While Jon Ronson reveals a great deal about his own neuroses in this book, he casts little light on the psychopaths he is allegedly researching, thoug...moreWhile Jon Ronson reveals a great deal about his own neuroses in this book, he casts little light on the psychopaths he is allegedly researching, though he does give some interesting insights into the "madness industry" of psychologists who have studied, categorized, labeled, and tried to treat psychopaths, mostly without success.
Ronson begins with a strange introduction to the field of psychology and mental illness thanks to a group of Scientologists, who chose him to "expose" the evils of psychology. Scientologists believe that all mental disorders are because of engrams accumulated from past lives or space aliens or some shit like that. L. Ron Hubbard had a particular hatred of psychologists. Ronson spends a little time discussing the peculiarities of Scientology, but this book is primarily about psychopaths and what makes them tick... and what makes the people who study them tick.
After reading The Psychopath Test, it is not hard to believe that you have to be a little bit crazy to study crazy people. (Look out for those Abnormal Psychology majors...) From the arbitrariness of what goes into the DSM (did you know that far more copies are sold to interested non-academics/non-practitioners than to mental health professionals?) to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, a diagnostic tool that's become a quick and dirty way to label someone a psychopath, to the Rosenhan Experiment, the history of psychology is filled with enough self-reinforcing bumbling and egomania to make one think the Scientologists may have a point.
While Ronson's book is a collection of interesting anecdotes and observations, digressing into the overmedication of children, misdiagnoses of autism, and the brutality of capitalist devotion to "shareholder value," between interviews with ex-death squad leaders and allegedly psychopathic CEO Al Dunlap, it's a bit weak in its critique of science, and sheds little light on his subjects.
Martha Stout's book The Sociopath Next Door was more illuminating. Ronson does, however, give a bit of a glimpse into the mind of a sociopath in a way that Stout only addressed abstractly: how do sociopaths/psychopaths (there is no technical difference between them) see themselves? Do they recognize that they are "broken"? Do they ever want to be cured, and can they be? (Short answer: no.)
Ronson's interview with Al Dunlap was particularly interesting, as he actually confronted Dunlap with the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and the allegations that Dunlap, according to this tool, scored high on the psychopathy scale. Dunlap proceeded to point out that every behavior presented as evidence of being a psychopath could also be interpreted as someone who has a forceful and driven personality who gets things done. True enough, there is a lot of evidence that psychopathy is an asset in positions of power, like boardrooms.
Ronson is able to see how some of his subjects ape normal human reactions and manipulate people the way they'd handle a TV remote control, but others, like Al Dunlap, are more ambiguous. Is Dunlap really a psychopath, or just a merciless asshole? As both Stout and Ronson point out, even genuine psychopaths are rarely serial killers; most live law-abiding, respectable lives, though never out of any actual respect for the law or society.
An interesting if somewhat meandering trip into the perilous world of diagnosing psychopaths, The Psychopath Test is not exactly a weighty, heavily-researched book, but it will be of interest to anyone who has an, ahem, clinical interest in psychopaths.(less)
The Earth is facing environmental catastrophe in the 23rd century. Humans have spread to other star systems, but generally not found a lot of Earth-li...moreThe Earth is facing environmental catastrophe in the 23rd century. Humans have spread to other star systems, but generally not found a lot of Earth-like planets, and those they have found are already inhabited. A handful of intelligent alien races have been discovered, but all are primitive compared to humanity. Most alien races discovered, however, are long dead, and the most prominent is one that apparently traveled to other stars, as their monuments have been found across the galaxy.
Earth has generally taken a "hands off" approach to living natives, but as pressure mounts to begin terraforming habitable worlds as an escape plan, this "Prime Directive" morality begins to seem less desirable. There is an interesting reversal of the classic sci-fi trope, and subtle commentary on colonialism and how we might justify it in the future, when an argument is made to colonize an inhabited planet "for the natives' own good." They are in the middle of a savage global war, and it is claimed that some of them have become aware of the existence of their alien watchers, and are begging for intervention. That technological aid and imposed peace would incidentally involve Earthlings resettling on their hosts' planet would be only a logical extension of a benevolent intervention...
This is a fairly hard SF novel that will appeal to fans of "big idea" SF, particularly if you like academic/scientist protagonists. Jack McDevitt gets compared a lot to Arthur C. Clarke in the blurbs for this book, and that's a fair comparison. Also an unfortunate one as far as I'm concerned, because like Clarke's science fiction, The Engines of God did little to stir any passion in this science fiction fan. It was a perfectly well written book, it was just dry and flat and even the high stakes did not truly engage my interest.(less)
Either you dig Lovecraft or you don't. The guy had issues and his prose was the purplest, like most pulp writers of his time. But all American fantasy...moreEither you dig Lovecraft or you don't. The guy had issues and his prose was the purplest, like most pulp writers of his time. But all American fantasy and horror written since the 1930s has been influenced by Lovecraft. Lovecraft himself was heavily influenced by others, of course, and At the Mountains of Madness, one of his most famous works, made explicit reference to Edgar Allen Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.
