When taken for what it is (a 100 year old pulpy Sci-Fi adventure story with machismo flowing out of every page), A Princess of Mars is a pretty fun riWhen taken for what it is (a 100 year old pulpy Sci-Fi adventure story with machismo flowing out of every page), A Princess of Mars is a pretty fun ride. The key to enjoying it is to not think too hard about it. This is a review though, so I'm going to do the exact opposite of that.
A Princess Of Mars tells the story of John Carter, a Virginian soldier who gets transported to Mars by... um, going to Mars. I'm not really sure how. It just kinda happens. Like that time you absentmindedly wandered into the other gender's restroom. Let's just say he gets to Mars using plot advancement magic. So anyway, John winds up on Mars and is captured by a tribe of savage green martians twice his size. He finds out he can jump incredible distances because of the lower gravity and thinner atmosphere of Mars and leaps into all sorts of shenanigans, eventually catching the eye of a beautiful human-like martian princess and I'm sure you can guess the rest of the story from there.
The book is pretty standard fare for adventure stories (it was almost surely a much fresher novel 100 years ago, but such is the nature of time). John Carter is the perfect embodiment of manliness, complete with numerous moments of other characters admiring his physical prowess. There's plenty of contrived coincidences and "your princess is in another castle" moments, and the love story is the typical dominating male/submissive female angle. All these things aren't too bad, especially considering when it was written, but it highlights that the book hasn't aged very well at all.
Unsurprisingly, the book is very male dominated. Deja Thoris, the titular princess, is so shallow that she can't even be called a character. She's merely one of Carter's possessions, distinguished only from his other material belongings in that she speaks sometimes. Her love for Carter apparently centers on his willingness to start massive wars just so she can't marry another man (because mass murder is what the ladies like). Sola, John Carter's green martian caretaker, is a bit different though. At first, I was impressed that the book seemed to be developing a character for her, even giving her a detailed backstory, but it turns out that she's only given one to add depth to a different male character. I'm not sure which circumstance is more annoying.
John Carter himself is a bit of a mixed bag. He's a fun narrator and some of his observations are humorous, but he's also a cocky punk without the relatable flaws that make other cocky punks likeable. He's perfect and he knows it, like Superman but without the humility. Tars Tarkas, a high ranking martian warrior, fares much better. As a character, he has a clear, discernable arc and believable motivations. He's the best developed character in the whole book and he occupies center stage for maybe a third of it. Go figure.
While the characters mostly falter and the story is formulaic, the action is plenty of fun. Scenes are always exciting, each bringing something new and fresh to the table. The same scenario is rarely used twice and Burroughs' writing style lends itself well to the quick and fast paced style of the action. It helps the book immensely that you're never too far from a dramatic swordfight or an exciting battle between warships.
Despite all the cliche melodrama and lackluster characters, I jumped right into the sequel after finishing A Princess Of Mars. Considering all its faults, that's pretty impressive to me. You won't find anything deep or meaningful here, but a fun ride can be reasonably expected....more
I find it fun sometimes to look at the review blurbs on the cover of a book I'm about to read and try and predict just how wrong they'll be. Don't misI find it fun sometimes to look at the review blurbs on the cover of a book I'm about to read and try and predict just how wrong they'll be. Don't misunderstand though, I don't do this to books because I think they are going to suck (I wouldn't be about to read them if I thought that), but some of the review snippets put on the front and back of these books are just comically overblown fluff text meant to give the book more curb appeal and often not indicative of its quality. I mean, come on, not every single book an author writes can be their masterpeice. So as I looked on the back of my copy of The Road, I saw the usual suspects: "eloquent", "brilliant", "moving" and, of course, "masterpeice". Among all that praise, however, was a particularly inane word of praise: "readable". As a matter of fact, it's "the most readable of [McCarthy's] works" according to The New York Times Book Review.
How hard is it, really, to write a book that's "readable"? It's not like it's common practice to write books in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics or complex alien languages or anything. Fill up a page with words, make sure you spell them right, pay attention to grammar and punctuation, repeat 300 or so times (500 if you're writing fantasy, and 1,000 if you're Peter F. Hamilton) and done. Your novel is now "readable". Thus, I thought it safe to assume that of all the superfluous praise located on the back cover of The Road, at the least, "readable" would be truthful.
Well, you know what they say happens when you assume.
