Category Archives: Words

Welcome to Night Vale

61b0tVzWgaL._SL300_In a first for me, I listened to an audiobook that I had not previously consumed with my eyes. I don’t expect to repeat the experience, but Welcome to Night Vale is a special case. I’ve been listening to the podcast for about two years now, after hearing it evangelized during New Year’s 2014, and when they announced the book, they also announced the the audio version would be narrated by the same person who has performed as community radio host for Night Vale lo these many years.

So, anyway: obviously the performance was dandy. If Cecil were not good at his job, I never would have gotten far enough down the rabbit hole to be aware of this book. (I mention performance mainly because I might listen to reruns of books in the future, and it will be more relevant for books not based in part on someone’s voice.)

As for the story… I’m not sure how accessible it was (or was meant to be) to a new reader, but to be fair, the podcast is barely accessible, unless you just love it right away. It tells the story of a couple of previously named bit characters as they interact with each other, the town, and a mysterious, previously unnamed major character. Which I think was the best way to handle it. Give the fans something to chew on while giving the newcomers people who have never really mattered before, so they can come in fresh.

Overall: it’s a good book, about time, family, parenthood, and the different ways these things affect each other and also, of course, how they affect people. Plus, there are terrifying librarians and tarantulas and video stores to contend with. There’s no good reason why you wouldn’t like this book. But then, there’s no good reason for anything, really.

Ultimate End

510TQ731k4LWell, I am straight up disappointed by the ultimate final novel in Marvel’s Ultimate continuity. See, the other times there have been big crossover events, I’ve read all of the affiliated books (in publication order, natch) because they were crossed over in, y’know, the same publication line. Whereas Secret Wars is a crossover among multiple Marvel continuities, none of which I am current on other than this one.

Which means that I was reading a sideline on the main story, without any context for what was supposed to be going on. I’m not saying there wasn’t any emotional impact; Bendis knows his job. But when I don’t know why things are happening[1], it’s hard to get involved enough to really get it. So, that was lame.

Bright side: I’m only 37 years behind on catching up with the other continuities so I can reread this with the proper context! So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

[1] Example: An army of Thors flying around enforcing God’s will. Um… what? Why? Who? So, yep. Also, the entire final issue was predicated on something a character learned in a different book. Sigh.

Hawk

91I7kmF-y7LThe only upside of accidentally reading the newest Vlad Taltos book a year late is that it probably indicates a proportionally shorter wait before the next one. Well, no. There’s also the upside that it’s even harder than in most long series to discuss the Vlad books without spoilers, so yay that anyone I know who cares about them has read this ahead of me, right?

Anyway, Hawk. Some Vlad books are about wars or gods or really amazing dinners or the dissolution of relationships, but my favorite ones (and, I think, the author’s favorites as well) are the ones where Vlad gets to wax rhapsodic about how very clever he is, doling out bits and pieces of his plan timed for maximum effect. You know how, if Holmes rather than Watson were tasked with writing down all his stories, people would think him a huge asshole? Vlad’s narration is just like that, but since he’s obviously an asshole from the start of things, it somehow works.

So yeah, it’s a caper book, and you know by now if you like Taltos books, so you’ll either read it or not regardless of what else I’d say, so I won’t say a lot more. Thing one: obviously if for some reason you don’t know if you like Taltos books, don’t start with this one. (I’ve covered this ground before.) Thing two: I am always most pleased when the story moves forward instead of jumping back, and this was one that moved forward. Thing three: There were hints of previous stories that I either don’t remember or haven’t been written yet, and both options itch maddeningly at my brain. It may be nearing time for a reread? At least they go fast. Thing four: The itch puts lie to my thing two; the real truth is that I am most pleased by whatever Vlad book is in front of me at the time. …except maybe Teckla.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

81fc9NgRyuLThis is the first King short story collection I’ve really liked in quite a while. My first instinct is to claim it’s because the last couple, I had seen a lot of the stories in other publications, and so they were old hat to me. But then I think, no, I’ve read other, older collections lately and my familiarity with those stories bred no contempt. Plus, also, I’d already read a handful of these as well.

