Saturday, December 19, 2009

Enemies and Allies by Kevin J. Anderson

I've heard Kevin J. Anderson get a lot of flack on the interwebs... To hear some people tell it, he's the most horrible writer in the entire world and is singlehandedly responsible for ruining a gazillion franchises. Dune? Star Wars? LibraryThing only seems to show that he wrote one Dune novel, but a lot of Star Wars. Well, I won't speak for those, because I haven't read them, but I liked this Superman/Batman story.

This is a novel about the first meeting of Superman and Batman in the 1950s. The classic story is that Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne were on the same cruise ship and hijinx ensued; this is different, the two of them conducting parallel investigations into Lex Luthor and his business.

The writing isn't mindblowing, but it doesn't get in the way when you're reading and it's not hard to pay attention to, so it's a fast read. There were a few annoying things, like Luthor gets called "the bald industrialist" WAY too many times in narrative, and Lois Lane got sidelined into hero-bait as usual. There some to be a lot of story elements lifted from other things, James Bond stories and Watchmen and a few other things I recognized, but those seem to be homages rather than theft. They aren't major story things, just elements.

There isn't any wildly new material here as Superman and Batman go, but prose always touches on ideas that graphic novels don't. The psychology of the three main characters was what really fascinated me. Batman is done well... He seems a little bit out of focus for some reason, but he's the Batman of the Christian Bale movies and that's my favorite attitude for him. Clark has this arrogance and almost simple-mindedness about him that's a very interesting and legitimate interpretation, and his intrinsic sweetness kept me invested in him as a hero. Luthor, though, was perfect. Frightening and fascinating, supremely arrogant but with the intelligence to back it up, a real predator.

So, not brilliant, but satisfying to me as a fan. It works as an action story, but underneath that there's an engaging discussion of two of America's most well-known superheroes. The book doesn't take itself too seriously, but it takes a campy subject and writes a legitimate story.

So far my absolute favorite novel based on "real" superheroes is Batman: Rise of Sin Tzuby Devin Grayson and Flint Dille, which I reviewed here, and my favorite new superhero novel is Heroby Perry Moore, reviewed here.

In other news, I went to see Avatar on Friday and there's a review forthcoming this week. Woo!

Buy Enemies & Allies

Monday, December 14, 2009

When I read, I like to make it a multisensory experience. If the characters are listening to music, I like to listen to the same thing. If somebody looks at a painting, I look up the painting and take a look myself. On top of that, I look up words and allusions I don't recognize. It sounds like a lot of work, but it's really not, and there are a lot of benefits to doing it that way... I remember what I've read better and I understand it on a deeper level. Plus, a lot of the stuff I learn is really interesting. Otherwise the author probably wouldn't have put it in the book.

So, basically, Bookdrum is an awesome project. When it's all up and running I won't have to do all that myself, I can just go there and it's all done for me! Each book in the database will have a summary, review, glossary, notes about the author and setting, and a comprehensive page of all those songs and paintings and allusions, right there on the page for me to look at. Kind of like Cliffsnotes, only helpful and interesting. I just think it's awesome personally, but it'll also be a great resource for studying and I can easily see how the interactive approach might help kids appreciate difficult books more.

The site isn't running yet, but there's a Tournament going on where you put together a profile of your book of choice and submit it. The best profiles win monetary prizes (and no small beans, either), and they're also going to be looking for staff writers among the applicants. I've already started mine, (I'm doing Sandman!) and it's a lot of fun. You have until the end of February, go check it out!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Andromeda Stories by Keiko Takemiya

Andromeda Stories is a three-volume manga by the author of To Terra, which I reviewed here. It's basically To Terra only good, and 300 pages shorter.

Where To Terra was a sci-fi story with fantasy workings, this is a fantasy story with sci-fi workings. The setting is the planet? star system? Andromeda, where they have dragon cavalry (awesome!) and a high-fantasy social structure, but advanced technology everywhere you might imagine magic. And where you might have an evil demon army, you have an evil army of mind-controlling machines taking over the planet. The technology parts are really what make the fantasy interesting; they make a very standard fantasy story go in cool new directions.

The characters are fantastic, especially where manga is concerned. Each one has a believable mixture of good and bad qualities unique to them, and they just seem to have a lot more THOUGHTS than other characters. They have reasons for the things they do and they really believe in those reasons.

