Because Mary is way behind me, it’s too soon to start the next Liveship book. And because Road Wars ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, I figured, hey, why not read the next Deathlands. This has done me no good whatsoever, because Trader Redux ended on a bigger cliffhanger than the last one did, and Mary has caught up maybe a chapter in the meantime.
So anyway. This one was better, with timelines significantly more in whack. The old guy from the 1890s who’s been tossed around via time travel went off to find himself, and the main character guy goes whitewater rafting into the barrel end of a shotgun wedding, so there’s plenty enough going on. But the main point of the book, how will our heroes react to regaining their upon a time leader?
I would call that aspect of things “incomplete”. Which is part of why this one ended on a bigger cliffhanger than the last one. Even if it is the smallest part.
 Okay, yes, they all end in cliffhangers technically. But usually the cliffhanger is “where did we teleport to this time, it sure looks dangerous”, and whatever, that’s status quo. Cliffhangers along the lines of “how will the meeting with my old boss who I used to love back when I wasn’t a leader myself, but now not only have I changed, it looks like he has too” and “uh-oh, all my friends have vanished, probably because the house they were hanging out in has more radiation than you can shake a pointed stick at” are qualitatively different.
 She’s reading plenty of manga in the original Japanese, so it’s not like she’s a slacker. Just not doing me any good. In, uh, this particular regard.
 I think down the Snake River Canyon, although it’s not entirely clear. It is 100% not the Grand Canyon, despite what the more spoilery than anything I’ve said here (and that’s impressive) cover copy claims.
Vacation nearly always equals Deathlands. And on the bright side, I didn’t run out of book before the plane landed, if only by about 20 minutes of reading.
Downside: Road Wars was the worst of these books in a while. It was not exactly bad, yet while it’s weird to say that I have standards for these books, it also turns out to be true. See, this is the culmination of an ongoing plotline from the past multiple books, in which the two main characters have learned that their old mentor from the first book is not dead of radiation cancer like they’d thought, and head out to find him. This results in a series of episodic encounters that may pay off in future books, while their friends who stayed home and their mentor (and the friend who found him) in old Seattle each have their own adventures. The problem being that these stories are split apart for dramatic effect, yet could not possibly have happened across the timetable in which the main characters are travelling from the friends to the mentor, across 1500 miles of nuked wastelands.
None of the individual stories were bad, and at least one of them was not merely fine but engrossing. Nonetheless, the skewed timelines bothered me really a lot, and took away from most of what was going on.
Still, light entertaining post apocalyptic fluff is not a genre I will soon tire of, and this was only relatively bad. Still far better than, for example, the last Anita Blake I read.
It took me until Monday night to see Black Panther, which was in a way annoying but in another way heartening. Tickets all Sunday afternoon and evening were sold out down to the front couple of rows, you see. This pleases me, both for the studio and the character. And not having seen it on Thursday night, it’s not like my review was going to factor into much of anything at all, so.
The thing is, T’Challa is a compelling character and Wakanda is a compelling nation. There is a book that I have not read called Guns, Germs, and Steel that lays out an (as I understand it) compelling case for the idea that European dominance of the colonial and modern world has a lot more to do with geography and resources than with any innate superiority of its peoples. Enter Wakanda, a small African nation whose technology is far ahead of any part of the world not personally owned by Tony Stark, because that happens to be where a huge chunk of vibranium landed lo these thousands or millions of years ago, and the Wakandans happened to get there first. And you can say that this is so much wish fulfillment. Probably that’s true? But it’s awfully comfortable saying that if you happen to be the person whose wish was fulfilled by reality instead of the person whose wish was not.
And to a large extent, that’s where my review ends, because as cool as the Black Panther is, and as fun as it was to see him rushing around the world fighting some of his biggest name enemies from the comics, and as well realized as his fellow Wakandans each were, and as socially and historically relevant as Killmonger’s origin story is, the real star of this movie was Wakanda. And they did that country up right, every bit as well as Asgard or Ego have been presented in previous MCU flicks.
 It’s what Captain America’s shield is made out of. More to the point, it’s virtually indestructible and has a number of rather intriguing properties in addition to this that make it a boon to scientific and military advancements over time. It’s, y’know, handwavium.
I liked this Deathlands book somewhat less than usual, for a variety of reasons, which I will now elucidate.
1) The plot was not organic, and instead was in service of a clear goal that took me out of the writing. See, albino knife-throwing murder machine Jak Lauren left the group a long time ago, to start a life on a ranch in New Mexico. Yet, the in media res opening of Rider, Reaper immediately took the happy ending away from him, solely so the series could have him back. Clumsily enough so that I didn’t even realize it was that style at first, and instead thought I had accidentally picked up the wrong book. (On the bright side, I like him. But man, the clumsiness. Maybe if his family had been murdered during one of the stretches of time when everyone else hadn’t been right nearby, and then found him along the way instead? I dunno.)
2) Due to circumstances, they team up with a group of Navajo warriors to take down the bad guys of the week, and those warriors are portrayed as hot-headed savages worthy of a team-up with 19th century cowboys showing that the white way is manifestly the correct one, instead of 22nd century survivors of a society-ending nuclear war. It was just so bad, and all the moreso for me being used to this series’ shockingly common egalitarianism. Ugh. I am pretty sure the author hasn’t changed yet and won’t for a long time, so I hope it is a one-off problem, and not a sign of things to come due to editorial changes or some other permanent shift.
