Author Archives: Chris

The Institute

It’s nice to have read a book within a reasonable timetable for a change. I mean, sure, The Institute came out nearly a month ago, but I’ve only been reading for a week or two. (I think?) Since I’ve been taking a lot longer than that lately and for shorter books to boot, I’ll gladly accept the win.

My last impression is one of sadness. Because, okay, anyone can just be walking down the street and get plowed into by a bus van, and bam, lights out. That is the way of the world. But this is the first time I’ve seen an author photo of Stephen King and thought that he looked old. Which means there’s a time limit outside the confines of happenstance.

If I were terribly clever, I would now tie in the plot or theme(s) of the book into this sense of impending loss. And okay, maybe I could at that[3], but I don’t want to get too deep into spoiler territory. So, instead, let’s start over.

My first impression of the book was… well, okay, it has a pretty confusing intro. I say confusing because it has nothing whatsoever to do with the visible plot of the book, as judged by the cover. And, in retrospect, this is 100% awkward. I don’t mind, because I will give the man a lot of leeway, but if you are really interested in the structure of writing, yeah, I cannot say this is a stand-out entry.

My middle impression of the book was extremely favorable! See, there’s the hyper smart kid, one of those people who is a supernova in a world of candles and light bulbs, right? I’ve met one or two of them, and while I don’t consider myself a dope, I’m smart enough to know the difference between me and someone like that.[1] And via a few dozen pages of plot events occurring, he finds himself in a prison for children who have certain small talents.

Everything else follows from here. Why was he taken? What do they want? What can he do about it? Everyone wants to compare this book to It, because the main characters are mostly children, and… I mean, that’s a true point of overlap between the books, but man are they nothing alike. And almost none of the things I love about that book are present here either. Some of the kids are outsider types, but some are not, and it is certainly not the meat of their friendships. There’s no sense of the sweep of a dark and disturbing history[2], no slice of small town life through a lens as warped as conservative ideology paints our mid-century past, only warped in the opposite direction. In all the ways that make that book matter, they’re nothing alike.

Which is not to say I did not like The Institute. It’s a lovely adventure story with characters I cared about. But it’s a fun book, not a great book. Which is okay! It’s just irritating to compare the books on the basis of “kids vs evil”.

Long story short: I hate writing reaction reviews, and I’m sorry that either of us had to sit through this one.

[1] Also, happily, it means I don’t have to dwell on how King didn’t write him nearly intelligently enough, what with the twin excuses of how would I know the difference past a certain point, and that, supernova or not, he’s still twelve.
[2] Although if the book were twice its length perhaps there could have been. This is not a thing I can recommend, though.
[3] Anyway, after further consideration, the thing I was thinking of doesn’t even really work.

The Walking Dead: Rest in Peace

I’ve been saying since… well, at least since the end of All Out War, that there are ways in which the Walking Dead as a series has outstayed its welcome. I kept reading because I still cared about the characters, but the story? Well, it has become at least a bit repetitive. Who was Negan but a better take on the Governor, and at a larger scale? The Whisperers were a good variant, but still ultimately not very different. And now the Commonwealth was gearing up to be a here we go again, but this time it’s different because, um… it’s geographically even bigger than the previous times?

You see my point, which is, come on Kirkman, get it together and find a new take or a conclusion.

What I did not expect (although the title perhaps should have been a giveaway[1]) was that, as of Rest in Peace, I’d learn that he has been listening to me and the story is now over. Of course, that was five years ago, but still.

With the benefit of hindsight: there have been too many characters to reliably keep track of, but except for that it was a pretty good five year continuation, and a quite satisfying end to the story, containing all the elements I personally deemed essential and pretty well sticking the landing. Go team zombie!, I guess? I mean from a literary tradition standpoint, not from a spoilers about how the story ends standpoint. That it ends at all is the one unavoidable spoiler in this post.

[1] Actually, it sort of was? Also, it’s a large volume. Between those, I had to check the collection info, and it ended at #193, so, nah, no way they don’t go to at least issue 200, for a big momentous event of some kind. Right? Right.

Bloodlines

I know mostly all I do is complain about being behind and/or working constantly. But here’s my point. I read another Deathlands book, right? This is the book I take camping because I might finish one or two over a long weekend, all while helping with a giant fireworks show plus explosion, and also getting up to who knows what all manner of shenanigans. (I mean, I know, but this is a public forum, of however limited readership.)

It took me a month to read Bloodlines. A month. Something has got to change, somehow. There are too many books in the world for me to take a month on a book that has otherwise taken me a day.