The ending was one of those Twilight Zone endings... A foreseeable twist, but in a good way. Sad, faintly frightening, kind of cool, and interesting, but kind of off on a tangent where I would've put a more traditional ending.

MINOR SPOILER. Beware brother/sister incest. It worked okay for the story and it's only toward the very end, but the part that kind of squicked me out was that they're supposed to be in their 20s but the girl at least looks about 12. Of course a lot of girls are drawn that way in manga, but still. END SPOILER.

On the whole it's a quick story with interesting ideas and pretty pictures, which sounds to me like good manga! It kind of reminded me of a cross between John Christopher's Tripods series (which is awesome) and Osamu Tezuka's Buddha (which is good manga and written well at the least.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Archangel by Sharon Shinn

This book is crap. But it's really good crap. By the end of this review I'll probably be ranting about it and hating it again, but before I get to that I'll tell you to read it.

So, the basic idea is really kind of complicated. It's a fantasy world in which angels (winged beautiful-voiced people) chaperone the spiritual lives of the humans. Gabriel, an angel, is about to become the new Archangel, but he has to find and marry a particular human woman before that happens.

The worldbuilding and plot are the best parts of the novel, and they are stunning. It's not like anything else I've seen, and it's mesmerizing. There are unique fantasy elements, the barest hints of sci-fi that really throw a whole new light on everything you learn about the fantasy stuff, there are complicated social and political relationships, not to mention a host (ha, pun) of befuddling characters. The plot, aside from the romance aspect, is an edge-of-your-seat-er.

Gabriel is an arresting character, especially since he's not your run-of-the-mill protagonist. He is so arrogant, but it's not annoying. He really is right. I just like him. With him, you know you're safe, because he'll be just, and he'll also be compassionate.

And then we have Rachel, his intended. At least I think her name was Rachel, I started calling her "Superbitch" halfway through and never stopped. I have never read about a protagonist so annoying, unpleasant, pigheaded, vindictive, and selfish, much less all of those in one package. At first I didn't mind and kind of liked it, because she had good points and I admired her nerve, but it grate and grated and finally I snapped. I hate her. I hate her!

She never sees that half of her problems are caused by her own selfishness. ALL of the other characters revolve around her, and yet she never stops complaining about how terrible her life is. She's never happy, even when she gets exactly the things she wanted, and she lashes out at people just for existing. She tortures all of the other characters just to see them squirm, when all they've ever done is try to help her. She never learns, never repents, only gets worse and worse. Describing her is like describing a VILLAIN, for Pete's sake! If I can't stand her, I can only imagine what all the poor characters were going through sharing a book with her for months on end. And then the romance, which was interesting, was not satisfactorily finished.

She was almost enough to make me stop reading the book on more than one occasion, and the sequel, Jovah's Angel, apparently takes place far in the future and she's not in it, or I definitely wouldn't be reading that one. The worldbuilding, though... That's amazing, and wanting to understand this world is what kept me reading, and it was worth it, if only marginally. As long as she's gone, and there's not another one like her, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't love the sequels.

Be warned, there's some heady religious subject matter here. I was satisfied in terms of being interested and never outraged, but there's still a lot I'd like to know. It's sort of wavering on the line between pro-religion and atheistic, and it's really hard to tell which view actually comes out on top.

Trust your own judgement on this one. If liking the characters is a big part of your reading pleasure, skip this one. If you like worldbuilding more, check it out. If you like Poison Study you'll probably like this.

Buy Archangel

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

I am aware that I tend to criticize books for having "literary claptrap" endings or being "literary" in having unlikeable characters and only vaguely comprehensible plots, etc. However, I don't intend to come across as disliking "literature." I dislike a lot of it for the reasons stated, but a really brilliant literary work is, well, really brilliant. This is one of those really brilliant books.

Shawn McDaniel is 14. He wants a girlfriend. He likes rock'n'roll. He loves his family. He remembers everything he's ever heard since the age of three, and he might be kind of a genius. He has severe cerebral palsy and is completely incapable of communicating his thoughts to anyone, even though he has plenty of thoughts. And he thinks his father is planning to kill him.

I read the whole thing in one sitting, without even looking up. Usually I check the time ever chapter, get up to get coffee, put the book down to watch TV or write, even just stare at the wall for a while thinking about something else, but not this time. (Luckily the book is only 115 pages long, if it had been any longer I might've starved to death!)

