar bear with his phaser.
INT. WORLD HOUSE. CORRIDOR. LATE DAY*
CAPTAIN KIRK and ASHE are engaged in a heated discussion with CARRUTHERS, a world famous explorer, and PENELOPE, a beautiful woman from the twenties.
KIRK: "Ashe has witnessed these events from a dual perspective: he was there as a younger man and ... as an old man. ... So it all comes down to whether his foreknowledge will be enough for him to change how things occur this time."
ASHE: "And, therefore, how they will have occurred."
KIRK: "It's a paradox."
PENELOPE: "As always, darling, you make sense only to yourself.
PENELOPE stands on her tiptoes, and KIRK embraces her in a lingering, closed mouth smooch.
EXT. ENTERPRISE IN ORBIT
ENTERPRISE orbits earth to the sound of Alexander Courage's theme.
I dug Albertan England, but the changes from the Victorian England I am familiar with were too outrageous, too far beyond what even my whacked-out imagination could accept.
I dug the loups-garous, but there were too many of them, and their spontaneous wolf-man combustion was one pseudo-Sci-Fi step too far for me to suspend my disbelief.
I dug Sir Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne, and even Speke and Palmerston (plastic face and all) were tolerable, but throwing in Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Ismabard Kingdom Brunel stretched my ability to cope. But even that wasn't enough for Hodder. No, no, no. He had to give us a newsboy, nicknamed Quips (so clever), who just happens to be a young Oscar Wilde. But even THAT wasn't enough for Hodder. Nope. The revelation of Wilde's identity came upon his first meeting with a poet named Algy a couple of paragraphs away from the books only use of the word "perambulator." Fuck off.
I dug the "new novella" at the heart of the tale -- Part Two: Being the True History of Spring Heeled Jack -- and would love to have seen all of Hodder's energy poured into that history. As a novella, it might have been nearly as good as H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, but then there's Part One and Three and the Conclusion and the Appendix, and there is an excess of plot and action that is just begging to be streamlined and morphed into a radio play (odd, I know, but I kept hearing the story in my head with the crackling overlay of an old-time radio). I wanted to mess with it and adapt it, or beg Hodder to keep it simple and short, but he was too in love with his own cleverness, and that hurt the literary experience (if not the entertainment experience).
I dug The Mad Marquess and even dug his Mr. Belljar alter-ego, but the way he became the damn dirty ape of Burton's nightmares was ... well ... lame because of everything (such as Ms. Nightengale) that was required to make it work.
I dug Spring Heeled Jack, and I loved the way we watched his loose-ends tie up, but I wanted him to be smarter than he was. Perhaps that's not fair, though.
I dug how Burton finished the tale and made a timeline shaking choice based purely on his selfish desires, but I don’t buy for a second that it was required. The timeline was already irrevocably fucked. Still, "heroic" brutality was refreshing, and it made him feel more like James Bond than Sherlock Holmes.
I dug most of the technological steampunk elements, but I grew thoroughly weary of the eugenic steampunk elements. Again, Wells did it better when he was writing straight up Sci-Fi in the Victorian Era than any steampunk writers can do today when they ape the era for their stories. Herbert George, what would you make of steampunk?
I dug the hint of more tales with Burton and Swinburne, but I think I would rather spend some time in Damascus with Isabel Arundell instead.
I dug The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack, but it was too much of a good thing and not enough of a great thing, and the only way to get to the great would have been to decrease the good because too much good winds up being just okay.
I wonder if Burton and Swinburne will take on Jack the Ripper next? Seems appropriate, and what would the Ripper be in a timeline so fantastically altered? That could actually bring me back to Hodder's Albertan past. I'll cross my fingers and toes.(less)
There are three reasons why I love The Magic of Recluce: 1) it's not like the Star Wars movies in one crucial way; 2) it is built around training rath...moreThere are three reasons why I love The Magic of Recluce: 1) it's not like the Star Wars movies in one crucial way; 2) it is built around training rather than adventure; 3) woodworking.
1) Not Star Wars: There is a line in Empire Strikes Back where Yoda says, "A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, NEVER for attack." There is no equivocation in that. It is NEVER for attack. Pretty simple, I would think. Yet the movies are packed with our Jedis on the offensive, including Yoda in the prequels. I wanted to believe Yoda. I wanted it to be true. I wanted Luke's confrontation with Darth Vader in Bespin to be as much a mistake because of its offensive nature as it was a mistake of his youth.
I've debated and discussed this with many over the years, and one of the most frustrating excuses for the movies is that "there is no other way." I've always argued that there is another way, and that the failure to embrace that other way is a terrible failure of the films and its creator (I am fine with using the violence of attack as an answer, so long as the great guru of our hero doesn't say that it is NEVER for attack). But my argument has been written off as mere theory because while I have argued that there is another way all I had was my assertion that there was. Now I have The Magic of Recluce. Where Lucas fails, Modesitt Jr. succeeds. Where Luke Skywalker fails, Lerris succeeds. Where the flawed use of force fails, order succeeds by letting chaos destroy itself.
Lerris doesn't need big weapons. He actually breaks his own staff at one point and uses a shield as his "weapon." Lerris spends the novel disarming people, avoiding people, protecting people and attempting to bring order to the chaos around him. And there is no loss of excitement in the story. Big action be damned.
2) Training: I am a big sucker for training stories. It has always been one of my favourite aspects of war movies (raw recruits becoming soldiers), martial arts movies (ninja and samurai mastering their weapons), and sports movies (especially the crappy baseball team going back to basics). I suppose it is because I like to learn and I like to teach, but it is also a wonderful tool of storytelling because it breathes life into characters very naturally. Character development must happen. There is no avoiding it when a character's raison d'etre is to change. And here, in The Magic of Recluce, Lerris is learning from the first page to the last, even when he is bored, even when he is seeking, even when he is teaching and even when he is just riding his pony. Lerris learns and that is good.
