The second book in Adam-Troy Castro’s Spider-man trilogy, Revenge of the Sinister Six, picks up pretty much right where the first book left off. This...moreThe second book in Adam-Troy Castro’s Spider-man trilogy, Revenge of the Sinister Six, picks up pretty much right where the first book left off. This time, though, the action revolves around all six of the Sinister group as opposed to just one, Mysterio. In effect, the first book acts as a prequel to this one, a gathering of forces for The Gentleman. We get to see him put together this incarnation of the Six in that preliminary novel, but it’s until we get started in Revenge we begin to see his plan come to fruition.
Unfortunately, this book suffers from the same lack the first one did, the lack of a good editor. I have it on the best authority that these books almost literally went from Castro’s word processor to the printer so the fault doesn’t lay with him. In fact, what’s amazing is the insight we get into the raw process of writing a superhero novel. I fear that had there been more editorial oversight we wouldn’t have gotten the book we did – and in the book we did get, Castro is writing far above the usual conventions of the genre.
In this segment of the story (and like all good middle books, he leaves us breathlessly wanting to read the last installment) we get two thirds of a 430 page book devoted to the ultimate battle of Manhattan (this week’s version). The Six (the aforementioned Mysterio, who is immediately sprung from jail after last book’s funeral hi-jacking, Electro, Dr. Octopus, The Vulture, Chameleon and a new girl, Pity), under the direction of The Gentleman, decide to help Spidey relive all his past failures and set up a tour of the city where he can stop in, see the death of ex-girlfriend replayed repeatedly, and fight a bad guy while he’s there. Yes, there’s a bit of set-up. We get a prologue about Peter Parker’s parents and some stuff about Mary Jane Watson Parker (Peter’s wife) and her acting woes, but generally, we get a battle royal with some pretty great action sequences.
We also get Castro’s take on the psychology of the super-powered. We get glimpses of the pathos Parker needs to be able to pull on the red and blue pajamas and go web-slinging. We understand the kind of toll it takes on his wife to watch the news and see her husband getting pummeled on national television. We are privy to the inner-workings of the villain mindset. But mostly we just get a really good story with well developed characters.
For my money, this is one of the things which separated Marvel from DC back in the 60s and continues to do so today. The DC universe is populated by ideas dressed as people while Marvel has people who are trying to live up to ideals. And Castro gets that. As he writes them, these are all three dimensional people, living real lives (even the bad guys).
One of the things I really appreciated was the way Peter Parker and Spider-man, while being the same physical being are actually two distinct emotional entities. It’s fascinating to watch Parker succeed at something Spidey failed at and see Spidey, in the midst of bad guy fighting madness, rely on the Parker in his mind to problem solve his situation.
On the down side, though, there are points where the book is over-written and needlessly expanded. Also, while I loved Castro’s nods to references in the first book, where they were more subtle, here they’re obvious and over the top. You don’t have to work hard to figure out who Jay Sein and Cosmo the K are supposed to represent and they’re examples of restraint when compared to the on-the-nose lifts from other pop culture movies and TV shows. Given the talent on display in other sections of the book, My personal feeling is these slots could have been used to mark satire rather than references which are so obvious you know if you you’re not getting them and should. It feels like a writer putting in a joke with the full knowledge it’ll be taken out later… and then someone forgets to take it out. But hey, if that’s my only complaint, it’s not a bad one.
Overall, this is a fun, fast read, worth the time invested. Can’t wait to see how the third part pays everything off. (less)
I'm not sure if I've ever actually read a prose version of an actual comic character which wasn't a novelization of a film (I read the original Superm...moreI'm not sure if I've ever actually read a prose version of an actual comic character which wasn't a novelization of a film (I read the original Superman novel back in the 70s) but I love comics (and this book was written by Adam-troy Castro, an acquaintance) so I figured I'd give it a shot.
It's good. It's also the first book of a trilogy and so sets things up nicely for the next two installments. In this one, a mysterious villain known only as The Gentleman (original to this series of books) is reforming the supervillain team of ever changing members, The Sinister Six (This time around featuring Dr. Octopus, The Chameleon, Electro, The Vulture, Mysterio and Pity, who is the new kid on the block). The problem is Mysterio, who has his own agenda to deal with before he can commit to the team. And that agenda is to destroy the lives and/or careers of the people who mocked his directorial debut in Hollywood. As motivations go, it's not a bad one. Of course, things get personal when the first victim is an old friend of Mary Jane Watson-Parker, wife of Peter Parker who is also The Amazing Spider-Man. This drags our hero into the fray with his own set of motivations beyond the simplistic idea it's his job to save people.