So, what makes The Bazaar of Bad Dreams a return to form? Man, I wish I knew. I’m so terrible at reviewing short story collections; it is pretty much my greatest weakness as a reviewer[1]. But here’s what I’ll do. Looking at the table of contents to refresh myself[2], I remember and actively like more than half the stories. Ur (originally published as a Kindle exclusive and which only briefly flirted with being a paid advertisement, right at the beginning) has possibly the coolest conceit a consumer of fiction could imagine, but even the stories whose ideas did not blow me away, I am nodding in fond memory of.

Or maybe he caught me on a good day. But I’m pretty sure this is a solid collection instead.

[1] Well, besides inability to get paid and sometimes falling days or weeks behind on reviews. Not this time, though. I finished the book in line for Star Wars, and I’m writing the review in line for Star Wars. (This should not be taken as a contractual obligation to provide a timely Star Wars review. ….but maybe?)
[2] The book took me most of a month to read, which is a reflection on how well I’ve been reading lately and not on the book. I mean, short stories have natural breakpoints between them, y’know?

Ascension

519RnNkaTkLThen I read the one other book that is between me and being caught up. Downside: Ascension is the next to last book in that Fate of the Jedi series I’ve been reading, and I started the final book since, which means the story bleeds together a little. Plus also, nevermind 43 years of in-universe spoilers, it’s also reaching the point where it’s hard to mention anything and not hit big-time in-series spoilers too. Once again, not a ton to say about this one, long story short.

A thing that is noteworthy, though, is the tone of the series. It’s never been exactly grimdark; I mean, it’s Star Wars, for crying out loud! But the first two thirds of the series were all very serious, with an Imperial ex-admiral as chief of state for the current governing body (Galactic Alliance), and the Jedi in disgrace, and all the slavery talk I’ve mentioned previously, and a new incursion of a planetful of Sith, and a weird dark god trying to take over everything. Not that the final third hasn’t been like that, but there was a note of hopefulness throughout that has been firmly quashed. Not to the extent that I have any serious concern for the wellbeing of the galaxy or really even of any of the main characters (well, maybe a little bit), but to the extent that it doesn’t really feel like a Star Wars movie.

Upshot: I’m still glad this timeline is due to collapse in a month and a half.

The Walking Dead: Life and Death

81CYT1T10KLSo, uh, it’s been a while, right? I was in the middle of a move, and early in that process (so, like, late September / early October) I read two books. Since then, I’ve slowed way down on my reading, with no time for movies in ages, and I haven’t even unpacked a game system yet, which means I’m not as far behind as you’d think, even though I am massively out of date.

That said, I’m not sure you’d have gotten much a review of the latest Walking Dead out of me regardless. Because Life and Death proves what I’ve been saying for more than a year now: this series is over, it’s just continuing to shamble forward like an implausibly on-the-nose simile of some kind. Something something new high stakes enemy that is the same as all the previous high stakes enemies that I used to care about? Blah blah Carl is still cool, and I’ll keep reading, but man. This should have ended after All Out War, period.

A thing that’s more interesting to me is why I forgive this kind of behavior from superhero comics. There’s no reason why The Walking Dead can’t be an open-ended series in which new threats continue to emerge, challenge our heroes, and fade away. Contrariwise, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t bother me that superhero comics follow this exact same formula, only on a more repetitive track. I started to say that, well, tWD is more realistic, and that’s why it bothers me, because realistic stories are more obliged to have conclusions. But, um, worldwide zombie apocalypse does not actually fall under the realism category. It might seem like I’m that far gone, but I’m not. (Or maybe I am, and that’s the answer? Disappointing, if so.) I guess I could be trained by expectations for superhero stories to last forever, so they get a free pass because it’s always been that way. Or maybe I’ve been trained by other graphic novels I’ve read over the past ten years that do have endings, and would not have cared if this was yet another in a series of ongoing plots.