3) Woodworking: This may seem like an odd reason for loving the story, but the woodworking is quite a beautiful addition to The Magic of Recluce. It grounds our hero, is key to his search for his place in order and chaos, links him permanently to the land of his birth and provides him with an occupation when times get tight. And it is the latter economic use of woodworking that I liked best.
Fantasy novels and their characters rarely worry themselves with anything as mundane as money. Even the poorest farmboy turned hero just goes out in the world and has everything happen for him. There is some early testing adventure that puts him in danger, and when he walks away from it he has a full purse and food just falls into his lap whenever he needs it (either because he is an accomplished hunter or everyone's happy to give their food away). Not for Lerris. He makes his way through the Easthorns after a last ditch escape from Jellico and finds himself short on food and short on funds. So what does he do? He gets himself a gig as a journeyman woodworker and spends a good third of the novel becoming a master builder. This, of course, does much more for him than simply providing money (it is probably the most important part of his personal training), but to see a hero concerned with the day to day difficulties of living pushed The Magic of Recluce into rarified air for me.
It is a damn good novel, but the woodworking? The woodworking makes it great. (less)
• The cover art by Stephen Youll is killer in a cheesy old movie way. So killer that it made me buy this book against my better judgement...moreThe Coolness—
• The cover art by Stephen Youll is killer in a cheesy old movie way. So killer that it made me buy this book against my better judgement. The Gill-man on the cover, looking like he’s just risen from the swamp, dripping water from his forearms with some aquatic flora hanging loose from his chitinous armour, is a hoot, and coupled with old B-movie, Creature font, it is impossible to resist.
• Cody and Brice are nude. A lot! That’s what happens, I guess, when you’re back in the Devonian with the one that you love and no society is around to tell you to keep your clothes on.
• Zombie Gill-men!
• There’s this kick ass burial ritual for the “civilized” Gill-men where they liquefy their dead and return them to The Mother. I would love to have seen this used better in a different context. But it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
• You can’t have a good novel without an issue to revolve around, or at least that’s what I imagine Hackosaurid di Filippo’s creative writing teacher telling him. So di Filippo does the responsible thing and throws in some environmentalism for us. The world’s a mess in 2015 because of of our destruction of the environment, so good ol’ boy Brice wants to splice us together with a Gill-man to save our species from the eventual destruction our industrialization has wrought. Don’t worry, though, there’s no crisis or craziness happening when Brice goes back. Just an increase in temperatures and air conditioning. This could have been an excellent addition if it had been handled with some subtlety, but Hackosaurids are not known for their subtlety. They’re more like T-Rexes trying to be stealthy.
• The stupidity of Cody and Brice was sorta funny to begin with, but then it just gets annoying. What a pair of idiots. Still, it’s really easy to buy their stupidity, so they deserve everything they get. But then the super-genius who created the time machine adds his stupidity to the mix, and the Gill-People are just as stupid as all of them, so the stupidity is interminable and painful.
• There is some really, and I mean REALLY, crappy wish fulfillment going on in this book. Case in point: “You own every part of me now, Brice, whether you ever wanted to or not. Don’t ever forget that.” You see, Cody was almost eaten by a seventy foot, prehistoric shark, but her geeky, marine biologist boyfriend, Brice just happen to nuke it from his kayak with a kick ass automatic rifle, saving her life. Then we get this little vow of personal enslavement, just before a crazy tumble in the bog between the two randy lovers, and all so Brice can daydream about the amazing foreplay that is a near death experience. Gill-man alive!
• AND there is some seriously shitty dialogue. Just consider this gem from Hackosaurid di Filippo when his heroes (and I use the term loosely), lose their iPod time machine and discover they’re stuck in the Devonian: “Brice showed Cody the empty holster on his hip. He tried to be light about their devastating loss. ‘Our ticket home’s been punched already. No mileage left.’” Umm ... need I say more?
• The Gill-folk are telepaths and water shapers and earth shapers and air shapers and aliens! Wow! Don’t you just love sci-fantasy? It’s like the cheesiest X-Men story ever.
• Gill-Folk = Noble Savages = Devonian Utopia. Then the Gill Zombies come and screw it all up. But the “base-line” Gill-People remain so nice and so understanding and soooooo peaceful. Oh joy, oh Devonian bliss. Silly assed foolishness.
• Most of the book. But at least it is better than The Spell of Zalanon. Barely. I better get a good pulpy fix soon our my head is going to explode. Trash is good, but vomit is unacceptable.(less)
WARNING: This is not a review of the books. I plan to write those separately someday. This is, rather, a review of the original Star Wars Trilogy cata...moreWARNING: This is not a review of the books. I plan to write those separately someday. This is, rather, a review of the original Star Wars Trilogy catalyzed by the final episode of Lost. Please don't bother reading this if you're looking for a book review. Thanks.
About twenty years ago, I found myself in a debate about the merits of the Star Wars Trilogy with a guy named Bill (at least I think that was his name. Let’s call him Bill) and my friend Dave. Bill was trying to convince us that the Trilogy was garbage, and Dave and I, proud bearers of nearly matching Star Wars tattoos – his signifying his love for Luke Skywalker and mine signifying my love for Han Solo (more on the tattoo later) – were fighting to defend its excellence. We had a serious reason for our impassioned defence.
But Bill was determined to make us see the error of our ways. He attacked the series’ kindergarten plotting, its crappy dialogue, its special effects obfuscation, its dearth of character development, its terribly pacing, and its general glorification of style over substance. He made a number of valid points, and I was willing to listen (much more willing than Dave who has always had far too much emotion invested in the series to have its greatness assailed) until Bill engaged in this fatal rhetorical device: “It’s because you’re young guys. You watched this when you were kids and you’re nostalgic. Some day you’ll grow up and see that you’re wrong.”