The book moves along at a good pace, never really feeling like a novel of over 300 pages. Castro really captures the flavor of Spidey's personality while at the same time allowing us inside his head to feel his fear when his wife is in danger. He also fills the books with innumerable nods and winks to popular culture, other marvel comics, and even characters from that other company which also does superheroes. I got a fair few of them but I guarantee I didn't get them all. But they are not so intrusive that if you don't get them you don't feel like you're being left out of the joke. Instead, you just read straight past them. If you do catch it, though, it's good for a momentary laugh before you move on.
Where I did have a slight problem, though, and why this gets a four and not a five, is twofold. One, there were some language issues. The amount of repetition of words and ideas did get intrusive after a while. It felt like the book needed one more pass from the copy editor since a lot of these particular passages had the feeling of making a change on one end of the sentence without cleaning up the other end - something we all do, but in this case should have been caught. The other problem had to do with Peter and Mary Jane's marriage. We get a lot of how in love they are and that's wonderful. As I said earlier, it's really nice to see Spider-man nervous not because he's fighting the bad guy, but because he's worried about getting home to the missus or, worse yet, she herself is in immediate danger and he can't afford to make a mistake. But then there are scenes where we get back story - like she was friends with the first of Mysterio's victims, which don't come out until they become major plot points. As a married couple, this seems to be one of those things which would have been discussed, especially since it started and was continuing during the time of the marriage. Further, there's a scene at a gloriously bad Broadway Musical (and a side kudos for nailing the musical-style lyrics) and we find out later Mary Jane was in the running for the lead of that particular play. As an actress, devoted to her husband, you would think he'd have been told she almost got the lead in huge broadway hit. We find out they had fights over here career path in the past so why did she never mention her prominent audition before the show was shut down by a bad guy?
It was these few moments which pushed me right out of the book. There weren't many, mind you, but enough that it left me a little disappointed, especially since the rest was so good. (less)
While the concept here is fine, it's not really worth the $2.99 price tag. Basically, its a list of writing prompts, organized into almost arbitrary c...moreWhile the concept here is fine, it's not really worth the $2.99 price tag. Basically, its a list of writing prompts, organized into almost arbitrary categories with "witty" introductions.
You can find most of these online for free but I'd be willing to spend .99¢ for the organizational effort. (less)
Fascinating book. Stein knows a bit about writing for sure but this is certainly a case of "do what I say and now what I do." a lot of his advice is w...moreFascinating book. Stein knows a bit about writing for sure but this is certainly a case of "do what I say and now what I do." a lot of his advice is worthwhile, especially if you're new at writing, but you have to get through his derisive "you kids get off my lawn" attitude. Additionally, for a book written by a guy who takes every opportunity to tout his own writing (by way of "correct" examples) and his own CV (by way of name dropping the authors he's edited), this book really needed an editor. He breaks a number of his own non-fiction rules throughout.
That all said, it's still worth an afternoon or two of reading.(less)
I admit it, here, now and of my own free will, I love monster movies. I love the good ones and the bad ones and I most certainly love the classics. Ev...moreI admit it, here, now and of my own free will, I love monster movies. I love the good ones and the bad ones and I most certainly love the classics. Evidently, so does James K. Morrow. This book is a love letter to the monster films of the Hollywood of the 30s and 40s, the ones starring Karloff and Lugosi, Lorre and Chaney. And Syms J. Thorley.
Syms J. Thorley is the man behind the mask in the second tier, just a rung or two behind those old time legends. He's the guy you call when you want to do "Frankenstein" but not call it "Frankenstein." Thorley is also Isaac Margolis, a first generation Jewish American who, in 1945, enjoys what he does playing monsters, enjoys his life living with a sexy B Movie writer and enjoys hanging out on sound stages and in famous Hollywood eateries. And he's good at all those things. So good, in fact, the government comes calling to recruit him to play a part in what could ostensibly end WWII.