This is a novella about a scientific expedition to Antarctica. The Antarctic was even more mysterious and unknown in the 1930s, so it was a perfect place for Lovecraft to situate an ancient, alien city. His narrator, in recounting his perilous journey from which only he and one other explorer/scientist returned, is attempting to discourage others from following in their footsteps, lest they too unearth Things Man Was Not Meant to Know.
All the classic Lovecraft tropes are here — alienness incomprehensible to human minds, non-Euclidian geometry, sanity loss, and awful truths about prehistory revealed. The city the scientists discover in the South Pole was once inhabited by a race of creatures from another star, known only as the Old Ones. The Old Ones were scientifically and culturally advanced, and created servants to help them build their great cities. These servants, awful, intelligent monstrosities known as Shoggoths, eventually rebelled against their creators, making this ancient story literally older than mankind.
Surprisingly to me, given Lovecraft's usual xenophobia and characterization of the alien as unknowable and inimical, his narrator displays an almost touching compassion and understanding for the Old Ones, observing that they were simply "men of another age, albeit alien."
In the climax, the awful truth is revealed, there is much slime and carnage, and the narrator narrowly escapes from the terrible underground tunnels of the ancient city of the Old Ones.
You will never see penguins the same way again. Tekeli-li!(less)
I seem to be on a survivalist reading kick lately, enjoying various books about TEOTWAWKI scenarios. One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that s...moreI seem to be on a survivalist reading kick lately, enjoying various books about TEOTWAWKI scenarios. One thing that quickly becomes apparent is that survivalist books and those who write them tend to be of a particular political bent. It is stronger in some than in others, but let's just say there are not a lot of people voting for Obama who write books about how the government is going to collapse and the key to survival is stashing guns and silver.
"A. American" is clearly making a statement with the very choice of his (yes, could be "her" but how likely is that?) pseudonym. Going Home seems intended to be a wake-up call of sorts, but the author doesn't really get up on a soapbox until the end.
Instead, the first part of the book is about Morgan Carter's trip home after an EMP device shuts down his car and the power grid. He is in rural Florida when it happens — setting survivalist novels in Florida or North Carolina seems to be awfully popular. Certainly it's easier to explain someone carrying a gun around, as opposed to a survivalist novel set in New York or Maryland.
Morgan Carter is a prepper, and the chapters with Morgan are narrated from a first-person POV, so he goes into great detail describing the contents of his bug-out bag, the equipment he has, his survival tactics as he begins hiking home. Later he meets up with a naive college girl, another shotgun-toting survivor named Thad (obligatory Big Black Friend), and then some ex-army guys, and the novel becomes a little disjointed as it alternates between their viewpoints as they go their separate ways.
Mostly there is a lot of talk about gear and prepper basics, obviously intended to enlist the audience's interest. There are some deadly encounters with the usual sorts of low-lives whom you'd expect to turn orc when the grid goes down. As a survival story, it's not quite as compelling as One Second After or Alas, Babylon or Dies the Fire because all those books (besides being somewhat better written) are about the survival of communities, whereas Going Home is mostly a collection of individual survival stories. However, it does illustrate some of the issues an individual might have, being caught on one's own in a SHTF scenario, though the author makes it a lot easier for his protagonists by letting them all start out heavily armed.
Now, as I noted, a certain mistrust of the government and antipathy for dependent city-dwellers is at the core of most of these survivalist novels. "A. American" keeps this in check for most of the book, with Morgan making only a few comments now and then about screwed the unprepared are going to be and the observation that people turn "collectivist" awfully fast when they run out of stuff.
The end of the book, however, reveals who the true culprits behind the EMP device were. Well, President Obama is never mentioned by name, but let's just say this is a book that will appeal to those who believe in the NWO's black helicopters and FEMA camps.(less)
This free Audible download describes a man fighting to get back to his family during a zombie outbreak. It was entertaining enough and the writing was...moreThis free Audible download describes a man fighting to get back to his family during a zombie outbreak. It was entertaining enough and the writing was okay, but basically it brought nothing new at all to the genre. The free sample consisted of the first chapter and part of the second, enough to give you a taste. I'm afraid it didn't captivate me. It was okay, but unless you're into all things zombie and just can't get enough of zombie apocalypses, I can't recommend it as a stand-out.(less)
Dies the Fire goes through the usual paces in an end-of-the-world novel: civilization collapses, there is much confusion and rioting, a few lucky/prep...moreDies the Fire goes through the usual paces in an end-of-the-world novel: civilization collapses, there is much confusion and rioting, a few lucky/prepared ones are situated such that they don't starve while all the city-dwellers run out of food, there's a massive die-off, and then the most organized, ambitious, and/or ruthless are setting up fiefdoms.
