Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain

After Tim Seeley wrapped up his Hack/Slash series, some other folks decided to pick up the torch, I guess? I’m a bit disappointed that they were not more successful at it. Partly because it means this probably really is the last book, and partly because it’s nice to see Cassie Hack treated as a fully realized character, instead of as a fully realized character who is obliged to dress like a goth pin-up for no internal reason.

But mostly because Son of Samhain could have been a legitimate next chapter. The supernatural serial killers, the Black Lamp society, all of that really is over. But the literal monsters that we never knew until know were lurking behind the scenes? They’re tired of playing second fiddle, and the new war lurking over the horizon’s horizon promises to be bigger than anything Cassie has faced before. Basically, if Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural had a crossover in a world where nobody had ever heard of either of those things, this is what it would look like. And that’s not a bad space to be in!

Plus, the literal meaning behind the slightly metaphorical title promised to unlock even more never explored chapters of Cassie’s future life. Not to mention that the child himself was reasonably cool, too. Alas.

 

Royal Assassin

I’ve been sitting on this review for better than a week, because I just have no idea what to say. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I could easily sum up Royal Assassin in a single sentence. But that sentence would just be incredibly spoilery, and I’m not sure how else to talk about it without doing that. So here I’ve sat, not writing anything, but instead turning it over and over in my head, since Mary is still like half a book behind me so I can’t start the next one yet anyway. And I honestly might wait longer, gorging on comics all the while, except that my newest device is having touchscreen problems and I’m maybe about to have to ship it off for repairs, so, uh… yeah.

The thing about Assassin’s Apprentice is that it’s dark and grim from start to finish. The Fitz starts off as an unwanted bastard, learns of his secret royal parentage (but in the “still totally a bastard” way, not the “gonna end up the king of everything” way that usually happens in fantasy), trains to become an assassin (I mean, like you’d expect. It’s right there in the title!), and makes friends and enemies along the way. In the end, he faces a challenge and comes out beat up badly, but successful.

(There’s more to the review behind this cut, because my god the spoilers just explode everywhere.)

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Deadhouse Gates

It has been a stupidly long time since I finished listening to Gardens of the Moon. Literally over a year! Like, how is that even possible? (Answer: obviously, I don’t spend enough time listening. Particularly, what should be an obvious commute activity is mostly taken up by a radio show that I continue to enjoy greatly.) But: I did finally finish my reread (relisten? both are technically incorrect) of Deadhouse Gates. I definitely reacted differently from last time, and I’m not sure why. I mean, I have guesses, but there are a lot of variables, so.

The primary thing is, the Chain of Dogs. I have always remembered that tale, and I know it made a huge impression on me even then, due to documentary proof. This time, it took pretty much last place. I was most interested in Fiddler and Kalam’s quest to have an, um, discussion with Surly. As for Felisin’s path… I would be better able to discuss my new reactions if I remembered what my old ones were, but I definitely found her sympathetic despite her best efforts. But yeah, Duiker and the refugees: either knowing the outcome in advance deflated the tension entirely, or else something about the performance undercut it. I’d bank on the first one, though.

As usual, most or all of the secondary and incidental characters were fully realized (as honestly is the world, despite my sometime inability to fully understand what I’m seeing). Including one Iskaral Pust, upon who I partially based my most recent RPG character. I very much look forward to continuing, and I suppose I can, now that I’m not behind on reviews again. Maybe I’ll do a better job on the speed, this time?

I’m pretty sure my friend Kenn had read at least a handful of these prior to his consecutive reading of the full series, and I’d be interested in whether his thoughts parallel any of mine, here, assuming he remembered the individual volume well enough. Alas, he has no way of knowing that this review exists.

Wonder Woman (2017)

I finally saw Wonder Woman on Father’s Day. Which I suppose is a little weird[1]? But we hadn’t seen it yet, and my dad was down (even though he had seen it, which is its own kind of cool), so, like that. I cannot decide if it fulfills its hype. I mean, obviously it’s very good. It’s better, probably, than its current series of DC movies deserves for it to be.  That’s not what I’m saying at all.

