Category Archives: Words

Ground Zero

Sometimes the title of a Deathlands book will make me scratch my head in puzzlement, since it seems like they just took a couple of random words, one of them semi-complex, and strung them together, irrespective of the plot of the book. Other times, such as Ground Zero, I’m pretty well on board.

See, our heroes have landed in what used to be Washington DC but is now simply referred to as the Washington Hole, what with how many missiles were aimed dead center of the seat of American government. So there’s a blasted pit several miles wide, a new volcano, Lake Potomac, and villes all around the pit where people still live and do business, since it was after all a populous area, pre-nuke. Yeah, ground zero works just fine.

That said, it’s really just a string of largely disconnected events, though I guess the second half of the book is tied pretty well together. Highlights include the most powerful mutant seer anyone in the series has ever met, a creepy zoo of rare oddities, a pivotal tornado, more signs of the samurai that rumors say have been all over the place lately, and most rare and wondrous of all, a bartender who remembers our heroes fondly from encounters past.

Fairest: Wide Awake

There’s another Fables series, apparently, which makes this I think the third spin-off? Fairest looks like it will be an anthology series focused on famous female fables, and I’m perfectly happy with that idea. (My first thought was, why can’t these stories just go in Fables instead, but I get that Willingham probably has some kind of master plan for where the plot is going. It has certainly been a plot-dense series to date! So I guess a spin-off is the only place to tell side stories.) At the same time… man, this is a lot of books.

That griped, Wide Awake tells the latest story of Sleeping Beauty aka Princess Briar Rose. Well, it also tells her origin story in an Arabian Nights inspired flashback sequence, and everything that happens will probably eventually bear on the main series, as will the single issue story about Beauty and the Beast that rounds out the book. ….all of which makes me wonder if a new anthology series was necessary after all, again. Probably it was? Man, I dunno. I’m glad the dude has so many ideas, but I’m still six years behind!

Elevation

Elevation is an unusual Stephen King book, by multiple measures. First, it’s tiny. Barely over a hundred pages, and it’s a small factor book on top of that. I’m not saying he only writes doorstops, but this is just barely north of novella-sized, almost certainly shorter than, say, The Mist.

Second, it’s… I started to say it’s overtly political, but that’s not true. To be overtly political in this climate, you have to go a lot farther, and I’m not sure you can do it in written fiction, period. His politics have been pretty clear to me for a number of years anyway (and thank goodness I don’t hate them, because man, that would be a blow), but as far as I can remember this is the first time I’ve seen them bleed into his work, and in such an obvious manner.

Third, it’s definitely not horror (which okay is not super unusual for King, and especially lately, but it’s still what he’s known for). There is a central mystery which is well outside normal experience, but it is the least interesting part of the story. The meaty parts are about what it means to be a good neighbor[1], and about the rot at the heart of Smalltown, USA (both conscious and unconscious) and whether it can change, and about the things we leave behind.

Anyway, I liked it. Not a bad way to spend a lunch break.

[1] I’ve never tried to be a good neighbor. Don’t misunderstand me, I want to not be a bad neighbor, and have definitely tried to do that. But I never really cared about who lived near me, much past junior high. Maybe if I were less suburban and more rural, I would feel differently.

Shadowfall

By now you know the Deathlands drill, or have been ignoring reviews of the series and will ignore this one too. The main things that stand out about Shadowfall are the introduction of a new ongoing antagonist (a mutant hypnotist who collects hair, nominally for the sale of wigs) and the inversion of the usual formula, where the ruling baron of the area is typically a power-hungry sadist and tyrant who needs to be toppled.[1]

A thing I found interesting is that this was one of the few places where… let me back up. See, Krysty (the redhead who can sense the limited future enough to warn of impending doom, or else have a good idea of whether her friends are safe or not in real time, over long distances) has been wanting Ryan (her boyfriend, the one-eyed leader of the traveling group of… heroes? mercenaries? I guess ronin would be a pretty good analogue[2]) to settle down somewhere pleasant and make babies. The thing I found interesting was that this was one of the few times since she’s wanted this that they voluntarily left a locale where settling down would have been feasible, and she didn’t say a single word about it.