The willingness to listen shut right down, and I carried on debating with a particular focus on character development. Back then there was no Special Edition (and no Prequel to make my defence impossible). Han Solo hadn’t lost the beginning of his arc. He had killed Greedo in cold blood. There was no first shot/self-defence reimagining of the scene from Lucas. So Han Solo showed a clear development from criminal drug smuggler to uncomfortable rebel to passionate lover to loyal friend to self-sacrificing hero. That’s some pretty fair character growth, and even Bill had to concede my point, admitting that he’d missed some of those subtleties, mostly because he’d only seen each movie once, but he stood by his assessment of the Trilogy; it was crap and one good character arc wasn’t going to change that.
The years passed and that debate with Bill became a file locked in my personal databanks. I never had any reason to reopen it. The Special Editions came along and I hated them. It didn’t matter, though, because I still had copies of the original movies, and I could ignore Lucas’ tampering without any difficulty. Then the Prequels came along and I hated them more. But I still had my perceived greatness of the Trilogy to fall back on, so I could simply shake my head at Prequel fans and enjoy my love of the originals.
Then I watched the final episode of Lost, and suddenly my Bill file downloaded into my consciousness. And you know what? He was right. My love for the Star Wars Trilogy was nostalgia.
What I saw in the final episode of Lost was what I should have seen all those years ago in the Trilogy. I saw a show that flattered us to deceive. I saw a series that aspired to be about “characters” but was so about plot (and though its plot was convoluted it wasn’t particularly deep) that the supposedly complex characters boiled down to pretty straightforward redemption stereotypes. I saw production value obfuscation with wide vistas, globe-trotting adventures, blazing guns, smoke monsters and pseudo-spiritual claptrap hiding a deeply banal Daddy-Son reconciliation tale. I saw a pop-culture event that destroyed whatever substance it had with a pandering finale. Is it any surprise that Lost was littered with references to Star Wars or that David Lindeloff grew up loving George Lucas’ mess as much as the rest of us? Seems fitting to me.
So what’s the point of all this? Well...Lost made me see that Bill had it right about me and Star Wars all those years ago. Lost is crap, and so was Star Wars. I was a boy who fell in love with vapid screen candy and my defence of Lucas’ uber-popular mess was and is all about nostalgia.
But I’ll not be defending the series any longer (okay...I may still defend Empire Strikes Back, which is an excellent film. Thanks, Irving Kirshner, for being a real director). Beyond its lack of artistic merit and Lucas’ disregard for the simplest rules of continuity, I have seen little boys indoctrinated into violence simply by watching Jedis train. I’ve seen Star Wars entrench an overly simplistic view of good and evil in our society, which is dangerous in the extreme. And I’ve watched the entire series change the face of film in the most unhealthy ways.
I know this is heresy. I know there’s going to be many of you out there, kind readers, who will disagree and that’s okay. I am finally at peace with my feelings about the Trilogy, and I feel great relief being able to say that the Trilogy is a big steaming pile of Bantha droppings.
And for those of you who are pitying me and my tattoo, don’t worry. The tattoo was always more about Harrison Ford than Han Solo. I can live with the ink in my skin despite my new found disdain for Star Wars.
p.s. Can I just add that I feel terribly sad about having lost these movies? There, I said it. Thank the gods I still have Indiana Jones. (less)
It's been a while since I've been so infuriated by a read. I am pissed this morning after finishing Bitter Seeds because the book is so fucking uneven...moreIt's been a while since I've been so infuriated by a read. I am pissed this morning after finishing Bitter Seeds because the book is so fucking uneven. The highs are very high, but the lows tend to be abyssal. I considered giving it five stars at a couple of points, vowed to give it one star often, and finally decided that I had better split the difference.
Here goes for the Highs and Lows:
High #1 -- The conceit of Nazi engineered superheroes whose presence change the course of the war is a winner. I am loathe to say it is original because an 80s multi-verse timeline in Marvel's Fantastic Four played with that idea, but Tregillis does some original stuff with it, and when he has us hanging out with Dr. von Westarp's damaged children () the book is at its very best. It is, however, partnered by a low.
What we have here in Bitter Seeds is a whole schwack of the silliest kind of Nazis. We have Dr. von Westarp as the creepy, sadistic, human guinea pig using scientist; we have Reinhart as the an overbearing necrophiliac; we have Kammler as a leashed moron; we have Heike as a fragile, suicidal victim.
But then we have Klaus and Gretel, two Nazi Übers, who have real depth and back story. They should bring equilibrium ... except they don't because, you see, they are not "genuine Aryans," not real Nazis, they are Roma, marginalized within their own SS group and treated as other by both their race and their abilities.
Now I don't for a second want the gypsies to change, but some sort of expansion of Kammler or Heike, some sort of explanation for Reinhardt's behaviour (besides the obvious, "he's a Nazi") could have brought the necessary equilibrium. Some time spent defining why anyone else in Germany was the way the were, even Dr. von Westarp, could have pulled them away from caricature and made them antagonists worth spending narrative time with. It doesn't happen, and this missed opportunity is infuriating.
High #2 -- The British Warlocks. I loved the idea of supernatural science going toe to toe with supernatural magery. British Warlocks vs. Nazi supermen?! Sounds fucking cool doesn't it?
Low #2.0 -- But then the fucking Eidolons show up and we discover that the Warlocks have no magic; theirs is a linguistic capacity that allows them to "negotiate blood prices" for the service of the near-omnipotent Eidolons. Midi-chlorians anyone?!
Low #2.1 -- But it got even lower for me where the Eidolans were concerned. The narrative response to England's deals with the Eidolans was to give us Will Beauclerk, sort of the head Warlock working for Milkweed, whose guilt over dealing with the Eidolans leads him to morphine addiction and eventually madness. He feels the terrible pain and gravity of what he "must" do to keep England safe. Slaughtering innocents, making human sacrifices, becomes justified -- or at least rationalized -- in the narrative because there is someone of conscience engaged in the perpetration, which in conjunction with the two-dimensional Nazi caricatures, winds up solidifying the simplistic notion that any Allied atrocity is good because the Nazis were unconscionably bad.
