Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My 20 Favourite Comics and Novels Read in 2015, Part One

Most novels and comics that I read aren’t new releases. This makes things a little complicated when it comes to end of year lists. Most often those kinds of things are focused on new releases. If I focused on new released I’d have a really small list. You’ll find a couple titles on my list that are new releases, but most of these of older books.

In previous years I’ve organized my end of year list by categories such as Science Fiction Novel, Fantasy Novel, Best Manga, Best Comic Book, etc. This year I’m lumping it all together and simply listing my 20 favourite comics and novels read in 2015. These are books that I’ve read in the last year, not books that were published in the last year. Still, all of these books were new to me and I didn’t include anything I reread and enjoyed this year. Unfortunately, due to taking a month off in February (I got married) and because I had a two month long project focused on the Harry Potter series, there are some really good books that I read this year that I didn’t review on the blog. I planned on reviewing these books, honest, but they never took shape past my initial notes and reactions I took while reading them. Now I feel like too much time has passed for me to write worthwhile reviews.

Before any more stalling, here they are, my favourite 20 books of 2015. We’ll start with books 20 to 11 today and we’ll finish with the top 10 on Sunday.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 13: Alastair Reynolds, David Langford, and Michael Swanwick

Short Story Sunday, thirteenth edition, brings you rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs, first contact with an alien civilization, and murderous house. Let’s get started.

“At Budokan” by Alastair Reynolds
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF (2010), edited by Jetse de Vries

One of the tricky things about reviewing short stories is that your enjoyment of some of them depends on a twist or reveal toward the end of the story. It makes it difficult to write about it in a critical way because part of your review is simply dancing around the plot reveal. “At Budokan” is one of those stories. It’s good enough that it will still be a good read upon rereading and that’s due to the fact that the overall story and thematic elements are more important than the plot twist. That’s something that lesser writers struggle with but Reynolds has a firm grasp on his story from the very first page.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Blog Fantastic 045: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett Review

Terry Pratchett passed away earlier this year and like many of his fans, it hit me pretty hard. I’ve only read a small fraction of his Discworld series and none of his other work, but even with so few books under my belt, his mastery of a particular kind of novel is simply unbelievable. I’m regularly amazed that more people don’t talk about him and how simply excellent his writing is. He continuously does things in his books that should be impossible. There’s no way these things should work. Of course we had plenty of excellent articles written about him last spring after his passing, but I find Pratchett simply isn’t part of the regular conversation as some of his peers sitting next to him on the fantasy shelves. Actually, that’ll never happen because Pratchett’s written so many books he easily takes up a shelf or two on his own. My point is that he’s not talked about enough, at least as much as I think he should be talked about.

I’ve tried to rectify that by writing reviews of his Discworld novels as I read them. I read about two per year and they’re always a treat. I usually go to them looking for something lighthearted. They always succeed at making me laugh but Pratchett always delivers a lot of substance to his books. I’m still surprised by this every time it happens. I prepare for it, yet it still hits me when things get really philosophical. Pratchett has the ability to make you laugh and think really, really hard.  

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 12: Damien Broderick and Cat Sparks

By sheer coincidence that they were listed back to back in the short story collection I was reading yesterday, today’s authors are both Australian. I occasionally bump into online articles or a review focusing on Australian genre authors. Apparently it’s a niche in genre publishing, a specific look at the writers from down under. It’s nice to see praise thrown as a group of writers like that. It helps with your perspective. Not all English language writers are from the US or the UK. Overall, the Year’s Best SF 16 has been pretty good for its diversity in writers. On to the reviews!

“Under the Moons of Venus” by Damien Broderick
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in Subterranean (Spring2010), edited by Jonathan Strahan (guest editor)

Broderick has been writing science fiction stories since the 1960s but this is the first time I read one. It’s not a simple read, there is a lot of information thrown at the reader and you have to be active in putting things together in order to properly understand the story. I’m not sure I understood it completely, to be honest. Who can blame me when the story uses advanced mathematics and geomorphology to try and solve the mystery of the Moon’s disappearance? The characters, all four of them, are straddling the line between insanity and genius. One of them happens to be an intelligent talking dog (he was surgically altered).

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Star Wars: The Last Command Review (Unread 034)

Cover art by Tom Jung.
While the world is filled with excitement and initial positive responses to the latest Star Wars film’s release, I’m alone in my little corner finishing off the excellent trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn. The Thrawn Trilogy has been a pleasant surprised from start to finish. I had quite a few reservations when I started to read the first volume in this series. The first Expanded Universe novel I read was Choices of One, a book focusing on Mara Jade during the time of the original film trilogy and written by Zahn. To be quick about it, I didn’t like it. I didn’t really know who Mara Jade was and worst of all Zahn didn’t make me care. The book had a more militaristic feel than the Star Wars films and I felt that was a bit of an odd fit despite there being a constant presence of the Empire and its military forces in the movies.

Because of this and other smaller details, I didn’t have much in terms of expectations when deciding to read The Thrawn Trilogy. The expectations I did have were mostly of reluctance and hope. You see, the fans are very vocal online about their love of this trilogy which arguably created the Expanded Universe (which sadly met its demise earlier this year). Zahn is often hailed as the best author in the entire EU and people support their statement with this series of books. Could it really be that good? What makes these books better than the rest? What makes these books better than Choices of One?

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 11: The Pool of the Black One (Reading Conan 06)

It’s only been a few short weeks that I’ve been reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. There have been highs and lows, and after only six stories I’m feeling Conan fatigue. If I’m being honest I think it’s overall blogging fatigue as bumping up my posting schedule to two posts a week is starting to take its toll. Finally reading these stories has been an interesting experience. I find the stories vary in quality to such a degree that you never really know how much you’ll enjoy the next story. My thought is that these earlier stories might be the worst of the lot but I’ll only know for sure once I’ve read them all. For now though, I think I need a little break from Conan as this story proved once again that the quality of the stories fluctuates significantly.

“The Pool of the Black One” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Oct. 1933)

Off the west cost of Zingara and in sight of the Barachan Isle, a woman is sunbathing on a ship. Without warning Conan rises out of the water and climbs aboard. He’s accosted by the captain Zaporavo who is immediately threatened by Conan’s sheer physical size. He has a right to feel that way since Conan plans on taking command of his ship. He doesn’t act on it yet, instead he begins making friends with the crew so that even if their captain doesn’t care for the Cimmerian, the crew will.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure Review

In the last year there has been an understandable increase in the amount of reviews and articles about the Star Wars franchise. The excitement for the new film is resulting in a huge amount of speculation as to what the future of the franchise will look like as well as guessing and plenty of fan theories to make even the most imaginative fans giddy. There has also been plenty of attention given to the rapidly developing New Canon which is in the process of replacing the beloved Expanded Universe of Star Wars tie-in fiction. Personally, I haven’t taken part in the speculation because I find it brings little value to the overall appreciation of the franchise. More importantly, it doesn’t give me any satisfaction. Instead, I’ve been investing my time in enjoying the comics and novels of the EU and dipping my toes in the New Canon. So far I’ve read three volumes of Star Wars comic, which are once again being published by Marvel following Dark Horse’s loss of the licence. I’ve just read my first New Canon novel. Appropriately, it’s written by Greg Rucka with illustrations by Phil Noto, both of which have had a noteworthy career in the comics field. That’s the main reason I chose to start with this book and it also happens to be short which was quite convenient.

