Tag Archives: fantasy

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice

I’ve been reading these Tommy Taylor books long enough to put them on the same level as Mike Carey’s Lucifer, if not quite the pinnacle of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Of course, Mike Carey writes The Unwritten series as well, so I suppose that wouldn’t be an exactly shocking comparison. I guess what I mean is that it’s nice to see him spread his wings and tell a literary story that is all his own and that nevertheless aspires to the heights The Sandman achieved.

I will, of course, have to go back and reread the series at a gulp, after it’s completed. (That’s probably true of Lucifer, for that matter. The television series is not, uh, a suitable replacement, although it is good trashy fun.) And the place I would inevitably start is with Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, an unexpected prequel that not only details the lengths Tom’s father Wilson went to, establishing the symbiosis between his son and the fictional character based on him (or that he is based on? I don’t think there’s a correct one-way distinction to be had), it actually provides the story of the first Tommy Taylor novel. Which, of necessity, is less of a Harry Potter rip-off than the books have seemed when only shown in snippets in the main sequence of The Unwritten series.

Then again, it also hastens to explain that the synergy between character and infant is the cause of the Tommy Taylor series replacing other child wizard academy books as the archetype of the series, so from an in-world perspective, the distinctions were probably a lot less necessary than they were from the perspective of an author and publisher looking to not get sued for plagiarism. Because, as good as the conceit of the series is at letting it get away with the in-world rip-off, I doubt Rowling would much care about a clever conceit.

I think I’ve gone off message at this point? It just fascinates me, what Carey has done here. In any case, The Unwritten is a good series, and you should read it! And this is a good prequel, and you should read it too; but like all good prequels, you should read it later, to avoid spoilers for previous books.

X-Wing: Mercy Kill

This is I think the next to last volume in the Star Wars Extended Universe series of books, by chronology. It is also, to my knowledge, the last book written by its author before he died unexpectedly a couple of years post-publication, certainly during the timespan when the EU was being gracelessly removed from Star Wars canon. There’s probably some kind of metaphor there.

Mercy Kill is about three things. Superficially, it’s about tying up loose political ends from the Fate of the Jedi series. Externally, it’s about a “wouldn’t it be cool if?” moment, the cool thing in this case being to bring back Wraith Squadron, the special ops branch of the New Republic’s navy. Being spec ops, they never used X-Wings as much as the rest of the navy did, but they were developed in the X-Wing series, and so here we are. (Also, it hasn’t been called the New Republic for a long time, but that doesn’t matter to you I’m sure, and being spec ops spy types, it doesn’t much matter to them either.)

Third and I’m sure most importantly, it’s about the horrors of war, the beauties of friendship, and the ways we cope with these things and the loss of them, and the long road of recovery. …okay, that’s a little bit overdone, but it’s not not about those things, and seeing as the series is all but ended, I’m feeling a little maudlin, okay? Oh, and fourth, like all the X-Wing books, it’s more than a little funny in the way that all good caper stories are. I guess I didn’t say, and wouldn’t have said before since I read the rest of the X-Wing / Wraith Squadron books years before there was a site to review them, but these are wisecracking, safecracking special ops people with hearts of gold, not grim dour special ops people who never leave a man behind. So the book is fun, which you would probably intuit from the Star Wars title, but might not from the mention of a special ops force as the stars.

Also, Star Wars isn’t always fun anymore, is it?

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Fun fact: I only saw the Disney animated Beauty and the Beast once, theatrically, 26 years ago. I had the soundtrack CD, so I know it pretty well, but I only ever saw it the one time. (Less fun fact: Twenty six years ago. I was in high school, which is even less fun still.) Between that dimness and the 30+ minutes of new footage, the original live-action Beauty and the Beast that Disney traced the animation from but then kept locked in a vault all this time was pretty close to watching a new movie; at the least, it was like watching a familiar movie where all I could remember was how it ended. And, I mean, fairy tale, so I would have “remembered” that part either way.

