Category Archives: Words

Double Dexter

A couple of months ago, as you will no doubt recall, I read the wrong Dexter book. Since these are not 100% episodic, this presented a bit of a problem for me in terms of going back to right myself. Because, you know: yes I always know how the book is going to turn out at least mostly, but I don’t usually know how the incidental incremental advances in Dexter’s domestic and professional life will turn out? Except this time I did.

Anyway, Double Dexter chronicles the time Dexter got caught in the midst of pedophile clown slaughter, and then the witness got away, and then (let’s be honest, somewhat implausibly) got obsessed with the idea that maybe he, the witness, could start murdering bad guys, and then he sets his aim on the main bad guy he (still the witness) knows about, which is to say: our hero.

The main thing I got out of this book is that it’s probably good Lindsay decided to wrap up the series, because Dexter’s “look how smart I am” but clearly he isn’t so smart as all that schtick only works if the author, on some level, believes Dexter is in fact pretty smart, but just misses small tricks now and again. Whereas in this book, I felt like Lindsay was making fun of his creation, and, that is just not the series I want to read.

So, after whatever my next brief palate cleanser turns out to be: the finale! And I will have gotten another series off my to-read shelf, woo.

Ahem. This makes me sound like the series is a task, and therefore why am I even reading them? It’s not as bad as all that, even if this book was for certain the low point of the series. But the weight of that shelf (mostly metaphorically) has been holding me down for some time, and my greatly-reduced incidence of book-shopping over the last few years does make it feel like accomplishments are possible. So you see.

Fables: Snow White

It’s funny, when you think about it a bit. Snow White has been a main character (arguably the main character; definitely top five all along) in the Fables series for the eleven years of its run that I have reviewed, and yet this is the first time Willingham has named a book after her. It was enough to make me wonder if he was running out of ideas, and… whether that’s a fair assessment or not, I am nearing the end of the series and its associated spinoffs both, brief research tells me.[1]

Anyway, the first bit of the book wraps up the stories of Bufkin and his barleycorn girlfriend Lily (from the Castle Dark arc), and the battle to free of Oz from one of the Emperor’s regional governors. It was… fine? Towards the end, I liked it quite a bit, but I definitely think it would have fit better at the end of a previous arc instead of the beginning of this one.[2]

Later, the story of a bro who shows up claiming to be Snow’s first common law husband, before even Prince Charming, which… my knowledge of the story of Snow White doesn’t precisely fit with her ever having met a man prior to the dwarves, much less pledged to marry one. Which makes the whole rest of what happened feel like this was an excuse to move some pieces around the board in very specific ways.

Don’t get me wrong, the sequence of events told a good story, and I still want to know what happens next, even as I’m left with difficulties envisioning that there has been much of anything left to happen next for quite some time. But the precipitating event here, I just can’t buy it, so everything else is at least slightly tainted.

Oh, well.

[1] I wouldn’t have opted to, but I also don’t own all of them, so I’d need to know what to buy regardless.
[2] Unrelated brief (semi-accidental) research here tells me most of these were at the ends of prior comics, but only collected together in graphic novel format here, all together. Which explains why they felt as odd as they did. I stick by my “end of a book instead of beginning of a book” assessment.

Dexter’s Final Cut

A really long time ago, when I bought Dexter’s Final Cut (at Half-Price books per uzh, back when I went book shopping just for fun, since I hadn’t yet bought all the Deathlands books and also there wasn’t a multi-year global pandemic yet[1]), I remember thinking that it was, you know, the last book. There’s a clear implication! Later, there was one more book which had an even more final title, and a new one hasn’t happened since then, so I accept.

Anyway, those two books, the only ones of the series I bought in hardback, have been staring at me for many years now, and I finally thought to myself, self, start finishing your serieses that are sitting on your to-read shelf. Like, take advantage of the lack of making it get bigger to make it get smaller! And that seemed like pretty good advice, so I grabbed it after all those years, and I read it, and haha it’s actually a pun on him being attached as advisor to a new cop show being filmed in Miami. Characters include the really annoying popular actor, the salty comedian who hide darkness behind his jokes[2], the impossibly, ethereally beautiful actress who is nevertheless just a smidge past her Hollywood prime, oh, and the serial killer who has been stalking her for months.

The intersection of Dexter with these new characters went in a very different way than I expected, and in fact some latent humanity that has never before been present was awakened, and under other circumstances I think I’d very much want to talk about these things in a spoilery fashion, because they made a lot of sense despite being unexpected, and that kind of emergent character development is of great interest to me. (Plus I’d get to riff again on how he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is, aspects of which make the series a lot more comedic than I’d have guessed it would be, back on day one.)

But instead I’m just sad, because while pulling up the link on Amazon, I saw an unfamiliar title, and goddammit, I skipped a book. So I’ve just read the next to last book in the series, which ended on a pretty badass cliffhanger to boot, and… I need to go read book six instead.

Ugh. This has never happened to me before, I swear. (…except for the time I read Wishsong of Shannara not realizing it was the third book in a trilogy, but I was like 12 then.)

To recap: ugh.

[1] One of these is no longer true, and the other one is sort of semi-over, except for, you know, small children (of which I have like one and a half) who are not presently capable of immunization.
[2] You know, like every comedian. Also, he wasn’t very funny? Which I blame on the author, who is good at situational humor but not good at spoken humor. (Or maybe the comedian wasn’t supposed to be funny? But the remainder of the text doesn’t bear out that reading.)