Also, you might argue, there are too many books in the world to read the Deathlands at all. And, well. Maybe, but this is an old argument. Especially now that this book has turned the entire series on its head. Because up until now, this has been nonstop science fiction for people who think they are gun-and-sex apocalyptic enthusiasts. (Or, if you’re me, occasional gun porn for people who are apocalypse-and-sex science fiction enthusiasts. But unlike the people it’s actually for, I’m not fooling myself.) But as of this book, they have thrown horror into the mix.

Specifically, Louisiana vampires. How weird is that? But let’s be honest, it’s the mid 1990s now (adjusted for publication date), it was a weird time.

Does this mean that around 2010 the series will introduce comic superheroes? (I’m pretty sure it definitely means that around 2003, the series will introduce zombies. Maybe sooner.)

 

 

It Chapter Two

Remember that time where they took my very favorite book and made it into half of a movie? Somehow, that was two years ago. Good news: the name pf the sequel is in fact fine.

It Chapter Two does what was promised: we pick up the story a generation later, with the adult characters coming back to Derry to do what they promised, if there was a need. Pennywise is back, and he must be faced again in an apocalyptic showdown. But not before a lot of revisiting the past, both with additional flashbacks that sated my need for more scenes from that wholly non-idyllic summer of their youth and with the kind of revisiting the past that adults more traditionally do, gawking in disbelief at how the things that seemed so big and important now seem so small and far away. But with monsters.

I’ll never really be able to explain why the source material for these movies is so powerful to me. Because the above reads like it’s meant to be a joke, and not even a well-enough crafted joke to justify having made it, when the truth is I meant it sincerely. It’s like, King’s meditations on small town mid-century American childhood ring so true to me. And I know I’ll never actually know, because I was never there, two different ways, but it generates the kind of nostalgia in me that powers a political party. Except he tells the truth via his metaphor, because in fact everything was just as bad then as it is now. There’s a monster who comes back every so often to devour children.

Literally? Metaphorically?

Yes.

But I digress. The last thing I’ll say is that although it took me an hour or so turning it over in my mind, I’ve decided that they stuck the landing. It has a very strange climax, which could not possibly translate to a screen. At least, I don’t think so. I know that everyone made fun of the television series ending, which held onto the literal half of the book’s climax and scrapped the metaphysical version entirely, even though it’s a 50/50 split. This movie, on the other hand, leans about 80/20 metaphysical/literal, which also I think loses something, but does play up the difficulty inherent to a climactic battle with a being that is only slightly literally real.

One thing you will not see the people of 2019 saying is, “Seriously? After all those transformations, Pennywise the Dancing Clown is just a big $spoiler? Seriously?!” When people said that in 1990, they at least had the virtue of a semi-valid complaint. Barely. So, it’s a good thing to avoid.

Anyway. I think the kids did a better job than the adults, mostly, although I cannot deny that the adults did an excellent job of selling that they were the same people 27 years later. I also need to give props to Bill Skarsgård, who has supplanted Tim Curry in my mind’s eye as who Pennywise is. That’s impressive.

Not a bad way to spend three hours, although next time I won’t do it at an 11pm show after a 12 hour day at work. (I hope.)

Ready or Not (2019)

Here’s how you can tell you’re too far inside an industry: when I watched Ready or Not, I had no concern about the deadly game of hide and seek[1] (after all, the rich are different from us) nor about old stories of demonic deals for wealth (that’s just how you get rich), but it really bothered me that they were rich enough to have that kind of sprawling Victorian estate, full of secret passages for servants (and also not incidentally still full of servants) based on creating board games. I guess in real life it’s feasible that the brothers Parker, back when there were only like six boardgames to choose from[2], really did get outsizedly wealthy, and as a result this makes perfect sense. But man does it feel wrong based on my experiences watching a board game in development / following other games with at least a layman hobbyist’s knowledge of the industry.

If you can get past all that, though (I could, and my friends who are actually developing a game apparently could as well, so you should have no trouble), this is a movie that strikes the perfect balance between comedy and gore. To explain the setup a little more clearly than I probably already did, there’s this wealthy family, and on the night of your marriage into the family, you have to play a randomly selected game, in the old style. Like Old Maid, or checkers. Nothing that qualifies as a boardgame even by post WWII standards. And as long as you don’t pick Hide and Seek, that’s as far as it goes. But every generation or so, a sacrifice is required…

The reason it works is because both the writing and casting are top notch. I want to go into it more, but I try not to ever spoil more than the premise, and to elaborate further has all kinds of character and joke spoilers; not plot spoilers, because horror movie genre conventions almost always trump plot, and in the rare occasion where genre conventions are subverted, I would still lie and say there’s no plot to spoil, because anything else would itself be a spoiler again. Long story short, if you like things that are funny and aren’t allergic to violent deaths, this is a good way to spend a couple of hours.