The gimmick here is that "the Change" that causes the end of civilization literally changes the laws of physics. Gunpowder, internal combustion, and electricity simply stops working. The world is literally knocked back into the middle ages technologically. This device is an excuse to write an SCAer's fantasy: those folks in the Society for Creative Anachronism who spent time dressing up in plate armor and whacking each other with rattan swords are suddenly among the only ones with actual useful combat skills, now that guns no longer work. Sterling takes that ball and runs with it: the chief villain, who takes over Portland, Oregon, "the Protector," is a former history professor and an SCA member who uses his combat skills and knowledge of medieval history to immediately begin recreating his favorite period of history with himself in charge.
Michael Havel, military veteran and former pilot, becomes a warlord of sorts, quickly leveling up as the mercenary commander of the "Bear-Killers," with assistance from a teenage girl Tolkien-nerd who conveniently enough also practiced archery as a hobby.
As a gimmick, it's interesting and fun to see the survivors literally rediscovering medieval tactics out of necessity. "The Change" is never explained, though the characters speculate that aliens did it. It does become a bit much when witches (the wiccan kind, not the actual magic-using kind) form the basis for a large survival community, apparently because they're better able to organize and survive in a pre-industrial world. Juniper, the leader of the coven, who becomes High Priestess and "Lady Juniper," is constantly spouting "Blessed Be" and "Lord and Lady!" and oh my god there is an actual Book of Shadows, yes I know some pagan branches really practice that shite but it was hard to take seriously; all the pagans I've ever known would die if you took their Internet forums and organic lattes away.
Dies the Fire is not much of an actual survivalist story; there is discussion of how the survivors have to reimplement medieval technology and spend a lot of time getting agriculture going again the hard way, but most of the action is the battles against various bandit gangs and warlords.
Not a bad read, and I may continue the series just to see if the author ever explains whether it was aliens that did it.(less)
This book has gotten much, much love from bloggers and Young Adult aficionados in general. Because girls! In World War II! And it's kind of a little b...moreThis book has gotten much, much love from bloggers and Young Adult aficionados in general. Because girls! In World War II! And it's kind of a little bit dark with Nazis, toned down to YA levels.
Code Name Verity is a girls' adventure story about a pilot and a secret agent, both based in historical reality though the author admits in her afterword that she took a bit of fictional license to allow her young female pilot to fly a plane into occupied France.
As the book begins, Julie, the secret agent half of this best friends duo, is writing a confession to her German captors. She got caught as an enemy spy when she looked the wrong way crossing a street in France, and now she's in the hands of the SS. The first half of the book is her story. She is Scheherazade, trying to prolong her life by giving away secrets and playing mind-games with her captors, games she can't possibly win.
Then comes the second half, which is Maddie's tale, Maddie being the working class girl who became a pilot, who crashed in France, and now works with the French Resistance. She learns of Julie's capture and want to free her. Of course.
Much has been made in reviews of the "shocking twist," which I shall not spoil, but let's just say it is dramatic and moving but not wholly unexpected and certainly not as wrenching for adult readers who have read war stories before. Likewise, the horrors of the Nazi occupation are described, but the author spares the reader the worst.
This isn't a flaw in the book per se — not every war story has to be gory and brutal to excess, but I was constantly reminded that this was a YA novel meant to stir an emotional response. The focus is on Julie and Maddie's friendship and we are treated to long internal monologues regarding everything that passes through their heads.
The story was good and so was the writing, but despite the cleverness of an unreliable narrator, it seemed to be written to appeal to a different sort of reader. Code Name Verity tries very hard to yank your heartstrings and make you shiver with dread at appropriate times. For a teenage girl, this is maybe a near-perfect book. For me, merely decent.(less)
This self-published ebook from The Truth About Guns contributor Nick Leghorn is written for total newbies to guns. If you've never fired a gun before...moreThis self-published ebook from The Truth About Guns contributor Nick Leghorn is written for total newbies to guns. If you've never fired a gun before and don't know the difference between a pistol and a revolver, and have no idea what calibers are all about, but you are interested in getting started, you are the target audience for this book.
I'm not a newbie to firearms, but being out of shooting for quite a few years, I felt I could use a bit of a refresher on terms before I go shopping, and Getting Started with Firearms provides a good, brief overview. There wasn't a lot in here that I didn't already know, but the information was concise and Leghorn's approach is informal, straightforward and approachable. Besides covering the basic types and concepts behind firearms, he talks about how to go gun shopping, how to choose a firearm, and the basics of shooting. Obviously you cannot learn to shoot by reading a book, but this book will make a total novice feel a bit more comfortable about going to a gun shop and asking questions.