Set right after A New Hope, Smuggler’s Run centers on Han Solo and Chewbacca. Now that they’ve received payment for helping the Rebellion during their attack on the Death Star, Han plans on going back to Tatooine to pay off Jabba the Hutt. He’s tired of living in fear of the price on his head and who could blame him? Leia, on the other hand, has different plans for Han. He’s proved his usefulness to the Alliance and she’s not ready to let this new ally go.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 10: The Slithering Shadow (Reading Conan 05)

After last week’s disappointing story “The Black Colossus” I’m happy to say that the next Conan story by Robert E. Howard is much better. It has a simple plot, but because of its eerie and atmospheric execution along with its underlying mystery and near complete focus on Conan, it ends up being one of the most enjoyable of the first five Conan stories.

“The Slithering Shadow” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Sept. 1933)

Conan finds himself in the desert accompanied by his female companion, Natala. They’re the last survivors of Prince Almuric’s army. They’ve just run out of water and their situation looks bleak. It’s not long before Conan spots what appears to be a city in the middle of the sun scorched dunes. Naturally, they head towards it. Immediately upon arrival, things aren’t what they seem, and Natala starts to worry. Conan is more practical and after a bit of searching they find a room in which a feast is laid out. There are no diners in sight. Famished and thirsty, Conan eats his fill.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Star Wars Omnibus: Clone Wars Volume 1: The Republic Goes to War Review (Unread 033)

I’ve written before about Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic omnibus collections. They’re pretty great. They’re designed to collect novel length stories and smaller stories that otherwise wouldn’t be collected anywhere else. I really like them because they’re huge and quite affordable. This volume is over 400 pages long. For the most part, these omnibus volumes include numerous issues all tied to a theme or a series or a time period. This one, obviously, is set during the Clone Wars. Particularly the beginning of the Clone Wars shortly after the events of Attack of the Clones.

A very large number of issues are included in this volume. Unfortunately, I will not list all of the creators involved because I’m lazy. However I’m pleased to announced that Dark Horse meticulously listed all creators at the beginning of each story. For this collection that meant almost every new issue. Most of the comics in this volume are short stories of approximately two issues in length (all the Jedi one-shots are double sized issues). Here are the contents of Clone Wars: The Republic Goes to War:

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Short Story Sunday 09: Black Colossus (Reading Conan 04)

“Black Colossus” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Jun. 1933)

Out of the Conan stories I’ve read so far, this is easily my least favourite. It was painful to read it. The plot read like a draft version of “The Scarlet Citadel” and the descriptions of people and places are endless and quite distracting. Robert E. Howard has undeniable skill when it comes to the use of descriptive language to set the mood and create atmosphere. It just so happens that sometimes he misses the mark and ends up describing things needless for pages on end. Since I started this project I’ve always been slightly worried that some of these stories would be duds. I didn’t expect to encounter one so soon. “Black Colossus” is a bore with a few nice moments tucked into the story. Sadly, those nice moments just aren’t numerous enough or good enough to make this story worthwhile.

The story opens with a thief who breaks into the tomb of a long dead wizard named Thugra Khotan. Soon after entering the treasure room, the thief encounters the awakened wizard and dies at his hands. Miles away and what surely must be weeks later (though it’s never clarified in the story), Yasmela, princess of Khoraja, is having a nightmare. Natohk, the Veiled One, is threatening to destroy her kingdom and capture her for himself. He and his armies are near Khoraja and it won’t be long until he can act out his threats. In the hopes that he will aid her, Yasmela pleads to her god who tells her to go out in the city and request the aid of the first man she encounters. The first man she meets is Conan. He is already a member of Khoraja’s army and she asked him to take command of the kingdom’s forces. Conan agrees. He will fight for Yasmela and Khoraja as long as they continue to oppose Natohk and his hordes. Conan sets out to meet Natohk’s force and the story ends in a large scale battle.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Star Wars: Young Jedi Knights: Heirs of the Force Review (Unread 032)

In my anticipation for the latest Star Wars theatrical release, I’ve been exploring the Expanded Universe. This might seem a little odd to some people after Disney’s announcement that the EU is no longer canon, but that doesn’t matter to be one bit. I’ve read enough novels and comics that are part of the EU to know that it’s a pretty incredible fictional universe to explore. It can match, scene for scene, the enjoyment to be had from the Star Wars films and it often does that by exploring some pretty ludicrous ideas. It’s sometimes beautiful, scary, uplifting, exciting, funny, embarrassing, action packed, and it’s just about everything you could ever ask for from genre literature. I believe that whatever descriptive word you can think of it can be applied to stories set in the EU. It’s a large, inexplicably complicated, occasionally messy shared universe continuation (and, uh further prequelization) of the Star Wars films.

It’s much more than just tie-in media. These novels and comics aren’t just a collection of one-off stories that don’t really matter. They’re not stories that occur between the stories we already know from the movies (though they are that, too). The Expanded Universe is really well named because it does what the title suggests. It expands everything you know about Star Wars and in just about every direction possible. This brings us to Heirs of the Force.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Short Story Sunday 08: The Tower of the Elephant (Reading Conan 03)

“The Tower of the Elephant” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Mar. 1933)

This is the earliest original Conan story that I recognized by the title alone. That’s because I’ve read one of the comic book adaptations, the one originally published in Conan the Barbarian #4 by Roy Thomas, Barry Windsor-Smith, and Sal Buscema. I’ve actually written about that particular issue in my review of Conan Saga #2 which collects issues #4-6 of Conan the Barbarian. Unlike the two previous stories, I was pretty familiar with this one and I was looking forward to see how the original telling by Robert E. Howard would differ from the comic book version. Overall, not a whole lot in terms of plot, but the execution was better.

A young Conan is in the City of Thieves in the country of Zamora. He’s spending his evening in a tavern where a man is talking of the riches and jewels tucked away in the Tower of the Elephant. Conan mentions that the tower looks unguarded and it must be an easy target for thieves. He questions why no one has tried to steal from the tower before. Soon the exchange of words becomes an exchange of fists and a brawl takes over the tavern.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Star Wars: Dark Force Rising Review (Unread 031)

Cover art by Tom Jung.
It’s been a few months since I read Heir to the Empire the first volume of The Thrawn Trilogy. Not sure how I lost track of the series but the constant commentary on the upcoming seventh instalment of the Star Wars film saga has brought my attention back to one of my favourite franchises. It just made sense to finish reading this series before moving on to other novels in the Expanded Universe. This series is so important to the entire EU and introduces a lot of elements to the Bantam era Star Wars novels. Unlike the first book, I knew what to expect this time around and I think I enjoyed this volume more because of it. Once again written by Timohty Zahn, Dark Force Rising is a direct continuation of the events depicted in Heir to the Empire. As such, there are a lot of similarities between both books, but the second volume tops the first in execution, character development, and plot.

