So, apparently, me and “steampunk” have really not been getting along that well. This novel is really pretty bad and can’t even rise to the level of d...moreSo, apparently, me and “steampunk” have really not been getting along that well. This novel is really pretty bad and can’t even rise to the level of dumb fun. I don’t think I can think of anything that really worked, from the absurd premise to the ridiculous puns drawing on historical figures names (i.e., the Bunt Line, (view spoiler)[Bat Masterson is an actual bat! (hide spoiler)]), and certainly not the boring story telling and lackluster writing.
The Buntline Special has a typically goofy, standard steampunk premise. It’s the Weird West and science and magic coexist in a gumbo of weird genre mashing and retells the old story of Tombstone (Arizona? “Tombstone Territory?” Who knows) and the gunfight at the OK Corral with gatling pistols and werebats. However, these elements are mixed so poorly you might well break a tooth on all the contradictory elements. Why was Tombstone chosen as this hotbed of mad science by Edison and Ned Buntline (a two bit hack rather than a captain of industry as presented)- there is no reason. The familiar events of the OK Corral are clumsily shoehorned into this bizarre world of robot prostitutes, “Indian curses,” and zombies, along with historic figures far less interesting than their wikipedia entries, even if they have robot arms now.
The alternate history premise is so patently nonsensical and lazy, I could not suspend my belief for an instant, let alone an entire book. So, apparently, indigenous Americans can use magic and fought European invaders to stalemate, leaving them in control of all territory west of the Mississippi. Fair enough. However, the historical connotations of this major change are all but ignored and the setting, as presented, makes not a lick of sense; why, if capable of power strong enough to check “Manifest Destiny,” did they draw the line at the Mississippi River, what about the eastern peoples? Why was Tombstone founded in the same place with the same name with the same people in this wildly different world? How are things so practically similar in an America without, say, the Louisiana Purchase, the California Gold Rush, or the Missouri Compromise? The Civil War, Texas, and the “Mexican border” are casually referenced, leading me to think that the history is basically unchanged and that Mexico exists as normal, an absurd notion if the US could not expand past the Mississippi river. It’s almost as if the author himself forgets his own premise half of the time. Maybe I’m being picky,* but if the book fails to render any feeling other than bewilderment, something is lacking.
At the very least, atmosphere should be drawn in this iconic Western setting, but the writing is so unappealing and bland, it does not even manage that. Aside from all this set dressing, the familiar story brings nothing new in the telling. Finally, the frankly appalling treatment of women and minorities detract even further. In spite of possessing magical power sufficient to beat back the western powers, like turning into giant snakes or cursing people, the Apache are depicted as shiftless inscrutable primitives who apparently like to throw their lives away for no reason. The less said about the steam powered prostitutes, the better. Don’t bother. There’s got to better.
*but it really does bug me! According to the book, the Mexican border is described as a few dozen miles south of Tombstone, as in real life- if the US has a treaty with the native tribes to stay east of the Mississippi, how could this border, which was created by the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, exist? Why would the US government purchase territory from Mexico in land that they apparently cannot occupy? Was there still a war with Mexico? Why? Were the Mexicans/the Spanish also kept from expanding north due to native magic? Why keep the same border? ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
After reading "It Never Happened Again," by Sam Alden, an artist I had not previously heard of, I will definitely look for more of his work. The two s...moreAfter reading "It Never Happened Again," by Sam Alden, an artist I had not previously heard of, I will definitely look for more of his work. The two short stories included in this interesting graphic novel, “Hawaii, 1997” and “Anime,” are both emotion rich and heartfelt depictions of life and how we try to fit into it. Sam Alden’s sketchy, almost crude style, filled with rough pencil strokes on white backgrounds, highlights the feelings of alienation and loneliness of the characters. Its minimalism really fits the themes here.
In both stories, young characters find themselves wandering around trying to figure out their lives in relation to others. It reminds me of childhood memories that you recall vaguely as being something important, but you cannot put your finger on how. The first, "Hawaii, 1997" is an autobiographical account of Alden's trip to Hawaii as a preteen and his short friendship with a girl from New Jersey, while "Anime" follows the 20-year old Japanophile Janet (aka, Kiki), as she struggles with feelings of alienation in her Oregon home town and looks forward to her trip to Japan (but will this travel be as changing as she believes it will be?) Both stories skirt the line between melancholy and hope, like so much memory. (less)
I recall feeling ambivalent towards this book when I read it some years ago. Finding it at the library after watching all of the fun litt...moreRetro review*
I recall feeling ambivalent towards this book when I read it some years ago. Finding it at the library after watching all of the fun little BBC flash animations online (remember those?), I thought that it might be interesting. On the one hand, I felt that the main characters introduced in the web series, such as siblings Tamora and Will and even the ghosts, were very well portrayed in the novel, with their personalities and motivations very distinct and believable, and more or less true to the early 19th century English setting (at least for a silly novel about superhero ghosts). The plot, on the other hand, was so cliched and rather over the top at times it seemed more like the set up for a video game. While some disturbing and out of place cursed statues led to some grim scenes, the monster overload with various beasts from Indian folklore popping up in hoards was a little much, even in a book where ghosts show up all the time. I felt that the main villain could have been interesting, but was left pretty one dimensional. In the end, I felt that the book was a little two sided; on the one hand, the main characters were likable, and the scenes without reference to the main plot were extremely enjoyable. On the other, they weren't able to express themselves much when dealing with the stereotypical monstrous army about to descend on unsuspecting London. Could this have been the results of the two different authors competing for space?
*This was the first book review I posted on the internet back in '06, slightly edited and reposted here.(less)
Wealthy newlyweds, a balding, pompous businessman and his caring, thoughtful young wife accompany the talented and mysterious Guide into a frightening...moreWealthy newlyweds, a balding, pompous businessman and his caring, thoughtful young wife accompany the talented and mysterious Guide into a frightening yet endearing alien world full of hideous parasites and geometric, talking trees where the husband hopes to shoot the various inhabitants. How will their relationships survive encounters with brain centipedes, tentacle beasts, the delicious cooking of the Guide, and a whole lot of shooting anything that moves?
It comes as no surprise that the artist, Jesse Jacobs, has also worked on the seminal surreal 21st century animated show Adventure Time, though here the bizarre is amped up much farther, illustrating a dark and hallucinogenic exploration of privilege and safety in an alien world. Jacobs’ distinctive art style depicts a stylized and beautiful, creepy and bizarre romp through a chaotic jungle environment packed with all manner of strange, deadly flora and fauna, all rendered in a varied palette of greens. How different are human relationships from symbiotic or parasitic ones, such as the creature that has replaced the Guide’s tongue to enhance his sense of taste, or from the forest monkeys’ attempts to communicate with violent humans? A nice helping of humor, weirdness, thoughtfulness in a quick comic package.(less)