Author Archives: Chris

Aftermath: Life Debt

Life Debt is the second in a trilogy of books that falls between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens in the new Star Wars continuity. I have more of a feeling than I originally had that I will learn very little about how we got from there to here, after having read this book. That’s disappointing, but not enough to take away from my enjoyment of the book for itself.

The cool team of rebels (or whatever you call them instead when the Empire is kind of defeated although not entirely but for sure there’s a replacement or at least alternative government in place) from Aftermath is back, to do Princess Leia a favor. See, the new Republic government is focused on fighting the Empire over systems with tactical or political value as they gradually try to put out the flames, instead of on who is suffering; and one Han Solo owes a Wookiee of his acquaintance a free Wookiee home world.

Only now they’re out of contact, and Leia asked those people I mentioned from the last book to go find him. And thus, a plot! Also, there’s some seemingly (but I’m afraid ultimately not) relevant byplay among the Imperial remnants, trying to figure out who will come out on top and how they will crush the new Republic, you know, like you’d expect them to want to do. Wake me up when one if them is named Snoke and I’ll care more about where that part of the plot is going.

But the laser battles and ship battles and infiltration plans and whatnot? Definitely still Star Wars, and that’s fine by me.

Blood Follows

There is one problem with publication order, and that problem is when small run publications are later gathered into collections. Well, to be fair, it’s not a problem with reading; you just read the part of the book that contains the story you were reading in publication order, and then put it down until later. But it is a problem for me specifically, since I include links to the book I read from, and yet the book I read Blood Follows in is not strictly the original book itself, since it’s a collection. Like, it’s fine now, but what about when I have the same cover and the same link for the next story I read from this collection? (It turns out I used the cover of the original small batch publication, so that may help a little.)

(It’s possible[1] I’m thinking about this too much.)

So, in Memories of Ice, one of the subplots I did not mention was that of the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. This is because despite touching on the main drive of the story at several points, they really have nothing to do with anything that’s going on. Despite that, they are fascinating characters. Well, the one who murders people and uses their parts to build constructs in pursuit of some nebulous goal that may not rightly exist[2] is not especially fascinating. But the one who accompanies and protects the crazy one because it gives him a chance to further his own necromantic research, and who presents as a polished and urbane yet evil supergenius in the vein of Dr. Doom, he is fascinating. And their manservant, Emancipor Reese, is usually played for comic relief, but in a way that makes you care about him. He’s stuck in a situation, and making the best of it. (Well, trying and mostly failing to, whence comes the comedy.)

Anyway, though, Blood Follows. This is a short book that gives an answer for why these characters were in the main sequence book: because Erikson is as fascinated by them as I am. We join our characters several years earlier and half a world away. Emancipor Reese has just lost another in a long string of employers to unfortunate death (this time at the hands of a murderer stalking the streets of his city for the past fortnight), and he needs to find a new job fast, lest his wife and probably non-biological children think even less of him than they already do. Also, there’s a reasonably cool police detective type trying to solve the murders.

By and large, this is a story that you will care about if you care about the characters you already knew, and otherwise, you will not. In part this is because Erikson is a far worse mystery novelist than he is a fantasy and war novelist. In part, it’s because even to the extent that the mystery worked, too many characters emerge as major players in the final act, and it is seen through the eyes of someone who has just as little idea of what’s going on as the reader does. This can work in the first book of an epic series, if your reader trusts you and in the meantime the story is written masterfully. It works a lot less well when the story is barely a hundred pages long and the things the reader didn’t really understand revolved around characters he (by which I mean I) doesn’t really expect to encounter ever again.

This isn’t to say I didn’t like it. It is to say that if I wasn’t already invested in the world and the main characters, I probably would not have, though.

[1] probable
[2] That is, I don’t really think he has an endgame in mind (nor that, even if he does, I’ll ever learn it). It’s more like he’s playing with legos to see what he can make.

Minty: The Assassin

While at my folks’ for the weekend, I ended up diving into the free streaming service Dish Network has to offer, in search of the Maze Runner movies. Unsuccessfully, as it happened, but while plumbing the depths of the “action movies from 2010s” section (since they don’t seem to have a search function), I stumbled across Minty: The Assassin, which probably was a mistake.

