Tag Archives: fantasy

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.

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.

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the War of Words

91jopd0dlnlThing the first: it is undeniable that I have not given this series the attention it deserves. Mike Carey gives good pictorial fiction, and I definitely like the Unwritten. But it’s too dense for me to have spread the past four books across the past four years, so I’m going to have to reread it as a whole, afterwards. Which is annoying to know right now, too late to fix it and also, um, too soon to fix it.

Thing the second: even if I were well and truly timely in my reading of the series, at six books in, it would be hard to avoid spoilers. All the same, I have at least a little to say about Tommy Taylor and the War of Words. Structurally, it was very cool, with the main plot alternating issues with background details going back from a few months to thousands of years, depending. On top of that, both the main plot and the background details advanced in interestingly meaningful ways; above all, I actually feel like I know what’s going on again.

Pity I’ll go another year before reading the next one, probably.

The Omen Machine

512jJDaPiILEight years ago, I declared myself free from a hell of my own making. Eight years is a long time, you know? Not as good as getting a ten year chip, but pretty impressive nonetheless, right? Don’t worry, I’m not buying it either.

Yeah, I’ve done something horrible. I thought I was hate-reading, and it would be entertaining after the fact. But instead… yeah, there will be spoilers everywhere. I do this so you don’t have to even though you never would have, purely because I am stupid. Learn from Observe my mistake, and laugh well.

What happened was, Goodkind wrote more books even though the series was over. And I eventually (a long time ago, really) bought the first one. We’ll never know why, I’m sure. The Omen Machine picks up very soon after the series ended, with a purpose other than objectivism, unexpectedly! Would that I could say it was a purpose other than screeds, though. See, there’s some dude with a bone to pick[1], and via means that are not at this time particularly clear, he starts seeding minor, clear as day prophecies all over the place. Then Richard Rahl[2] spends hundreds of pages arguing with his subject nobles individually and in groups, or sometimes with his friends instead, about how nobody should pay attention to prophecy in the first place, but they all (well, his friends less so) keep insisting, “but we waaaaaaana!”, so while never changing his initial opinion, he also argues that at the very least, leave prophecy to the people who understand it, that is to say him and his friends.

I mean, nobody could have interest in all of this back and forth in the first place, but it’s really critical to note that Ayn Rand’s most commercially successful disciple is making even a partial argument from authority that his pissy strawmen should stop choosing for themselves and let the government take care of it.

Also, your faithful reviewer adds as an aside, there’s a really cool AI in the basement that can see the future and is struggling with the whys and wherefores of its existence. I am really disappointed the book couldn’t have been about that instead, you know? But that’s what Goodkind does. He takes the kernel of a good idea, and plants it in a sea of shit. Which I suppose is how gardening is supposed to work, but not everyone who understand the principles of gardening has a green thumb.[3]

[1] Who we meet for a hot minute in the middle of the book, never to return. Because, God help me, there are more books.
[2] The main character of the series, you may recall.
[3] Nice try, metaphor. Thought you were going to escape me, didn’t you?