High #2.1 -- Yet the ending, (view spoiler)[Will's discovery of the baby isolation vaults at Milkweed headquarters -- wombs of non-language to spawn a new generation of Eidolan negotiators (hide spoiler)], was a killer moment, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Tregillis will engage meaningfully in an examination of his England's tactics during his reimagined Second World War.
Low #2.2 -- I don't buy, however, that Tregillis will do anything of the sort in the The Coldest War. I expect Will's lone voice of conscience will continue to be the factor that negotiates audience acceptance of shitty British behaviour, while caricatured Soviets will be evil no matter what they do. A future low, perhaps, but a low that puts a major dent in my enjoyment of Bitter Seeds.
-- Gretel and Klaus and Will. I kept reading (listening) because of them. When Tregillis takes time with his characters, he can do some good things, and these three are the books greatest strengths.
Low #3 -- Raybould and Liv. All other poor characters aside, and there are plenty, Raybould Marsh (our protagonist, I suppose), his spouse and their "love" was one of the most ham-fisted relationships I've read. I never bought a moment of their love for one another. I never bought the way they met. I never bought their marriage. I never bought how it motivated Marsh. I never bought their split and reunion. I never the homoerotic triangle that developed between them and Will. I never any of it. Most of the time, it felt as though the publishers (or some outside mentoring source) told Tregillis to add a love story. And this was the best he could do. Well, his best wasn't just "just not good enough," it was destructive to most everything it surrounded.
Low #3.1 -- Raybould? What a fucking stupid name. But that's okay, stupid names aren't all that bad, but it puts me in mind of a personal low for me: the names of Brits and Germans in general. I am a huge football fan, so I know, inherently, the names of most footballers in Germany and England, and most of the supporting characters in this book have a corresponding footballer with their name. This is probably coincidence, but it is a coincidence that made me conscious of the narrator every time my mind pictured a modern footballer rather than a person of the proper period.
High #4 -- The pace was brisk and compelling ...
Low #4 -- ... But the book was way too short. The whole of World War II condensed to this relatively slim volume? A multivolume series could have been written about WWII, let alone his next foray into the Cold War. Bitter Seeds is not anywhere near enough -- it is far too slim -- and with a more languid pace and greater time spent with ALL his characters, many (if not all) of the lows of Tregillis' book could have become highs.
I will go on. I will read the The Coldest War because there were parts of this book I really loved. Its potential was great. I wanted to love it. But if the same highs and lows continue, I will stop splitting the difference and go the way of the lowest possible star rating. And those bits of love that make me want to continue will fester into their opposite. (less)
I've been meaning to read a Blish novel for years, having read and liked a short story of his -- How Beautiful With Banners -- in a Sci-Fi class years ago, but Blish isn't carried in the book stores within my sphere of contact, and he's never been the first author I think of when I have money to spend online.
I lucked out, though, and found an old, thrashed copy of Black Easter in a used bookstore down the street from where I work. I tossed it in my glove box (because it is always a good idea to have a back up book handy in case of emergencies) and forgot about it.
My emergency came up last week when, before I left for work, I couldn't find the book I was reading, so I needed something to read at lunch. I dug Black Easter out and was quickly knocked on my ass.
I am not usually a fan of fiction that explicitly discusses good and evil. I usually find their philosophy pedestrian and reductive. Too black and white. But Black Easter isn't a pedestrian book, nor is Blish a pedestrian author. I had know idea how talented the man was, but I know now.
Black Easter is a book about black & white magic that is full of demons and ends with the release of Armageddon. Yet it remains Science Fiction. How is that possible? It's possible because Blish offers us the theological science that called magic, which, in its ancient forms (you pick the "-emy" or "-mancy") was the root of all secular sciences. The magicians who practice this theoscience take their work as seriously as a nuclear physicist would, and their practices are as rigorous, their laboratories as specialized, their tools and books as important, their minds as honed as any image we have of today's scientists.
And, like so many who apply the sciences, the black & white magicians play with forces beyond their control, doing things because they can rather than because they should. They use and abuse knowledge, and as the myths of Prometheus and the Garden of Eden have tried to teach us, this knowledge is the root of all evil. So evil exists in Blish's Armageddon world, and it is released with a force on the world that ends everything we know mere hours. And good exists. Too benevolent, too bound by honour, too naive to stop the evil. But even those in the book who practice good, those white magicians we'd expect to be pure and beloved of God, are steeped in evil. They are in concert with demons. They are damned. And their paralysis, brought on by goodness, is tainted with evil.
There isn't much gray in Blish's Black Easter, but the black and the white are everywhere, in everyone, and while they may react like oil and vinegar when in contact, while they may not bleed into each other, they make for a deliciously creepy and stunningly realistic take on black magic and Armageddon.
I had no hopes for the book. I read it because it was Blish and I was hard up, but I was blown away. This is the best book about contemporary magic use I have ever read, and far and away the best expression of Armageddon.
What a fantastic idea. A counter-fantastical take on Superman, where the once Clark Kent comes to Earth in a communal farm in the Ukraine, USSR rather...moreWhat a fantastic idea. A counter-fantastical take on Superman, where the once Clark Kent comes to Earth in a communal farm in the Ukraine, USSR rather than the Kent farm outside Smallville, USA. Twelve hours difference in Superman's arrival is twelve hours that make all the difference.
Soviet Superman works for Stalin instead of Eisenhower, and the Cold War takes a very different turn. The Warsaw Pact comes to dominate the Earth. Nixon is assassinated, Kennedy becomes a debauched old fool, Lex Luthor marries Lois Lane, James Olson is a CIA liaison, Milton Friedman becomes US President and ensures that only Chile and the USA maintain a free market economy, and Luthor creates Bizarro, a Green Lantern army, and countless supervillains -- all in an attempt to defeat the great Communist Superman.
