As with all the Smart Pop series, the word "unauthorized" is displayed twice prominently on the front cover and again on the spine, but make no mistak...moreAs with all the Smart Pop series, the word "unauthorized" is displayed twice prominently on the front cover and again on the spine, but make no mistake: show creator (and frequent episode writer) Rob Thomas edited this collection of essays, penned the opening piece, and provided a half- to one-page response to each chapter. The CW owns the show, but Thomas was its heart and soul, so this is as authorized as most fans care about.
If you haven't seen the show, a few of these essays will seem pointless, but even then most of them will read as well as any media analysis out there. Authors vary from media studies professors to critics, writers, fans, and psychologists.
As expected, the essays are uneven but none fall to embarrassing levels and a few stand out as excellent. Thomas' responses are highlights of the book. He provides the expected anecdotes and "aw shuck"-ing but he adds context that helps interpret the essays.
The book is handicapped by having been published between seasons two and three. Since the show ended after season three, waiting a year would have provided a complete view of the run. As it is, many of the essays are left pondering if or how future seasons will challenge their thesis.
Over those first two seasons, the same episodes and the same lines from the theme appear repeatedly in the essays. This is good: it gives multiple views of the most-effective episodes and draws the (carefully chosen) theme song into most of the character elements in the series. But because of this, these episodes are discussed in detail and the finales of both seasons one and two are the most popular. If you haven't seen these, be aware that you'll know (almost) everything about them by the time you've finished the book.
Whether you like the show, are interested in its popularity, or are interested in media studies and screenwriting, Neptune Noir is a worthwhile read.
Specific comments on a few of the essays:
"Introduction: Digressions on How Veronica Mars Saved My Career and, Less Importantly, My Soul" by Rob Thomas is the obligatory "How I created the show" reminiscence. It's a fine read, but doesn't add anything to the show itself; it's really about Thomas. It has the expected amount of self-congratulatory tone (how he fell from grace into the writing schlock, how VM was his last, best hope to write something he cared about, yadda yadda yadda) but isn't overly sanctimonious. I was pleasantly surprised.
"Welcome to Camp Noir" by Lani Diane Rich finally provides a term to describe the show. I'd argue that "arch" is more appropriate than "camp," but it's a good term that most people who haven't seen the show can "get." Thomas' reaction (about how much he hates camp) is interesting. The essay does a good job identifying which characters bring the camp/arch elements and which supply the noir (and how the major characters balance or meld the two). A high point of the book.
"Story Structure and Veronica Mars" by Geoff Klock. I was very excited about this one, but it turns out to be a first-year walkthrough of one episode of VM. Not bad, but not what the title promised.
"Veronica Mars: Girl. Detective." by Evelyn Vaughn suggests that VM herself is allowed--in TV culture--to get away with her behavior because of her "girly" elements. Not quite a feminist analysis, this is worth a think.
"Daddy’s Girl" by Joyce Millman is the obligatory Freudian analysis of the show as Electra complex. Had to be here and Millman does a credible job with it.
"Daddy Dualities" by Amy Berner is a better analysis of the Kieth/Veronica dynamic. Berner contrasts all of the recurring fathers on the show (including Duncan).
"On the Down-Low" by Lynne Edwards is very short, but provides the most interesting view in the book. Edwards discusses the use of race in the show, from the lynching symbolism in the pilot to the appropriation signifying from American black culture.
"The Duck and the Detective" by Chris McCubbin addresses the question of why VM has so many avowedly conservative fans. I noticed a conservative bent while watching the show (in the traditional, Goldwater Conservative, sense) and McCubbin tries to identify elements of the show that appeal to that demographic--as well as to explain why these don't turn off more liberal viewers.
"I’m in Love with My Car" by Lawrence Watt-Evans discusses the use of cars and motorcycles in the show. VM shows people in cars more than almost any other show on the air and Watt-Evans describes their use of vehicles more as costuming than props, with the model, age, and look of each car chosen to match the character and scene. Certainly Logan's bright yellow SUV/Jeepy thing is a significant part of his character, but the other observations Watt-Evans makes would never have occurred to me.
"Boom Goes the Dynamite" by Misty Hook is the obligatory Veronica/Logal "shipper" essay. Enough said.
"Innocence Lost" by Samantha Bornemann hypothesizes that "teen girl drama" began in 1994 with the much-lamented) Claire Danes vehicle My So-Called Life and contrasts VM with that and Buffy (of course). It's a shallow comparison and a shallow premise (readers older than 25, or who have seen television from before 1990, will certainly challenge the claim that MSCL was completely unprecedented), but Buffy is the elephant in the room of any 20-oriented drama circa 2000, so someone had to do it.