The plot might seem a little light at first glance, but a lot of what goes on is nicely matched up with character development so it’s a little deceptive. The political instability that plagued the New Republic regime in Heir to the Empire further develops. Bothan councillor Borsk Fey’lya continues to garner more support to his cause and it’s dividing the New Republic’s military strength. This is leaving them vulnerable to Grand Admiral Thrawn’s fleet. Han and Lando are sent on a mission to gain more supporters and in doing so they pick up the trail that might lead them to the secret location of the Katana Fleet, a large fleet of 200 Dreadnought-class vessels that date from the Clone Wars. Thrawn also picks up the trail and begins looking for the lost fleet as well. Meanwhile, Luke searches for Joruus C’baoth, an old Jedi Master, in the hopes of continuing his training in the Force. Leia travels to the Noghri homeworld to fulfill a promise she made in the previous book. Here she’ll continue her work to bring more support to the New Republic.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

The Blog Fantastic 044: Storm Front by Jim Butcher Review (Unread 030)

When I prepared my introduction to The Blog Fantastic, I had some authors and series in mind. Books that I knew I wanted to check out or revisit. Some of those have been a pleasure to discover or reread. A few of the books I revisited or tried out where disappointments. One of them I didn’t even finish (consequently I didn’t review it either). The flip side of these disappointing books is that there are others books that pop up on my radar and inexplicably jump to the top of my reading pile. Even better, some of those books I enjoy. Jim Butcher Storm Front, the first in his Dresden Files series, is such a book. I’m not sure where my interest in this book came from, but it’s a good fit. There was a distinct lack of urban fantasy in The Blog Fantastic archives.

For those who aren’t all caught up in the Dresden Files craze, they’re a pretty clever combination of private detective fiction and urban fantasy (or paranormal fantasy). It’s a good mix, but something has made this particular series very popular even in comparison to other similar series. I don’t know why just yet, but I’m sure I’ll find out if I keep reading past the first book. Let’s start with the setting, Chicago, the windy city. This is the home of Harry Dresden, a wizard for hire which means he’s essentially a private detective for hire and he specializes in cases that deal with magic. One of his regular clients is the Chicago Police Department, most often the Special Investigations Unit.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Short Story Sunday 07: The Scarlet Citadel (Reading Conan 02)

“The Scarlet Citadel” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Jan. 1933)

This tale begins in the middle of a battle, set during the time where Conan is king of Aquilonia. He’s consolidated his military strength with the neighbouring kingdom of Ophir to defend their lands from the conquering king of Koth, Strabonus. Soon it’s revealed that the battle was a trap and that the kingdoms of Ophir and Koth are conspiring together, with the hopes of destroying Conan. They’re aided by the sorcery Tsotha-lanti and Conan ends up in chains. He’s tossed into Tsotha’s citadel, inside a dungeon filled with ancient and evil horrors.

In the dungeon, Conan manages to free himself from his chains. There, he encounters strange evils. They range from giant snakes to demon toads. Surprisingly, the giant snake is the least terrifying of all these creatures. After he frees another prisoner, a sorcerer called Pelias. Together they manage to escape from the dungeon. Now free, Conan moves his focus to recovering his kingdom from the tyranny of Tsotha’s evil. Pelias aids him, and Conan finds himself thrown about by the wills and desires of sorcerers and magics he doesn’t understand. He survives the final confrontation on the battlefield, but not solely because of his skill and might as a warrior.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

The Blog Fantastic 043: Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern Review (Unread 029)

Every once in a while I like to look at the Blog Fantastic page and assess the reviews I’ve done so far. Most of the time when I do this it’s to help me decide which book I should read next. As regular readers know, I’m reading several series at the same time rather than read a single series from start to finish before moving on. I do this because I like variety in my reading pile. That’s how I roll.

This time, what stood out to me, is how many reviews I’ve written of books in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series. This is my seventh review in that series, more than any other series I’ve read so far and I think I know why. This series has been one of the most enjoyable to read since I’ve started the project. Not only do I enjoy reading the books, I find the reviews are relatively easy to write. I don’t have to think too much about what the content of the review will be, it sort of comes out naturally once I’ve finished reading. This differs from some of the other series I’ve reviewed.

Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is kind of a pain because the books take so long to read. They literally take me weeks and sometimes it’s discouraging because those books regularly have entire chapters of 20+ pages where next to nothing happens. Other times, I’m devouring roughly 200 pages during a weekend because out of the blue, the plot kicks in and there is action galore. The books also give me conflicting feelings as I fluctuate from love to hate, sometime within a single chapter. They’re so sprawling in content and length that I find them a little exhausting. Other series that I absolutely love, like Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea, are also hard to review. The difficulty is caused by different reasons though. LeGuin’s books are just excellent, masterpieces of the genre. When I review them I can’t help but feel inadequate, as if my commentary doesn’t begin to describe the excellence of her writing and the stories contained in her books.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Short Story Sunday 06: Vandana Singh and Malka Older

“Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra” by Vandana Singh
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published at Strange Horizons (2010)

“Somadeva” begins with the revival of a centuries-long dead writer whose magnum opus, an 18 volume compendium of stories arranged in a complex web of interlocking stories. He’s not sure if he’s come back to life or he’s the echo of his former self revived in the present or even if he’s an entirely new being created by the books of his life work so cherished by Isha, a woman travelling in space. Together, they continue to travel the stars in search of new stories. Isha gathers them together in the hopes of better understanding the origins of the alien cultures they encounter. Along the way, Somadeva, the revived writer, contemplates the essence of stories and their mysterious relationship to all things living.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve never read of this author before. I’m glad I’ve just discovered Singh because this story was masterfully told. “Somadeva: A Sky River Sutra” is nothing short of excellent. Mirroring the fictional 18 volume work of Somadeva, this short story includes stories within stories along with interlocking stories. Together, they all form an intricate web of narratives that all support and embellish each other. The story deals with primal and universal themes of being and it asks big questions. Do stories create the world or are they ways for us to understand the world around us by passing down the knowledge acquired through the ages?  Some answers might be found within the text. In fact, one of the main ideas of this story is that all stories have multiple interpretations resulting from the life and experience of the person analysing it.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Reading Conan 01: The Phoenix on the Sword review

Conan the Cimmerian is on the same level of recognition and popularity as other important figures of literature from the early 20th Century such as Tarzan and Batman. Because of this, his original adventures and an immense amount of derivative works have permeated the pop culture landscape for several decades. Until earlier this week, I had never read any of the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories. Despite this fact, I’m pretty familiar with the character because I’ve seen both movies from the 80s starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and I’ve read about 30 or so issues of the Marvel comic Conan the Barbarian by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith. I even reviewed a few of those issues in their Saga of Conan reprints. You can find them here and here.