I don't say this often, but this is a perfect book. The reason it's so short is that the plot I just described is the plot, there's no nonsense with subplots or insignificant characters or even insignificant thoughts. The pace is perfectly balanced to convey exactly the right emotions and not distract you with anything else. And yet at the same time the ideas are so rich that I could probably read the book several times in succession and not get bored. Both sides of the issue (euthanasia) are rigorously explored, and then you're left to let it sink in.

The part that fascinated me the most was Shawn's personality. He can't DO anything, he's sheerly receptive, and yet he's a fully developed character. It's an example any writer should look at, because it really shows how actions should conform to personality and not the other way around. There's a thingness, a separateness, about a person that doesn't have anything to do with who they are on the outside, and it's different for every person. There wasn't a single character in the book that didn't seem like a real person, and Shawn is unique, with an arresting, memorable personality despite the fact that he can't affect his surroundings in any way.

So to sum up: Wow. Read this. I'm going to buy it for my personal collection and I foresee I will be reading it more than twice. There's a companion novel called Cruise Control, the same story from a different POV, which I also have to read or I will explode, and then I'll start on Trueman's other books.

Buy Stuck in Neutral

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Adventures of Blue Avenger by Norma Howe

This picture is a little small, but I love this cover. It's dynamic, interesting, and it perfectly illustrates the book's idea. It's a little 90s, but I like it. It has that "I want to be a superhero" attitude that I know so well.

Anyway, the book is indeed about a superhero, of a sort. The titular Blue Avenger starts out as 16-year-old David Schumacher, the average (but smart) student whose hobby is drawing a superhero called the Blue Avenger. He considers himself to be Blue Avenger, and has the blue-fishing-vest and towel-turban ensemble to prove it. (I can't remember whether he based the character on himself, or if they just grew together over time, but it doesn't really matter.) On his 16th birthday, he changes his name and takes on the persona of Blue Avenger in order to right the wrongs of the world.

I really liked it, but it's kind of odd, and not in an objective way. There was just something about it I couldn't put my finger on. It's kind of a YA story written in kids' prose... The characters say intense 16-year-old things, but in an almost simplistic 11-year-old way. Blue is a great character, very recognizable and easy to connect with but a little offbeat and quirky, teetering perfectly between adult and child, and he doesn't see the world the same way anybody else does. His friend Omaha is a little more of a stereotype, the mostly-mean tomboy with the vulnerable side that everybody likes for some reason even though she's mostly mean. (Okay, in this case I don't remember everybody liking her, mostly just Blue, and he has his own personal mental processes.)

The main theme of the book is the major philosophical debate of free will vs. fate, much more heady stuff than I expected, which is great. In fact, I don't think it went far enough. It only really presents the predestination argument, which is a valid argument, but it's incomplete without the equally valid choice argument. No real resolution is offered either, I personally prefer a conclusion even if I don't agree with it, but for a book for kids that's not necessarily appropriate so I understand leaving it out. Also note the painfully apparent and oversimplified gun control message, which was surprising considering the complexity of the other theme.

This is one of those wacky books I always loved as a kid, full of bizarre facts and random events. It's a quick, fun book, and I'm really glad I read it. I recommend Suck It Up(review), Grooves, and Winchell Mink.

Buy The Adventures of Blue Avenger (Even though it has a horrible blob thing on the cover now. What is that?)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To Terra by Keiko Takemiya

To Terra is a three-volume sci-fi manga that apparently was written several decades ago (70s?) and was just released in English. (To accompany an anime, I think.) The idea is that in a fully computer-dependent society, and by that I mean on ONE particular computer, a group of psi-powered mutants (the Mu) have been exiled from society and for some reason think that going back to Terra will solve all their problems. It kind of reminded be of Battlestar Galactica. (The old one... can't stand the new one.)

I liked this, but it's totally incomprehensible. I wrote in my book journal that it was "like a Monty Python sketch done at half speed by lobotomy patients," and while that might be a little excessive, that was pretty much the impression I got. All the characters are exactly the same except for the goals we're told they have, and those same informed goals are the only reason for the plot. The art, which is absolutely gorgeous on big sweeping starscapes and spaceships, is indecipherable in small panels.