There is also a bit of discussion about gun laws. Keep in mind that U.S. gun laws are enormously complicated, since every state and sometimes individual counties and cities have their own rules. What's perfectly legal to do in New Mexico (carry a loaded gun around in your glove compartment) is a felony in New York. Guns you can buy at WalMart in Texas are banned in Maryland. So this book can hardly be considered an authoritative guide to gun laws - to keep yourself out of trouble, you'd better know the laws thoroughly in your state.
Getting Started with Firearms in the United States was generally well edited, with only a few typos I spotted. Some material was recycled from Leghorn's TTAG columns. If you think guns are evil, this book will not change your mind, but while Leghorn is of course unabashedly pro-gun, the tone is informative and mostly neutral; it's not a gun nut's manifesto. Overall, I give it 3.5 stars for readability and usefulness of information, though its usefulness to me was limited. However, for the price it's certainly a good starting point for a budding gun enthusiast.(less)
This portal fantasy starts out in a traditional manner - Joe and Nan, two teenagers from Earth, discover a library book that ends with an exhortation...moreThis portal fantasy starts out in a traditional manner - Joe and Nan, two teenagers from Earth, discover a library book that ends with an exhortation for them to come to the world described in the book and join the adventures of Blackeye, the young pirate whose parents were killed by an evil usurping duke.
The story itself is a pleasant if unexceptional read: Joe and Nan do indeed find their way to Blackeye's world, where apparently Blackeye and her band of kid pirates have been waiting for two "offworlders" who are important to rescuing the prince for never clearly explained reasons. This is a book kids will enjoy, since the juveniles in this book pretty much have their own grown-up-free society that plans adventures, rescues, and coups. Blackeye, ostensibly the hero of the tale, is really a secondary character throughout the book.
I would have given it 3 stars, except for the character development of Joe and Nan. Joe is an ordinary teenage boy, fairly popular, but he wants to be free of his annoying family. For him, going to another world is a lark, one he doesn't think about too deeply until he realizes he could actually get killed here. Joe goes from callow youth to young man before he's returned to Earth.
Nan, however, was really the main character. A product of the foster care system, neglected and hiding behind layers of walls and defense mechanisms, Nan loves being in another world, no matter how dangerous. And when it turns out that for her, being a "hero" means working like a slave in a kitchen for weeks, peeling potatoes and being abused while waiting for the Plan to materialize, that's what she does.
And then, after she is the hero, after the good guys win, she's told that the laws of magic require that she go home. Joe has realized that he misses his family and he needs to man up and take care of his brother, but Nan's reward is to go back to the world she hates, where she is unloved and nothing.
Portal fantasies often depict children who are reluctant to leave their magical fantasy lands, but never with such fierce, desperate desire and with such good reason as Nan. The ending makes this a 4-star book.(less)
Volume 4 of Morning Glories continues with what seems to be the series' ongoing theme of "We ain't tellin' you shit."
Okay, that is not 100% true. We d...moreVolume 4 of Morning Glories continues with what seems to be the series' ongoing theme of "We ain't tellin' you shit."
Okay, that is not 100% true. We do get a few answers, of sorts, in this volume (hint: time travel), but as has been the case in previous volumes, every "answer" adds three more questions. So we get a few more clues about the founding of the academy and what was going on in some scenes in earlier issues, but we are still way down the Lost rabbit hole, and I'm still not convinced there is a grand plan that will explain it all. Yet I keep reading because it's still interesting.
Volume 4, Truants, introduces a new set of six students, with their own agenda. The leader of which is Irina, a rifle-toting Ukrainian chick who has already killed off one of my favorite characters and no, a full volume later it has not been explained thank you very much. :( Of course this is one of those series where you cannot necessarily assume a character is dead and buried and out of the story just because you saw a bullet blow through their heart, but still, it looks like Nick Spencer is starting to do what he did in Walking Dead: maintain a steady supplement of new main characters to replace the ones he kills off.
So now we know a little bit more about factions and one of the sides opposing the staff of Morning Glory Academy. And another character who appeared to be a good guy turns out to be not so much. But then the jury is still out on a lot of the characters who appear to be bad guys.
Gah. I want to keep reading because the story has to be going somewhere, right?(less)
With this third volume of Morning Glories (collecting issues #13-#19), all the kids at Morning Glory Academy are sent out to p...moreCuriouser and curiouser.
With this third volume of Morning Glories (collecting issues #13-#19), all the kids at Morning Glory Academy are sent out to participate in some sort of outdoor snipe-hunt called "Woodrun." Of course everything at Morning Glory Academy is creepy and leads to fatalities, but the best part of this volume was Hunter (nerdy ginger-haired fanboy with a crush on Casey) being paired with Zoe (hot Indian material girl with a tongue like a whip).