Red Superman then takes over the USSR after Stalin is assassinated, creating a world wide Utopia in a bloodless revolution. He makes a pact with Braniac (who shrinks Stalingrad for his great museum), allies with Wonder Woman, eradicates prisons with a futuristic lobotomy, and watches as a bastard son of Stalin gives rise to Batmanovic -- a counter-revolutionary obsessed with independent thought and freedom (Russo-Batman and his philosophical obsession are a pair of the graphic novel's weakest points).
Mike Millar's creativity is undeniable, and the pencils by Johnson and Kilian Plunkett are perfect. But none of this is good enough.
The three issue "prestige format mini-series" is far too small to accommodate a story of such strength and vision. It is merely a skeleton of something that could have been great. If each issue in the mini-series had been a year of comics, if DC had commissioned 36 issues rather than three, Red Son would have been one of the greatest comics ever written; instead, it is merely clever.
I wanted to watch Superman as the Czar of the Warsaw Pact. I wanted to see his relationship with Diana/Wonder Woman unfold. I wanted to follow Lex Luthor's alternate growth as a sanctioned hero, and the ultimate move to his 5000 year Reich (a portion of the story that earned only a few pages). I wanted more of Bizarro and Braniac and the Green Lantern Corp and the Soviet Batman. I wanted MORE!
So the lesson I learned from Red Son is this: less is not always more. I will forever appreciate Mark Millar's attempt at something groundbreaking, but the attempt will never mitigate my disappointment with its execution. Clever just isn't good enough. Sorry, Mr. Millar.(less)
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)
Before picking it up, I'd heard that The Colour of Magic was funny. Now that can mean just about anything because, let's face it, comedy is the most s...moreBefore picking it up, I'd heard that The Colour of Magic was funny. Now that can mean just about anything because, let's face it, comedy is the most subjective of arts.
Funny is a deeply personal thing. The "funny peculiar" and the "funny ha-ha" might not be the same from person to person or even to the same person depending on their mood or their place in life. So knowing something is funny ahead of reading it really doesn't tell me much.
I'd read Terry Pratchett's & Neil Gaiman's Good Omens quite a while ago, so I expected at least a hint of satire and politically conscious wit, but I had no idea which of the authors to blame for the smart laughs in Good Omens, and my recollections really shed no illumination on what was to come. So I read The Colour of Magic with as open a mind as I could and hoped for some laughs.
I didn't laugh much and that surprised me. I smiled an awful lot, though. But I didn't laugh. No out loud snickers; no full-out belly laughs; no snorts; no giggles.
But I did smile.
Pratchett's kooky tale (really four tales to make one) of Rincewind, the one-great-spell, wizarding failure, Twoflower, the in-sewer-ants adjuster/tourist, and his Luggage was smart more often than it was stupid, consciously political, satirically silly, more than willing to take the piss out of Fantasy as a genre, but mostly it was exceedingly absurd. And all of this was what made The Colour of Magic good to very good.
Even so, its audience is necessarily limited. I know why I liked The Colour of Magic, and while I imagine there are other reasons to like the story, I think it is probably a fairly inaccessible tale unless you are a reader who falls into a niche of accessibility. This is not a book that can be widely read or widely liked.
So why did I like it? I liked it because I fall into a niche wherein I was able to access memories of drunken, drug-addled, teenage D&D marathons (which were extremely rare since we preferred our gaming sober), where we gave up being serious and descended into near madness.
Those nights are reflected in everything that happens in The Colour of Magic. Obligatory bar fights of fantastic impossibility, Monty Hall swords and treasures, idiotic last second rescues, gods dicing, heroes thinking with the dirk in their pants, dimensional slips and deus ex machinas at every turn make The Colour of Magic a collage of gaming stupidity, and it was nice to take a nostalgic trip back to my adolescence. In fact, Pratchett captures exactly the sort of gaming experience that led our halfling priest of Xyice, God of Mischief, to wish for a foot long penis then fall unconscious from blood loss when he achieved his first erection. So I liked this book...a lot, actually.
But it wasn't the best story I've ever read, and I can't imagine I could sit down and read the entire Discworld cycle without a break. It's fun. It's light. Pratchett writes better than I expected, but I bet there are many folks out there who hate this book. You have my sympathy.
So yes...I was disappointed that I didn't laugh more; I was disappointed that the story wasn't more subtle; I hated the turtle carrying the disc; I wanted The Colour of Magic to be more biting than silly, more critical than absurd, more intelligent than clever. But it was a fun ride that entertained me while I did the dishes, and I couldn't help liking Rincewind, so I will probably go on, and I will likely become a fan of Pratchett's Discworld books...in spite of themselves. (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)
Lately I have been noticing a recurring observation about the quality of first books in various series. There seems to be a growing consensus in revie...moreLately I have been noticing a recurring observation about the quality of first books in various series. There seems to be a growing consensus in reviews that the first book of a series, particularly if it is the first book published by an author, is inherently weak because the author is "learning their craft."
It seems to be both an excuse for what is perceived as poor quality and an excuse for going on in the series despite being underwhelmed by the opener.
I had this in mind as I began reading Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight, and for two thirds of the book I thought it was a perfect descriptor of what I was seeing.
But once I finished the book, I thought that maybe "the poor opener" isn't always the case (although I willingly concede that this is probably the case more often than not). Perhaps there is something else going on -- especially in something like Dragonflight.
Dragonflight is a fast read, and it is sparingly written. We get a taste of the main characters -- F'lar and Mnementh, Lessa and Ramoth, F'nor and Canth -- but we aren't given much time with them, not enough to get to know them deeply. McCaffrey races us through the story, spanning many Turns (the Pernese year) in a very short time. There is a clear goal to her plot -- save Pern from the threat of the Threads -- and McCaffrey is ruthless and expedient in getting us there.
I can understand how many readers see this as a narrative failure. After all, we like getting to know characters in the books we read, and we seem to prefer saving our breathless action driven stories for the big screen.