[1] Fun fact: this is not the first hide and seek horror movie named Ready or Not. I’m guessing it’s the better one, though.
[2] Although the same percentage of them were Monopoly

Grave Peril revisited

Last week / weekend was a big driving vacation (let’s say) to GenCon. Which was cool and completely exhausting but I think pretty cool, but I’m really disappointed that I never managed to do anything much towards getting in on any games. I will be a little choosier about getting involved with something on the next con with signups that I go to. (Which is probably most of them, but not so much BGG.)

None of that is important, of course, except for how it left time to finish an audiobook during the drive, hooray! Grave Peril is I think the book where Butcher found his footing, at least from a plotting perspective. It’s not that the plot of the book is outstanding in some way. If anything, it’s a little bit overly convoluted. What I mean is that I’m finally seeing the seeds of a long term story for the series, as of this book. Not “oh, hey, these characters come back later” so much as “oh, wow, that felt like foreshadowing for things I read in the most recent book or two”. Also, this being a reread, I should probably elaborate along a few axes, below a cut perhaps? Sure, why not.

But first: timeline update. This one is set almost exactly a year after the last one, so we are now in October of Year 1 (granted a starting point of May (I think?) of Year 0). We are first introduced to Michael as well as to the concept of a holy sword of God, which… I’m still not sure how I feel about angels and demons co-existing alongside fae and being from the outer realms. But it hasn’t made me want to kick the books down the stairs, so I guess that’s alright?

Continue reading

Fables: Cubs in Toyland

Someday, I will write a review that does not start off discussing how far behind I am and how that’s highly unlikely to change. Today is certainly not that day, in that, at the end of a week of work, I got maybe halfway through my list of tickets once, and I’m positive that a lot of them are waiting on me to do work to proceed. Which is why I never read, which is why I’m actually not very far behind, or wouldn’t be if I hadn’t been on a long drive that included finishing an audiobook. But this is not about that.

As you will no doubt remember, most of my graphic novel reading lately has been Fables, for the purpose of getting caught up to the Unwritten / Fables crossover of 2015[1], in case there are any spoilers. Which there probably won’t be anyway, but why would I voluntarily do that to myself? So now I’ve ready Cubs in Toyland, which gets me to only a year and a half behind where I need to be. Cool?

This is an interlude book for the majority of characters, since the most recent big bad remains thoroughly defeated and the traps he has set remain unsprung, and nor has any new big bad reared a head. But it is a critical book for the offspring of Bigby Wolf and Snow White. One of the seven has recently been named the new North Wind[2], and the others are at loose ends trying to figure out what they are meant to be. Which is all fine and good, until one of them is swept into a far darker version of the Babes in Toyland story than I would have expected.

It’s a good book, though, and I continue to care what happens. 18 volumes in, not counting 10 or more side books / spinoffs, that’s a pretty good record.

[1] I know. I know.
[2] Probably this is tangentially spoilery, so don’t read more if you care about that. (If you did care you’d be reading the books I expect, but.) Bigby is the son of the former North Wind, and he does not want the job, and also it is apparently a genetically inherited position. Thusly. Is the North Wind important? Man, I don’t know, but I will say that the Winds are pretty dang powerful / primal forces, even by Fable standards. So, now you know.

Spider-Man: Far from Home

I saw the new Spider-Man movie over two weeks ago. You may consider primal scream therapy to be occurring during the paragraph break, because, seriously. I am consistently too busy when at work and too mentally drained when not at work to do almost anything thinky, and yet the further from the movie I get and the more other reactions I see, the harder the thinking part of a review becomes. It’s awesome[1].

So here’s the thing about Peter Parker. My formative experiences with the character (as opposed to Spider-Man, who was a sufficiently popular Marvel character that I was always baseline culturally aware of him) were in the Ultimate Series, where he was the glue that held everything together. Naturally, therefore, a movie that is positioning him for the same role in the MCU, as a result of massive spoilers from Endgame, is going to be my bread and butter.

Things that remain to be said:

  1. Far from Home is a title with very little nuance that I can detect. It’s straight up, Peter goes on a class trip to Europe, where some things that he was hoping to avoid if he wanted to keep his identity a secret occur. It feels like it should have been deeper than that?
  2. This movie does not explore the social and cultural ramifications of another massive spoiler from Endgame. It handwavily acknowledges them, and then ignores them. Which is good! That could be a very dark movie, and if I want to watch grim comics[2], that’s what DC is mostly doing.
  3. What the movie does instead is team up Spider-Man and Nick Fury and a new guy (unless you’ve heard of him elsewhere) against giant elemental creatures who want to devour the world and then move on to other dimensions, just like they did before now. Which is kind of big for a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but least he has the best AI acronym that has ever happened (E.D.I.T.H., and if you have somehow not seen this movie and can figure out the acronym, I’ll buy you a beer) to help him along the way.