I am still liking this series a lot, but not gonna lie, I am getting increasingly confused as mystery piles upon mystery with almost nothing explained yet. I mean, at some point in your big conspiracy epic you have to start unraveling the knot a little bit, right?
So far we have Casey time-traveling to meet her father, Jade and Ike, umm, having a long conversation in an underground cavern, Jun/Hisao getting some M/M action with a new guy in a double-page bit of fanservice for the ladies, and then there is Hunter and Zoe out in the woods. With a knife. A big butcher knife. Wielded by Zoe. Who is a knife murderer. WTF?
The thing is, all these cliffhangers end with one of the characters or some new person showing up and making a startling pronouncement that vaguely hints at What's Really Going On, except we know we haven't even begin to scratch the surface of What's Really Going On.
So far, all I know is pretty much what I guessed after the first issue: Morning Glory Academy is part of some deep conspiracy/cult that is either trying to take over the world or save the world or thinks it's doing one or the other, and our six Glories are all "special" in some way.
Artwork and the story continues to be superb, but if I keep getting strung along like this, my patience will be tried.(less)
Contrary to its title, Hard Magic is not an urban fantasy: it's basically a superhero novel. Set in an alternate history between world wars, a mysteri...moreContrary to its title, Hard Magic is not an urban fantasy: it's basically a superhero novel. Set in an alternate history between world wars, a mysterious alien "power" came to Earth in the middle of the 19th century and granted a subset of the population magical powers. For the majority of "Actives," these powers come in singular and well-defined forms: there are "brutes" who have super strength, "torches" who are pyrokinetics, "mouths" with mind control powers, "heavies" who can manipulate gravity, etc. But it turns out there are also other forms of magic, such as those wielded by the Japanese Imperium's "Iron Guard." These magical super-soldiers have kanji branded into their skins that give them accelerated healing, protection from harm, strength and speed, and other powers. There are also necromancers who raise the dead to create zombie armies, and other manifestations of magical power, but they all function pretty much like super powers.
In this alternate history, Japan is on a path to world domination thanks to possessing the most powerful and heavily trained magical warriors, and fleets of dirigibles that function like bombers and aircraft carriers all at once. Led by the most powerful man on Earth (literally and figuratively), Chairman Tokugawa, this is the Japan of the 1930s: expansionist, fascist, and unambiguously and unapologetically the bad guys. Tokugawa, as the Big Bad, is a great if somewhat stereotyped villain. Yes, he's a centuries-old samurai with magical superpowers who goes on about strength and honor and likes to recite poems to his enemies before killing them, but he has class and style and he's the sort of villain you love to see chewing the scenery and can't wait for the climactic battle where he finally goes down.
This book has lots of climactic battles, each one more epic than the last. Jake Sullivan, the main character, is a "heavy" who can control gravity. He's also a great big slab of macho, a war veteran, an ex-con, an ex-P.I., fearless alpha, and probably a little bit of an authorial wish-fulfillment. He hits every manly-man trope in the noir genre, and you know what? That's okay! Because this book is what it is, a raging male power fantasy like the classic superhero comics where Superman knocked Nazi fighter planes out of the sky. Here we have Jake Sullivan fighting other "Actives," then pitted against his own brother, who of course is bigger and badder than him and thus is the penultimate Boss level Jake must get past before he can face the Chairman himself.
But it's not just Jake tromping around in a California fortified with "Peace Rays" created by Tesla and fighting Imperium ninjas and invincible Iron Guards and dirigible sky pirates. He joins the Knights of the Grimnoir, an international organization dedicated to protecting the magically gifted and the non-magical alike. Jake's ex is Delilah, a former New Orleans whore with super-strength. A secondary protagonist is Faye, an Okie "Traveler" (teleporter) who is a hoot as a character, her mind running a mile a minute in a hundred directions, and in the climax (in which she, like Jake, has without a whole lot of plausible explanation powered up by a factor of about eleventy) is running amok through the Japanese dirigible fleet blasting magical ninjas with a shotgun that never seems to run out of ammo, and that's before she and Jake go completely Super Saiyan against the Chairman and his Iron Guard.
If you're thinking this sounds a lot like Steelheart or Mistborn, you're right. This was my first Larry Correia novel, but his writing style and his worldbuilding reminded me a lot of Brandon Sanderson. Like Sanderson, Correia writes straight-up action/adventure with lots of heroics and over-the-top power stunts and characters who are often archetypes more than fully-realized people, but if you are in the mood for grand pulp adventure, this book hits a high mark and almost got 5 stars from me. It is a guns blazing, powers activating, bloody spectacular pulp superhero slugfest that is, if not a literary masterpiece and unabashedly un-PC, absolutely great fun for those who like an occasional dose of fist-pumping "America, booyah!" heroics.(less)
The titles of the various Morning Glory collections are a little confusing, especially as there was apparently a hardcover volume 2 that got recalled....moreThe titles of the various Morning Glory collections are a little confusing, especially as there was apparently a hardcover volume 2 that got recalled. So, this is the hardcover edition that includes the trade paperback collections Volumes 1 ("For a Better Future") (which I reviewed separately) and 2 ("All Will Be Free"). I will comment mostly on volume 2; I recommend you read the above review for an introduction to Morning Glories.