Needless to say, I’ve always felt like a bit of phoney because I knew of the original Conan stories and I also knew how easily accessible they are, but I never took the time to read them. I say no more! No more of this foolery. I have a lovely eBook collecting all of Howard’s stories, novellas, and novel in a single edition. It was also dirt cheap ($4). I’ll be reviewing these at the rate of one or two stories per week for the next few weeks. I’m not sure if I’ll need a break or not at some point, but for now I’m enjoying myself immensely so I might be able to review them all in relatively quick succession. Here we go, with the first ever published Conan story.

“The Phoenix on the Sword” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Dec. 1932)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 05: Halloween Edition - George R. R. Martin and Stephen King

It’s time for another special edition of Short Story Sunday. It seemed like a no-brainer to use Halloween as an excuse to read horror short stories. I decided to check out a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories from George R. R. Martin and well as explore the earliest stories of Stephen King. I enjoyed myself so much I might just do this every year.

“The Pear-Shaped Man” by George R. R. Martin
Read in Dreamsongs volume 1 (2007), a collection of works by George R. R. Martin
Originally published in Omni (October 1987)

“The Pear-Shaped Man” is a very creepy story. I was pretty grossed out while reading it and I have to admit it’s going to be a really long time until I ever eat cheezies again. The story is about the titular Pear-Shaped Man. You know who I’m talking about, you’ve seen him. He’s very odd and Martin describes him exceedingly well. Even without a description you can probably get a sense of the kind of character the story refers to. In essence, he’s noticeably strange while also appearing rather harmless. Martin conveys the banality of the man while also convincing the reader of his unnatural creepiness. You, as the reader, want to get to the bottom of it. Who is the Pear-Shaped Man and why is he so damn eerie?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Moon Knight: From the Dead Review (Unread 028)

I’m a huge fan of Warren Ellis. He’s undoubtedly one of the comic book greats. I love his writing for many reasons but I’d like to focus on just a few in this review because they tie into what made Moon Knight: From the Dead such a fantastic comic.

Warren Ellis is very skilled at revitalization old properties. He’s also good at taking familiar concepts or characters and giving them new life. There are other skilled creators from Ellis’s generation that are also good at this, but it doesn’t take away from his ability to do it and to do it well. A few examples of this would be the work he’s done with Doom 2099, Stormwatch and The Authority, and the work he’s done on the X-men franchise. He’s also had quite a bit of success doing this in Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics with titles such as the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, Iron Man, Ultimate Human, and Ultimate Fantastic Four.  

It’s no surprise then that he revitalizes Moon Knight in a subtle yet meaningful way. It seems so simple and simplicity is another characteristic of some (not all) of Ellis’s work. All he does it boil down Moon Knight to a few core elements, to his core essence. He doesn’t needlessly revise the characters origins or give him an unnecessary cast of secondary characters to support the main character. He doesn’t drag it out into a bloated decompressed character revamp 12 issue maxi series either. He focuses on a few ideas, the strongest ideas, and structures the story around that to heighten the impact of the character and the story. He doesn’t overuse his ideas nor does he throw in more ideas than is necessary or functional. He avoids diluting the narrative in exchange for potency. This leads us into the second reason why he is such a great writer.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 04: Terry Bisson, Spider Robinson, and David Drake

This week I’m reviewing three short stories from three different collections. Two of them will be familiar to regular readers but I’ve added a new collection to the rotation: The Tank Lords by David Drake. Half of this book is made up of short stories and the other half is a small novels. I’ll be reviewing the novel on its own but the stories will continue to be a part of Short Story Sunday. Let’s get to it.

“About It” by Terry Bisson
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in F&SF (Sept/Oct 2010), edited by Gordon Van Gelder

Terry Bisson was unknown to me before I read this story (regular readers might have noticed a trend) and I’m sorry to say that “About It” is a poor introduction. The story is told by a janitor who works in a laboratory and brings home a Sasquatch. There ol’ Bigfoot sits around, enjoys nature and the companionship of a few neighbourhood kids. He likes watching TV with the janitor. What at first appears to be a nice retirement from the lab out in the suburbs turns out to be nothing more than a waiting room for the afterlife. The Sasquatch inexplicably fades to nothing and dies, leaving me confused and a little sad . . . but the feeling quickly faded after I closed the book and put it down.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Avengers: Assault on Olympus Review (Unread 027)

My edition of The Avengers: Assault on Olympus is a hardcover from the Marvel Premiere Classic line of reprints. It’s super expensive but luckily I bought mine for 50% off. I have no idea why Marvel charges so much for reprints of old comics. It seems wrong somehow as well as counter intuitive. Why check out old comics when it’s cheaper to buy new ones? Then again, new Marvel comics aren’t cheap either. Either way, if you can find some of these old reprints for cheap, either in discount bins or 50% off shelves, grab ‘em. They’re almost always a treat. Even when the comics are bad it gives you an idea of what they were like back in the day. That’s always interesting. If you get lucky, you’ll end up buying a comic as good as this one. I’ve only ever read one comic by Roger Stern, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment and that was an excellent story. Clearly I’ve been missing out the Stern goodness because Assault on Olympus was also pretty great.

All of the issues in this collection were written by Roger Stern with exception to issue# 280 which was written by Bob Harras. Likewise John Buscema and Tom Palmer illustrated all of the issues except for #280 which was drawn by Bob Hall and Kyle Baker. Christie Scheele coloured most of the stories and Bill Oakley did the bulk of the lettering. These are all familiar creator names for anybody who has read Marvel comics from the 1980s. This is a solid creative team and it shouldn’t have been surprising as to how good these issues were.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 03: Benjamin Crowell, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Vernor Vinge

No introduction this time around, we’re diving right into the stories with some of the best science fiction published in 2010, as collected in Year’s Best SF 16.

“Petopia” by Benjamin Crowell
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction (June 2010), edited by Sheila Williams

Two young teens living on the West Coast of Africa discover a technologically advanced teddy bear in the near future. It made its way from California to Africa with a shipment of used and discarded computers which one of the teens, Aminata Diallo, disassembles as her day job. The teddy bear is a toy for rich kids, kind of like a future version of a Tamagotchi mixed with a cellphone. Aminata’s brother uses the bear (named Jelly) to become a chess hustler. The kids are put in a situation where they have to use Jelly to steal money from other people’s bank accounts in order to help their drunken father get out of a pinch.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Jodorowsky's Dune – Movie Review

During the weekend, while taking a break from writing the latest instalment of Short Story Sunday, I watched Jodorowsky’s Dune, a movie about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed attempted at adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune to the silver screen. As always, I started this movie with some personal baggage, something that is also known as expectations. I was apprehensive, to say the least. I was worried the movie would be the celebration of an incomplete film project, filled with commentators who would enthusiastically call it a masterpiece even though no footage of it exists. People who would tell you that by not sharing their opinions of this unmade movie your life has somehow been poorer than it otherwise would have been. I was expecting an audio visual check list with a narrator marking off each instance where the legacy and influence of this lost Dune could be seen in other science fiction movies that followed. In essence, I was expecting a lot of back patting and celebration for something that, by my understanding, simply doesn’t exist. Something that was nothing more than a dream. I was worried that I was about to watch a documentary of overzealous film enthusiasts verbally masturbating over their lost holy grail. I cannot express my excitement and relief that Jodorowsky’s Dune isn’t that movie.