It takes forever for anything significant to happen, and when it does there seems to be no reason for it. Since none of the characters have any reasons for their beliefs, their actions just come across as juvenile and ill-informed. Every so often there's a time-out to try and explain some of the science involved, but that just makes it worse. I understand what the story is doing emotionally, but I have no idea what's ACTUALLY going on or with what characters.

But, despite all that, I did like it. The atmosphere is absolutely mesmerizing, and if you just sort of relax and zone out while you read it becomes dreamscape-y rather than just confusing. It's an interesting look at some older sci-fi, where some common ideas are used as new and thrown together in unorthodox ways. It's sci-fi, but Takemiya tends to use fantasy in the workings of it. I certainly didn't get bored with it, as hard as I was working to follow the story.

There's this sudden flurry of action and energy and awesomeness at the end that makes the whole saga worth the trouble... And then an epilogue that plunged me back into misty confusion. So, if you don't really get what happened, neither do I. I also don't understand why a central male character was persistently drawn as a girl, but that's beside the point.

This is another one of those books that I'm not sure whether to recommend or not. If it sounds interesting then go ahead, knock yourself out, it's only three volumes. I don't have any recommendations at this point, but I'll be reviewing some similar things in the future.

Buy To Terra... (v. 1)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Superpowers by David J. Schwartz

Five college kids get superpowers for no reason and decide they should be superheroes. The basic gimmick is that it's real people having a realistic experience with superpowers.

I wanted SO hard to love this, but I didn't. Why does "realistic" have to mean boring and annoying? The second page gives us this fantastic quote: "This isn't some snooty book where people nobody likes do things nobody cares about for reasons nobody can figure out. That's what they call literature." It'd be an even better quote if it didn't exactly describe this book!

I didn't like any of the characters. The ones I liked in the beginning got more and more boring, and the ones I disliked in the beginning got worse and worse. At first I kind of wanted things to turn out well for them, but by about halfway through I just never wanted to see them again. Plus, there are a lot of characters and they're all the same. They're written in the exact same style and their backgrounds are the same, so it's really hard to keep each of their arcs coherent.

There are a lot of POVs and that puts way too much distance between the reader and the action, or lack thereof. MINOR SPOILERS: There's no supervillain. There's no villain at all. At this point every superhero novel is experimental and this is a good choice for what Schwartz was trying to do, but what he does instead doesn't work. The novel starts on May 19, 2001, and you can guess where it's headed... The lasy 75 pages consist of "9/11 was sad," over and over and over. That's true, but when that's all you do for 75 pages it gets old fast, and it doesn't actually constitute a climax. 9/11 WAS sad, and if you're going to use it in a book it should make me feel something besides boredom. END MINOR SPOILERS.

Like so many literary novels, there were a million interesting places this story could have gone, but it didn't go to any of them. It got bogged down in "nobody's perfect," and even more than that, "everyone is terrible." Thanks a lot, literature.

Superheroes are about setting an example, an ideal to reach for. They're about inspiring people to try harder and be better. They aren't supposed to be realistic.

Skip this book and read Hero instead.

Buy Superpowers

Friday, October 16, 2009

Vampire of the Mists by Christie Golden

The Fickle Hand of Fate is a year old! The anniversary was actually ten days ago, but I had no idea I'd been blogging for so long. Woo!

This week, through sheer happenstance, I bring another video game novel for your reading pleasure. This one is the first novel of a series based on the D&D game Ravenloft, and any bias I had toward video game novels is now completely gone, because this book is amazing too. I promise you don't need to know anything about the games to appreciate it, I sure don't, so read on!

Jander Sunstar is a golden elf from Evermeet, and he's been a vampire for 500 years. The day after the woman he loves is killed and he swears vengeance, he is magically transported to the secret country of Ravenloft which is ruled by the mysterious Count Strahd von Zarovich (read: Dracula.)

This is a seamless blend of gothic horror and high fantasy, combining the best elements of both. Jander is at once tragically villainous and sympathetically heroic, and his story is so subtle. The core of the novel is his relationship with Strahd, the flaws in both of them and how they're trying to manipulate each other, the sympathetic parts of each of them and why they do the things they do. But still one is firmly the hero and the other is firmly the villain.