All that said, the set up of the next few books is pleasing to me, and I continue to look forward to where things are going. Please oh please let this be merely a small bump in the road.
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.)
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), 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 from right before the nuclear war) starts to show cracks in his loyalties and capabilities. How will they get out of this one?!
 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.
 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?
If you are paying a lot more attention than I would expect anyone to be paying, you would expect this review to cover the second Robin Hobb book. However, I ran into a pair of related problems. Maybe a trio of interrelated problems? You decide! See, thing one is that I’m still trying to read the series in conjunction with my wife. Thing two is that I went camping last weekend. The problem with that is that while I read a lot in the woods, she really does not. Thing three, which may or may not count as an actual thing, is that I didn’t want to deal with reading comics on my convertible laptop in the woods, because it’s quite a bit harder to handle / keep safe than a tablet in a case would have been. The relevance of this is that comics would have slowed me down quite a bit and made it at least mildly feasible that I could read the Farseer book without pulling irretrievably far ahead.
So instead, I brought five Deathlands books. The theory being that I would be out for 5 days and read about a book a day. This math was largely correct, except that I was not there for the entirety of the bookend days, and also I was building / tearing down on those days.
Enough inside baseball! You’re definitely here because you want to know how Deep Empire was. And I have good news: the title actually makes sense this time. See, they come out of the teleporter into the Keys, where they encounter pirates, undersea volcanoes (because, post-apocalypse), dolphins, and rogue marine biologists.
 All three did, which makes me wonder if I missed something in Shockscape. I probably didn’t, but the impostor syndrome is especially strong right now, since I noticed my reviews used to be a lot funnier than they are these days. Everyone not reading this because they left me behind long ago? I forgive you.
I was poised to read a Robin Hobb book, but then my schedule got pushed back, so I went for something guaranteed to be quick and easy. And then work was a bear, and I realized a new Walking Dead was out, so now I’m actually behind on starting the Hobb instead of ahead. Oh well, that’s what happens when I try to keep to a schedule on much of anything besides work and vacations.
Which brings us to Shockscape, a book that demonstrates Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in action. See, these books can only have either a title that is vaguely related to the plot, or a cover that is vaguely related to the plot. Never both, and virtually never more than a vague relationship. In this case, the title is as far as I can tell a meaningless agglomeration of syllables, while the cover shows a giant mutant bear, who isn’t in the book long, but he is the catalyst for the rest of the action. Which consists of the same kind of action in most Deathlands books: the good guys run into a baron, he sets them to some task for which failure means death and/or enslavement, depending on whether you are a person on the task or a hostage, the good guys complete the task (probably by killing someone what needed it), and then return and kill the baron too, because what kind of a dick makes people do things whether they want to or not?
It’s a good thing I don’t mind stories that are formulaic, as long as I know that whatever character or plot or world-building development missing from this book will definitely occur in the next one. Anyway, there was a pretty solid cliffhanger? (I hope they don’t resolve it in the easiest way possible, where they might as well not have had it in the first place.)
 It doesn’t.
 A baron, in Deathlands parlance, is the leader of some locality. He always has sec men, and usually is in some sense a bad guy, either by virtue of terrorizing his populace or by virtue of opposing the good guys in a non-evil way that is never justifiable enough to make our heroes look like non-good guys when they inevitably chill him in the end. (Unless he’s a recurring character who gets away but will probably be killed in a sequel. That happens.)
Thing that is awesome: I saw a Guardians of the Galaxy double feature on Thursday! Thing that is less awesome: it always takes me forever to review premiere style movies. Like, to even have time to start. I am typing this Sunday, and I will post it Sunday, but I didn’t start until Sunday, which as you know is three days after Thursday. I don’t know why this always happens, but it always does. I might as well not even go to premieres, for all the good it does anyone else! …although I still get to see it early, so that’s nice.
In a nutshell: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the platonic ideal of a comics movie. It requires you to have seen the original, yes, but since the original was full of origin stories that people didn’t already know by heart, that’s not so bad. And then it’s off to the races, with… basically a lot of cool and hilarious stuff that I can say nearly nothing about, because it would all be spoilers. Even the thematic discussion is a no go. Except to say, trust me that yes there’s a heaping helping of theme. And lots of cool old characters, and some cool new characters, and a teaser for the future that I don’t see how they can pull off right, but then again, if you’d asked me five years ago (or five days ago!) if they could pull off what they did in this movie, I would have said no, that’s way too stupid to ever work. So I’ve clearly been proven wrong, and I’m once again excited for the next thing!
I should say, the music is not as good as last time.
On Sunday, after two days of renaissance festival and a truly spectacular amount of mead, we decided to watch a random movie. (It should have been the American Gods pilot, but Mary was already sleeping off a scraped cornea.) The one that got picked, basically by virtue of being the first one seen that there was a quorum on, was Pixels. I mean, yes, the con column had “Adam Sandler movie”, but the pro column had cool video game movie, not the kind based on a specific game, but rather just generic 1980s arcade fever. Arcades are cool!
Anyway, we were wrong. Nothing outweighs “Adam Sandler movie”.