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2015-07-27

Modern Rituals:The Wayward Three, #1

Modern Rituals: The Wayward Three, #1

by J.S. Leonard

I admit it. I judged this book by its cover. The kind of weird fiction art of dark tendrils controlling a man like a puppet was fascinating. Sure the description was kind of like "The Cabin in the Woods" but I was hoping for something different and new. For the first 70% of the book I was disappointed. While it did a better job than Whedon did in the movie explaining how such an elaborate operation could be mounted, I was a bit disappointed that the ideas seemed the same.

Unlike Whedon, Leonard doesn't seek to surprise you with what's going on or leave you bewildered. Leonard expects you to see the movie that inspired him and he even has winks and nods to the movie throughout the book. As a result none of the summary is very spoiler-ish, but if you haven't seen "The Cabin in the Woods", stop now and watch it first.

Ok then? So to summarize, there is an ancient powerful organization called Magnus. They serve one purpose: to maintain a truce between the Old Gods and man by performing/facilitating complex rituals to provide the Gods a sacrifice as they see fit. The book goes between character's viewpoints both as "participants" of the ritual, those to be sacrificed, as well as Magnus operatives. Unlike in Whedon's movie, the participants are selected randomly amongst the about to die and somehow whisked away to a secret installation that resembles a Japanese High School. 

For most of the book the characters are trying to unravel what is happening to them and stop a creature like the monster from the Japanese horror film, Ringu, while the operatives are trying to make sure nothing goes wrong. 
Just like in Whedon's film, things do go wrong but this is where things begin to diverge. There is something helping the participants and power politics going on among the Magnus operatives.

At the 70% point in the novel the ritual is apparently completed, the survivors are being promised a return to their lives and the political intrigue appears to be about to resolve itself. And  the book takes a turn. I won't spoil anything about what happens then but this turned my opinion of the novel around. I think Leonard's turn is fantastic and a good setup for what I assume to be six more novels. I hope the series can keep itself together and am looking forward to getting a hold of the second book (which Leonard has kindly offered for free to people who subscribe to his site for free). 

I do have two criticisms. Many of the characters felt a little too stock. I know Leonard means them to be archetypes. Colette's backstory is completely absent and is just a cardboard "succubus", really just a slut as there is nothing sinister to her at all. Keto and Anthony are also woefully underdeveloped. However, I do like that figuring out who matches to what roll is a part of the fun of the book and I was genuinely mislead and surprised when it came to some of the characters' identities.

My other criticism is I think Leonard's conditions for a successful ritual are not met in the end as two of the deaths seem not to actually qualify. I'm really uncertain, but can't get in to it more without spoiling some of the twists.

I received a digital copy of this book for review from NetGalley and the publisher.

2015-07-22

New Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Pure Insanity and Defective

New Suicide Squad, Volume 1

Pure Insanity

by Sean Ryan

I have to say I have mixed feelings about DC. While a lot of the standalone work is excellent and the Vertigo imprint has put out incredible work, I often feel like the main continuity work is a bit odd. Superman, for instance, feels a bit dated. Batman has become a self-parody. The entire concept of "families" in DC is very bizarre to me. For the most part I stick to stand alone or Vertigo properties. That said many of those are among my favorite comics: We3, Red Son, Hellblazer, Sandman, Gotham by Gaslight, Y: the Last Man, Watchmen, and Fables. It seems that in many ways DC takes itself less seriously than Marvel and is much more willing to take risks.

I also have to say that I am not too familiar with the Suicide Squad's previous iteration. My awareness of it came mainly out of the growing hype for the new movie. Just a brief glance into online material about the team gave me a list of members I was either unfamiliar with or vaguely familiar with. Except for Harley Quinn.

I am a huge fan of Harley. The character always struck me as complex for a villain in comics. Yes, she's crazy, but she is aware of it and delights in it. Beyond that she is extremely devoted in her love (bordering on obsession) with the Joker. She know he takes advantage of her and that he is bad for her, but just like real people stuck in abusive relationships she can't seem to escape. Harley is probably my favorite DC villain. So I figured I'd give New Suicide Squad a try.

For those not aware. The idea of the Suicide Squad is that a top-secret military agency with the backing of the President wants to conduct illegal and messy operations. These missions are so dangerous and have such a high impact for political fallout if pinned on the US that they decide the best solution is to use people who they can easily deny and no one would question -- supervillains.

As the new series opens with Pure Insanity, a new program director is appointed to keep an eye on the squad and their handler. He introduces conflict by adding Deathstroke and Joker's Daughter enraging Deadshot and Harley Quinn respectively. An insane disaster follows which ironically does manage to accomplish the tasks. Betrayal, injury, and in-fight continue but somehow the group makes it out mostly intact.  Black Manta starts to show a glimmer of leadership.

Defective continues the story line with a second mission with Captain Boomerang rejoining the team along with Ninja Man-Bats, which I think is DC's way of reminding us that it is in fact still DC. Again chaos breaks out and again Black Manta's budding leadership seems to pull everything together.

Throughout both stories, a backplot of political intrigue is brewing, sinister multinationals are hinted at, and new adversaries start to lurk. All in all, I think the issues are a great introduction to the team and I have to say I will keep my eyes out for the upcoming issues.

I do have some criticisms. First, I don't like the direction the art for Harley is going. It seems like they are trying to make her too modern-gritty and it doesn't seem to mesh too well of how I envision the character.

Also the use of multiple artists leads to inconsistencies across the book. Take bonnie:
Sorry Boss, I had a few Bloody Marys before work. 
The Joker's Aunt?
I wonder if she will realize I'm her younger sister? 
I changed clothes and got my hair done on the way home.

No, Bonnie it's not ok.