You know, I never really understood why vampires whine the way they do. I knew, but I didn't understand. Now I do. The speed with which time passes for (and passes by) Jander is striking... One day he's talking to a young woman and the next time he leaves the castle he meets her child. He didn't even realize it had been thirty years, and every time he looks around someone else he knew is dying. There are so many things he loved that were taken away when he became a vampire, like the colors that you never see at night. All you see are shades of gray, and eventually that's all you see morally as well as physically. I understand how terrible it must be now, and at the same time Strahd and Jander are truly frightening.

I was frustrated for all the right reasons reading this book: I was desperate to know what was coming and unable to figure it out. I would have plot epiphanies and await events eagerly, only to discover the characters were going in a completely different direction that was even better. Every element is in its place.

There are a lot of recommendations I could make, because Vampire of the Mists falls on a cross-section of so many things (just like Ravenloft does.) You've got Dragonlance etc. for the heroic fantasy, Dracula, Interview with the Vampire for the love/hate vampire relationship thing... There are also a lot more Ravenloft books. I hear the quality varies with the author, but there are some big names. Several more by Christie Golden, some by Tanya Huff, Laurell K. Hamilton, Gene DeWeese... Several more feature Count Strahd. Jander features in short stories collected in the books The Best of the Realms and Realms of Valor, both of which I will be trying to find in the near future.

Buy Vampire of the Mists

Friday, October 9, 2009

Batman: The Rise of Sin Tzu by Devin Grayson & Flint Dille

Okay, so, this is the novelization of a Batman beat-em-up video game from 2003. You're well within your rights to expect it to suck, right? I sure did, but hey, it was a Batman novel, and I'm working on a superhero story right now, so I figured what the heck. I'm glad I did, because it was so good.

Basically the story is that a previously unheard-of villain, a mastermind of war known as Sin Tzu, is going to conquer Gotham City. He's bored, he needs a challenge, and he chooses Batman's city. He leads all the criminals in Gotham as their "general," with three well-known Batman villains as his "captains." As I understand it, the video game is basically you (as Batman, Batgirl, Robin, or Nightwing) beating up enough bad guys to get to the boss battle with each captain, finally culminating in the battle with Sin Tzu.

In light of that, the authors don't pay so much attention to the fighting itself, but delve into the thoughts of the characters. Not just "Why are we fighting this battle?" but "Why do we fight at all?" Each chapter is written from a different 1st-person POV, including all the Bat-family and multiple villains, with several from Sin Tzu's perspective, and the result is a subtle, many-faceted look at the six hours the book covers. It's intense. The pacing is excellent, everything is orchestrated perfectly.

They really get the Batman-ness perfectly. Everything I love about Batman is there, all the characters' motivations and relationships are pitch perfect. Another great thing was that I never wished it was a graphic novel... The story is exactly suited to its medium, the story couldn't have been told like this any other way.

Apparently certain parties who will remain unnamed (because I don't know who they are) were hoping Sin Tzu would be a hit like Harley Quinn was and make the leap into mainstream continuity, but he never did. If I had anything to say about it he would have!

I've only looked at one or two other Batman novels, (The Ultimate Evil is the one that comes to mind,) but I didn't finish any of them because they just didn't get it. If you like Batman, definitely try to find this book!

ETA: Hey guys, look what I found! More Sin Tzu!

Buy Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Today is the last day of Banned Books Week. I meant to do something at the beginning of the week, but I forgot to think of something, so I didn't do anything. So, uh... so there.

Anyway, I just want to say that banned books aren't just for Banned Books Week. They're for whenever you darn well feel like reading them, because ideas are for everyone. We can talk about them, applaud them, condemn them, hate or love them, please just anything but banning them and pretending they don't exist.

In other news, I recently changed my email address and I thought Blogger had the new one, but I haven't been getting my comment notifications, so don't be offended if I haven't responded/don't respond to a comment, especially on an older post. The e-mail I have listed on my profile is the correct one and emails are welcome, as always, especially if you have a burning desire to recommend a book, respond to a review, or otherwise speak your piece. Happy Saturday!

Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

Raise your hand if you've heard of Nikola Tesla. If you're in an engineering-type field you probably have, or if you've read a lot about the early 1900s, but after relentlessly quizzing everyone I ran into while I was reading this, most people don't know the first thing about him, so it might surprise you to hear that he was the greatest inventor ever, period.

I was first introduced to him in the movie The Prestige, which is an amazing movie that everyone should see, and see more than once. I thought he was a fictional creation for a long time, but when I found out he wasn't I knew immediately that I was going to be fixated on him for a long time. If ever there was a real-life mad scientist, it was Tesla.