I don't know why McCarthy hates little dots connected to curved lines, but at every opportunity he can, he avoids using commas, apostrophes and quotation marks like they're the plague. There are no quotation marks at all, apostrophes are only present when they're necessary to distinguish one word from another (eg. its/it's and your/you're), and commas are used so rarely that you can almost feel the begrudgingness with which they were put into every sentence they appear in. The result is a cavalcade of run-on sentences, dialoge that easily blends in with narration, and many typos that serve no purpose. This is "the most readable of [McCarthy's] works"?! Holy crap! Does he not use periods at the end of his sentences in his other books or something?
I suppose the minimalist approach is McCarthy's attemp at theming. Life has been stripped down, so to speak, to the bare necessities in The Road and the simplistic punctuation style is a visual representation of that. Maybe. Hell, I don't know. It's either that or McCarthy is trying to stand out from his contemporaries with this style, effectively waving his hand over his head shouting "Look at me! I'm unique and brilliant!". But even if both of those guesses are wrong, there's still a problem with the presentation; it's immersion breaking. Everytime there's dialogue with no line break and no indication of who's talking, I get pulled out of the story. Everytime the prose jumps between paragraph long sentences with 17 occurrences of the word "and" to a string of one or two word sentence fragments, I get pulled out of the story.
I will give the book some credit, though. Its plot is very consistent. So consistent, in fact, that everything after page fifty looks a whole lot like everything before page fifty happening over and over again. First, the crappy state of the world is highlighted. Then, the father collects supplies while the son alternates between being scared and being complacent (with masterfully evocative dialogue like "I am scared" and "Okay"). Finally, a bad thing happens to them and the cycle starts over from there. Repeat ad nauseam.
All that might not have been so bad if the two main characters actually had some personality to them. They're just empty husks, though. And, ok, the world ended, these guys aren't going to be the most vibrant of people. I get that, but that doesn't make reading about these two lifeless shells for 300 pages any less annoying (maybe The Road would have been better as a short story). The dialogue is particularly tiresome because neither character possesses anything resembling a voice. It's just two poeple, no, two things, saying the same lines over and over again. I don't care about these characters or all the crappy things that happen to them because they never became people to me, which means I can't get invested in the story. I'd say they're just robots, but there have been some pretty emotive robots in fiction and I don't want to insult them. The father and son duo seem more like cardboard cutout stand-ins for the actual characters who just never showed up for the story. Just because the world ends doesn't mean personalities have to end too.
The Road's biggest offense is simply that it's boring (and badly written, and poorly punctuated, and arrogant, and... well, you get the idea). Even at 300 pages it's overlong, as McCarthy runs out of new material at around page fifty. There's no life in it, no personality, no redeeming value, and no reason to read it....more
Dang it, Runaways! I really want to like you. You've got lots of potential. Stop giving me reasons to abandon your story!
So, volume 2 continues the stDang it, Runaways! I really want to like you. You've got lots of potential. Stop giving me reasons to abandon your story!
So, volume 2 continues the story of six young teenagers on the run from their actually evil parents all the while dealing with typical teenage anxieties (self discovery, independence, twoo wuv) as well as not so typical ones (finding out that your awesome battle gauntlets make it difficult to go to the bathroom, realizing that you have to constantly speak in references to classical literature and the like to prove your superior intellect to your peers, and finding out that you're an alien as a not-so-subtle metaphor for how you're sexual orientation makes you feel confused/like an outsider).
In addition to that, the Runaways get their first taste of superhero vigilantism, doing battle against common criminals, creatures of the night, a street level Marvel super couple and, their most fearsome foe, artist Adrian Alphona's continued efforts to make the teens facial expressions look as ridiculous as possible. They do pretty ok against the first three, but they just aren't powerful enough yet to overcome Mr. Alphona. Maybe they will be in the next volume (doubt it).
Come on, guys. Don't let such a good idea go to waste with all this standard fare storytelling and bland one-dimensional characters. ...more
It's easy as an adult for me to criticize Young Adult and Children's fiction for its lack of subtlety, over simplicity and certain themes prevalent inIt's easy as an adult for me to criticize Young Adult and Children's fiction for its lack of subtlety, over simplicity and certain themes prevalent in those types of books while forgetting that these books weren't written for me (at least, not as I am now). That, combined with my probable overestimation of my own childhood intelligence, makes it hard to objectively review these genres. Doesn't mean I won't try though.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, or PJATOTLT as it's not called for short, is the story of a troubled child named Percy struggling through his education at his sixth new school in as many years. He has a loving mother, but an abusive step-dad and an absentee father. He has few (see: one) friends and struggles with ADHD and Dyslexia to boot. Things are not going well for Percy. Things only get worse for him when one of his teachers turns into a horrible creature and attacks him on a class field trip. Thus, young mister Jackson discovers he's actually a demigod, meets new mythical friends (and enemies, of course) and gets sent on his very own epic quest.