The thing you should find interesting about this is that the lack of consistent characterization is a noteworthy outlier.

[1] Power vacuums are not really a problem for our heroes, since they will be teleporting somewhere else by the beginning of next book at the latest.
[2] Appropriation being what it is, I should first note that this is my assessment, nobody has said anything like that in the books (not that they wouldn’t, because really, this is mid ’90s authorship[3], but they didn’t), and second note that I really can’t think of an American cognate for ronin. The only thing close is some Westerns tropes, but most of those are lifted wholesale from Japanese samurai / ronin stories and dressed up with six-guns and leathers in the first place, so you see my problem.
[3] There have been hints in fact of some probably but not definitely Japanese people popping up in weird places and slaughtering folks, which I expect to pay off in a book or two (and which may be what put the lordless samurai comparison in my head in the first place, come to think of it). None of this would be relevant, except that they’re being referred to as Orientals, which by 1995 really should have been out of common usage. So that’s been an annoyance.

Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland

Werewolves of the Heartland is an untethered to specific continuity[1] side story featuring Bigby Wolf and, well, it says it right there in the title, don’t it?

See, there’s this city in Iowa fully populated by werewolves, and although that isn’t precisely why Bigby is in town, it quickly becomes the main reason. Not least (but not, I think, most either) because they’re tied into his past days murdering Nazis during World War II. Having established all of this in the first two issues, the rest of the book is how he solves the problem.

Good if: a) you really like Bigby as a character, or b) you want to see as many possible variations on werewolf boobs and dongs as you can imagine, although in this case that’s going to be approximately one example each. Tons of nude werewolves / untransformed men and women, but only one type of anatomy per sex. It was honestly distracting.

Bad if: a) you expect anything that happened to have future plot consequences or b) you don’t care for the new artist for this side project. Which I suppose I’ve already alluded to above, but the uniformity of figure drawing from the neck down was not the only thing I took issue with. These are crude representations, as a stylistic choice rather than a lack of talent I’m sure, but man is it not my style. Oh, or c) if you are reading the book in public, say at the DMV while trying to get your vanity plates transferred to your new car. Because, damn that’s a lot of boobs and dongs.

[1] Okay, it falls under the third full plot in the series, which is arguably over now but may just be winding down instead; too soon to tell, but it could be placed anywhere in that multiple book region[2].
[2] Real life timing wise, it is around 2012, which resulted in a funny (to me and maybe three other people) reference to the ABC show Once Upon a Time.

The Walking Dead: New World Order

There are now thirty Walking Dead books. That’s nearly 200 issues of the comic, for values of nearly that are two to three years out. But still!

As has so often been the case since the war with the Saviors wrapped up, there is really only one important question that a reader of New World Order should have. “Is Kirkman telling a new story with this new group of organized people who seem to have actually restored civilization from the ashes of the zombie apocalypse, or is he about to rehash another ‘man is the real monster, so let’s watch Rick Grimes kick another opposing viewpoint’s ass!, but with a minimally new twist on events this time’ story. Which would make this round… four, I’m gonna say?

I actually do think it’s going to not be that simplistic, is the good news. Also the bad news, because now I’ve got my hopes up.

The Maze Runner

I finished the second second Robin Hobb book and its review just before my annual five day camping trip, which was good timing because I wanted small easy books to read, instead of dragging around a doorstop in the woods. But then I made a terrible mistake. In the midst of packing, every book I intended to bring (and the Kindle) were left on a shelf. Which meant, a day or so later when it was time to read, I had nothing!

This is I think the third worst thing that has ever happened to me on a camping trip.

So, I downloaded Kindle software onto my phone and picked the book that sounded the most like what I wanted at that moment, out of the books I have Kindleized. Which was The Maze Runner.

I already saw the movie (but apparently did not review it? wtf), so there were not like a ton of surprises? Though, much like the movie, motives are still unclear to me. Anyway, it’s a teen book about teens in a maze. Also, they have no personal memories. But mainly there’s this maze, and they’ve been there a while, but everything it about to change. (Also, mazes are cool.)

This book mostly asks questions that I assume future books will answer. Why are there a bunch of teenage boys left in a maze with no apparent solution? Why are they supplied? Why do new boys keep coming? Why can’t they remember anything? Why are there murderous monsters in the maze? Why only boys? (I’m not sure if I expect an answer to this one.)