Tesla first invented practically everything we ascribe to other inventors like Edison and Marconi. In some cases his early work inspired later inventions, in some cases other inventors used his basic inventions in their apparatus, and in some cases there was outright theft. Tesla patented all of his work, (scientists still find that their "new" inventions now can't be patented because he already did it a hundred years ago,) but the constant legal battles kept the public confused as to who invented what. That combined with his iffy business skills and other random factors lead to him being little remembered today, even though he was a famous and celebrated inventor in his time. (He did get his name on the Tesla coil, which is used to produce the alternating current we use, and he valued making such a contribution to history over the money he might've been making, but I only wish he was remembered for everything he deserved! )

Tesla was truly a visionary. He made intuitive leaps even beyond where our technology is today. He described and demonstrated things, like fire he held in his hand and a "death ray" that could vaporize aircraft (not built and demonstrated) that we can't figure out how to recreate. He did a lot of his work in his head, which only adds to the befuddlement and awe. While other inventors were still messing around inventing with wireless radio equipment he was already building and demonstrating remote-controlled submarines. The government wouldn't buy them.

On top of his brilliance his friends loved him, and even just reading about him made me dream about seeing beautiful, magnificent things that no one has ever seen before. Reading his biography was like reading an amazing science fiction novel, only it was all true!

I don't have enough room to summarize the whole book with all his achievements and ideas, so I highly recommend picking up this biography in its newest revision because it's clearly and thoroughly written, with equal parts emotional prose and technical explanation. I haven't read any of his other biographies yet, just skimmed a few things and read articles, but there seem to be plenty of them available, just in case you can't find Man Out of Time.

Buy Tesla: Man Out of Time

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey

Mercedes Lackey is an old pleasure of mine that I'm only just rediscovering. She's most famous for her Valdemar books, a series with gazillions of books usually in trilogies, but she's written a lot of other things.

I pulled an all-nighter to finish this book, and I was doing Wiggles of Happy the entire time. I found myself alarming my cat by squealing incoherently as I turned pages.

What we have here is a brilliant gaslamp (steampunk but fantasy instead of sci-fi) reinterpretation of Beauty and the Beast. Rosalind Hawkins is left destitute by the death of her father, and has to travel across the country to take a tutoring job offered by the mysterious Jason Cameron. When she arrives she discovers that there are no children for her to tutor, and instead she will be translating old magic books for Jason because he has suffered a debilitating injury and is unable to read them himself.

Rose is a marvelous heroine, feminine and intelligent and vulnerable and resourceful. Jason is fascinating too, mysterious and larger than life, and undeniably sexy despite (or because of) his realistic flaws. The story is written mostly in third-person from Rose's point of view, but some sections switch to Jason's or Jason's secretary, Paul du Mond's. It was jarring the first few times, but I discovered that it allows the characters to plot individually and for us to know what's being planned without the characters knowing. The plot delivered on every promise it made, but using the plans characters made that were at odds, I never knew who was going to come out on top. There was a perfect blend of romance, mystery, and action.

The Fire Rose was immensely satisfying, detailed, and an utter joy to read. It is the first of Lackey's Elemental Masters series, all of which feature reinterpreted fairy tales in the same time period and system of magic, but not the same protagonists. I'd love to hear more about Rose and Jason, but I'm also looking forward to book 2, The Serpent's Shadow.

Some other Beauty and the Beast stories I found were Beast by Donna Jo Napoli, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Beastly by Alex Flinn, Belle by Cameron Dokey, and Rose Daughter also by Robin McKinley. These tend more toward "retellings" than "reinterpretations..." if you know of any more, let me know!

Buy The Fire Rose

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

District 9 starring Sharlto Copley

I saw this movie twice in two days, then spent several weeks trying to compose a review... And I just can't. I literally have no words for the unmitigated awesomeness that is this movie.

1 hour and 52 minutes long, rated R for bloody violence and pervasive language. It is VERY violent and disturbing, but there's a reason for that. Don't go if it's going to disturb you, but if you do go (and you should,) DON'T leave. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be shellshocked for days. Best movie ever.

Watch a trailer if you must, but other than that (if that much,) go in with as little preparation as possible. You really don't want to know what's coming, so I'm not going to tell you. Just go see it. Like I said, unmitigated awesomeness.