It also appears the ethnicity of the unnamed Chinese Metahuman was in dispute by the artists:

Very Chinese
Maybe Chinese?
Channing Tatum?
Also there are occurrences of very sloppy art like this car:

The worst problem is the seemingly simple matter of how many sides the Pentagon has.
Correct!

Wrong!

That aside, New Suicide Squad is a ton of fun and I'm really excited to see where it goes!

I received a digital copy of this book for review from NetGalley and the publisher.


On Goodreads.

2015-07-14

We Are Pirates

We Are Pirates

by Daniel Handler

Handler's latest adult fiction book is a strange beast. It is written similarly to Kurt Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus and Slapstick and somehow similar to Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. Thematically it explores the kind of existential themes you'd expect from Palahniuk or Ellis with all of the moral ambiguity of them too.

The book has two intertwined narratives from the points of view of a middle aged radio producer, Phil, and his directionless daughter, Gwen. Both characters work through their own ennui and moral shortcomings to arrive at a slightly ambiguous and strangely saccharine lessons about reality and family.

The biggest concerns I have with the book is the female characters. The mother is a shew, Levine is a slutty and incompetent manic pixie dream girl, Gwen is beyond naivete to the point of holding bizarre beliefs about radio, reality, life and morality that collapse under the lightest of analysis. Naomi also feels cliched in her closeted homosexuality and obsession with rebellion and teenage angst.

In fact the male characters are all pretty cliched also. From the nebbish Phil, to the starry-eyed innocent love-struck teen Cody. The entire book seems to be stock cardboard characters.

While there was a kind of charming anachronistic gothic/victorian feel to Handler's work as Lemony Snicket, in We Are Pirates it feels a bit stilted. Especially with the kind of Vonnegut-type language acting like the story is being told from the distant future. I expected a scenario like Slapstick where the entire structure of the world alters, instead it becomes "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing", perhaps that is too strong, it may just be much ado about nothing.

That said the throwback and longing for the Romantic Age of Pirates is palatable through the book. Even the cover feels like an old adventure novel. I did enjoy the book, was surprised by the twist by the Captain near the end. But the other "twists" were so expected and obvious that their reveals often made me think, "ok, I knew that already".

On Goodreads.

2015-06-23

Seveneves

Seveneves

by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves is enjoyable albeit predictable. It has the same problem Reamde had, it should have been three books. I also find the thinly veiled versions of several real people a bit of an eye roller. Doob is clearly Neil deGrasse Tyson, Julia and her husband are Sarah Palin and her husband, Sean is Elon Musk. And we get it Neal, you do your homework, but do you have to tell us everything? Can we have a little mystery? Do we really need to know about the orbital mechanics of every object in orbit?


The last third was probably the weakest part. It was so predictable and read like the kind of post-singularity masturbatory fantasy you'd see coming from a teenager. And at the same time hard to believe. The epigenetics subplot seemed shoehorned at the end and didn't really add anything and never really impacted the plot. Likewise, Kath is such a letdown. Only to be thrown out with a sudden switch to Ty's perspective?

All in all my enthusiasm about Stephenson continues to drop as this book seems to be more a compilation of ideas for those he likes to spend time with rather than contributing anything of its own.

Expanded from review on Goodreads.

2015-03-23

Gateway

Gateway

by Frederik Pohl

Gateway was an intriguing book and really explored the knowability of a lost alien species. Its portrayal of Earth in the future seems oddly prescient in many ways. A future where space hasn't really made life on earth a peaceful utopia. The major powers are still at odds and Gateway is left above (yet inside it) by the fact that its uniqueness in the solar system makes it too valuable to fight over. I loved the usage of a psychotherapy as a backdrop to increase reader tension and provide a framework for why the story is being recounted. The idea of guilt and a failure to grieve when a person's state is unknown is an amazing topic to explore. Also of note is how the larger theme of knowability and Humanity not really having control of its future is reflected in both Broadhead's life as he is never an active participant in his own life, and just is being pulled along by unknown forces and in the fate of his companions from his last expediton. My biggest issue with the book is the fact that despite it all Broadhead is often a willful jerk, not just to his AI psychiatrist but to other patients and the people he recounts as part of his post-Gateway life. Maybe it is a guise to hide just how bad he feels about what happened.


Expanded from Goodreads review.

2015-01-15

Blankets

Blankets

by Craig Thompson

This graphic novel is heartbreakingly close to home, there is a beauty in the authors pain as he is swept along in a familiar world where he has no chance to be anything other than a victim. So many of the situations in the story nearly brought me tears as it dredges up my own memories of childhood. Coming off of reading Persepolis you start to wonder where the good in the world is that such continual tragedy can befall children. I find comfort in knowing that I have the power to make my own children's story not resemble mine or Craig Thompson's.

My only questions at the end of the story is how are him and his brother dealing with adulthood? How much does their past haunt them? And, what happened to Raina?

In a way I hoped so desperately that Craig and Raina would get a happy ending or eventually reconnect. But sadly life doesn't work that way and instead we have the honest reality that things often don't happen how we would like them to

On Goodreads.

2014-03-27

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman

I was surprised that this book was not a YA novel. It feels very much the same as Coraline, Interworld or the Graveyard Book and not as much like American Gods, Anansi Boys or Neverwhere. Not that it isn't a bad thing, just surprising. In many ways this is Gaiman's "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" it feels like his Children's works but the topics seem the be very much adult.

The hardest part of the book for me was the life the main character was leading was too similar to my childhood. I remember getting to the age where parents no longer felt like they had to make their child invite the entire class or that they had to attend every party. While I never had a party where no one showed the later ones were very close. As someone with a difficult and often unhappy childhood the events of the story read to me of his boyhood escapism. And it leaves me wondering if the protagonist was merely remembering mundane and unhappy events through the lens of a child in love with the fantastic.


On Goodreads.