Category Archives: Words

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.

Vortex

51OaY2ueMYLOkay, I got fed up. It’s time to actually catch up with all my old partial serieses. At least this time I’m only a little over a year between books, instead of three? Anyway, right. Star Wars. Luke and his son Ben versus ancient evil older than 25,000 years of civilization, plus also uneasy Sith alliance, plus also Jedi Order in political quagmire, plus also slavery.

Vortex is totally a middle of the series book. Plots advance in retrospectively inevitable ways (at least, if you want the series to ever end, and at the two-thirds mark, turning a corner was something that had to happen), Sith apprentice Vestara Khai continues to be the best thing about the book, and… you know what, something just occurred to me. I think the series may be trying to finally take a hard look at the difference between the light and dark sides of the Force.

Because, look. It’s easy to say Sith are evil and Jedi are good, and that’s the Lucasian end of the debate. And that kind of works if you also say that there are only ever two Sith, because of how they hoard their power and their trust. What would be the point of a non-evil apprentice if you yourself are evil? But when you expand it to a society (the Sith used to be a species, even if that is no longer particularly the case), well, everyone isn’t evil. Not possible. That doesn’t mean that you can’t fuel your power with anger instead of peace, and of course not all anger is evil. Righteous anger is a concept that exists for a reason. So on the one hand the series is showing multiple Sith, all of whom are shaped by their society, some of whom are evil, but some of whom are looking for revenge for probably real slights at most, understandably mistrustful of their longtime enemies at least. And on the other hand, the series is also showing Jedi who have reached different but clearly ethical conclusions about an intractable debate, and then being forced to proceed.

If Jedi can disagree unto death without either of them going “dark side” and Sith can assist in preventing the ascension of an insane god out of enlightened self-interest instead of going “light side”, then the Force is as complex as it ought to be. I’m amused that a fundamental change in how the Force is understood by Jedi and Sith alike might be on the verge of occurring in a timeline that will collapse this December.

Chill Factor

51Z1R4iI8nLIt is pleasing that I have basically infinity comics to read, because sometimes I fail to plan trips correctly and run out of book too fast. In part this is certainly due to being kind of sick and not wanting to do anything besides read, unexpectedly, but also in part this is because the Deathlands books are comic-like in their own way. Obviously, they read extremely fast, but also they are similar in that they have recurring villains and in that they lay the groundwork for future books in the current book, so the overall story tends to feel seamless instead of purely episodic.

Chill Factor sees one-eyed killing machine Ryan Cawdor off somewhere in the extreme north to rescue his son from a sulfur mine run by Russian slavers, while dodging the tender affections of a series of badly thought out but extremely lethal, er, killing machines. Like, you know, hunter-killer security droids. T-800s by way of R2-D2. Because of handwavy reasons, he’s performing this task by himself instead of with his usual crew, and while I don’t mind that, it’s certainly time for one of the other characters to get a spotlight book.

Anyway, if you like this kind of thing, the series continues to deliver. I especially appreciated, in this case, how convincing the environment was, with most everyone’s lives measured in days or weeks rather than months. Between, you know, the constant sub-zero temperatures, the radiation, and being a slave in a sulfur mine. That said, the books don’t exist digitally, so probably it’ll only ever be just me reading them.

Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spider-Man – Revelations

41464JNINZLRevelations is an excellent Ultimate Spider-Man book that fulfills the promise of its title by answering every meaningful question raised in the previous book and then some. It answers both the questions I had already asked and the ones I didn’t think to, and it answers them in satisfactory ways. Just as I would always expect Bendis to provide, crisis of faith aside.

And then, just when it is setting up a whole series of new questions, Marvel as a whole took a sharp turn to the left and is collapsing their multiverse in upon itself, with the plan being basically only one Ultimate book left after this one? At least, I think so. It’s going to be hard to know what to purchase to wrap things up, for certain. So, the flaw of this book is that it ended in a deus ex rushica instead of setting up the latest big deal in the Ultimate universe. This is not the book’s fault, but it sure is jarring.

So, um… I guess the majority of my comics reading will be happening issue by issue in the late 1970s now? Sorry about that.

The Unwritten: On to Genesis

81p2Syxd-YLRight after being concerned that I had no clear idea about what anything actually means in the Unwritten series, I accidentally forgot to read the next book for more than a year, due primarily to a shelving logic failure. This is unfortunate in part because, man, I’m just bad at keeping up with most of these series, but especially because as of the current book, I feel like I have a handle on things. Which says something good about Carey’s ability to know when to stop spinning the plates, at least long enough to explain himself. (Also, he’s better at metaphors than I am.)