For those of you who have seen it, I recommend this site as a great place for intelligent discussion plus incoherent squeeage and rampant quoting. (No, I haven't posted anything there yet, because of this inability I have to say anything but "AAAAOMGOSHSQUEE," but I expect I will eventually.)

Buy District 9

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready

Eh. Don't like it.

The main selling point for this novel is its new, interesting idea, and it IS new and interesting. Ciara, our reforming con artist protagonist, becomes the marketing rep for a vampire radio station. The vamps are OCD a la the old legends where you could keep them out of your house by scattering seeds or hanging a net, (they'd be distracted by counting the seeds and untying all the knots until sunrise,) and each one is mentally trapped in the time period when he or she died. That's why they have the radio station... Each one is a DJ with a show centered around the music that was popular when they were alive.

It's a really good idea! And it started off great, interesting and unexpected with a host of interesting characters, but then it just dwindled off into nothing. The good characters, (Monroe, Franklin, and Gideon) were the ones that got NO face time, the romance was well-paced but lacked a certain spark, and the plot was wibbly. Difficult to figure out what the plot was even supposed to be, and it was painfully predictable when it WAS there. It couldn't decide if it was a romance, a vampire fight or a "huge companies are evil" plot, so none of the plot elements worked, especially since the Designated Vampiric Villain seems nicer than the good guys and was only trying to defend himself. The magnificent idea Ciara has to save everybody really doesn't work, either.

I wound up hating all the characters that got any attention. I was rooting for the bad guy to just take 'em all out because they were all such jerks! Ciara started out strong and interesting, but the more we learned about her the more boring she got, and about halfway through the book she suddenly turned into an idiot and started letting everyone walk all over her.

I read a lot of good reviews for this one, but I didn't enjoy it.

Buy Wicked Game

Friday, August 28, 2009

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

I'm so on the fence about this one, it's not even funny. Do I love it? Do I hate it? I'm not sure. I do love the book design though, I'll start on a positive. Take a look at that cover. I dare you not to love it.

This is the story of the infamous villain Doctor Impossible as he plays out another scheme to control the Earth. Odd-numbered chapters are told from his perspective and are absolutely riveting, while even-numbered chapters are told by Fatale, a cyborg superhero on the team that's trying to track him down. Her chapters are flat and boring.

Literary novels like this are like watching train wrecks in SLOW MOTION. I have a feeling that it's not going to have a satisfying ending, just literary claptrap in which we all see how terrible the illness or social issue or dog dying is, but there's no resolution or hope or even much conflict, just exploring the issue. Things take forever to happen and all it is is long internal monologuing about the angst of it all. And yet, you can't look away.

Doctor Impossible was the reason I sat through the boredom. I lived for his chapters. He's the only sympathetic character in the book, and although I think that was the point, it didn't endear me to the other half of the story. Doctor Impossible was witty, intelligent, brave... "Savvy" is the word. He knows the story is going to play out exactly like it always has and nothing's going to change, but he keeps on trying, he never gives up.

All the heroes were boring, flat, and annoying, and it was like pulling teeth just to sit through their scenes. They tried to work up some mystique and suspense, but I just didn't care, with the possible exception of Blackwolf (a Captain Ersatz of Batman, so I had to like him) and Mister Mystic (who got just enough attention to make me want more, but not enough for me to know if I actually liked him.)

The heroes don't do much but complain and fight amongst themselves, but somehow they still beat Doctor Impossible. It's just not fair.

Really, I just don't know. I was frustrated and enrapt for equal parts. If this sounds remotely like something you might potentially be interested in, read it, think about it, let me know what you decide. Most of the reviews I've read really haven't understood what the book was trying to say any more than I did, and some of them are just mistaken. It's not a parody of superhero literature by any means.

Anyway. Read it, read Hero, read Watchmen.

Buy Soon I Will Be Invincible

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks

This is a fascinating, hilarious book. The vampires drink blood, but after that you can drop all the old vampire tropes. These vampires are really quite ill and nauseated most of the time, get their blood from guinea pigs, and only leave their homes to attend their weekly Support Group meetings. Our main character, Nina, has been a vampire for about thirty years since she was fifteen, and still lives with her (now 70-year-old) mother.