The premise for this book is pretty good. A Greek epic told in a modern day setting has interesting implications, and Riordan explores many of them. Some are handled better than others, but a good job is done weaving these ancient characters into the real world.
Percy is a fun narrator. He explains the situations he gets himself into with the same kind of exasperation or dumbfoundedness the reader is likely experiencing. Percy knows his situation is ridiculous and his open acknowledgement of it makes the more outlandish aspects feel a bit more believable. He's also humorous. He speaks in a manner that the twelve year old in me appreciates. Granted Percy does walk the line between lovable jerk and intolerable punk sometimes with his frequent mental put-downs, but he leans on the lovable side more often than not.
Now, while I'm willing to give concession to The Lightning Thief for some of it's creative decisions because of its target audience, the line has to be drawn somewhere. Again, Children's Fiction isn't known for it's subtlety, but this book takes it a bit far. For instance, if you find the main trio in a seemingly harmless situation that seems a little odd, it's probably a death trap of some sort. Every time. Every. Single. Time. Just once it would have been nice for everything to turn out all hunky dory for a change. "Ok, thanks for your help. Have a nice day." Smiley faces all around. Mixing it up and having things go right every once in a while adds more to the tension since it makes it harder to tell when thing will inevitably go wrong. There's nothing like that here though and the attempts to conceal the twists and turns of the story are highly transparent.
The book also perpetuates the whole ADULTS ARE EVIL!! idea that's so prevalent in stories of this type. Granted, some adults are evil, and it's probably not a good idea for kids to get chummy with strangers, but there are good adults too. Adults who won't try to murder you every chance they get. That seems obvious, but it was hard as a kid reading books like this not to think that every grown up was out to get me.
Aside from those gripes, however, the story is very enjoyable. It's imaginative, fun, and the incorporation of Greek characters is both interesting to those who are unfamiliar, and clever to those who are. It takes full advantage of the wealth of characters at its disposal and uses them in many interesting ways. The story moves along at a fast pace, the plot is exciting, if predictable, and the cast is largely likeable and enjoyable to read about.
At the very least, The Lightning Thief does a good job of immersing you in its world, if not always by skilled explanation, then by enthusiastic presentation, which is good, because the world it creates is fun and rather exciting. This book will also likely imbue in young readers an interest in Greek mythology. At least enough to make them read the next book, anyway....more
I should hate this book. I really should. It uses so many elements of writing that I detest that I shouldn't have been able to read all 700 pages of iI should hate this book. I really should. It uses so many elements of writing that I detest that I shouldn't have been able to read all 700 pages of it. And yet, I actually kind of like it. It's a little strange since, on a critical level, I know I shouldn't like this book (and I don't), but I can't help but look at it in retrospect with fondness.
Allow me to explain. I picked this book up off the shelf by chance when I saw it during a trip to WalMart, normally the last place I think to look for books at. Having never heard anything about it before, I was blown away by the back cover's synopsis. H.G. Wells starring in a murder mystery with time travel where great literary classics are in danger of disappearing forever? Hell yeah! Sign me up yesterday! I got home and immediately jumped into the book, discarding my other merchandise. They could wait. Dracula was about to be erased from the time continuum and you just don't mess around with stuff like that. So I start excitedly reading the novel, but wait. Where's Wells? Who's this poor sap named Andrew trying to commit suicide where my H.G. Wells murder mystery should be? What's going on?
Well, turns out that the magnificent idea printed on the back of the book is only a portion of the story that makes up The Map of Time. The smallest and very last portion at that. Most of the book focuses on only slightly related characters who are not Mr. Wells and their slightly related stories only slightly involving Mr. Wells. This was very disappointing to me. To be fair, the book does say that it's a triple play, but still, I felt deceived.
On top of the deception, the stories not involving Wells are just bad. Poorly written with meaningless flowery prose and boring info dump after info dump about characters with no real dimension. The fact that the book is doing this on purpose as a sort of homage (or tongue in cheek presentation or perhaps affectionate satire, I'm not 100% sure) to Victorian novels doesn't make the writing any better. Maybe it won't bother you if you enjoy the Victorian style, but I normally don't. The novel flaunts baseless passion before common sense and that just annoys me. Then characters keep making illogical leaps just to move the plot along, which also annoys me, but at least that means it's moving. When it isn't forcing the plot to advance, the book makes the reader slog through thick and mostly pointless melodrama.
