Category Archives: Words

Jack of Fables: The Fulminate Blade

So, this is the other Jack of Fables. After saving all of existence, Jack Horner has entered a kind of retirement. But his son, Jack Frost, is still wandering around the Fable worlds, trying to make a name for himself as a hero. This is a disconnected-from-everything-else book about that.

The Fulminate Blade is a literal thing, a kind of lightning sword that is the only thing that might kill a giant in the sky who stands accused of stealing gold and virgins from the kingdom below. You know that time (not pictured in any particular Fables book, but well known I think within the fables themselves) when Jack Horner climbed a beanstalk and fought a giant over an egg-laying goose with a chemical imbalance? This is like that, but a) science-fictional more or less? Amazon says it’s the far distant future of the world of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. That may be true? I can find no evidence of it in the text, but as guesses go: sure, it could be. Why not? …and b) with a lot more intrigue, from every direction.

Unrelated to any of this even moreso than any of this is unrelated to the rest of the Fables storylines: I’m pretty much done with Walter Mitty the miniature Blue Ox. Even one page per issue is two pages too many. Luckily, the Jack of Fables spinoff series is wrapping up soon!

Ancillary Justice

Rumor has it, Ancillary Justice won a lot of awards when it came out a few years ago. This is fair enough, because it ties a well-written take on an intriguing sfnal concept (that would be a spoiler for the early book to reveal, see footnote [1] below cut) to a good story that, to nobody’s surprise who has read the title, is deeply concerned with justice on both personal and imperial scales, and it wraps that package up in meaningful social commentary on the topic of gender and identity.

I should probably read the other two? I’m not sure how much they will further address cool sfnal concepts and meaningful social commentary, but like I said: the story was good too. Problematically, I own neither.

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Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile

A very long time ago, I read an already out of print self-published book about a military guy’s shortly pre- and mostly post-zombie apocalypse diary. It was, you know, fine? I said then and have been vindicated now that it needed a little more copyediting than it got, but otherwise.

Beyond Exile begins immediately where the previous book left off. Our intrepid military hero and a handful of other survivors have found safety in one of those old nuclear silos you might want to buy as a home, only in this case it’s abandoned because of current events instead of just being decommissioned like usual. Much like last time, the book starts with lots of logistics. Let’s use radios to find other people. Let’s fly this plane we have to nearby (to southeast Texas) airfields and look for supplies and other survivors. Perfectly fine diary fodder, but as a book, not much is going on.

Not that there aren’t pieces of worldbuilding along the way, and not that the, er, day by day trials and tribulations are not in themselves interesting. The real flaw here is that the narrator’s affect is so flat and journalistic that it’s difficult at any point to get truly invested in his life, much less the lives of anyone else around him. Once he ends up in a situation that qualifies as beyond exile, the narrative picks up a little; but even then, this is the kind of book where, instead of being engrossed by his situation, I was constantly pulling up Google Maps to follow his progress and see how close to realism he was getting.

I do not have the third book (there’s more than a third book in this series now!), and despite it being once again fine, I had no particular interest in reading more. Until the last five pages had a plot hook so tempting that I really want to see where the worldbuilding goes now. It would be a mistake, I know this in my heart. But still.

Dexter Is Delicious

Apparently, the last Dexter book I read was over five years ago, when Dexter Is Delicious had only been out for a year. I could have caught up, belike! In the nonce, the series has concluded entirely, which is kind of weird for a popular mystery novel character. Usually those get milked for decades.

I have a lot of jumbled, unrelated things to talk about. Like: the show. I have seen all of the show, and I have not read all of the books. But I think that the show is better than any of the books at its very best, while being not nearly as good as the books are on average. So, if you liked the show for a while, an only seven book series is probably a good investment.

And: Dexter’s narration. I can’t tell if I was so dazzled by the show that I missed it in earlier books, or if it subtly changed over time. But I’ve read lots of versions of unreliable narrator, and usually they’re lying to the reader to protect something, maybe a secret, maybe some part of themselves they don’t think belongs to you? But this is the only one I can think of that is just self-deluded, and certainly the only one where that fact is played primarily for comedic effect. It’s not that Dexter is dumb; he’s very successful, both professionally and in his personal life, and he has to be both smart and careful to achieve either. But he’s also not a god walking amongst men, and the only thing funnier than seeing the mistaken belief in action is seeing when he, very occasionally, has the belief shaken by outside events.

Lastly: the series’ end. I haven’t said much about the book itself. It’s about what you’d think from the title plus cover: Dexter vs. cannibal. And there are twists along the way, like the infant daughter that he wants to be a better man for, and other expansions of his extended family besides. One of those twists has longer term implications, though. The thing that’s weird is, as a standalone book, it felt like a combination of an unwanted and unnecessary plot development and a cheap gimmick; but as the fifth book of only seven total, it instead feels like an indication of the end’s beginning.