Now, throw in a vampire slayer who kills one of the group's members and starts a runaway train of plot weirdness! I hesitate to use the word "intricate" for the plot, but I'm not sure why. It's just sort of magnificently random, and the "barely holding together, and loving it" feel makes it a joy to read. The story is dark and gothic, but the style is hilarious. It's unique.

The characters were very much like real people -- always whining (funny and not annoying in this case), and having no idea how to go about reacting to a plot like this, but hiding a few gems in the ranks. It really felt like what might happen if a bunch of real people were attacked. And, like real people, the more you get to know them the more fun they are, and that applies to every single character.

What we have here is a case of everything going right, all the narrative devices coming together and working well. Making something that's new and great, but doesn't make a big deal out of itself. If there's one thing I hate it's a story that's trying too hard to be cool, and this is definitely not one of those.

Support Group just came out last April, but Catherine Jinks has written a lot more books than I expected so there's plenty to look into. There's a planned sequel, The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group, but no release date on that as of yet... I recommend Sucks to Be Me for fans of this.

Buy The Reformed Vampire Support Group

Friday, August 14, 2009

Boys That Bite by Mari Mancusi

When Sunny is mistaken for her goth twin sister and bitten by a vampire, will she be able to reverse the effects before prom? I didn't know, but by halfway through the book, I surprised myself by sort of caring.

This is one of those teen vampire books that's so common, mostly just teen girls complaining because they've been somehow wrangled into the vampire world while making as many pop culture references as possible. Nice beach reads, but kind of annoying in bulk. Which is why I was surprised that I kind of liked it.

There are a lot of quirky little things hidden away in the text that made the book stand out and be memorable. I liked the Slayers Inc., beer-drinking Druid, we-order-vamp-gear-online style of the thing, where people are people everywhere you go. The plot seemed pretty cut and dry and the reader is set up to see a particular outcome... Then the plot changes and you quickly formulate another set outcome... Then it changes again and you think "Oh... OH... Hm." There's an obvious lead-in to a sequel, Stake That, which looks like a rather brilliant plot move and might actually be better than Boys That Bite. (There's also a third book after that, I see.)

The one thing that bothered me was how terrible all the other characters were to Sunny. She's being turned into a vampire against her will, and it doesn't look like that great of a gig, and all anyone can talk about is how terrible it is for THEM. Whiny characters annoy me, but Sunny really is in the right, she's the injured party, and nobody cares. I would be having serious second thoughts about my relationship with people if they were that callous about ME.

It's not a must-read, but there were a lot of things to like and it doesn't take long to read. I suggest this book to casual vampire fans or to the "need something to read after Twilight" crowd.

Buy Boys that Bite

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Suck it Up by Brian Meehl

Morning McCobb, a 16-year-old boy who likes superheroes, is the first vampire in history to come out on national television. Will the vampires' dreams of Worldwide Out Day be realized, or will Morning ruin it all by succombing to his lust for the blood of Portia Dredful, his publicist's daughter?

As it says on the cover several times, this is a vampire novel that's not quite like the rest of them. While it is a light read it's also a thoughtful story, one that should be read slowly, not in one big chunk. Things need to unfold at their own pace.

There's a certain realism in the atmosphere that I found fascinating. Most vampire books feel hidden in the shadows, confined by the need to keep the vampires a secret from the humans in the book. Morning is thrown out into the world, and it feels like a coming out for all the vampires in all the stories. It made me look at everything in a new light.

The vampires themselves are also interesting and not the norm, there's more of an emphasis on shapeshifting than the common powers, and they have a singular origin story. The characters were all very grounded in the story for me, each with a coherent set of motivations and a firm sense of self, by which I mean I had a very distinct image of each one. They didn't bleed into each other or agree about things just because it was the author's opinion! While the romance is obvious, Portia is not your typical heroine, and I loved her power.

The plot was slow in some places, but that should be a cue to slow down and get in deep in those places. There's a great mix of internal conflict with Morning and Portia, and external conflict with Morning and Ikor, the vampire who's willing to kill Morning to keep vampires from coming out. Everything is resolved beautifully at the end, with just enough of a tease for me to hope we get a sequel AND hope we don't. All in all, a thoroughly satisfying book.

It sort of felt like taking the hero of The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl and putting him in Sucks to Be Me (links are to reviews.) I recommend Sucks to Be Me, or maybe Vladimir Tod.

Suck It Up

Buy Suck It Up