To be honest, there is a little bit of what I’ve described in this movie but it’s presented through a filter of pure creativity and exhilaration that it’s hard to not give in an accept it for what it is. You can’t avoid making this kind of documentary and simply ignoring all of the adoration some people will have for the subject matter. The movie has some moments where fans of Jodorowsky lament the loss of what could have been one of the most culturally significant and worthwhile science fiction movies of all time. It’s also inevitable that people will talk about the lasting legacy that this movie had on parts of the film industry. That’s great and it’s worth mentioning, but playing “spot the influence” simply isn’t for me. Most of the movie, to my surprise and great enjoyment, is about something else.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 02: Robert A. Heinlein Edition

Here we are with the second installment of Short Story Sunday. Is it too early to write a special post? Nah! This time around we’re focusing on Robert A. Heinlein. Like Joe Haldeman in our first post, I’ve been aware of Heinlein and his work for several years now and I’ve even bought one of his book (Starship Troopers) but I haven’t read it yet. It’s pretty shameful, I know. What’s less shameful is that I’ve started to read some of his short stories and he’s known for writing good short length sci-fi stories. I can attest to that, it’s true. I’ve only sampled a small handful of them so far but I’ve enjoyed every single one of them in one way or another. Let’s dive in.

“The Long Watch” by Robert A. Heinlein
Read in New Destinies Volume VI/Winter 1988 (1988), edited by Jim Baen
Originally published as “Rebellion on the Moon” in American Legion Magazine (1949), I could not find the name of the magazine’s editor

After realizing that his superior officer is planning a coup d’état, Lieutenant Dahlquist sets out to delay Colonel Towers’ overthrow of the Earth government long enough for reinforcements to arrive. As commander of a lunar base, Towers plans on using nuclear weapons located on the base to intimidate the Earth government. Dahlquist, who specializes in nuclear weapons, finds himself in a position to be able to prevent Towers’ plan. He locks himself up in the bomb bunker and so begins his long watch.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Martian by Andy Weir Review (Unread 026)

I’ve known about Andy Weir’s book, The Martian, since its hardcover publication in early 2014. It had a bright reddish orange cover that made the book standout on the shelves. I bought a copy late last year when it was published in paperback and it took me until August to finally sit down and read it. In that time I didn’t absorb any of the book’s contents other than what was included on the back cover. As always, I’m only getting around to reading the book several months later but dammit, there are too many books and so little time. Thankfully the trailer for Ridley Scott’s film adaptation lit a fire under me and I snatched the book from off the shelf. Weir’s first outing as a published author caught me by surprise. He deserves the praise he’s received so far, but I also think he deserves a better editor and an opportunity to tell a refine his craft and tell a different kind of story, something that will allow him to spread his wings and improve as an author.

Anybody taking the time to read this is probably familiar with the story. Astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars after the crew he’s on is forced to terminate their expedition. Left behind on an unforgiving planet, he has to find a way to survive several hundred days and travel several thousand miles over very rough terrain in order to be rescued. The problems are many, he doesn’t have nearly enough food to survive so long and all of his equipment wasn’t designed to last beyond a few weeks or operate in the way he’ll have to use them in order to stay alive. The odds are certainly not in his favour but Watney has one advantage. As a botanist and a mechanical engineer, he has science on his side. Add to this that he has far more time than he knows what to do with (boredom is one of his many struggles) he nonetheless develops a plan for his survival and works on it daily. His ingenuity is his making survival in the most difficult conditions a possibility.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Short Story Sunday: Joe Haldeman and Kay Kenyon

It’s time for a new project here at Shared Universe Reviews. Spurred on by the success I’ve had with The Blog Fantastic project, I wanted to do something that was related to science fiction, another genre I love but I feel I haven’t explored deeply enough. Heck, I’m well aware that I’ve only scratched the surface. As much as I’d like to give science fiction its due by discover some of the classic and contemporary works by authors new and familiar to me, I just don’t have the time. While my output has slowly gone down since I first started SUR, I’ve stabilized it to a regular schedule of one post a week. The problem is that I’m not fully satisfied with that. It doesn’t feel like enough but it might already be too much since some weeks I struggle to hit my self-imposed deadline.

All of this led to an idea. Writing smaller posts on short stories and uploading them once a week. This way I can combined my goal of posting more frequently while exploring more science fiction authors. That the goal is also for writing smaller posts, I figured short stories are perfect for this. Additionally, short story is a form of writing very closely linked to science fiction publications in the last hundred years, it makes sense to combine these ideas together. Short Story Sunday might not always be exclusively made up of science fiction reviews, but I’m pretty happy letting that be the main focus. With each post I’ll include where I found and read the story (online publication, best of anthology, magazine, etc.) and give the story one of the following rankings: 

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Brooklyn (2015) Movie Review

Last year I attended Cinéfest Sudbury International Film Festival and I watched a riveting dramatic movie titled TheDisappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them. As annual film festivals are known to do, Cinéfest took place again this year and I went to go see another movie. It looks like I’ve got a new tradition on my hands and that’s fine by me because I’ve enjoyed myself both times. If nothing else, seeing a movie in this kind of environment, where dramatic stories tend to dominate and international films abound, I know to expect something different from your average Hollywood movie. If I’m lucky, I’ll even get to see a movie with an actual story and that’s very refreshing when you’re used to being bombarded by shit blowing up, showy yet poorly crafted special effects, and more guns and ammo than Rambo knows what to do with. I think I got lucky again this year when my wife and I went to go see Brooklyn.

Brooklyn, an Irish-American-Canadian production directed by John Crowley, tells the story of Eilis Lacey (a confident Saoirse Ronan in the leading role), an Irish immigrant during the early 1950s. The movie, based on the novel of the same name by Irish author Colm Tóibín, chronicles Ms. Lacey’s departure to America at the behest of her sister who wishes a better life for her. During her stay in Brooklyn as well as her return to her home country, Eilis establishes a new life for herself and finds romantic attachment. The movie’s climax sees her making a decision between two countries and two men.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Neil and Me: The Neil Young Story by Scott Young Review (Unread 025)

I remember the first time I heard a Neil Young song. I was 17 and I had recently moved out of my parent’s house to attend university in Ottawa. A friend and co-worker with whom I worked at Tim Hortons in my home town sent me a song through MSN Messenger. That song was a live version of “Sugar Mountain” (I think it was from Live Rust). I liked the song and for years kept it on my computer, listening to it from time to time. There was something mystifying about it. I really responded to the melancholic tone of the song.