Minty (and the other characters) are comic book characters who exist in real life in the world that writes comics about them. This is not really a new idea; it pretty much lines up exactly with how Marvel has always run its comics division, for example. Anyway, after a series of really inexplicable vignettes in which we are introduced to Minty (her power is like Popeye, except she eats chocolate), her vampire potential girlfriend, and her mentor Big Boss, the meat of the movie begins when Big Boss is kidnapped by a psychic surgeon and used as bait to lure Minty to his tower. She fights her way up the tower past various colorful level bosses, losing bits of clothing as she goes, only to discover (okay, spoiler alert I guess, but seriously, don’t watch this) that it was all a set-up. The point of the kidnapping was to get her naked to the top of the tower, because Dr. Brain Bender is actually a creepazoid fan of her comic, and he wanted to see her with her clothes off.

Leaving aside the inherent contradiction of stripping her down in pursuit of an anti-sexism plot, the movie nevertheless had the germ of a good idea there. He’s clearly a bad guy, and he’s clearly a crazy loser, and you can at least imagine someone taking the message to heart. ….except that the final 15 minutes is exploitative in the extreme, of the characters and the audience alike. The fact that the bad guy gets assassined in the end really doesn’t make up for how sleazy the path to his death was.


Get Out

A year late, right? Summary, in case you’re as far behind the curve as I am: A mixed race 20-somethings couple visits the lady’s white family’s estate out in the boondocks (or, as you call it when you’re rich, “by the lake”), and the dude feels less comfortable / more out of place with every passing hour.  Especially once the annual reunion gathering thingy kicks into gear. I wish I could say that the year of knowledge that Get Out existed and of the largely untouched niche it occupied was the reason I found it so predictable, but that’s not it. The truth is, the plot developments I guessed as the movie progressed, I would have been able to guess last February if I’d seen it then at the drive-in, as God intended.

The good news is, that’s not really a flaw of the movie. When you are writing a horror movie[1] as social commentary, it is understood that you amplify the fear you are exploring. And (he said, without meaning to appropriate anyone’s experience so much as simply to agree with the portrayal here) the black man’s fear of being the outsider / his fear of the white man broadly in general is not a genre that has been explored particularly thoroughly. Anger, displacement, revenge fantasies? Sure, since the heady blaxploitation days of the 1970s. But actual fear? Not so much.

What makes me sad is that the kind of people who see nothing wrong with being afraid of walking through the so-called ‘hood will probably not ever have seen this, and would probably roll their eyes at how over the top ridiculous the movie is, if they did see it. Like I said: over the top is the point, and it doesn’t detract from very real fear. It just casts a light upon it, to make it easier to see.

Also, though, the scene with the flashing cop car lights was by far the most frightening-to-me thing that happened, and there’s nothing exaggerative in that scene at all.

[1] I’m not sure this properly is a horror movie, and my tag reflects this, but it’s certainly close enough to go on with.

Jack of Fables: The End

The final volume of Jack of Fables is hard to review for two reasons. If I’m being honest with myself, the series had outstayed its welcome since probably the big crossover, or at the very latest whichever book after that involved the dragon. So for my perspective: I’m glad it’s over. But that’s an opinion, not a review.

Reason one why The End is hard to review: because it’s not only the last entry in a series, but also the ninth. So, spoilers galore. This is a common problem that I have, and the lesson I suppose is to read more standalone stories?

Reason two why it’s hard to review: because anything I actually would be willing to say is already covered by the title itself. This book right here? Delivers on its promise. So, what else even would there be to say? Was it satisfying? Since I was already done with these characters, one of them probably before he ever existed[1], it’s hard to answer that in true fairness. But yes, I’m satisfied.

….except for the perpetual Walter Mitty miniaturized blue ox. I never got that at all. But I’m glad I will never have to worry about it again, at least!

[1] Jack Frost

Memories of Ice revisited

My original review of Memories of Ice is really terrible, and it should not be read. I liked the story, and that part is still the correct opinion, but man is the review a rambling mess. I apologize.

But, I have now listened to that book again, as part of my ongoing reread (and eventually new read) of the entire series, and: seriously, this is an incredibly good series. With an incredibly good reader in Ralph Lister, so naturally he did these three books and then stopped. I do not want to have to get used to someone else!

Anyway, what can I say about the book that is not a spoiler but that also redeems my original review? Man, I dunno. I was definitely interested in the way this and Deadhouse Gates paired with each other, and wonder if anyone has provided a way to read them simultaneously. I mean, interleaved with each other such that the events on different continents are occurring in more or less chronological order. This would be a terrible way to first read them, as they each are so self-contained, but the occasional ways they interact are a lot more meaningful to me during this reread, while I have a decent idea of what’s going on overall.