I of course have no idea if this was true when the book was written, nor if it will turn out to be true when I finish the series. This is why I hate meta-spoilers, though; it’s basically impossible to avoid them.

The Unwritten: The Wound

To actually review this, I need to go back and read my last review and see where I thought things were left. But in the unlikely event that it changes nothing, I’m giving it a go now. Don’t be surprised if none of this text actually makes it into the final version, though!

What bothers me about The Wound is that the War of Words felt like a turning point at the time. (Unless I’m wrong and it did not, see first paragraph above.[0]) Whereas, after having read its sequel, it now feels like it was instead an ending, yet now Carey is writing more books regardless. Don’t get me wrong, he has a lot of leeway with me[1], so I’ll keep going for a while yet.

So, the specifics. A year has passed since the big climax, and the world is… weird. Tommy cults, contagious schizophrenia, a quest to save fiction[2], not to mention the general “world going down the toilet” pre-apocalyptic events you’d expect in a good story / over the course of the next couple of years of real life, before things get legitimately awful. Plus also, the world of Fiction, which I had forgotten is a real thing that really exists and to which an assassin had been sent several books ago, is under the same threat. Because despite having won the war last book, Tommy’s world is still in a lot of trouble and he still needs to save it.

And don’t misunderstand me, all of that is fine! Unless it’s an open-ended plot with no planned ending, solely designed to sell more comics. Because those eventually fall apart, and even though this one isn’t yet, I’m so suspicious that it would ruin it for me even before it becomes bad. Which maybe it wouldn’t anyway? Because of how Carey really is pretty reliable. I mean, did you read Lucifer?

[0] So, weird thing: I was actually exactly right and did not need to retcon the review at all. Which means the sausage got made in full view.
[1] …and even if he didn’t, look at how many times I’ve wanted to kick The Walking Dead without ever quite doing it.
[2] Okay, that one is pretty much par for the course, as it’s what the whole series is about. But the quest being out in the open is new.

Choices of One

It’s the day after a big Star Wars release, so naturally I have a Star Wars review, about a story set in the early days surrounding the original movie, just like you’d expect me to have. Oh, wait, haha no, I haven’t actually gone to see any movie yet. Probably later this weekend? But my schedule, my wife’s schedule, and sellouts to places that have assigned seats conspired to keep me away last night. Even less likely than that, I wasn’t really thinking about this being release weekend when I picked up Choices of One to read last week.

This Zahn novel is set between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back, and stars the big four plus also Mara Jade, Thrawn, and Pellaeon (and, oddly, no droids). The rebels are looking for a new base (which is commonly understood to be the only thing they did between those movies), Jade is looking for traitors, and Thrawn is looking for, um, I dunno. This is clearly a book introducing some long term Unknown Regions / Thrawn plot that will never reach fruition under the Star Wars Legends label, despite the foreshadowing provided here.  Anyway, they all intersect out near the edge of known space, when plot involving air battles, gun battles, laser sword battles, and familiar stormtroopers occurs.

I know I’m being glib here, as a way to avoid spoilers. So, in all seriousness: it is no surprise that Zahn still knows how to write Star Wars, and I look forward to some decades distant day when Will and Zeynep go through this book in far more depth than I have or could do.

Fables: Witches

Moving: awesome for getting to live in a place you like better than the previous place you lived, but terrible for not falling way way behind on book series that you are reading. Case in point: The new Fables collection picks up right after they banded together to save all of creation that had been threatened by developments from the side series about Jack Horner, and that is not a record of what had actually been going on in the main continuity, which means they are resuming a plotline I last read about three years ago. Awesome.

I mean, I guess it’s not that bad? I remembered the two main plot points addressed in Witches, both of which are of course themselves massive, massive spoilers since by the time you’re fourteen books into a series, any notable development gives away lots about things that would be spoilers for previous books. So, without getting into those specifics, I can say these things:

1) Frau Totenkinder, who you will recognize better as the witch from Hansel and Gretel, is just as cool as she always has been within these pages. (Most of the other titular witches are entirely worth reading about, but she’s the one with the highest badass factor, is what I’m saying.)
2) The winged monkey that has always been a bit player in the series as the magical archives librarian, at least I think that’s more or less what he is, turns out to be very cool, in a reader insertion kind of way.
3) Not that he’s the only game in town, but the new bad guy is pretty dang cool. I think I hope he lasts longer than I expect him to.

I’d say I’ll do better at keeping caught up with this, but who would I be fooling?

The Short Victorious War

It’s been a while since I’ve read an Honor Harrington book, and I honestly couldn’t say why. I mean, I know why I haven’t in the past let’s say year and a half, what with finally packing up my house and moving, and then getting engaged and planning a wedding before getting my books all the way unpacked from the move. But it was four years before that, and that is the part I cannot especially account for. Honor books are fun! Step one: space bad guys decide to be bad guys. Step two: space good guys leave Honor in an untenable position due to political wrangling or misplaced tactical / strategic thought that notably disagrees with whatever Honor correctly thinks instead. Step three: big naval space battle, which is somehow exciting despite being spread out across hours and hours instead of the 15 minutes of a Star Wars space battle[1]. Step four: Honor wins and gets lots of begrudging accolades from the people she just proved wrong. What’s not to like?