It was good. It almost had me tricked on one plot point, which was impressive (but I cannot explain how of course). Another plot point was handled pretty clumsily, to the point where I’m not sure what they were going for, and the most obvious explanation equals truly bad writing. But my point is not that it was great, even by MCU standards. It was good, and it was consistently fun, and that’s the right tone of movie to follow the end of their ten year grand experiment.

[1] On the (haha) bright side, I have managed to spread a Fables graphic novel out over this whole period, and am zero books behind. ….but seriously, send help. This is a nightmare.
[2] But man would I watch a grim Marvel TV show about it. Which is what I thought Agents of SHIELD would do, but no, they had to go and prove complete divergence from the movies instead. Which is dumb and bad and wrong, and the writers are dumb and bad and wrong (or Kevin Feige is for forcing it on them), and grr, argh.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Thanks to punctuation, I don’t need to point out that this is distinct from the 1956 movie where Godzilla and his title are separated by a comma instead of a colon. I guess I did anyway, but these are the things I think about when searching IMDB for the correct link.

Aside from what is admittedly just an assumption that the 1956 version and this one have only the superficial parts you’d expect in common, what I knew about Godzilla: King of the Monsters is that it is set in the same world as Kong: Skull Island and would rather more deeply involve the secret government agency Monarch that they made mention of in the post-credits scene. So when I watched half of the movie thinking, “this is written like it’s a sequel to some movie I never saw,” that was a little confusing. Because it definitely wasn’t a sequel to Kong. I saw the Godzilla remake with Matthew Broderick, which predates this blog by some years, but I completely forgot until I looked up after the credits rolled that there was also a Godzilla remake five years ago, with Bryan Cranston who you may remember from Breaking Bad but who I remember from Malcolm in the Middle. Which it turns out that this movie is a sequel to, or at the least a sequel of sorts. Since I didn’t see it, I’m not really qualified to say? But it seems relevant, if you want to not be as confused as I was.

That confusion aside, it was exactly what you’d expect. There are a lot of monsters with names that you might recognize, and a lot of these monsters fight each other[1], and there’s a lot of discussion of radioactivity, and the title is pretty definitely a spoiler. It’s just that kind of movie. If you like the type, you will like this. It’s a little overwrought even by fate of the world standards, which I think is also as it should be? On the other hand, if you don’t like giant monsters fighting, there is definitely nothing above and beyond that baseline to draw you in.

But it was pretty good, you know? Also, there’s another sequel in the works.

[1] Side note, he said as though digressions were not already his stock in trade: there was a Godzilla-themed monster fighting video game on whatever system existed in 2002, so maybe a Nintendo 64 still? No, that would be at least GameCube. But also it might have been some form of Playstation. Whatever. That is where I recognized most of the names from, with the exception of Mothra and possibly Rodan.

Night of Knives

This is where the Malazan books get logistically weird. Because, see, Erikson had a fellow gamer partner back in the early ’80s or whenever they were building this world, which is ultimately my point, that the world builder behind the Malazan books is a they. And apparently the dividing line they have drawn is that Erikson writes about the Malazan Empire in decline[1], whereas Ian Esslemont writes about the Malazan Empire in ascension. Well, he does eventually. In a trilogy written later than this one.

Night of Knives is ostensibly about the Malazan Empire on the cusp of decline. That is to say, it is about the specific night when the Emperor Kellanved (but don’t say his name, just in case) died, or was deposed, or was assassinated, or if some darker rumor about what happened is the truth. (He said, nobly avoid spoilers from Gardens of the Moon.) But I said ostensibly, because it’s really about new characters reacting to the events of those twenty-four hours on Malaz Island, birthplace of an empire turned sleepy backwater port town that nobody has cared about in decades, that night when strange things were afoot that happens every so often in the island’s mythology, that night when the realm of Shadow is closest, when the Deadhouse stirs, when everything is ripe for a Really Big Event. Such as an emperor’s fall. Or whatever happened.

So. I liked the new characters, and I hope that the five sequels to this book that are as far as I know still set on that cusp I mentioned do something interesting with them. I liked a little bit more plain talk about the history of the empire; while it’s Erikson’s strength that he throws you into the world without a life preserver and trusts you to tread water until you discover the joy of swimming, it’s his weakness that he sometimes forgets to eventually throw you a life preserver anyway, because joy doesn’t cancel tiredness[2]. Or, this was always Esslemont’s story to tell, and Erikson has simply been staying out of the way for something like half of the series. Like I said in the first place, it’s really very strange having another person play in a world-building sandbox, without it being slash turning into a farmed industry a la Star Wars.

[1] Obviously it’s not ultimately anywhere near as simple as that, but it is absolutely the launching point of the series.
[2] To my surprise, I’m still happy with that metaphor upon review.