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