Overall, a good read that helps enjoy the show. It also makes a more informed viewer for other shows in or near the genre.
Just be sure you've seen all of season 2 first.(less)
Again, a whole stack of friends are telling me to read this series. I tell them to read or see all sorts of crap, so I'm giving them the benefit of th...moreAgain, a whole stack of friends are telling me to read this series. I tell them to read or see all sorts of crap, so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.
This was a definite drop back from the pretty-good first book (Urban Shaman). Our heroine, forced in the first book into awakening latent shamanic powers and now trying not to use them, is told to find a teacher as well as to fix the large climate shift she generated in the first book. Meanwhile, there will be at least one mystery for her to solve in her police duties. Sounds like a fine set-up for a book.
Unfortunately, it's handled poorly. Not badly enough that I put it down, but I was impatient to finish it given the many good books I have waiting to be read.
First, the "teacher" plot is pretty awful. This is another case of an author chickening out and having a strong-willed heroine do something against her will for no reason at all. Joanne has standards and shows her backbone when pushed; when Judy (the teacher) appears she gives Joanne no reason to like--much less trust--her and basically bullies her way into Joanne's life. Joanne takes it and ignores the out-of-character behavior. I really hate this in a story; it's auctorial laziness and cowardice.
The "clean up your mess" plot comprises the bulk of the book. It's so-so, but better than the teaching plot. Joanne works with a coven of witches to contact and manifest a spirit that will help them. Joanne does some diligence on the spirit and the group, at least, unlike on the teacher. The real problem with this storyline is the limpness of it. Every night she goes and does a ritual with them, with the rituals becoming progressively weirder. Some of the rituals are very well-told (the second, out in a park, is quite nice), but they have limited tension until the climax of the book.
The police mystery is basically nonexistent. Unfortunately, this means that her boss is also mostly missing, leaving her to think about him a lot (and become uncomfortable with how much she thinks about him, furthering the tension between the two), but would you rather read a scene with two characters or one with one character thinking about the other? They aren't even detailed fantasies; they're of the "if he were here he'd yell at me" sort.
The other saving-grace character, Gary the Cabbie, is only in and out of the story occasionally (for a good plot reason that is completely ruined by a weak attempt to tie it in to the rest of the story at the end). With both Morrison and Gary gone, we're left with Joanne trying to play off throw-away characters with no personality. It's not successful.
Some half-hearted attempt to tie the story in to the Seattle environmental protests and just maybe with an ecological agenda appear in a very small frame story bookending the plot. That and constant references to events in a short story in some anthology somewhere (I hadn't read it) keep the book from feeling like it's whole.
I'll read the third, mostly because my friends handed me at least that many. Hopefully this is the low point of the series.
1 - The story is "Banshee Cries" and appears in Winter Moon. Unfortunately, I couldn't find this information anywhere in Thunderbird Falls frontmatter.(less)
This is the start of a fun fantasy/horror series from the author of the Weather Warden books. In fact, I'm enjoying these even more.
Our protag, 16-yea...moreThis is the start of a fun fantasy/horror series from the author of the Weather Warden books. In fact, I'm enjoying these even more.
Our protag, 16-year-old early-graduate Claire, moves to Morganville, Tx for college at a small liberal arts school because her parents want her closer to home. She clashes with the entitlement-and-snobbery of the local in crowd led by the mayor's daughter. When things escalate to physical attacks she looks for off-campus housing.
So she moves into the Glass House, home of Michael Glass, local boy of mystery, Shane, troublemaker trying to reform, and Eve, goth barrista. From them she discovers the big secret about Morganville: the town is run by vampires.
As a vampire town (possibly the only vampire town), all locals donate blood once a month and they sign on with a vampire for protection. Hunting visitors, like the students at the college, is controlled to keep suspicion from forming, but everyone has their memories altered before they leave anyway. And once you're truly "in the know," like Claire is, the vampires won't ever let you leave.
The residents of Glass House are outcasts, in a way. They have chosen not to take a vampire patron, allowing them freedom from a patron's rules but leaving them fair game if someone decides to attack them. Her housemates look after her as best as they can, but Claire has to decide how she's going to deal with the Morganville rules.
The story in the first book involves Claire learning the secret, meeting the powerful vampires and coming too much to their attention, and dealing with the bullying of Monica, the teenage queen bee of the community.
It's a decent book with the promise of a good series to follow. Having read the next two volumes, I think it's worth a look.
