Author Archives: Chris

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?

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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.

Alien III

Meanwhile, another Audible dramatic presentation, because that’s a thing I do now? It’s not really my fault, both of these were monthly freebie giveaways, and I still haven’t finished the Malazan side book I’m reading, due mostly to the previously mentioned horror show that is my professional life. Although to be fair, I would have spent a hard-earned credit on this one.

The thing is, I don’t really like Alien3. I mean, as a horror movie it’s actually fine, and as an Alien franchise movie, well, the truth is I like the world so much that I cannot fairly judge the film’s individual merits, but I’m pretty sure I like it in that context too. But I absolutely hate it as a sequel to Aliens, because it undoes everything that movie accomplished, from a character perspective. Hey, says James Cameron, let’s give the Final Girl from Alien a tragic backstory, where she loses her entire family over this mess because she’s lost in stasis for over fifty years, and now her daughter, older than Ripley and a grandmother in her own right hates and resents her over something Ripley had no control over. And then let’s send her to an amazing showdown with the creatures that took everything away from her, and have her claw her way back to a family of her own, over the corpses of the family members of the alien bitch that took it all away in the first place. That is narrative gold, and even as much as people mostly approve of Aliens, I still think it is badly underestimated. Top five movie, probably.

And then Alien Cubed comes along and says, haha, nope, what family, they all died in a random crash landing because all we really care about is Ripley v Alien, character development is for other genres. So yeah. In context, I really loathe the movie.

Enter William Gibson, who apparently wrote a script for Alien III, which for reasons unknown to me was disregarded in favor of the dreck above. If I had to guess, it’s because he delved a little too deeply into the corporatist framework of the previous two movies. Which, I mean, is what you expect out of the father of cyberpunk, right? Anyway, I had heard someone mention that his screenplay was floating around the internet, but I never got around to seeking it out. And now, I no longer need to!

The audiobook version is really just a movie performance without the images. So they spend a little more time dialoguing descriptions of what they can see to each other over the radio, which means a little less time in quiet claustrophobic scenes that drag on just long enough to stay scary. It weighs in at a little under two hours, and while there are aspects I would have tinkered with here and there, I am left saddened that I never got to see this movie, and even moreso that I will never get to see or hear its sequels. Because not only is it a better concept for a movie, it’s a better world-building trajectory for the Alien franchise than we will ever see.

Dark Phoenix

My job really is the worst right now, as I’ve learned over the past week of no longer having a co-worker. Because, obviously, the workload did not change to accomodate my new circumstance. Which is why, despite being seemingly the only person in the country who saw Dark Phoenix (and over a week ago, at that), I’m only now getting to a chance to review it. Ah, you ask, but how do you have time to write it now, on a Monday morning?

Joke’s on, well, on both of us really. Because the only reason I had time was that my machine was failing to connect to the network, so I can do some internet piggling instead. Only, now it’s back up, so, who knows when I’ll have time to get beyond these two paragraphs and into the actual review? (Answer: oh, look. Not only is it now Tuesday morning instead, but I’m also another review behind. Cool. Cool cool cool.)

Where was I? Oh, right, Dark Phoenix. And my understanding that it has not done well. This makes sense if you go by a random sampling of my friends, who watched the previews and were justifiably irritated that they showed a bunch of scenes on the theme of, “Oh no, what if a woman had a whole lot of power, but then she couldn’t use it properly and everyone were in danger?” Because, you know, it’s important for a company owned by Rupert Murdoch to keep banging that particular drum, if women are going to insist on continuing to run for high public office.

So, and here’s the spoiler that I cannot usefully review the movie without spilling: sure, they spent half the movie with her flailing around from betrayal to betrayal, lashing out with predictably tragic results. But in the second half of the movie, the people betraying her get their shit together and start supporting her again, because they realize she has not been the problem and that her power is not intrinsically bad or uncontrollable. Like everyone, she just needs her family (whatever that means to you) to support her.

All of this is not to say that it’s a great movie. But it’s a pretty good X-Men movie, and I am fine with it as the final entry in this version of their stories. Also: the precipitating space shuttle scene in act one? Completely worth the price of admission.

Dodge and Twist

To be honest, I’m not even sure Dodge and Twist qualifies as a thing I review. It’s in a weird netherzone heretofore unexplored. Because it’s a book without a book. In a dim forgotten age, it would have been a radio drama played out in half hour segments over a series of weekly appointments with the local PBS affiliate. But here in modernity, I got it with one of my Audible credits because I had so much new stuff to read between Malazan installments. So, does that even count as a book? I still can’t decide, but a full paragraph in, I may as well finish as scrap the whole thing, right?