Each issue of volume 2 focuses on one of our six "Glories," the main characters who are now trapped at the most prestigious boarding school in America. How a school manages to become so prestigious when no one is ever allowed to leave and the student casualty rate rivals that of redshirts on the Enterprise, I am not sure, but then, there are a lot of things about this series that after 12 issues I just plain don't understand, which is how the writer obviously intends it. Everyone compares this series to Lost (and this edition has a foreword written by Lost creator Damon Lindelof), which can be a good or a bad thing. If you dive into a long-running saga full of labyrinthine plots and sudden shocking twists, with generous helpings of weird science and the supernatural, there are one of two possibilities: (1) the writers know exactly what they are doing and if you hang on for years waiting for it all to come together, eventually there will be a big payoff, or (2) the writers kinda sorta had an idea of what they were doing in the beginning, but then things happened, they weren't sure how to write themselves out of some of the corners they'd put themselves into, and at a certain point you are pretty sure they're just making shit up as they go along.
I am wary, but I haven't lost faith in Morning Glories yet and it's entertaining enough for me to keep reading.
So anyway, Volume 2. Our "Glories" are: Hunter, the ginger-haired nerd. He has a crush on: Casey, the hot blonde science whiz who in Volume 1 (view spoiler)[found her parents hanging dead from chains in the school's basement (hide spoiler)] and has not yet mentioned this to her friends. Casey, so far, is the lead candidate for mastermind/group leader who wants to get them all out of here. Jun is the strong, silent Japanese foreign exchange student who so far has mostly shown up when someone needs to be beaten up in the nick of time. Zoe is the hot slutty Indian girl who is all about the boyz and the $$$. (Note: these are how the characters are presented — as we will learn in this volume, none of them are completely as they appear.) Ike is the son of a Park Avenue billionaire. He killed his old man and inherited his fortune, yet even he can't get out of this place. This doesn't stop him from living the life of Chuck Bass. Finally, we have Jade, probably the weakest character so far, an angsty farm girl who apparently has psychic powers. Or something.
Each issue in Volume 2 focuses on one of them. They all turn out to have much more complex backstories and personalities. Now we know more about the main characters and some of the secondary ones, and some new ones are introduced (like Lara Hodge, a hot redhead who comes tromping out of some kind of Tomb Raider adventure to appear at Morning Glory Academy as a "guidance counselor," and yes, she dresses like Lara Croft.) At the end of 12 issues, we still have very few clues as to what the true purpose of Morning Glory Academy is, why they do the things they do, what they want with these particular students, and why almost all the other students and staff seem to be sadistic psychopaths. Basically, we've got heavy hints that the six main characters are "special," and it's related to their all being born on the same day. Beyond that... what? Will it all tie together eventually? Will it make sense? Or is the writer already making shit up as he goes along? I don't know, but I am deeply intrigued and I really, really want to believe that this story is going somewhere mindblowing. We've already had several characters do some really extreme and unexplained things, and I want an explanation, dammit!
A large part of this series's appeal is the artwork. Joe Eisma's full-color pencil artwork is lush and radiant, and Rodin Esquejo's covers are gorgeous. Now, I admit there's a lot of cheesecake, but Esquejo makes the boys as pretty as the girls:
A lot of graphic novels I read because I still like superheroes, or because the artwork is kind of cool, but there are a handful of series that really have a story that is worth following, something that approaches literary caliber. Morning Glories is about teenagers and it's definitely a YA title, but I would say it's worth reading for adults as well. I just hope there is an ending...someday, that rewards us for the journey.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
So I'm again picking up on random events in the Marvel Universe by reading trade paperbacks. Apparently the Human Torch died? And Spider-Man lost his...moreSo I'm again picking up on random events in the Marvel Universe by reading trade paperbacks. Apparently the Human Torch died? And Spider-Man lost his spidey-sense?
This volume collects one three-issue run in which Spider-Man joins the Fantastic Four, which is now the Future Foundation, and a two-issue run in which Spider-Man substitute teaches for the Avenger's Academy, plus a couple of side stories, one of which teams up Spider-Man with the Ghost Rider in a lackluster tale about a demon trying to repossess the Ghost Rider's bike, and another about Peter Parker trying to redeem a small-time criminal that Spider-Man put away years ago.