If this is our preference, a story which focuses on the latter rather than the former has failed on some level, and that failure is generally considered the writer's failure and, more specifically, a failure of their writing.
I wonder, though, if this is always the case. It seems to me that it is just as likely that Dragonflight's quickness could have more to do with the peculiarities of its publishing (it was two novellas squished together to make a novel), the requirements of a first time writer to get their work just right so that it can be published at all (which often means cutting out superfluities), and the tendency of first books to be edited more thoroughly than future books.
Once you've become "Anne McCaffrey," for instance, editors tend to step back and give you more room. They let you spend many more ages on character building, and you're given less notes on your work. You are "Anne McCaffrey," best selling author, and you must know what you're doing, so do what you want.
Perhaps then, Dragonflight is a product of the necessities of a first novel rather than an example of the author not being polished in her writing skills.
All this aside, I appreciated the quickness of the tale. There is something to be said for brevity, and I felt I got enough of the characters. I cared about them without knowing everything, and some of their shabbier behaviours -- such as F'lar's constant physical abuse of Lessa, and Lessa's infuriating capacity for inspired stupidity -- were more tolerable than they might have been if I'd been forced to spend time digging through their psychologies.
Of course, this appreciation for skeletal characterization could all be the screenwriter in me (I doubt it, though, since the main complaint about my screenplays by those with the money is that they are too character driven), but that's okay because that informs the kind of reader I can be. Every once in a while I like my stories quick and my characters less defined (although this is far from always the case), and Dragonflight fit that bill right when I needed it most.
Regardless, Dragonflight was a surprise for me, and I liked it much more than I thought I would. I don't know if I will go on, though. I may just let it stand alone, enjoying its quality as is. (less)
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)
**spoiler alert** Rarely do I read a book that can be described fittingly using only one word, but The Last Days of Krypton is just such a book -- and...more**spoiler alert** Rarely do I read a book that can be described fittingly using only one word, but The Last Days of Krypton is just such a book -- and that one word is incompetent.
I could stop there. I should stop there. But I can't. I must be heard (or read if you prefer the literal over the figurative).
Jor-El, the father of Kal-El (Superman) and the brother of Zor-El, is the obvious place to start. He is supposed to be the most brilliant man on Krypton (or so we are constantly told). His intellect is supposed to be nearly godlike. His inventions are legion. He is a scientist who believes in observation, scientific method, proof, logic, yet he rarely employs or displays any of these things. In fact, he fails to display his virtues over and over, and his incompetence completely undermines the Jor-El who is supposed to be. The flaws in Jor-El are not some attempt by the author to create character depth that has simply gone awry; Anderson unwittingly makes Jor-El incompetent while telling us that the great scientist is the most competent man on Krypton.
Commissioner Zod (later General Zod) is much the same. We are led to believe that he is a brilliant tactician and manipulator -- which he should be -- but his actions never match our expectations. He sets himself up as an adversary of Jor-El’s when he should be going to lengths to ingratiate himself to the brilliant scientist. He vaporizes a city when he should be using propaganda. He imprisons rivals when he should be killing them. He's not even a believable tyrant, and he becomes such an incompetent tyrant so fast that one wonders how he ever wormed his way into the role of dictator.
Meanwhile, there is a stream of incompetence that is running through the story intentionally -- the Council of Krypton. This oligarchy of eleven is incompetent in both its incarnations. The Old Council's incompetence imperils the planet thrice over by first facilitating Commissioner Zod's surreptitious rise to power, then by ignoring Jor-El's repeated warnings about the instability of the red sun Rao and then by laughing off Zor-El's and Jor-El's joint warning about the planet's geological instability. They are intentional exemplars of incompetence who are supposed to stand in contrast to the competence of, at least, Jor-El, but they stand as a mirror instead.
Then comes the New Council (which never should have been formed after the overthrow of the supposedly evil General Zod, a formation for which the El boys' incompetence is fully to blame) and their incompetence is so complete that they bring about the geological event that destroys Krypton and sends Kal-El on his way to Earth.
Intentional and unintentional incompetence is the core of The Last Days of Krypton. So who's to blame? Is Kevin J. Anderson really to blame for this mess of a book? To some extent I suppose he must be, but I think that much of the blame must fall to the long term incompetence of DC Comics. As comic book companies go, despite their popularity, DC Comics cannot be lauded for their overall quality.
Sure they've had some great moments, but those moments were based on singular talents that their business department was smart enough to pay big bucks to secure. Frank Miller had already made Daredevil THE comic of the early eighties before he was dragged to DC to breathe life into the terminally cheesy and pathetic Batman. The Dark Knight, as we know him now, is all about Miller and not at all about DC (or even Kane). Alan Moore (Watchmen and V for Vendetta) and Neil Gaiman (Sandman) brought DC more greatness, but their comics were outside the multiverse of DC, and their talents were allowed to wander into dark terrain in which the rest of DC feared to tread.
Justice League, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash. These titles have never had the quality or the depth of the X-Men, Avengers, Elektra, Iron Man, Captain America, or Spiderman. So perhaps DC Comics must share the blame for The Last Days of Krypton with Kevin J. Anderson. They charged him with bringing together a history of Krypton under one title, of making a coherent story out of years of incompetent story telling, and it is just possible that Anderson did the best he possibly could with what he had. Of course, it's also possible that he's incompetent too.
What I do know for sure is that the best part of The Last Days of Krypton (at least the mass market format) is the 3-D holo cover with the Superman "S" exploding out of the planet's surface amidst a cascade of Kryponite. I've loved scratching the holo surface with my fingernails and watching my kids play with the cover in the sunlight. That cover alone is going to save The Last Days of Krypton from the fire.
But a good cover isn't enough for me to make mine DC. I'm going to have to continue making mine Marvel. (less)
I was born and raised Roman Catholic, so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness.
I'm talking about literal demons here. Demons...moreI was born and raised Roman Catholic, so despite my atheism I have demons ingrained in my consciousness.