It took me several years to dig up more songs by Young and begin my exploration of his discography. I remember discovering that he was the writer of “Heart of Gold”, a song I first heard on a Boney M CD my mom had. It took me a few years to listen to about half of Young’s prodigious output. It’s time consuming because he has so many albums and some of them are so damn good they kept me busy for weeks on end. Naturally, I listened to other music while working my way through his back catalogue and because of this it took me years to get relatively knowledgeable about the man and his music. Throughout those years my respect and admiration for Young has steadily increase. So much so that when I found a battered copy of Neil and Me: The Neil Young Story by Scott Young, I picked it up without hesitation.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The Blog Fantastic 042: Yendi Review (Unread 024)

The main reason I started The Blog Fantastic project was to integrate my desire to read more fantasy books with my (then) new habit of blogging. Ever since reading Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman I’ve been a fan of the genre. As it happens, I’m also a very distracted reader, with bookshelves filled with various works, in many genres, and penned by many different authors. Some are familiar, often revisited, and some are still new to me. Because of this I tend to jump around, rather randomly, from series to series and from one genre to the other. I have no clear pattern. The Blog Fantastic was a way to give me a reason to focus my attention on fantasy titles, at least more than I had since my university days. As a whole, the project has been a success. Still, I’ve had a few disappointments, such as discovering the Redwall series by Brian Jacques no longer has any appeal to me and that while I can understand the appeal of other series, such as the successful Forgotten Realms novels of R. A. Salvatore, they just don’t impress me or entertain as well as I want them to (or as well as they used to).

It’s sometimes a bit of a bummer to realize you don’t like something anymore, but they’re good realization to make. Why continue reading a series of books you know you probably won’t enjoy?  Both of the above examples are series I first tried out a decade or more ago and knowing that they’re not my kind of thing anymore is helpful when I’m searching for other series and writers to discover. Besides, I like variety enough that I’m in no danger of reading through my entire pile of unread books.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Blog Fantastic 041: Tehanu Review (Unread 023)

When I look at my bookshelves, certain books stand out. Some of them do so simply because their covers or spines are visually alluring. They catch the eye without much effort and they immediately distance themselves from other books next to them. Some books practically leap off the shelf because the sight of them causes a flow of memories to rush into my mind. Feelings, passages of the book, memories of my time reading them, all appear in my head. Other books with a strong presence, perhaps the strongest, are the works I consider to be classic. The books I consider to be masterpieces and written by some of my favourite authors. I’ve reread them before and I’ll read them again because they’ve stirred something up inside of me.

Not all book lovers make lists about the best books they’ve ever read or who their favourite authors are, but I do. I’m one of those people. While I’ve admired Ursula K. LeGuin’s writing since I’ve read The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, Volume 1. While slowly reading my way through her Earthsea series she steadily made a place for herself amongst favourite authors. Reading her online blog made me like her as a person (and I’ve come to learn quite a bit about her cat in the process). After reading Tehanu, the fourth book in the series, I’ve had to shuffle around some of my best of lists. Earthsea is an unconventional, sometimes emotionally devastating, and always masterfully written fantasy series. Tehanu is one of the best fantasy book I’ve read in my life. I was so thoroughly impressed by LeGuin and this novel that I’ve been living in a state of deep thought ever since. Why don’t more people talk about LeGuin? Why doesn’t anybody mention Tehanu as one of her great works?

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

My Beloved Brontosaurus by Brian Switek Review (Unread 022)

I read very few non-fiction books. I’m not sure why. There are plenty of subjects I find interesting. Of those subjects, many books have been written by writers who I’m sure did plenty of research and presented those already interesting subjects in a way that gave them new life. I’m not talking based on my experience reading non-fiction books, it’s just the probability of numbers. Like many young adults who grew up with the internet boom of the nineties, I’ve been bombarded every which way by information and because of it I have interests in many different fields of knowledge. Fiction has always been a dominating interest, maybe because of its inherent entertainment value. Growing up, I’ve always enjoyed learning but since I’ve finished high school, the amount of free time I have has been reduced and I’d rather spend my time being entertained than learning, no matter how curious I might be about a particular subject.

It’s not to say I’ve forgone any opportunity to learn, more that I’ve narrowed the time in which I give myself the chance to research and explore. The number of non-fiction books I read in comparison to fiction novels is very, very small. It’s a ratio of about one book in fifty. After creating a Goodreads account and tracking my annual reading progress, I’ve come to realize just how few non-fiction books I read. I’ve attempted to rectify that by buying a few non-fiction books in the recent past but I’ve yet to really read many of them. This year, I’ve managed to read one. I know, that’s not very impressive nor does it present a change in reading behaviour, but it’s a start.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Siege Review (Unread 021)

I liked to read Star Trek novels during weeks where I watch some of the TV episodes. Having the episodes fresh in my mind, I can very easily visualize the novels in ways that make me feel like I’m watching unaired episodes. I tend to enjoy my series (be it novels, comics, or television) in spurts. I’ll be hooked on Star Trek like a man who’s never seen an episode. I’ll watch it daily for a few weeks until stopping completely for a few months before starting again. During those weeks where I feel like a new fan, I liked to enjoy my Star Trek in bed before I go sleep, on the road to work, during my lunch break. Really, anywhere and anytime I have a moment to read a few pages. It’s a great way to feed an addiction.

Recently I’ve been watching Deep Space Nine and between episodes I’ve been reading the only DS9 novel written by my favourite Star Trek author, Peter David. Titled The Siege, it’s the first original DS9 paperback novel (the first was a novelization of the series premiere). According to Memory Beta Peter David only had the series bible and the script to the first five episodes at his disposal on which to base his novel. Because of these limitations, the novel suffers from odd or inconsistent character traits. Some of the characters are more rigidly defined than they often appeared to be in the first season. Odo’s character is a good example, as he’s hooked on the idea of justice to the point where he willingly endangers himself. Dr. Bashir is another good example but before I get into that, here’s quick summary of the novel’s plot.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The Long Walk by Stephen King Review (Unread 020)

I continue to be rather amazed by Stephen King. At the same time, I continue to be rather ashamed of my ignorant and juvenile dismissal of the man and his impressive body of work in my youth. Impressive, I’m discovering one book at a time, not only in number of books he’s written but also in the quality of those books. The Long Walk, arguably the earliest book by King, written when he was still attending the University of Main in the mid-sixties, is a short book when compared to a lot of his other novels. It’s also very simple, very direct, but this little book packs a mean punch and I took the beating willingly.