Whatever the case, Kirkman definitely missed his chance for a graceful exit, and while I’m not exactly hate reading these yet, it’s definitely hard to recommend them as any good. They’re, you know, fine? I’m just not sure I care that much anymore, and that’s sad when you consider how good it used to be.

Last minute new theory that I should test with future books: maybe I get bored with post-apocalypse once it doesn’t feel like an apocalypse anymore. There’s just a substantial difference between people on the run from undead and human menaces at every turn, and people who are plotting a war with a large-scale enemy while also holding a giant weekend trade days flea market.

Skin Game

91WhO9pwfPLI read Skin Game in early September, wrapping it up whilst out of state on personal entertainments, only to find myself firmly entrenched in the emptying, cleaning, and packing of my house ever since I got back. Well, and sometimes work. (Also, I’ve watched a handful of basically terrible movies on streaming television that I shouldn’t ought to have watched and will not be bothering to review.[1])

The upshot of this is that while I know what happened in the book and can say that I liked it and still want to read more (once they exist), I do not have the sense of immediacy that I’m used to having when writing these reviews. Or maybe it’s being diluted by the incredible stresses of selling and moving house. And eventually buying, one expects. So instead of that, I’m going to talk about the series.

Specifically, I’m going to talk about having read 15 books, a short story collection, and a graphic novel. (Pete tells me there’s maybe three more graphic novels and/or ongoing comics with material I’ve not read.) Because here’s the thing about the Dresden Files. They are a bunch of entertaining, largely standalone books, as I’ve probably conveyed extensively since 2007. But they are also telling a long-form, overarching story about this man and his place in his world, and that story is perhaps beginning to buckle under its weight. Everything that happened in Skin Game was predicated on events from previous stories. And there’s nothing wrong with that! ….except the part where I’m almost certainly missing more and more nuances because of not remembering enough details to know, for example, how important this or that player is.

And this isn’t even a problem with the story not being complete. If I were reading all of these in a row, I’m pretty sure I’d be losing details by now regardless. And there are something like ten books left? It’s… it’s a daunting undertaking, is I guess all I’m saying. But they are good. I honestly can’t even tell if I’m complaining or not? All I know is either my memory is not up to this task, or my willingness to immerse myself in long, long stories deeply enough to not miss things has waned sharply over the course of my thirties[2]. Or, you know, some combination of those. In this case, clearly, I’ll just have to get used to missing things or being a little confused by them. Because I have no intention of stopping, or even of waiting until the series is finished before I resume.

[1] “The world’s first NC-17 found footage movie.” Sorry, guys, but I’m pretty sure if it had been actual porn it would’ve had more of a plot than that. ….and that was the good movie of the two.
[2] Which, notably, encompasses the lifespan of this site in fairly close parallel.

Conviction

51PsKh7O1yLYep, still on pace to clear out my current pile of books, or at least most of the series I’ve already started but which are possible to finish. Conviction is the seventh in a nine book series, which means things should start coming towards a head. And I cannot dispute that exactly this has happened. The Jedi have meddled in politics to the extent that they seem poised for the same downfall orchestrated by Palpatine decades ago, Luke Skywalker seems poised to pull a Whiskeyjack at any moment, the fragile truce with the Sith has ended in a spectacularly bad way, and the slave thing from the last couple of books is… well, okay, that’s about the only thing that is going well. Long story short: while it’s hard to credit a Lucasbooks storyline ending in disaster, this one feels a lot more likely than the time extra-galactic entities invaded or the time yet another Jedi-turned-Sith started yet another galactic civil war.