The Fantastic Four issues were the best: there was a great mix of humor and adventure, with much wise-cracking. The Avenger's Academy tie-in was mildly entertaining, though once again there's an expendable batch of newbie superheroes I don't know or care about.
I have always been a fan of Spidey and the FF, and this book had a little of the old Marvel flavor, but none of the stories were stand-out. Also, I thought Spider-Man had progressively matured over the years, and he should be acting like a veteran now; he's a pro. Still wisecracking, of course, but there is a reason why he's now a member of both the Avengers and the FF. And meanwhile he has an "adult" job at Horizon Labs. Not the insecure man-child he was in most of these issues, acting almost like a teenager.
Enjoyable light superhero fare, but nothing epic or brilliant.(less)
Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon is a classic novel of post-nuclear war survival. Set in Fort Repose, Florida, a tiny town that is missed by the nuclear miss...morePat Frank's Alas, Babylon is a classic novel of post-nuclear war survival. Set in Fort Repose, Florida, a tiny town that is missed by the nuclear missiles that level all major cities in the U.S., it is less Cold War science fiction than a survivalist epic.
The author of One Second After acknowledged this book as one of his inspirations, and the two books are very similar in many ways. Both feature the residents of a small Southern town forming a survivalist community in the wake of the collapse of the U.S. government and technological civilization. In Alas, Babylon, it is a nuclear war between the US and the USSR, the ominous and inevitable build-up to war taking up the first half of the book, as only a few people realize just what is unfolding before them on the news.
As in One Second After, Alas, Babylon features an All-American protagonist stepping up to take charge because no one else will, while he tries to manage his small family (in this case, the family of his brother, an Air Force officer who knew what was going down and sent them to relative safety ahead of time). There are food shortages, the necessity of modern people figuring out how to survive without modern technology, the return of the barter economy, as well as bandits and highwaymen. As a survivalist epic, it's not as grim as it could have been, but it's another one of those books that might make you think about stocking up on bullets and beans, just in case.
For a book written in 1959, Alas, Babylon holds up surprisingly well, largely because as with all stories about a total collapse of civilization, once the grid goes down and there is no more government, it doesn't matter whether it was 1959 or 1980 or 2014, everything is going to look like the 19th century pretty quickly. The USSR is no longer, but Russia still has missiles pointed at us; nuclear war may no longer be as likely as it once seemed, but it's hardly a threat that's vanished. The black characters, despite living in Florida in 1959, are treated better by the author than in some more recent post-apocalyptic novels I could name.
This was a good read for anyone who's a fan of survivalist novels and stories about what a community would do after the end of the world. Very slightly dated, but the writing style and the challenges facing the characters will mostly keep you from noticing.(less)
The Cloud Roads is a fairly traditional fantasy novel with worldbuilding that at first seems fairly original. It took me until I was about halfway int...moreThe Cloud Roads is a fairly traditional fantasy novel with worldbuilding that at first seems fairly original. It took me until I was about halfway into the book before I realized why it felt derivative. Of course saying a fantasy novel is derivative is not necessarily a bad thing; I think fantasy readers sometimes overrate originality. Very few great fantasy novels are great because their worlds are so unique and different: it's the characters and the sweep of the story that makes them great.
The biggest "hook" for The Cloud Roads is that it is a world completely devoid of humans. This is truly an alien secondary world. There are a seemingly infinite number of humanoid "groundling" races, distinguished by various configurations of fur, scales, feathers, tusks, etc., and the implication that they are probably mostly from related evolutionary branches. The world (referred to as the Three Worlds) is a low-tech fantasy one in which some groundlings build cities while others are nomadic tribesmen, but there are (as yet) no empires or significant technological development beyond basic stone and metalworking. Magic exists in the world, but it seems to be found only in the natural abilities of various creatures and some elements; there are no "spells" or wizards.
Moon, the protagonist, has been living among groundlings for most of his life, but he is not a groundling. He does not know what he is, only that he can magically shift from a humanoid, groundling-like form to a much larger winged, reptilian form. He keeps this hidden from groundlings, because unfortunately the apex predators on this world are demonic creatures known as the Fell, who come in several varieties and castes, but among other things, can shift into immense reptilian winged predators.
Eventually, Moon discovers that he is actually of a race called the Raksura, who have been warring with the Fell forever. Much of the middle of the book is about Moon being brought back to a Raksura "court" and trying to find his place among them. Because of his feral upbringing, in complete ignorance of Raksura ways, he finds that he is a consort — one of the most important castes, naturally — in a court that has two rival queens in need of consorts, but he has no idea how to negotiate the situation the way a Raksura-raised consort would.
The last third of the book brings us back to the Fell, and their plans for the Raksura, and the climactic battle between Moon's court and a Fell hive.