Originally released as The Long Walk by Richard Bachman, a pseudonym of King’s, this novel surprisingly doesn’t represent an unpolished or unskilled attempt at crafting a story. It’s actually surprisingly engrossing and masterful in its focus and execution. I wasn’t sure this book would be any good at all considering just how simple the plot is and considering there is but a single point of view to sustain the reader from cover to cover. It’s putting it mildly to say that the book surprised me.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walter Simonson volume 3 review (Unread 019)

I’m a fan of Marvel’s Visionaries series. It can still be hard to find old comics in affordable trades (though it’s easier now than it’s ever been) and the entire reason for being of the Visionaries line is to provide readers with a chance to discover classic runs by popular creators. While they tend to focus more on collecting runs by one particular writer, artists aren’t left completely in the dark as there are a small handful of volumes that are popular because of the artists. It’s sad to see that so many of these volumes are currently out of print but they can still be purchased easily enough at conventions or online. Regular readers will know that the latest Visionaries title I’ve been reading has been Fantastic Four Visionaries: Walter Simonson volumes 1-3. It’s taken me a long time (9 months!) to read them, even though I’ve enjoyed every volume. That’s because my general reaction has been one of passive enjoyment. They’re good issues, certainly, and I like Simonson as s writer and as an artist, but there hasn’t really been anything to make me give the run overwhelming praise.

This volume is split into two stories. The first is the best and one of the better stories of the entire run. Issues #347-349 are written by Simonson with pencils by Arthur Adams, penciling assists (issues #348 and 349) by Gracine Tanaka, inks by Art Thibert and Al Milgrom, lettering by Bill Oakley, colouring by Steve Buccellato, and edited by Ralph Macchio.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon Review (Unread 018)

As a reader, I like a challenge. A lot of the stuff I typically read would be, and unfortunately often is, considered trash by a certain other type of reader. Snobbish readers, the worst kind of readers ever! I love fantasy novels, comics, science fiction, crime fiction, and other genre works. I have no real interest in what people call “literary” fiction. I don’t recall who said it, but I once read that what is often categorized as “literary fiction” is basically just drama. Now, there is nothing wrong with drama, but why not have some fantastic elements with your drama? Still, every once in a while I feel self-conscious about my reading choices and I can’t help but ask myself “why am I ready this trashy shit?!” The obvious answer is that I love it and I love it because it stimulates me in ways that the books I read as part of my high school curriculum did not. I like novels with a lot of ideas, regardless of how wild and impossible they may seem, and I love it when those books take what at first can look like an outlandish idea and turn it into something profound, into something that focuses on a facet of human existence. Much to my dismay, sometimes the genre literature I prefer gives me big ideas without taking the time to develop them properly. It’s at this point that I start looking for books and authors with more ambition.

This leads us to Thomas Pynchon. I’m not sure why but I only discovered him recently. After finding out that one of my favourite directors, Paul Thomas Anderson, would be developing an adaptation of a novel by Pynchon, I started to read about the elusive author. He is an extremely fascinating person and his bibliography is one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever encountered even though I’ve read none of his books prior to this one. Something about Pynchon, something that remains just out of reach, absolutely captivated me. It also scared me a little. Here is a man who has such an imposing reputation that despite my rapidly growing desire to read one of his books I shied away until just three months ago. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The Blog Fantastic 040: The Sword of Shannara Review (Unread 017)

Reading a book like The Sword of Shannara, which comes with a lot of baggage, is the kind of thing I have to mull over before I actually open the cover. This is the kind of book where people tend to be more familiar with the criticism and commentary surrounding the book than have actually read the book themselves. In the Information Age, many potential readers probably discover that the book can best be summarized as a Lord of the Rings rip-off or Lord of the Rings-lite and decide to simply skip it over. For readers like me who decide to give it an honest try, it’s more or less impossible to read it with an open mind. It makes it difficult for you to enjoy the book on its own merits because you constantly have to juggle your reaction of the story against the criticism already attached to the book. This is certainly true of all books but there are notable novels, such as this one, that have received an overwhelming negative response that overshadows the positive response, often resulting in it being dismissed far too quickly and unfairly.

Here’s the biggest problem with The Sword of Shannara, the most popular criticisms thrown at it are usually 1) it’s a near identical copy of The Lord of the Rings both in terms of plot and characters, and 2) it’s a really shitty version of that great epic.  These comments can be found far and wide, both in and outside the confines of the Internet. Those criticisms are true but they also offer an incomplete assessment of what The Sword of Shannara has to offer.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Seventh by Richard Stark review (Unread 016)

It’s always a delight to read a Parker book by Richard Stark. I tend to space them out between other books I read for a couple reasons. I love them dearly and I don’t want to rush myself to read them all right away. I also use them as a way to remind me why I love reading when I get a little burnt out on longer and unnecessarily drawn out books. That happens regularly since I read a lot of fantasy and there are many long books in that genre. Reading something by Richard Stark immediately following a large or slow paced novel can really give you an appreciation for what Stark manages to accomplish in the slim volumes of the Parker series. The Seventh is no exception as it maintains the high level of excellence as the rest of the series. I’m simply fascinated by the rapid pacing, Parker’s hypnotizing amorality and focus, the tight plotting and, of course, the narrative structure Stark gives to each of his books. 

I have to admit, I’m a definitive fanboy of this series. It scratches an itch that no other books can touch. There is a precision to each and every book and they all fit nicely together in a way that many other authors try to do with their series but never manage to pull off. To clarify, when I say the books fit well together I don’t mean in it in the way that they’re all set within a clear universe with recurring characters and familiar locale, thought that happens to be true, too. I mean the books fit together well in contrast to each other. There is a structure to each individual volume but there is also a structure to the series. Each book highlights a particular facet of Parker while also fitting comfortably with what has come before.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Blog Fantastic 039: Prince Caspian Review (Unread 015)

When I read the first book of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, I had a lot of problems with it. I enjoyed myself while reading, but once the book was done and I thought about it a little bit, it felt slight and weightless. There wasn’t much substance for me to hang on to and the experience I had with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe soon drifted away. Just like the Pevensie children, I knew I would one day return to Narnia, mostly because I had already bought all seven volumes from Bay Used Books – a matching set, no less. I’ve decided to read the series in publication order so the second book I picked off the shelf was Prince Caspian.

I mentioned in my review of the first book that I enjoyed the writing style and that the plot had little tension or thrills to offer, my reaction to Prince Caspian is eerily similar. The plot isn’t thrilling, not much happens and what does happen is accomplished with far too much ease. Worst of all, I had a more difficult time reading the second volume because the writing style annoyed me for most of the book. I found it to be pandering and patronizing. Why I enjoyed it with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe and not with Prince Caspian I can only blame on my mood while reading this book. This time around, I found that the writing style pulled me out of the story, provided too many interrupting commentary, and not enough plot momentum. If anything, it slowed down the story. It also surprised me just how little dialogue this book has. It’s a clear example of how breaking the storytelling rule of “show, don’t tell” will make for a shitty reading experience.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Blog Fantastic 038: Dragondrums Review (Unread 014)

Dragondrums is the third volume of the Harper Hall trilogy. It’s noticeably different than the first two volumes because this volume focuses on Piemur, rather than Menolly. I read some reviews and comments online about how some people really didn’t like that change. It was said that it undermined Menolly’s character and that Piemur isn’t worthy enough to lead his own book. I personally like the change. Menolly rubbed me the wrong way because she was infallible and could do no wrong. She reeks of Mary Sue’ness and that got tiresome pretty quickly. She’s still a part of Dragondrums but it’s less focused that in the previous volumes. I did have my moments where I really liked her but overall, I liked her better in this book. She works better for me when she’s not in the spotlight. For me, she’s a character that works best when I’m not spending all my time inside her head. I can appreciate her talents and personality much more this way. I also happen to like Piemur, so having more of him in Dragondrums was a positive change, in my opinion. However, like Menolly, he did have his moments where he annoyed me.