Anyway, though, none of that is particularly important. I’m focused on the title of the book, instead. See, conviction has a couple of meanings right off the top of my head. There’s the one about a guilty judgment being rendered in court, and there’s the one about having a strong principled reaction to a topic. Both of these could plausibly apply to the book. On the one hand, a leftover plotline from the previous Sith civil war series is the trial of the Sithlord’s apprentice, who was manipulated into murdering a very old, very popular Imperial admiral. As you might imagine, this is the book wherein the trial wraps up and a verdict is handed down. But then also, you’ve got the slavery thing and the foolish Jedi political gambits thing and also you’ve got Vestara Khai, who I’ve previously mentioned is a present day Sith apprentice who is gradually being turned toward the Light, or at least it seems so. Plenty of space for the principled stand kind of conviction in any or all of these situations.

And seek it though I tried, I could not really find any obvious example of the latter in any of those slots. Which means that the entire book is named after an event that was maybe 5% of the current book and which has been maybe 10% of the series as a whole, and seems to have no real bearing whatsoever on anything that’s actually going on out in the galaxy meanwhile. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised to report that what I’ve considered a dangling thread from a previous series is actually pivotal to this one instead? But man, there’s no clue that it will be, except for the literary one that it’s in the books at all. It may be a bad sign, that not being enough to satisfy me.

Hack/Slash: Dark Sides

71Fg3NXPbBLAmong many reasons for my quest to stop being behind on ongoing series is how much I hate unavoidable incidental spoilers. Example: since I have purchased ahead on volumes of Hack/Slash (habit from when the Amazon gold box used to offer random small discounts on things I was likely to buy anyway), I know that the series is drawing to a close.[1] This presents certain problems with my ability to justly detect foreshadowing.

I like to think, for example, that if I had seen the destruction of Cassie Hack[2]’s ubiquitous nail-studded baseball bat with “Kiss It” burned into the shaft at the hands of a maniac wielding a flaming sword, I would have maybe speculated that it was a sign that the odds eventually run out. But then again, I wouldn’t have, because Dark Sides was an anthology edition with multiple stories authored by people other than series creator Tim Seeley, so really I would have just expected to see it back in action next book as an at most side-mentioned replacement, more likely as an ignored continuity glitch.

But, you know, none of the stories were too bad and all of them advanced the main plot that has been building over the last two or three books (Vlad’s history and Cassie’s, er, complicated relationship with the harder-than-usual to kill Samhain, I explain as though anyone actually cares), so I can’t complain. Well, I can complain about yet another crossover with a differently-skinned cheesecake vs. monsters comic, because those never entertain me much or convince me to check out whatever comic is being crossed over with, and are instead just a huge waste of my time. But that was only one issue out of five, so.

[1] Well, sort of. Apparently it’s also starting back up again? But that’s more or less beside the point.
[2] I point this out in basically every review, but: you remember her? Gothy pin-up girl who wanders the country with her partner Vlad killing supernatural bad guys, like a parallel comics version of the Winchesters if Dean were hypersexualized and Sam stood around looming over people.[3]
[3] Ah, Supernatural jokes that maybe two people reading this will appreciate. I kill me!

Cold Days

5146UKREBPLSee? I said screw it, I’m catching up, and that’s what’s happening! You can measure in months instead of years since I read Ghost Story, and yet here we are, right back to Harry Dresden. Downside of Cold Days: every single thing I could say to set the stage is a massive, massive spoiler for previous books, and it’s only going to get worse.

The Dresden Files have definitely reached a tipping point. This is the book where Butcher has set the stakes and the stage. Lots of small books could still be written if he wants, but damned if Changes doesn’t continue to prove the accuracy of its title time and time again. Example: I dropped the noir tag from this book, because Harry Dresden isn’t really a detective anymore. I think he might still act as one sometimes, but his roles in the world have definitely changed. It would be weird if that aspect was the one that pushed you away from the series, but it’s definitely worth noting that it’s not the same series anymore.

Buckle up, I think it’s only going to get bumpier from here. Also, an oblique spoiler: the title continued to amuse me, start to finish. Very, very cleverly done.