There is a lot to like here, and if you're looking for an epic fantasy that's a little offbeat, I can recommend it.
I have referred to the Raksura and the Fell as "winged and reptilian," and while the word "dragon" is not used, The Cloud Roads reminded me a lot of the Dragonriders of Pern, and perhaps even more strongly of the Harper Hall trilogy and its twee fire lizards and its misfit misunderstood protagonist who is the most Special GirlRaksura on PernThree Worlds. Raksura and Fell do not breathe fire, but they are divided into castes, described by color, and have telepathic powers, and there are all kinds of weird caste/gender politics.
Secondarily, The Cloud Roads reminded me of Elfquest. Yes, Elfquest, the Wendy and Richard Pini comic, with its cute but bloodthirsty elves living in magical savagery, pursued by more monstrous creatures, and when not fighting for survival, having soap-operatic romantic feuds with lots of hissing and baring of teeth and swords, or in the case of the Raksura, claws.
So once I realized I was reading a 21st century fantasy novel in the spirit of Pern and Elfquest, I was caught between nostalgia and snickers.
I did not find Moon endearing. He wallows and angsts and dithers. Because he has spent much of his life hiding his true nature from groundlings who will kill him if they find out what he is, even as he sleeps with them, taking some of them as wives (hmm, allegory anyone?), he is mistrustful and prepared to run even when he finds himself among his own kind. At a certain point I wanted to slap the boy and say, "Look, quit whining. You've found your people." It takes him many chapters to get to the "Stand and fight" moment.
Then there is the, I don't know what to call it, omni-bisexuality between Fell and Raksura? The Fell are described as foul, demonic creatures with a stench that repels Raksura from miles away, yet some of them can assume groundling forms that are sexy-hawt enough to have Foe-Yay sex with them. What is this even. In fairness, it ends up being a significant part of the Fell's long-range plans, but there were some scenes that made me think they'd been tossed in there as fanfic-bait.
Other things I did not like:
17 instances of "lifted a brow." 5 instances of "rolled his/her shoulders." and similar writing tics that were frequent enough to be annoying.
So after raking this book with my claws (there is much raking of things with claws in this book), I give it 3 stars. It was not bad, it has definite original elements and lots of action, I just found it to be written perhaps for a slightly more female demographic. At a certain point I found myself skimming, which is a pretty good indicator that the rest of the series will not hold my interest.(less)
This was a free download from Audible, and who can pass up a free Dickens?
One of Dickens' Christmas stories, this one features a series of misundersta...moreThis was a free download from Audible, and who can pass up a free Dickens?
One of Dickens' Christmas stories, this one features a series of misunderstanding and coincidences in typical Dickens fashion.
A Scrooge-like toymaker named Tackleton is engaged to marry a much younger woman, who clearly does not love him, but needs the financial security he offers. Meanwhile, the lovely Dot is also married to a much older man, but alas, events transpire to lead poor Mr. Peerybingle to believe his beloved Dot is secretly meeting with a gallant younger man. Lastly, there is Blind Bertha, the daughter of impoverished Caleb Plumber, who has conspired to conceal from his blind daughter their true circumstances.
I have said that Caleb and his poor Blind Daughter lived here. I should have said that Caleb lived here, and his poor Blind Daughter somewhere else—in an enchanted home of Caleb’s furnishing, where scarcity and shabbiness were not, and trouble never entered. Caleb was no sorcerer, but in the only magic art that still remains to us, the magic of devoted, deathless love, Nature had been the mistress of his study; and from her teaching, all the wonder came.
The Blind Girl never knew that ceilings were discoloured, walls blotched and bare of plaster here and there, high crevices unstopped and widening every day, beams mouldering and tending downward. The Blind Girl never knew that iron was rusting, wood rotting, paper peeling off; the size, and shape, and true proportion of the dwelling, withering away. The Blind Girl never knew that ugly shapes of delf and earthenware were on the board; that sorrow and faintheartedness were in the house; that Caleb’s scanty hairs were turning greyer and more grey, before her sightless face. The Blind Girl never knew they had a master, cold, exacting, and uninterested—never knew that Tackleton was Tackleton in short; but lived in the belief of an eccentric humourist who loved to have his jest with them, and who, while he was the Guardian Angel of their lives, disdained to hear one word of thankfulness.
These three couples, whose lives are intertwined, are each the beneficiaries of a cricket on a hearth, who conjures household spirits symbolic of all that is good in their lives, and the miseries each endures are overcome in the end.
A heartwarming little tale, though not one of Dickens' best. I didn't delight in any marvelous Dickensian turns of phrases as I have in so many of his other stories, nor were the characters particularly memorable. But it's certainly a nice tale to listen to by a crackling fire. (Or in my case, while raking leaves.)(less)