This book is about growing up and dealing with changes that our out of control (kind of funny then that readers were upset about the change in main character – you can’t do anything about it so settle in and enjoy the story). Piemur, at the age of 14, loses his soprano voice leaving him unable to sing until his voice settles down and he finds his new vocal range. He’s at a loss as to what his future hold. He doesn’t know what to do. He’s never excelled at anything else at Harper Hall besides singing. He’d even become Master Shonagar’s favourite student because of his voice. Aside from that, he’s not really any good in other fields of music. He sucks at making instruments, his gitar playing is no more than average, he isn’t good at composition, or at copying sheet music. Crushed by the thoughts that he would have to return to his childhood Hold, he is given incredible news.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Star Trek: The Next Generation Omnibus review (Unread 013)

IDW Publishing, the current comic book publisher which holds the rights to Star Trek comics has put together a few archive collections of Star Trek comics previously published by other companies. They’ve also put together omnibus editions that collect multiple mini-series that were first published by IDW. It’s a good publishing strategy as mini-series are often overlooked by regular comic book readers and considering that most of IDW’s Star Trek output has been in this format it makes sense to give those minis a wider audience. Since the omnibus collections contain multiple mini-series at a more affordable price, it’s most likely the favoured choice of potential buyers. That’s why I bought this volume. The page per dollar ratio makes it worthwhile purchase. This volume focuses on stories set in The Next Generation series. Four miniseries are collected together. The first of which is The Space Between.

The Space Between
Written by David Tischman
Art by Casey Maloney
Additional Inks by Stacie Ponder and Aaron Leach
Colors by Leonard O’Grady
Letters by Robbie Robbins, Chris Mowry, and Neil Uyetake
Edited by Dan Taylor

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Blog Fantastic 037: Last Sword of Power Review (Unread 012)

Have you ever built up an author (or director, musician, etc.) in your head as being one of the greats? Maybe even a genius in their respective field? Now I don’t think David Gemmell is a genius, but I’ve always considered him a skilled writer who excels at certain types of stories. Those stories often focus on tough men put in situations where their survival is in question but the situation often leads to their redemption as heroes for having done the honourable thing in said difficult situation. I’ve pointed out his weaknesses as a writer before (female characters!) and his stories can be similar when looking at them side by side (yet they’re usually varied enough in the details to remain separate individual works). Sometimes he plays with big ideas and when he does, he rivals many of the other great fantasy authors. To be clear, I think David Gemmell is pretty great and up until a few weeks ago, at least, he was one of my favourite fantasy authors, comfortably sitting amongst the other greats in the literary pantheon of my mind.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Blog Fantastic 036: Elantris Review (Unread 011)

I don’t read as many books as I would like to, especially in certain genres. There’s too little time to get around to everything that interests me. Because of that, sometimes I try a book by an author who has caught my attention only to be disappointed by the sample of their work. It sucks when that happens, and it happens regularly. That’s why I’m thrilled when I discover a writer whose work I really enjoy, especially when that other has plenty more books to offer and all of their books are readily available. For me, Brandon Sanderson has become one of those writers in the last two years or so. I’ve known of him since he was handpicked to finish writing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, but I only got around to giving one of his books a try until a couple years ago. Since then, I’ve been enjoying him work. I still have plenty of his books to read (he writes at superhuman speeds) which means I’ll have several more Sanderson reviews to write in the future.

Elantris is the most recent book by Sanderson that I’ve read. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed Warbreaker and The Emperor’s Soul. The novel is Sanderson’s first published work, though not the first book he’s written. As his first published book it’s certainly something to be proud of because there are loads of really good things about it. One of those things is the prologue which instantly grabs the reader and sucks them into the world of Elantris. The setup is pretty simple. There once was a city of gods. It was a city filled with magic and limitless possibilities. A few decades ago that city died and all its gods became decrepit wretches, now living a cursed life. This event was called the Reod, the fall of the gods. Still, the city lives on in a way because the magic that chose people among the populace of the surrounding cities to become gods in the famed city of Elantris continues to work. Though now, the Shaod (the Transformation) is no longer a blessing, it’s a sentence to a miserable new life. 

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Gunpla Build Review: Master Grade RX-79 (G) Gundam Ground

It’s been nine months since my first Gunpla review. Since then, I’ve only had time to build one more model and it’s of the same Gundam suit. This time though, I built a Master Grade version of the RX-79 (G) Gundam. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of The 08th MS Team series and it just seemed natural to me to seek out the main Gundam from that series to build as my first Gunpla kit. Why then would I buy a kit for the same Gundam as my second build? The answer is simple enough. I’m extremely new to Gunpla building and I wanted to build a kid that would help me differentiate between High Grade and Master Grade kits. It seemed to me like the best way of doing that was to build the same Gundam in both grades.

Even though I had recently built an RX-79, I got quite a bit of enjoyment out of the Master Grade version. I simply like this mobile suit, so building it is a treat on its own, but the real delight came in comparing the High Grade kit to the Master Grade. Best of all, I found the Master Grade to be superior in all areas which led to this build being more enjoyable than my first one. Part of that definitively has to do with me being familiar with the building process and knowing the basics. That helped me a lot this time around. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Novel review (Unread 010)

I love Star Trek for a lot of difference reasons. One of the main reasons is that it can provide fans with a wide variety of stories within the franchise’s fictional universe. This is true of a lot of long lasting and ever evolving franchises but Star Trek is still one of my favourites because it does it well and even when it completely misses the mark, there is a lot left to enjoy. That’s true of Star Trek: The Motion Picture and it’s even truer of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Novel (that title!).

I didn’t really like Star Trek: The Motion Picture the first time I saw it. I’ve always thought it was interesting – how can it not be considering all the characters begin in a different situation than what we’re used to seeing, the uniforms are different, everything feels fresh and new – but I didn’t think it was good. It didn’t compare to the good Star Trek movies. The more I rewatched it, the more my opinion changed. I started to like it because the more I watched it the easier it was for me to notice the thematic elements at play (on full display but difficult to notice due to the slow pacing of the film), the surprisingly poignant character arcs (mostly Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, again, difficult to notice because they’re portrayed differently than we’re used to seeing and that’s the whole point), just how long those damn lingering shots of spaceships and the Intruder are (way, way too long). It also became apparent that the movie’s pacing actually supports the character development which also happens to be the heart of the movie. Having a slower pace allowed for more character reaction, anticipation, and boiling over of emotions, all of which fuel character interaction and allow for the thematic development of the relationships between humanoid to humanoid and human to unknown sentient beings.