So yeah, like I said, I should really hate this book. I don't, though, and that's because H.G. Wells is freakin' awesome and anything with his name on it jumps up a few notches on my scale just by that virtue alone (not that that makes it infallible in any way, of course). Fortunately, Mr. Palma has done a wonderful job with his portrayal of the author. Presenting his story in a fun but interesting way that's part dramatic biography and part fantasy with time travel, which is another wonderfully handled element. You never quite know what exactly you're getting with the time travel in this book and it keeps things exciting and interesting. In addition, the narrator is a joy. Think the 4th wall breaking Death from The Book Thief, (but without the stupid food analogies) and combine it with the observational humor of Lemony Snicket from A Series of Unfortunate Events, (but without all the word definitions).
It's almost like Felix J. Palma wrote a crappy 400 page Victorian novel and combined it with an awesome 400 page Science Fiction novel and trimmed the wrong one to make them fit into an even then overlong novel. Which is too bad, because the Victorian melodrama really drags down what could have been an amazing book. To be fair though, I'm a Sci-Fi kind of guy, so the Victorian aspects could be the major selling point to some people, who would be disappointed by the Scientific elements. Holy crap if you like both though, because for those individuals, this book may just be the greatest thing since the steam engine....more
About midway through The Five Nightmares there's a conversation between Tony Stark and the board of a cola company that I'm sure there's more to thanAbout midway through The Five Nightmares there's a conversation between Tony Stark and the board of a cola company that I'm sure there's more to than we're seeing. It goes like so:
COLA BOARD DIRECTOR: Mr. Stark... You're buying us for our vending machines to sell a drink you don't even like? TONY STARK: No. I'm buying you for vending machines from which we'll distribute antiretrovirals and--once we get it--the AIDS vaccine, all across the third world. Your vending machines are going to save more lives than the Berlin airlift. (We jump to a new scene at this point, but I imagine the rest of the conversation went something like this): COLA BOARD DIRECTOR: Wait. You want to put medicine into vending machines all across the third world? TONY STARK: Yes. COLA BOARD DIRECTOR: The same third world with all the violent and malicious terrorist organizations roaming about? TONY STARK: Um, yes? COLA BOARD DIRECTOR: Ok, so what's to stop said organizations from buying all the medicine in the machines and selling it back at a bazillion percent mark-up or just keeping it for themselves? TONY STARK: Uh... COLA BOARD DIRECTOR: In fact, couldn't you use the money you'd need to buy out our company to just set up your own distribution system? TONY STARK: ... COLA BOARD DIRECTOR: Are you sure all this humanitarian stuff isn't just some kind of haphazard way for the Marvel writers to remind people that you're still a good guy even though you kind of turned into an evil dictator for a while there during that whole Civil War business? TONY STARK: ...I'm just gonna go blow something up now.
It's quite clear that Matt Fraction is playing damage control after Iron Man was turned into the villian of Civil War as at every opportunity he can manage, Fraction inserts a little tidbit about how Stark Industries is not about war anymore. It's all medicine and love and stuff. Which is cool, good even, but also transparent and tiresome because of the frequency with which mention of it is made. We get it. Tony is a good guy.
Despite that, The Five Nightmares is still a good book. Ezekiel Stane is using Stark Tech to blow things the hell up in an attempt to get to Tony as revenge for killing his father, Obadiah Stane. It's a pretty typical revenge story, but it's a fun one with plenty of action and fun dialogue. At least it is when it isn't constantly reminding you that TONY STARK IS A HUMANITARIAN, DANG IT! AND LOVES PUPPIES!!
The art is... interesting. On the one hand, scenery, costumes and, especially, the suicide bombers all look great/terrifying, but on the other hand is the faces. Oh the faces! They all give off this really creepy vibe and everyone looks like they've been bathing in sun tan lotion which has somehow caused all their facial features to shrink disproportionately to their heads. It's freakin' weird.
Even still, I enjoyed The Five Nightmares and I imagine that most Iron Man fans will too, so long as you remember that TONY STARK GIVES ALL HIS CHANGE TO NEEDY HOBOS AND WALKS OLD LADIES ACROSS THE STREET BECAUSE HE'S THE MOST GOODEST PERSON EVER!!!...more