Wednesday, 27 January 2016

"The family circle is a triangle": Stray Toasters review

Bill Sienkiewicz (pronounced sin-KEV-itch) is a masterful artist. Some of his works in comics rank among my all-time favourites. His collaboration with Frank Miller on Elektra: Assassin and Daredevil Love and War are some of the most memorable and masterfully told comics I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. His career is filled with milestone issues in some of the most popular titles. His style of art incorporates many types of artistic techniques resulting in a unique and immediately identifiable style. Having Sienkiewicz inking another artist’s pencils is enough to give a comic a stylish vibe. His influence is huge and I’m sad it took me so long to read Stray Toasters which he wrote as well as illustrated.

Anybody who’s even flipped through a copy of this comic can attest to its strangeness. While I can say without any reservations that I love his art, I can’t say the same for his writing. When I consider it, there are some similarities between his approach to art and writing and while it suits one, it doesn’t suit the other. The energetic and chaotic art style doesn’t translate well to the written word. Stray Toasters is incredibly confusing and out of that emerged my frustration as a confused reader.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A Model World and Other Stories by Michael Chabon Review

I first discovered Michael Chabon a few years ago when I read a copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It’s one of those books I picked up pretty much on a whim. I saw someone read it on the bus. It was a trade paperback version with the shiny Pulitzer Prize for Fiction sticker on it. I must have seen the novel displayed at a bookstore because I ended up with buying and reading it. I love it so much I read it twice in the same month. Then I loaned it to a friend and never got it back. Luckily I found an identical edition at my local used bookstore and I own it once again. It’s one of my all-time favourite books. There are many things to love about it and there a parts of it that stick in my mind, even to this day, years after I originally read it.

During that same trip where I bought a new (but old) copy of The Amazing Kavalier & Clay I also bought a few other books by Chabon. I’ve wanted to read more of his work but for years I kept forgetting about it when stepping into a book store. Being in the middle of at least half a dozen other books right now, I was fighting the urge to dive into one of my new Chabon acquisitions. I wanted to finish a few of my other books first. Needless to say I settled down with A Model World and Other Stories last Sunday and I’ve been having moving and enthralling lunch hours these last few days.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens Novelization Review

Some unexpected things have happened with my readings habits throughout the years but one thing I never would have predicted is that I enjoy reading novelizations of movies I like to watch. It started because of Star Wars mostly and while I haven’t read tons of novelizations since I discovered I like reading those kinds of books, it’s a trend that will likely continue for many years. Recently, a little movie came out continuing the story began so many years ago with the release of Star Wars in 1977. That movie is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens and it’s pretty good. It’s not a masterpiece, but I don’t think anybody was realistically expecting one. Generally speaking, we wanted a good movie and we got a good movie. We also got a good novelization courtesy of the Grand Master of novelizations Alan Dean Foster.

Though it didn’t really surprise me, The Force Awakens book was pretty darn close to the movie experience and so my reaction was essentially the same. This is not the best novelization I’ve read but it’s still good. In some ways, I like it more than the movie. In some other ways, I don’t. This mostly has to do with the fact that when I read the book I lose the good elements from the movie such as the actors’ portrayals of their characters and the movie’s visuals. I’m well aware that I’m not saying anything revelatory here. It kind of comes with the territory of novelizations. However, if I’m comparing this to my experience reading other Star Wars novelizations, this one falls a little short. That’s because the original trilogy’s visuals and the actors performances are engraved in my mind’s eye. My multiple viewings of the original trilogy actually supported and improved my reading of their respective novelizations. That is not the case with The Force Awakens. I’ve seen it once and while the viewing was fresh it my mind when I read this book, I simply don’t have the same familiarity with it that I did with those other movies.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

2015: A Year in Review, Progress Report

Shared Universe Reviews has been one of my longest personal interest projects. It’s also been a pretty rewarding one for several reasons. As I’ve come to realize in my life, when things are rewarding it’s usually because I worked hard at achieving a goal and I’ve met my desired targets. In that regard, last year provided proof once again that the harder I work at my posts on SUR, the more I get out of it. Slowly, year by year, I’ve built a body of critical writing that I’m proud of it. I think that writing these annual progress reports helps me better assess what I’ve done, where I’m at, and what I would like to accomplish in the coming year.

For my first year of blogging, in 2013, the goal was simple. Start blogging and do it regularly. Because I was just starting I didn’t need anything more than that. In my second year, 2014, I tried to get a better grasp on the areas of entertainment on which my main reviewing output would focus on. The original idea for SUR was always comic books reviews but along the way I’ve found that I enjoy writing about others things too. The Blog Fantastic (a project in which I review fantasy novels written by authors I like, authors I want to discover, and classic series) has been one of my proudest achievements and bigger successes on the site.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

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

No need for a detailed introduction today. This is the continuation of my list of 20 Favourite Comics and Novels Read in 2015. You can read the first part here.

10. Peace by Gene Wolfe (not reviewed)

As I mentioned on Wednesday, one of my personal goals in 2015 was to read a few really challenging books. One of those was Inherent Vice. Another one was Peace. If you’ve ever read a book by Gene Wolfe you won’t need convincing that his books are difficult to read and worth the effort required to understand them. It’s never a problem to finish reading a book by Wolfe because his prose is simply beautiful. It’s complex, but mostly approachable. It challenges the reader without being off-putting. With Peace, one of his earliest novels, Wolfe clearly demonstrates that he is a master of literature. I’m often confused by the lack of discussion surrounding his impressive body of work online. Then I look at the number of books I’ve written about here at SUR and I shut up. Reading Peace last year was an attempt to start fixing that but like the other books on this list that I didn’t review, I read it during a time where I was working on a big project and I wasn’t focused on regular reviews.

In Peace, Wolfe builds a very complex story with the use of one of his main storytelling tools, the unreliable narrator. Also important to the story is the use of memories. The plot of the book is pretty simple at first glance, but much of it is made up of lies and the reader figuring out what really happened (or at least questioning the veracity of what you’re being told). Doing this is the start to really appreciating what this novel has to offer. The book begins with an old man thinking about his past. Each section of the book jumps from one period of his life to another. Along the way Wolfe gives us impressively detailed and engrossing passages that would have been beautiful short stories if published separately. On their own, on the surface level, these are great and somewhat anecdotal pieces of fiction. When looked at together in the context of the novel’s real plot (not an old man, exactly, nor really a memoir), it’s powerful stuff. Like it sometime happens when I talk about really excellent books that have impacted me on an emotional level, I feel inadequate talking about Peace. From what I can tell though, it’s a forgotten masterpiece that modern audiences need to find and experience.