The artificiality of the thing faded sooner than I expected it would. Like, there’s the artifice of most musicals in the first place. Why are they singing? Why does it not bother them that they’re singing? Especially, why does it not bother them that they’re singing in groups?! But that’s not even what I mean. The part where you know all the words and these people should be animated, and they’re moving like the animated people moved in your memory, but they’re real? That was weird. Until it wasn’t, which was my original point, so I guess I’m glad it faded. All the same, there are things in animation that do not translate well in live action. Like, the snowball fight. The girl who has no real options in the world because it’s the 1700s, but even worse, she’s smart enough to understand she has no options, plus everyone dislikes her for being smart enough to know such things, or really any things, so she has even fewer options than that? That girl, and the prince who was such a failure of a human being that a witch cursed him so that his outsides would be more capable of the destructive rages and petulant angers that his insides were already wracked with, that girl and that prince get in a snowball fight. Well, she throws a snowball at him playfully. And, to be fair, he playfully throws one back, only his outside form has not yet caught up with his gradually bettering insides yet, because that’s only just started to happen, so he’s a hulking beast throwing a snowball that fits in his hand and is therefore roughly the size of Emma Watson’s head, and my point here is that Emma Watson getting laid out flat on her back and unconscious from one playfully intended snowball maybe plays better when it’s the animated version of Emma Watson than it does when a 400 pound hairy asshole just nearly murdered Hermione Granger. Y’know? Unless the point of live action fairy tales is to demonstrate just how exceptionally patriarchally bent they are, in which case, nailed it.

The sad part is, I’m not even saying I didn’t like the movie. It was pretty well executed, and he really eventually isn’t an asshole, and probably wasn’t even for the snowball thing; I just twitch at the idea that she had to fix some asshole, as that was her only path to a reasonably good life. I’m sure things have improved since then, though. I mean, not the part where everyone in the village hates Belle, that part is still true. Just ask Hillary Clinton. But the part where it’s possible to have a good life despite being hated for it, that’s an improvement!

I may have gotten off topic? But the truth is, probably not. Anyway, super-awesome coda: there is a drive-in theater like 4 miles from my house! And that is where I saw this. Downside: a hybrid car is not the right car to take to the drive-in. It kept turning itself off to save battery that honestly did not need saving. So, small tweaks. It’ll be better next time.

Also, the back end of the double feature was Rogue One, which I’m happy to report is still good.

Kong: Skull Island

I feel bad about this, insofar as it implies things that are not true. See, I saw the new Kong movie like 10 days ago, on opening weekend. And yet, no review! The implication, of course, is that I didn’t care for it, when the implausible truth is that I just completely forgot to write anything. (I mean, I remembered once or twice while being busy with other things, but basically not at all until I finished the book I’ve been for some reason reading, and then remembered, wait… uh-oh.) So now here I am, both late to the party and simultaneously devoid of credibility.

Through such predicaments I forge ahead! Here’s the deal with this movie. It’s a monster movie, and those are always, at heart, as dumb or as cool as you think monster movies are. Of course there’s no uncharted island in the Pacific populated by humans co-existing with giant prehistoric beasts. Of course there wasn’t in the 1970s when this is set, either, even though it’s mildly more plausible from a “we haven’t charted every square meter of the world yet” angle. And either you’re the kind of person who nods at what I’ve just said and goes on with your day, or you’re the kind of person who says, I know there isn’t such an island. But wouldn’t it be cool if…? On top of that, it’s a Kong movie, which means that an oversized ape is going to fight oversized non-ape monsters and helicopters, and some people are going to respect him while others want to use him, and he’s going to have a soft spot for diminutive blondes. All of these things are inevitable, and you’re either cool with them or you’re not.

My point is this: if you are cool with those tropes and inevitabilities, this is a spectacularly executed example of the genre. Samuel L. Jackson, in one scene, portrays Captain Ahab as well as I believe he has ever been or will ever be portrayed, and John C. Reilly’s character would be enough to carry a lesser movie by himself. (The leads are pretty good too? But with less to work with script-wise, since they are busy being leads.) Plus sexy special effects, an Apocalypse Now visual sensibility without getting bogged down in being anything like Apocalypse Now as a story, and a post-credits scene that has me salivating for this movie to make back enough on its investment.

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!