That said, this is the first book that has ended in such a way that I kind of want to know what happens next immediately. So while I understand not reading it that soon after the last one, I still can’t explain the fullness of the gap. Oh well?

Here’s what you need to know about The Short Victorious War: it is foreshadowed by a history lesson from which the title is drawn, in which Imperial Russia tried to take on Japan just a brief time before the glorious Communist revolution. So when the space bad guys proceed in chapter one to plan their own short, victorious war against the space good guys in order to settle down the proletariat, the outcome of the book has already been decided. However, getting there is basically hilarious on the space bad guy side[2] while maintaining the typically entertaining Honor formula on the space good guy side. Plus also, space romance!, if that kind of thing is your bag.

The reason I think I am especially excited for the next book is because it ended on the kind of cliffhanger that leads me to expect things to pick up weeks later instead of the typical years later, plus also I expect the formula to be broken. Which is always more exciting than knowing exactly what will happen, despite how entertaining the road to it might be.

[1] I think this is because of the ratcheting tension.
[2] Leader of the space bad guy revolutionaries is named, and I swear I am not making this up, Rob S. Pierre.

Army of Darkness Vs. Hack/Slash

81dqwq1jflAs of this writing, my new job and then the world’s pre-eminent boardgame convention have kept me too busy and/or access-blocked to do much in the way of reviewing. Well, no, that’s not right. As you can see, I’ve been reviewing, I just haven’t been posting them. The previous one, I think about a movie I saw a week or two ago, has been sitting in my inbox for days waiting for me to punch up the HTML and then post it. On the (let’s say) bright side, I haven’t had time to fall farther behind, so I’ve got that going for me at least.

Remember when I read the conclusion of the Hack/Slash series, about a teenage serial-killer killer who was opposed by the shadowy cult responsible for all those supernatural horror slasher guys that gleefully dismember summer camp teens? Like I said then, it turns out more books have been written even though the story ended. I appreciated, therefore, that the plot of Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash went out of its way to acknowledge this. Cassie Hack is retired, dealing with the mental trauma of her losses, and living the least intense life she can find. Until, you know, Bruce Campbell[1] shows up to get her to team up with him to fight against the Necronomicon and its army of Deadites.

Like all good team-up / crossover comics, they fight each other as well as common enemies; and like very few team-up / crossover comics, they change along the way, paving the road for future events. Well, I mean, Cassie does; I have no idea about Ash due to lack of familiarity with his comic, but since growth is anathema to the on-screen version of the character, it’s probably fine that he did not appear to. Also, I’m pretty sure there will be future events in store for Cassie’s life. I have no idea how many, though. If so: probably they will continue to contain explosions of bloody gore, supernatural mysteries, and lingerie cheesecake.

[1] I mean, not literally Bruce Campbell. It’s actually Ash from the Evil Dead movies and that new show on Starz, but you probably already knew that. For the record, he’s still young Ash, no more than a few years after Army of Darkness. He is apparently the topic of a different comics series I do not (and probably will not ever) read.

Shadows of Self

51elu7hcehlBack when I read The Alloy of Law, I said it was a feature that my brain had already erased everything except the broad outlines of what had happened in the Mistborn trilogy. This is because the characters are living 300 years in the future created by their new god, and most of what happened in the short months or years during which the old empire fell and he rose are already the stuff of half-remembered legend instead of researched historical fact.

Well, now that I’ve read Shadows of Self (at a glacial pace that reflects how busy I’ve been these past months[1] rather than anything about the book or my enjoyment thereof), I can safely say that is no longer a benefit. Because the characters definitely remember things like kandra, which are a race of shapeshifters that require other living things to not be formless balls of glop (at least I think that’s right), and also they need metal spikes to have intelligence. And they are also god’s butlers or angels or something, serving both the old god and the new. I mean, not right now, but respectively[2]. Oh, and one of them has maybe gone crazy.

This is the first book of a trilogy, I guess? Or maybe the second of a quartet, I’m not sure how to tell the difference yet. It’s definitely good, and good to see Wax and Wayne and Marasi back in action. Both because I already liked them and because they continue to grow and backfill and change. On top of both plot and characters I approve of, it’s a book about identity, class politics, and freedom vs. servitude. And maybe even alien invasion?

I mean, probably not the last thing.

[1] What with losing a job, then maybe not losing the job, then continuing at said job while waiting for a new job, then losing the job again, then finally getting a new job after all, oh and also getting married. (Plus witnessing the plausible collapse of an inclusive, just society.)
[2] Don’t get me wrong, I apparently picked up on all that eventually, but it definitely felt like I shouldn’t have been playing catch-up.