The plan is this: Since the Manhattan Project is slightly off-track a second weapon has been developed, a pack of 200 foot tall, fire breathing mutant iguanas (if you think this sounds like Godzilla... you're quite right), which, if Japan doesn't surrender, will be unleashed on the island of Honshu. Naturally, the Japanese aren't going to take our word we have these creatures and it would be a little presumptuous to release the full-size critters as a demonstration so the Navy is going to show the Japanese brass a smaller version destroying a model town. This is where Thorley comes in. No one can "shamble" like he can so he's hired to get inside a suit and tear apart Shirazuka (the actual miniature versions are quite docile and friendly).
Thorley agrees and we follow him through rehearsals and the performance... all told from the perspective of a memoir Thorley himself is writing 40 years after the fact, sitting in a hotel after winning a life-time achievement award (the Raydo - "a name meant to evoke not only the rhedosaurus, that ersatz dinosaur featured in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, but also the two Rays without whom the movie wouldn’t exist — Bradbury, author of the original story, and Harryhausen, stop-motion animator extraordinaire.") but just before he plans to jump from the window, thus ending his life.
As he tells his story of "The Knickerbocker Project" we also get the various interruptions to his writing, the people who knock on his door, the sidetracks his memories take. Through out it all, Morrow keeps it light and breezy, interspersing his fictional world with enough vérité to let us know he's done his homework. A monster film class could be taught using the movies he mentions as a course viewing list. Thorley is a pleasant character and the supporting cast are all well-drawn and appropriate for the times (a few "real" peopley, including Willis O'Brien, have co-starring roles).
Then things change. Just before the one and only performance the story takes a left turn and becomes a bit more serious. Cartoon villains suddenly become all too real and the light-hearted adventure turns deadly and filled with pathos. Morrow takes Thorley through his paces, eliciting real emotions and making his readers question the motives of the early August 1945 US government when they unleashed "Fat Man and Little Boy" on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The final few pages twist the story so we finally understand why Thorley is planning on ending it all... after he tells the whole story.
This isn't a long book (technically, it's a novella, and was nominated as such for the Hugo and Nebula awards) but it is well worth the couple of hours it'll take you to read it. (less)
I know it's weird to get a book you don't think you're going to enjoy but we all do that from time to time, don't we? Like going to see a bad movie sp...moreI know it's weird to get a book you don't think you're going to enjoy but we all do that from time to time, don't we? Like going to see a bad movie specifically so we can tear it apart. It's a like a whetstone for our critical senses, just something we can use to hone our wits and bring out the kind of absurd criticisms which are normally reserved for James Cameron films. A couple of times, this has completely backfired on me. I walked in to Evil Dead 2 with my sarcastic bon mots ready and walked out a fan for life of Sam Raimi. The same happened here.
I was really expecting to enjoy this book the same way one *enjoys* Sharknado - as an obvious attempt to cash in on a passing craze with it's tongue firmly implanted in it's self-aware cheek.
I was wrong. My Life as a White Trash Zombie is a good book. It's a clever book. It's a book which wears its heart on its sleeve in complete (and sometimes over the top) earnestness. It's the story of Angel, a self-professed directionless loser who wakes up in the hospital one night with no real memory of the events which put her there and a note telling her she's got a new job to get to the following monday morning, a job she'd better not screw up.
What follows is a rather simplistic murder mystery wrapped up in book length world building. In reality, this should not be book one of a series, but the prologue to book one, or book .5, or something. It's nothing so much as explaining the new world Angel finds herself in as she slowly discovers she's an honest to goodness, real dead zombie (no spoilers here, it's in the title!) and then the process of her figuring out what, exactly, that means for her past and her future. Being dead may not be all it's cracked up to be. Of course, there are complications, from Angel's alcoholic abusive father to her slacker mechanic boyfriend to a series of unsolved murders, possibly the work of a serial killer... not to mention that new job and, oh yeah, a pretty intense craving for brains. This is where Diana Rowland really shines through. While there are certainly some pretty significant plot holes, Rowland gives us a fairly logical (at least new and original - for me) concept of what it means to be a zombie, why the all important brains are all important and how they can function in the regular world. It's fun and refreshing, as opposed to some other recent zombie books I've read.
Rowland also does a nice job setting up our regular characters for sequels (there are already three additional volumes with, I'm sure, more on the way). Angel and her supporting cast are all carefully crafted, even if there are some too neat redemption set pieces and we're left with no ongoing antagonist, no real foil for Angel to play against in future stories. At the end of the day, It's Angel's story and I think we'll be rewarded for taking the time to hear it told. (less)