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.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This is weird. First of all, yes, I saw Rogue One over the weekend. Of course I did! And I liked it. Yet, I have been avoiding this review like the dickens, and I don’t know exactly why. My best guess is, I liked it better than it probably deserves. The first act was scattered, and the second act was solid enough[1], but the third act was 100% predictable due to its inevitability. It’s hard to drum up much care about characters whose arcs you already know when you sit down in the theater, you know?

Nevertheless, I did care about them. I cared about all of the new characters[2] and I cared about watching the journey, and I didn’t mind the CGI faces very much, and basically everything that happened was good. Hell, even the music! Not composed by John Williams, and it still felt like a Star Wars score. Which is good, 2016 being the way it has been.

Anyway, that’s my point. It was part hot mess, part incapable of surprising plot twist, and could easily be accused of leveraging nostalgia for everything left that was any good. But screw it, it felt like a Star Wars movie, and a thing that feels like a Star Wars movie is going to be unavoidably good. Hell, it was better than The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. Also: I feel like they earned the title, and I was not confident I would feel that way.

[1] albeit with a missed plot hole that you could drive a Star Destroyer through[3]
[2] except maybe the insane terrorist guy on Jehda? I gather that maybe he’s in the Rebels cartoon that I haven’t watched any of, and maybe it would be easier to care about him if I had? But I did not, at all.
[3] Plot hole in comments, due to spoilers.

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?

Doctor Strange

mv5bnjgwnzaznjk1nl5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzq2nji1ote-_v1_sy1000_cr006741000_al_I know that Doctor Strange occasionally crosses over with other characters in the Marvel universe. I mean, maybe someday he’ll be at the heart of a big crossover event, but as of 15 years of Ultimate comics and 20 years of mainstream comics, he has only ever been at the fringes. And this is a thing that makes a lot of sense! Except for the artifact of history that Stan Lee decided to build a stable of shared characters in the early 1960s to compete with what DC had been doing, there’s no way anyone would say Strange fits into Marvel. Different genre than anything else they publish, and an entirely different style to boot. The only thing that comes close is Thor, and that’s only because they both share a love of stilted declamations.

Do I have a point, here? Maybe. See, as promised in a blink and you missed it scene in The Winter Soldier, Marvel Studios has dropped a Doctor Strange film onto an unsuspecting[1] public. And sure enough, there is no apparent connection between it and any other movie they’ve made, at first glance[2]. But this is fine, because unlike some Netflix series I could name, Avengers Tower is prominent in the midtown skyline. Even better, both the characters with names and dialogue and the pedestrians in the background are becoming more comfortable with the bizarre turns of events that occur with increasing regularity in their world, just as befits a maturing familiarity with superheroes. I would not have thought to be so appreciative of a touch like that, but I don’t think I would have thought to expect such a touch in advance, and yet here we are. Normalcy. I dig it.

Anyway, all that’s about the world and setting. The actual movie, though? See, Stephen Strange is the best neurosurgeon in the world, but after a series of unfortunate events related (mostly) to his personality, he finds himself seeking alternative answers about his place in the world. It took Stan Lee and Steve Ditko maybe three pages to establish all of this before turning Strange from a doctor into a sorcerer, and it took the movie a good 45 minutes. Now, don’t get me wrong, Lee has never written under the auspices of “show, don’t tell”. Man loves to tell approximately as much (and as floridly) as PT Barnum did. But at the same time, 45 minutes is a lot of celluloid to squeeze out of three pages. Maybe there is some kind of middle ground? Like, I would never say they should have skipped the origin story entirely, because who has heard of Doctor Strange?

The good news is, that’s the only bad thing I have to say about the movie. It is a feast for the eyes, and moreso in 3D (unless that kind of thing makes you ill), and if the plot is a little bit bog-standard good v evil for modern Marvel, to be fair fantasy and spellcraft kind of lends itself to that. And even so, it’s far more nuanced than you might think from what I’ve said. Not-apparently-a-Baron Mordo in particular is fully realized in a way that never would have been predictable based on his turn in that same initial Lee/Ditko comic I mentioned before.

Tl;dr go see it, they’re not out of juice yet.

[1] I mean, if you discount years of announcements and months of previews. Look, nobody asked you.
[2] At second glance, this is completely untrue, but only because the writers made an effort to relevance that I cannot decide if I appreciate or oppose. That is in full on spoiler territory, however, so I shall say no more.