I only read like one and a half chapters while camping, but it felt a lot better knowing I had something to read if I wanted to than before that, when I didn’t and everything to read was like 150 miles away.

Mad Ship

I’ve read another Robin Hobb book, which is nice because the book was nice!

I mean, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t nice. The place where the characters ended up was as bleak and unrecoverable as ever. Like I said: Robin Hobb book.

But the thing about Mad Ship is that it got me to the point where I understand what’s going on in the series. See, I thought it was a family drama about incredibly deep misogyny from the same kinds of outsiders who are totally fine with slavery, but with cool magic ships who are alive and sea serpents (who are also alive, but it’s less notable). And those things weren’t cool enough to get me past the malaise and dread the characters were going through, for no real point.

Instead, it turns out to be a grand tragedy spanning millennia and revealing vast stores of information about this series as well as the previous one, while working on incrementally improving some of the worst excesses of Ship of Magic. And I know that maybe doesn’t sound perfectly amazing? But it was so much better than the previous book, you guys.

Oh, also, <spoiler alert>, there’s a crazy ship in this book. (Spoiler because I am differentiating from an angry ship, although come to think of it that would also apply.)

Genesis Echo

Cool story: Genesis Echo is either the third or fourth in a series of Deathlands cliffhangers, and pleasingly also the last. I mean, of the series of cliffhangers. There might be more cliffhangers later. There’s like a hundred books left in Deathlands the series.

Anyway, aside from cliffhanger resolutions, this was mostly a medical horror story. Because, if you take a bunch of scientists from apocalypse era and mostly cut them off from everything for a hundred years (because that’s how they survive the post-apocalypse) but they lose a lot of their knowledge because of a fire, and also the world is terrible, but they’re determined to keep being scientists a hundred years later? Yeah, it’s like that.

So, different topic. A thing I like about these books that I probably haven’t mentioned yet is the willingness to do random things that feel more like real life than like a plotted book. In this case (spoilers, but you know you don’t care), last book and into this book, Doc (the guy from the 1890s who was pulled forward in time by scientists in the 1990s, but he was too much of a pain so they sent him forward another hundred years to the beginning of this series to get rid of him) met a nice lady while on walkabout in the mountains of western New Mexico, and brought her home to meet his friends. She was not fond of the idea of going into a teleporter (partly because, reasonably, she didn’t really understand what was going on) and ran away at the last second.

Her ultimate fate is unknown, but a chunk of her boot was left behind because it wasn’t clear of the teleport circle when the rest of them went off to the aforementioned medical horror story. So, like, did she live, or is there a border zone where you just get teleported into nothingness? If she did live, is she okay? Is she angry? Will they ever meet her again? I have no idea, and neither, for now, does the author. But someday, I bet I’ll get some kind of answer. Which, I’ve lost track of my point.

My point was, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a thing that happened and maybe they’ll never know, because usually you do never know. The only reason I think I’ll get an answer someday is because, like I said, there’s a hundred more books and that’s a long time to go without revisiting a person who left on a giant question mark.

I also still want them to go back to one of the space stations and/or moon bases that are out there that they found once before, but tragically depressurized and therefore not possible to explore. (Or, y’know, maybe people would still be alive if not. Well, descendants. Whatever. Either way, that would be cool.)

Fables: Inherit the Wind

My favorite thing about Fables having completed its latest story arc is the boundless possibilities as to what happens next. Want a story about a hopeless rebellion against the latest dictator in the lands of Oz?[1] How about hints of the enemies left behind after the latest bad guy’s defeat? Or the main plot of the story, in which an heir must be selected to fill the vacant throne of <spoiler elided, although the title probably hints at it>?

Even better than all that, I’m honestly not sure where any of these stories are going. Which I think is good news, although at the same time there’s a part of me that is wondering whether, y’know, they have as much story left to tell as I have books and spinoffs left to read. For now, at least, it feels like the answer is maybe, which ain’t bad.

[1] See, there’s all kinds of power vacuums left behind in the Fablelands, in the wake of the Adversary’s defeat lo these many books ago.