This is a sequel of sorts to Oliver Twist, a book with which I am somewhat familiar without having really ever read it. Like, I know the first half pretty well from summary kidbooks, where the boy who wants more food at the workhouse eventually falls in with a master criminal who is more of a petty thief through our eyes, and also a murderous guy and his tragic girlfriend, and most importantly the Artful Dodger, best of the pickpockets in Fagin’s child criminal army. How or why the book ends, though, I could not tell you. Did I never finish the kidbook version? Was the story boring once all the pickpocketing interludes were over, and so I’ve forgotten? Who knows!

Anyway, now it’s twelve years later, and our characters (those still alive) are brought back together by circumstance, with stand-ins aplenty for the characters who are not (still alive, that is). Will Oliver be corrupted this time? Will Dodger have a brilliant plan for the biggest heist of all time? Will everyone sound terribly British? The answers may surprise you! …I mean, probably not though.

The biggest upside, of course, is that this sequel was in fact not written by Charles Dickens. But that’s because it’s a really big upside. At 5 hours, this was not a huge investment, and I liked the return. Plus also, now I have a slightly better idea of how the original book ended. Only slightly, but still.

Blade Runner 2049

The other movie I’ve watched lately (because these are both like two weeks old, sigh) is Blade Runner 2049, a long overdue sequel. Or an unnecessary one? The thing is, that is both true (in that Blade Runner told a complete story with a satisfying conclusion that revealed a lot about human nature) and untrue (in that this movie tells a mostly complete story with a conclusion who satisfaction depends on what you believe the movie to be (I’ll get back to this) that reveals at least a little bit more about human nature), and ultimately I will err on the side of it had good effects and a surprising amount of naked people (or not; mostly not, come to think of it) and if it was maybe a little long, I don’t think it was longer than it needed to be, and all in all, apparently my review is a tepid thumbs up?

It was better than that. It was not great, and I think I wanted it to be great as a means of justifying its existence, which is not judging a thing on its merits, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, it is, as advertised, the same movie 32 years later. There’s a Blade Runner, whose job is to get rid of rogue older models of androids, but that is a job whose niche is rapidly closing since the newer androids are programmed better now and always follow orders and never rebel. Except, obviously, there’s more to it than that.

What I like about Blade Runner is that it is a story with a central moral dilemma. The sequel does not have that. It takes a snapshot of a likely future based on its progenitor work, and it lovingly explores every facet of that snapshot. At the end of the movie, maybe two things that matter have happened, but it is important to acknowledge that the things I am talking about do really matter, and the world is a different place than it was when the movie started.

The good news is, a well-told story about a world that once did something amazing is pretty worthwhile, even if it is not in itself as amazing as the last story was. Also, though, I should watch it again. I am pretty sure that there are more layers to be revealed, when my own preconceptions about where the plot is (or should be) going aren’t getting in my way.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu

During the credits for Detective Pikachu, I learned that the movie was based on a video game of the same name, which I had not been aware existed. So I guess this is technically a video game movie? Well, I guess Pokémon in general are from a video game, so that’s not really a revelation after all. Nevermind.

This is a kidmovie, mainly inasmuch as Pokémon is a kidgame. The good thing about this is that it doesn’t really reveal its colors until the too-neat denouement, and if I’m being realistic, lots of movies are wrapped up with a bow that are not strictly speaking aimed at kids. Still, this was, and its too-neat bow-wrapping was definitely kid-oriented.

Except for that, it turns out to be really good? Well, important caveat: if you like the tiny pokemen upon which its hat is hung. I am just barely the target audience for this movie, mostly because of all the Pokémon Go I’ve played. But they did an incredible job both of making the creatures that I guess replaced animals in the evolution of this particular world seem completely alive and real and part of the scenery, and also of giving those creatures personalities that were, at least on a per species scale, unique and identifiable. Okay, the last thing sounds less cool than it is, because there’s not much involved in making a monkey pokeman act like a monkey. But trust me: they did an amazing job of bringing the world to life, in every particular.

The plot? Well, our hero, Tim Goodman[1], who has given up on his dreams of being a Pokémon trainer to start a career in insurance, goes to a place not literally named Pokémon City to investigate his policeman father’s mysterious death. Well, no, to settle his estate, there’s no way the guy I just described would be investigating anything, except that his father’s Pokémon partner (everyone in the city has one, it’s not a cop thing) is Ryan Reynolds wearing a pikachu suit and a detective hat. Together, they… well, you know. Like I said, it’s a kidmovie at heart. It’s just a really excellently executed one, if you are down with the P.

[1] No, really.