But like, is it uniquely good? It’s on track to have the biggest box office of the summer[2]. And it’s the first superhero movie with a female lead. Those are both big deals, although obviously the latter is the bigger. Anyway, there are these immortal Amazon women, sworn to defend mankind from the depredations of the god of war. And once they learn of a new war outside their realm, Diana goes forth to fulfill that destiny. Or, I think more accurately, she goes forth to decide whether mankind deserves her intended defense. Also, there’s a lot of cool comic book action in which a person who will one day probably be called Wonder Woman kicks some serious ass.

Is that a thing we’ve never seen before? A hero, on her journey to greatness? In a way, obviously we have. Some heroes journey from a state of selfishness, others from a state of innocence, and still others are just born that way, but they all start somewhere and face a first challenge, whether of the physical, spiritual, or moral variety. Or, let’s be honest, usually more than one of these. In another way, that’s probably me being a bit broad of scope, or just finding a way to not give any more spoilers than I already have done. But my real point is one I already made.

It literally is a thing we’ve never seen before. Although there have been female superheroes, none of them have scored a cinematic lead before, and that’s a big deal. It doesn’t make the movie uniquely good, but it makes the movie unique; the good news is, it was in fact also really good! Because what we need is a theatrical landscape in which it doesn’t strike me as weird, even for the few seconds it took me to decide to go with that instinct instead of immediately quelling it as was my initial reaction to myself, that both my father and I would want to celebrate his day by seeing a movie about a lady superhero. I mean, that’s dumb, right? It’s a comic book action movie, what about this is even the slightest bit strange?

(I still think I’d rather not have had the thought and had to figure out a different way to come at this, all things considered.)

[1] Bear with me, I’ll get back to it.
[2] Final outcome subject to change, but that’s the trend I’m seeing right now.

Suicide Squad (2016)

Suicide Squad was a clusterfuck.

I should clarify, lest I be misunderstood. It was a magnificent clusterfuck, exactly as it was meant to be. See, there’s this military lady, and she is trying to gather power and prestige to herself (like you do), to which end she has this idea to recruit a bunch of imprisoned supervillains to form a last line of defense team in case of unexpected threats to America and maybe the world. Especially in these uncertain times.

Which, fine, whatever, that’s just a convoluted premise. The clusterfuck comes along when the unexpected threat does, because it turns out that being a supervillain means not subsuming your needs to the needs of the many. Instead, every single person has an angle, and okay, yes, they don’t want the world to end any more than you or I or (let’s say) a Batman or a Superman would. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want something for themselves out of the deal.

The thing that makes this not a grimdark movie is that the whole thing is played for comedy (nearly for slapstick) instead of evil chess (like I imagine No Country for Old Men to have been). It was definitely better than the last two movies, which is the kind of trend line I like to see

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

If they had not made a Wonder Woman movie, I probably could have happily lived out my days not watching Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I mean, the name alone makes me cringe, and the turning point at the end of the second act is the kind of thing you come up with smoking weed with your friends in the basement, and then say whoa at each other a lot. (To be fair, maybe it would have played better if I hadn’t been spoiled for it? This is a thing I doubt.)

Anyway, that is an extremely poor degree of preconception, and it is my pleasure to say that, going in with that opinion, the movie was not too bad. Like, yes it was unrelentingly grim, and yes the stuff I already said above, and also Lois and Clark are goddamn terrible at “secret identity”. But there were things to like, as well.

1) I’ve heard people hating on Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex, but I had no real complaints. I haven’t seen a gleefully sociopathic version of the character that I recall, and it definitely worked. Plus, his plans were legit.
2) This is the first time I’ve ever geographically understood the relationship between Metropolis and Gotham. I would literally never have thought of it that way, yet it is 100% the best explanation I’ve ever seen. Maybe it was always like this and I just never knew?
3) Wonder Woman is a bad-ass by any measure. I am looking forward to that movie more than before.
4) The spoiler at the end of the movie, although in keeping with Snyder’s dark vision, actually earned the destination this series of movies has been aiming for, and if I believed for a second it would become the new status quo, I would grudgingly respect the film in retrospect.

But that is not how things will be by the end of the summer, and I can resume being benignly annoyed by the whole prospect.

Alien: Covenant

Got around to seeing me an Alien movie, and my short answer is this: it fell short of what it should have done in exactly the same way that Prometheus did before it, but without the benefit of my belief that if only Prometheus were the first half of a longer story, everything would come to rights again.