I'm talking about literal demons here. Demons with tails and horns and leathery wings, demons of sublime beauty and terrible mien, demons that torment and corrupt. It doesn't matter that I no longer believe in the concepts of good and evil; it doesn't matter that demons are fiction; they are so deeply programmed into me that there is no escaping their intimate hold on portions of my imagination.
So considering my preconceptions of demons, which are predictably Western European, my time spent with Detective Inspector Chen was never likely to be trouble free. I don’t know exactly what trouble I was expecting, but I was surprised to discover that the trouble, if it can be called trouble, came from Liz Williams’ demons feeling shame.
Demons, the way I’ve always imagined them, feel no shame. Indeed, they are shameless creatures of villainy, cruelty, nastiness. They terrorize, torture and punish, delighting in their heartlessness. Clearly my conception of demons is the conception on the walls and ceilings of churches or the popular culture of Christianity.
Thus when Zhu Irzh or Inari showed signs of shame, or when Inari’s brother Tso was motivated by shame, I reacted with annoyance and even tossed the book aside with a snort. But I knew that my reaction was purely emotional, and I found myself considering the idea of demons and shame for most of the day; it didn’t take long for me to see what Williams was doing – and even to absorb it into my personal mythology of demons.
After all, demons being intimately acquainted with shame makes perfect sense.
Those humans who go to Hell, after all, go to Hell to feel shame. No matter their crime, no matter if Hell is eternal or transitory, no matter their punishment, they go to Hell to learn or feel shame. And it doesn’t matter what religion’s Hell one’s talking about. If there is a Hell, it is a place for shame.
Now, if this is a truism of Hell, something we can all agree upon, then demon characters must be able to feel shame. If a demon is to exploit the shame of a human or cause shame in a human, they must be able to understand shame in all its forms, and the only way to do that is to know shame personally.
My brain got that, and I went straight back to reading Snake Agent, but my gut still reacted every time a Demon felt shame, and I fear that my gut got in the way of my fully enjoying of Liz Williams’ creativity, which is one of the reasons I look so forward to The Demon and the City. Once I have had time to fully integrate shame in the world of Singapore Three into my gut, I am sure that I will be able to better appreciate the implausible, surreal, stickily humid Hell Noir landscapes that Detective Inspector Chen and his partner Seneschal Zhu Irzh inhabit.
And if it improves as much as I think it will, this series should become my must read, must buy, must share piece of pulpy goodness.
Previously written: I was surprised by how much I liked this book, and I have much to say about shame in demons, but that will have to wait for another day, maybe even for the next book. I will be going on with this series, though, and soon. It is definitely good enough for that. (less)
It is because while The City and The City is both of those things, it is also -- and more powerfully -- a love letter to his fans and an act of oeuvre snobbery of the first order.
What Miéville has done is to build a story upon his favourite themes, and to require that his audience is familiar with other occurrences of these themes in his work to fully appreciate what he's done (perhaps inadvertently, but there it is). The unseen and the uncity occur throughout his work in varying forms, but they come together in The City and The City with an intensity and concreteness that he has only flirted with before.
Saul Garamond (King Rat), Silas Fennec (The Scar), Toro & Spiral Jacobs (Iron Council), The Weaver (Perdido Street Station), are all characters that move unseen. Each have their own reasons for moving unseen and their own methods for achieving it, but all of them move in and through the spaces that others cannot see or fail to see or choose not to see. And all of the motives and reasons for unseeing these characters culminate in the Beszel/Ul Qoma /Breach unseeing that Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Besz Extreme Crime Squad moves through in his search for the killer of a young American archaeologist.
But the murder mystery, and even the potential conspiracies that swirl around the murder, are nowhere near as important as the way these two cities crosshatch and overlay and grosstopic, and the way people from the mundane to the Breach move through and around and in and outside all the permutations of these places in one place.
And that concept of cities being more than what we are willing to see is the other piece of Miéville's narcissitically intertextual puzzle. In The City & The City it is two cities in the same space with a possible third city in the cracks. In Un-Lun-Dun it is an ab-city for every city. And in Reports Of Certain Events In London, Varmin Way is a rogue street that hides and moves and won't let itself be found, and Miéville himself is the care taker of the files that speak of the streets existence.
And even when Miéville's cities are behaving like cities should, their presence is so powerful, like Armada and New Crobuzon, that they are almost entities in their own right.
The City and The City is the culmination of just over ten years of China Miéville's already impressive career, but it won't receive the love it deserves, at least not for now. Once David Fincher or some other visionary director decides to put it on film, however, it may well become Miéville's most respected work. Too bad Orson Welles wasn't still alive. The City and The City would be right up his dissensi.(less)
They can be fun if you approach them correctly. You need to find a small section of the orgy and focus on that spot. Thi...moreHave you ever been to an orgy?
They can be fun if you approach them correctly. You need to find a small section of the orgy and focus on that spot. Think about your pleasure first and don’t be tempted into straying from the spot you’ve chosen. But if you are unable to find your spot, if you are unable to focus your sexual energy in that spot, you are more likely to have an overwhelming and, ultimately, unfulfilling experience.
You'll see beauty, you'll feel pleasure, you'll probably even have an orgasm, but you’re also sure to wind up with the most unattractive swinger in the room, feel a whole bunch of discomfort and find yourself on your knees a lot more often than you’ll like.
That's also what you'll get with Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air. It is the closest thing to a literary orgy I’ve ever read. It is like a particularly horny night in the bedchambers of Caligula. I loved it; I hated it; I liked it; I disliked it; I hated it; I loved it; I disliked it; I liked it. It was too much. It wasn’t enough. It was all over the place.
There were some absolutely gorgeous moments of original prose and inventive creativity, but these were matched by painfully clichéd prose and derivative banality. Hunt’s diametric proclivities create maximum frustration. Who would put together pseudo-Aztec gods with fey-misted mutants, or barely veiled Marxists with undying steammen? But then how could he allow his characters to speak with every tired metaphor known to modern man, and let those tired words flow from the mouths of characters stripped from Mel Gibson movies, Marvel Comics and Stephen King’s longest monstrosity? The competition between these two Stephen Hunts is a constant irritant for the reader, and it turns The Court of the Air into a bit of a slog.