Also, there is a short story in Many Bloody Returns that tells how Eve came to live in Glass House. It also gives more background on an interesting supporting character. Not at all essential reading to follow the series, but worth seeking out if you like the book.(less)
This is a nice transition book. Book 5 closed out the major story arc that began in the first book and changed the entire structure of the supernatura...moreThis is a nice transition book. Book 5 closed out the major story arc that began in the first book and changed the entire structure of the supernatural setting: the Warden organization was reduced to a skeleton of itself, vastly reduced in power but with most of the "bad seeds" gone; the Ma'at were coming out of hiding and their methods were gaining adherents in the Wardens; and the Djinn civil war was over and the Djinn weren't hunting Wardens anymore. The overall story arcs: the Djinn freedom, the Earth Mother's awakening, and the demon incursion were resolved.
So what's left for the series? This book takes us through the Wardens regrouping and coming to new arrangements with the Djinn and the Ma'at, all through the influence of Joanne's troubles (amnesia, a loose demon impersonating her being the easy ones; when she gets memories of her daughter back things get really tough).
The plotline is pretty standard--and simple--for the series, and the simplicity works out well. Joanne is oon the run from the demon and trying simultaneously to recover the memories--which are in the demon. The demon can impersonate her so well that not even David or Lewis can tell the difference. The real Joanne is angry, out-of-touch (from the memory loss), and behaving generally untrustworthy, not that that's at all new for her, and she winds up on the run with few friends and untrustworthy allies. She takes help from Eamon and the Djinn Alice/Venna, for example, neither of whom she can trust very far.
It's a good chance to cram a lot of character development for several major characters into one book and the action sequences are as good as in the rest of the books.
At the end (and in the preview of the next book) we get a nice setup for continuing stories (with loads of tension built in) and a nicely-forshadowed event to drive the next book into action. That plus Joanne's habit of leaving enemies alive, well, and behind her promises continuing life in the series.
Also, this is not a bad book for someone to start in if they want to pick up the series in the middle. Because of her amnesia--which includes everything about her powers, the Wardens, Djinn, and even David, the reader can learn along with her.(less)
All the Liquorverse stories are very personal in how they deal with small moments in private lives, usually without a grand story arc or a ticking clo...moreAll the Liquorverse stories are very personal in how they deal with small moments in private lives, usually without a grand story arc or a ticking clock; PZB has always been good at showing how character development and Freytag's pyramid don't have to sync up simplistically. DUCK feels more personal than most, though, because it's intimately tied to PZB's personal experience of the Katrina disaster.
That connection is discussed in the forward and mostly disappears in the main action--a trip out of New Orleans for the Liquor crew to serve a 300 person banquet in Cajun country, but it return in full force at the end, rising slowly over the last chapters, and succeeded in choking me up. And I'm a cynical bastard who's never even been to New Orleans.
If you know and love the Liquorverse, you've got enough of a review already: Ricky has a new chef rivalry, they get roped into leaving New Orleans (always a sure sign of trouble), they prepare a large banquet (not their forte), it's a gimmick menu using a variety of wild-shot ducks Ricky and G-Man know nothing about, and they're cooking a gumbo for hundreds of Cajuns. To top it all off, Ricky's personal hero, former football star Bobby Herbert, is the guest of honor, leaving Ricky star-struck and nervous. That's the makings of a Liquor novel.
But if you're a PZB or Liquor fan, this is also a book that marks a turning point in the author's life, and PZB has been open about it, as usual. The book was originally titled Waiting for Bobby Herbert but that got changed in the publishing cycle; a throwaway Robert Altman reference in the middle of the book became the theme for the new title and the cover art. Author/Publisher relations soured and the next book (Dead Shrimp Blues) looks like it's gone.
And every author, like every other New Orleans resident, has had to deal with Katrina in some way. DUCK dodges the issue, because PZB was overwhelmed with the devastation and its effects of his own life as well as a period of severely deteriorating health. In fact, with the trouble with Dead Shrimp Blues and general life unrest, PZB indicated he didn't intend to write fiction again, or at least not for a long time.
So I put off reading DUCK for a couple of years, thinking it would be depressing no matter the content. It was mostly a mistake. The story, like most of PZB's career, is a love letter to New Orleans and the surrounding area, to its people, and to its cultures. This one is more culturally inclusive than most and it ends on a moment--entirely in character, yet surprising--of tolerance and patience from Ricky. Tolerance and patience are two major qualities PZB returned to in repeated blog posts after Katrina and they underly everything in the Liquor/Stubbs stories. If this is the last book in that world, it ended well.
But I hope it's not. PZB has published some short stories since DUCK (see Antediluvian Tales), most of which are Stubbs stories plus a couple of Dr. Brite tales, but all were written before Katrina. I look forward to non-blog writing from post- or non-diluvian PZB.
[Before I get comments on pronouns: Yes, PZB is a biofem. Yes, PZB is a hot biofem. PZB generally identifies as male, however, so that's the pronoun of choice.] (less)