As last time, the things I cared about were very different upon the revisit. Every scene with Itkovian or with the T’lan Imass was riveting, and every scene with Lady Envy was drenched in snickers. Even the ones that should have been maybe serious? But mostly, I found that this is very nearly a self-contained trilogy, and definitely a good one. Among my favorites, though that’s easy to say when so few exist.

I’m getting towards the part of the story where I remember less about how things are. So that will be interesting?


New Vlad book! Which you’ll know if you’re a long time reader here is kind of a big deal. You’ll also know that the series is coming towards an end[1], which explains why I can say very little. Basically, Vlad Taltos is an assassin, he’s made powerful enemies and powerful friends, and this particular book is more about the latter than the former. Worth knowing: Vallista has straight answers to a number of longstanding questions about the nature of reality (which is one of the ways you can tell the end is near).

Also worth knowing (perhaps the only other relevant thing to know): Brust’s tenure as the only author I’ve read with no disappointing books continues unabated. In addition to the reliable storyline and voice of this series, I was especially amused by the chapter titles. But mostly, I continue to love everything about this character.

[1] Somewhere between three to five books left, if I understand what’s going on correctly.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve seen The Last Jedi twice now. There’s been a lot of hoopla, you know?[1] People complaining about things that are debatable matters of taste[2], people complaining about the politics of the movie that are not really debatable[3]: to the extent that they are not simply injecting their own politics instead by complaining, their politics are wrong and the movie’s are right, so that’s how I feel about that.

But all of that is stuff I can’t go into, because I presume that people care about spoilers, not only now even though it’s nearly two weeks past release, but even for posterity. I will say that I liked it quite a lot, have virtually no complaints[4], and have a lot of praise. Was it the best Star Wars movie? Man, how can I even judge something like that after watching it twice, when the first three are so fundamentally entwined into my childhood. But seriously, it might be[5]. It was absolutely the most emotional, emotion-driven of the films, and I do not say that due to foreknowledge of Carrie Fisher’s recent death. Although that knowledge certainly adds an extra gut punch beyond what the movie had already accomplished.

I guess I’m saying these things: 1) if you’ve ever gone to see a star war, and you somehow haven’t gone to see this one yet, you really ought to. 2) It rewards multiple viewings.

[1] Spoiler footnotes below the cut

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Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Monday was random movie night, and the random movie I ended up seeing was Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, which is about, well, honestly the title is not wrong, you know? You see, some amount of time has passed since Frances McDormand’s daughter was killed, and she is unhappy with the speed of justice, so she takes matters into her own hands via the powers of advertising!

It is my understanding that this movie is not being well received in the liberal community because it is making heroes out of really terrible people. I don’t think that’s right at all, though. It is a movie about people who either are outright terrible, or are deeply flawed but recognizably trying to do right, or are too consumed with their own problems to remember to care about anyone else. (Or, at best, they are the people being hurt by the three people I just described.) So, right, it is a movie about those people, and their attempts to do the right thing.

I’m assuming that’s what is disliked, that they are clearly trying to do the right thing. That is a little too shades of grey in a political climate where we would prefer everything be as cartoonish as it is in the news right now. I have two reactions to that: 1) People in real life mostly are not cartoonish, despite the implausible reality of the current news cycle. 2) If someone is trying to do the right thing, that does not mean they’ve been given a redemption arc. Even if you accomplish doing the right thing, which is not guaranteed, one right does not make up for years of wrongs. Sometimes years of right don’t.

Anyway, I’ve gotten very far afield of what this review should have been, which is why I hate so much that I’ve gotten bad at writing reviews before I see other responses to a movie (or really anything else I review) before I’ve formed my own. I don’t like responding to responses instead of to the thing itself, because it always ends up dumb, like this did.

I would mostly not recommend the movie, although it is at times extremely funny, because it’s also extremely dark, and mostly people know better than I do if they would like that. But if you would, you probably will.

The Walking Dead: A Certain Doom

Remember that time when people were in danger from zombies instead of each other? I mean, you don’t, because that was like 15 books ago, and nobody but me has read anywhere near that far in the Walking Dead. The good news is, if you jumped back into the series with A Certain Doom, it would feel like you’d never left? A herd of like a million zombies will make them dangerous again, yeah.

I can’t say a lot, as usual, but I’ll say these two things. One, another point where the series probably should have ended has been reached. Two, I do appreciate the ongoing attempts to redeem a character who is entirely irredeemable. Like, sometimes you can do things so terrible that it doesn’t matter how hard you try for the rest of your life. Except, the fact that you never stop trying maybe counts for something towards your memory? I don’t know how this works, but I’m a big believer in redemption, so a situation like this is uncharted territory for me.