Furthermore, there was one constant in The Court of the Air, that further degraded my enjoyment of the book, and that was Hunt's constant need for action. There is very little downtime. Hunt sets up a dual narrative, flipping between Molly and Oliver as they try to stay alive and come together (even though neither knows they are looking for the other). This leads to action sequence after action sequence, escape after escape, and each time one of the main characters thinks they might be safe they are suddenly caught in another trap. It's like a Saturday Movie Serial without the week long break to catch your breath. It's like moving from group to group in an orgy without taking any time out to replenish your fluids or take a pee. It just increases your discomfort and makes you long for quiet.
And Hunt's orgy of action doesn't do his characters any favours. There is very little depth of emotion; they all have minuscule interior lives, and that makes them very difficult to care about.
In the end, I don’t know what to make of The Court of the Air, and I don’t really know what I think. It is going to take another reading to be firm in my opinion, but that extra reading is going to be a long time coming. I would much rather reread The Anubis Gates or Perdido Street Station.
So will I really get back to it? Someday, but I don’t know when.(less)
I am not a fan of Stephen King's writing (though I am a fan of the man), so I have purposefully stayed away from The Dark Tower series.
King's books al...moreI am not a fan of Stephen King's writing (though I am a fan of the man), so I have purposefully stayed away from The Dark Tower series.
King's books always seem to follow a simple pattern with me.
The first third of the book I find myself excited, joyfully surfing the book on the wave of King's pure inventiveness (no matter how I feel about his books in the end, it is hard to deny that his crazy mind is full of interesting ideas). In the second third of the book, the wave invariably begins to lose its power, and I find myself growing annoyed. By the final third I am just angry, and the wave is spent while I'm still yards from shore.
The Gunslinger didn't do this to me. I was in that pleasurable first third of King experience for the entire book (I expect, however, that I will continue to feel this way until somewhere in the third book, where the true first third of King's story finally gives way to the second third. The Dark Tower is seven books, after all). The Gunslinger and Roland himself were completely unexpected joys for me.
I loved King's bleak prose (and his prose is rarely something I would praise) because it matched Roland's bleak soul and the books bleak landscape. I loved the fractured narrative that took us to multiple points in Roland's past, while dropping us smack in the middle of his quest for the Man in Black and thus The Dark Tower. I loved Roland's gray ethics, his ability to shoot a woman he'd slept with only hours before, his willingness to sacrifice a boy he loves to fulfill his obsession, his cold, calculating, hardness, and most of all his tenacity.
I am not a fan of good vs. evil stories (and, sadly, I understand The Dark Tower series becomes one). I don't even believe in good and evil (certainly not in the way most people do), so to see a character whose behavior is decisive action motivated by what he perceives as necessity, and action that is (for now) presented outside the values of good and evil, is a refreshing change.
I am sure "theory of thirds" decline will happen as I continue the series, and I doubt that the story will live up to the promise of this, its first chapter, but I think it will be difficult for the rest of the series to taint the beauty of this one book. And I never thought I would say that about any Stephen King story that wasn't a short one.(less)
More time travel than steampunk, although it has been categorized as the latter, Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates is fun, but it leaves one feeling a litt...moreMore time travel than steampunk, although it has been categorized as the latter, Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates is fun, but it leaves one feeling a little short changed.
The problem is that Powers' story has the narrative scope of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, but it is packed into a mere 380-ish pages. Beggar's guilds, Egyptian wizards, Romantic poets, business magnates, and prize fighters mix with cross dressing vengeance seekers, mad clowns, body snatchers, fire elementals and gypsies. Time slips from 1983 to 1810 to 1660-something and back to 1811, seemingly following a linear path of cause and effect, then spilling paradoxically into a strange whirlpool motion where effect can be cause before effect.
And all of this is tremendously effective.
It generates curiosity, makes one read at high speed, fills the imagination with wonder and provides great entertainment, but it is not enough.
There are huge gaps in the tale, like Brendan Doyle's/William Ashbless' time in Egypt, where the story jumps too quickly, leaving the promise of more adventure -- sweeping adventure, epic adventure -- unfulfilled.
Powers creates characters so compelling, even his supporting characters, that one finds oneself wanting more, but the more never comes. We spend a tantalizing amount of time with Horrabin, the puppeteer-clown-beggar master, but it is never enough. We barely get to know Powers' versions of Lord Byron and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and then they are gone. There is simply never enough of these characters, and it leaves one feeling cheated.
So in case you haven't already guessed, the great failing of The Anubis Gates is that it leaves the reader wanting more -- too much more. Occasionally that feeling can be healthy, but in this case it is mostly frustrating. Had Powers reduced the scale of The Anubis Gates, or increased the size of his story to match the scale, it could very well have been his masterpiece. But without serious alterations, The Anubis Gates is little more than an entertaining sci-fantasy confection that is difficult to recommend.
But recommend it I shall, to anyone who likes time travel or creepy clowns or good, old fashioned chases. No matter how frustrating The Anubis Gates is, it is never boring nor a waste of time.(less)
More than any of the other authors, who have been good in some of their outings, McCoy honours the characters. He does not fall prey to the cheesy sentimentalism that makes Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade painful for Indy purists; instead, he makes sure that Sallah is a smart man rather than a foolish middle eastern stereotype, and he does the same with Marcus Brody, ensuring that he is an honoured professional rather than a boob.
Some of the new characters McCoy introduces suffer for not having a background that we all know instantly, but these characters always fit into the story well and they do serve a purpose that is connected to Indy (and that's what you want in an Indy adventure).
If you're looking for a fun read now that the Crystal Skull has rekindled your Indy-curiosity, The Secret of the Sphinx is perfect for you.(less)