Here’s the thing. Alien: Covenant is exactly the movie I was looking for, a sequel in which we find out What Happens Next. …at least, it should have been. It so easily could have been. Instead, that plotline is jettisoned in favor of something that is no longer sfnal at all and back to pure horror. Which, okay, that is where this series started, and there’s nothing wrong with it, and I kind of appreciate the specific details of this horror movie, none of which I will be telling you.

But then, after failing to deliver on the possibilities of the first movie, it simultaneously fails to deliver on a bridge to the original 1979 Alien, which is the only other job it had. In point of fact, timelines being what they are, I would say it is impossible to get from this story to that one. (And if I were to ignore timelines, which is at least semi-possible, it would mean that to get from here to there, I would need Ridley Scott to make exactly the movie I wanted him to make this time, which he is clearly unwilling to do.)

Long story short once again, my advice is stick with Alien/Aliens and assume Ripley got her happy ending, as that is the best way to deal with this series.

Storm Front revisited

I probably just shouldn’t bother to review audiobooks, because of how I take so long to finish them. Anyway, Mary and I decided that a good book series to do a reread of while in the car together without a podcast backlog would be the Dresden Files.

I think what caught me off guard most about Storm Front is how icy the relationship is between Dresden and Murphy. I didn’t remember exactly what happened in the book, but hadn’t forgotten enough for a real shock at any point, except for that. It’s funny how far Harry has come, though. He really did start off as just a magical P.I. in the phone book, with no friends except Bob and… okay, most of the same magic toys throughout, but the no friends and no prospects thing is an adjustment.

Oh, and I luckily remembered I intend to estimate how much time has passed in this series, which means it behooves to me document that this episode was set in May of year zero, when Harry is… haha, like anyone mentions ages. I’m guessing late 20s to mid 30s, though?

Twilight Children

On Sunday, I read Twilight Children, completing my three-book camping weekend bender. In this one, Ryan Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, and their band of (I swear this was written in an amazon description of one of the other books, which I am not making up) warrior-survivalists go from a familiar setting gone direly wrong, to an old West tourist town inhabited by poisonous bird-bug things that I feel probably should have been more consequential than they were, and finally into the meat of the story, in which a paradisaical lakeside community is spoiled by Logan’s Run syndrome.

Later, they chill some mutants.

So, a thing I realize I’ve left out of these reviews is the side story, in which one of their old friends from before they started teleporting everywhere has been on a quest to find Ryan’s former leader, a near-mythical figure called the Trader. His rules for survival and profit in the Deathlands have informed their every decision, and the mercenary aspect of these rules is why so many of their adventures that ended in cleaning up messes created by all the power-hungry and murder-addicted regional barons have ended that way by accident, after they tried to stay out of it instead. The A-Team, they ain’t.

My point here is that even by that low standard, the Trader himself has appeared over the last couple of books to be a particularly mercenary individual, and I think that when everyone finally gets back together into one big happy, they’ll instead find that maybe they’d have been better off leaving him wandered off to die of radiation cancer like it seemed that he had done, about two thirds of the way through the first book. Which is a cool tension to have in an ongoing series like this. (Another reason I enjoy these so much, I reckon, is because of how much they remind me of Marvel comics, in their storytelling methodology.)

Cold Asylum

On Saturday I read Cold Asylum, which quickly dispenses with a set-up for several new locations and then with its title scene (a refrigerated, multi-warehouse-sized morgue inhabited by cannibalistic mutants[1]), to proceed quickly into a Most Dangerous Game pastiche in which the newest member of the band of adventurers (a young, sheltered cultist kung fu monk pulled forward through time[2] from right before the nuclear war) starts to show cracks in his loyalties and capabilities. How will they get out of this one?!

[1] I know it’s easy to see that I’m reading one of these books, roll your eyes, and move on, maybe wondering why I bother. This, right here, is why I bother. It’s just such a perfectly macabre sample of post-apocalyptica. And I know, it’s silly to imagine the refrigerators working a hundred years on, but that’s one of the premises you just have to accept. The nuclear generators are buried well, and they keep running without service. Otherwise, the whole series falls apart, because how would the teleporters work without power? Also, the part where the teleporters just never send you to an unpowered or otherwise destroyed location was a piece of genius in its own right.
[2] Also, all the time travel. Seriously, 125 book sci-fi series that is simultaneously post-apocalyptic and has good gender equity throughout? Except for the obligatory gun fetishism, what’s not to like?