On to Genesis, in addition to being a clever play on words, lays bare all the questions you may have had about Tommy Taylor and the mysterious organization with which he has been vying for lo these many years. And it leaves plenty of room for whatever will be happening next, proving that you don’t have to be mysterious all the time to avoid running out of story. I guess most authors already knows this, and I’m looking at television show runners here. Either way, it’s a good lesson!

I won’t be saying anything about the actual answers he’s discovered, because they’re cool enough to deserve not being spoiled. I’m just pleased to be able to report that the series isn’t wandering aimlessly after all. Next time: less than a year away, I reckon!

Finders Keepers

81EJz58T3CLStephen King books seem to be coming out faster than ever these days! It’s been two a year for… well, a while anyway. But the thing is, mysteries are shorter, so maybe that’s why? Like, these are his “chill out and procrastinate” novels. Of course, now I’m making Finders Keepers sound lazy, which it wasn’t.

I think I remember reading that Mr. Mercedes was the first book of a trilogy. I could be wrong, but if so, it’s because it’s the first book of a series instead. Honestly, if Finders Keepers has a failing, it’s that it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a sequel or not. Two-thirds of the story is a game of cat and mouse between a murderer and a high school kid, but what it’s really about is literature and obsession and maybe a Salinger/Updike hybrid? And it’s pretty good! The other third is a sequel to Mr. Mercedes, and except for where the two stories mash up against each other, that third is a “Where are they now?” slice of life, which was fine but ultimately unnecessary.

Except for the part where there’s a guaranteed additional sequel that is the actual sequel to the first book, and which I very much want to read. But this book was good too. I just kind of wish it had gotten the chance to be completely its own thing.

Jack of Fables: The New Adventures of Jack and Jack

71DrhQKXp1LSo, the last thing that happened in Fables was all of reality was saved from uncreation. Which, y’know, cool. Now that that‘s dealt with, time to see what’s going on with Jack Horner and Jack Frost (who were fairly major characters in that particular endeavor, you see).

The New Adventures of Jack and Jack are… well, they are new adventures which star Jack and Jack, that much is true. If you are sensing some kind of overlap between the two eponymous characters, well, that is what we in the industry refer to as a mislead. Jack Frost has wandered off into the storybook worlds to be a real hero, while his father has wandered off by himself (well, not by himself, his sidekick is always there, but you know, still away from everyone else) to revel in the fact that he finally has a big treasure all his own. And that’s pretty much all that happens! Admittedly, it’s a five issue trade, but after all that has gone down in the past of this series, you kind of expect more than a single heroic quest and a single… well, while admittedly Jack Horner does almost nothing, there is a major plot progression that occurs, so I shouldn’t complain too much.

I do wish to complain that they’re both named Jack, though. The whole point of a dude having a name is you can refer to him by name, and the people listening know who you’re referring to! ….not anymore, I guess.

Z 2134

z-2134-coverIn the afterword to the book, the two authors discuss how, in the wake of a few successful turns as serial authors (a la Dickens, Doyle, or once, briefly, King), they decided that a good idea for their next plot would be, “What if The Hunger Games had zombies in it?” And, you know what? Yep, that is exactly the book they wrote.

Okay, that’s unfair in at least two ways. 1) The teenage female character is nowhere near as unlikeable as the book version of Katniss Everdeen. 2) The authors developed a world that is… okay, look, neither this world nor the Hunger Games one hangs together very plausibly if you actually start staring at the underpinnings. But this world makes at least as much sense after correcting for the zombies, and honestly maybe a little bit more, even.

Still, though. You cannot really define derivative more precisely than a book whose authors gleefully admit they combined a different successful book with a pop-culture staple. And as much as I’m a sucker for Rube Goldbergian arena combat to the death, that wasn’t even more than a third of the focus of the book. I guess I actually liked the characters and the premise enough to want to know how things turn out? Huh. Okay.

Warning: Z 2134[1] has two sequels and ends on several cliffhangers. Anti-warning: I think maybe there are only two sequels? And they’re all published, so. I know it sounds like my standards have plummeted here, but a) let’s be honest, they were never really so high as that, and b) it’s always nice to have a mindless book to read at a burn.

[1] Oh, also, the title is super-imaginative, right?