Eclipse at Noon

A thing you would have no real reason to remember: Circle Thrice[1] ended on a cliffhanger. (Also, I read that a year ago?? I do not read enough. This is not the first time I’ve said this lately, but.) So anyway, though, cliffhanger.

That aside, Eclipse at Noon is mostly about old enemies and new riverboat rides. I’ve never been on a riverboat, but it mostly sounded like what I expected cruise ships to be like, except for the paddle and all. Also: smaller than that. This continues to make me wonder if cruise ships were just a lot fancier in the ’80s and ’90s versus how they are now, which is sort of middle class chic, for some reason.

Anyway: the story was approximately what I’ve come to expect, with guns and mutants and the promise of more teleporting around (although not any just lately). Also, some random old enemies that we’ve never heard of before, but as good a job as this series does of recycling old encounters into new ones, I cannot fault them for once in a while saying, look, guys, remember this stuff that happened to us before the series started?

The title thing, though: I can perform some mental gymnastics to force a metaphor about how just when things were finally going nicely for the first time in a while, with the cliffhanger resolved and some fancy big meals and a riverboat ride in the offing, oh no, their “high noon” is being “eclipsed” by this sudden old enemy machinations thing, but… yeah, I’d prefer more literal and less maybe metaphorical but maybe just “this sounds kind of cool, right?” titles, for my cheap men’s adventure sci-fi thriller series. I guess I’m just old-fashioned that way.

[1] That is, the previous Deathlands book.

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror

To my surprise, a third John Dies at the End book has existed for nearly five years. So… oops, I guess? I almost want to reread these, because of how long it’s been, and particularly because of how accurate the current title is, but then I remember I’d probably get spiders everywhere, so maybe not just yet.

David Wong and John Cheese are at it again, and by “it”, I mean being forced into solving weird problems that nobody else understands, because everyone else is either too annoyed to deal with said problems, or else too dead. In this case, they’re trying to figure out who is kidnapping local children, and why nobody’s memories on the topic quite match up with anybody else’s, or for that matter, with reality, and also why… well, they’re trying to figure out a lot of things, and following that rabbit hole too deep would lead to me just typing out the book, more or less.

What the Hell Did I Just Read is for the most part as weird and inexplicably funny as you’d expect based on the prior books, while also being darker than I remember those being, and also also being at least moderately authorial therapy. (Or maybe not! I don’t know the man who wrote the book, but it feels that way all the same.) I’m only inclined to say it’s weirder than the other books because I haven’t read them in a very long time. Nevertheless, this feels true. Even if you leave out the big obvious reason why I’m saying that, what about the snowman?

Hack/Slash vs. Vampirella

I know very little about Vampirella as a character, save that she exists and dresses… provocatively, let’s say. However, I know a great deal about Cassandra Hack, so I am qualified to speak on two thirds of the factors that went into this book.

Well, three fourths if you count the name, which is a little odd. Hack/Slash Vs. Vampirella implies that the titles are fighting, rather than the characters. And that’s just weird, right? (I mean, obviously if the characters are all good guys in a crossover, their fighting will be resolved amicably before they deal with the real threat, I’m not talking about that; ‘sjust the way things are done. But who ever heard of books fighting? Get it together, title bro!)

Okay, I’ve lost the thread. Anyway, thing one I can address is the plot, and it was, y’know, fine. Cassie and her road trip buddy / fighting companion Vlad do the thing they do, dealing with a threat that could range anywhere from “might kill some teens at  summer camp. again.” to “extinction-level event in the offing”, and they do so the way they usually do: messily.

To reiterate, I cannot address thing two, which is how was Vampirella’s characterization? Because I have no idea. Maybe Shawn Aldridge has written for her before, and maybe not. Her artistic rendering matched my vague memories of book covers past, so there’s that.

Thing three is Cassie’s characterization, and, um… it wasn’t actively terrible. I know it can be hard for some authors to correctly capture some voices. Honestly, it’s a testament to Marvel’s editorial staff over the first 25 years, that characters come across poorly so infrequently. But speaking, as we were, of Cassie’s voice… she had one mode the whole book, and it was vulgar bluster. Which is a thing she does sometimes, but honestly, the blood-spattered cheesecake in these books has never been good enough for me to tolerate a one note character, not for nearly this long. I really hope that whoever authors the next of these books has a better handle on what makes them tick. Or else, maybe this was simply a Vampirella book, and the target audience doesn’t care about my concerns at all?

Beats me!

Billy Summers

It really should not take me four months to read a book, too-busy job and toddler-rearing or not. And I mean, don’t mistake me, I read really a lot of comics in this period as well, but… something isn’t right, and I need to address it[1]. All that said, despite a four month duration, I was pretty happy with Billy Summers, even though after the early act two surprise shift in direction, I expected not to be.

The way things start is, Billy is a hitman who is a) smarter than he acts, b) only takes jobs on bad people who deserve it, and c) has just been offered one hell of a payout on his next job, even though he had kind of already convinced himself it was time to retire. I, uh, think we all know what that means. Hell, even Billy knows, but the money shines a little more brightly than the flashing genre signpost in his mind does.

Later… well, that would be telling. I will say that by the end of the book, my misgivings about the second act shift in direction had largely been settled, the long delay mainly because it was impossible to be sure whether it would turn out okay until the end of the book. I can imagine wanting to stay away, though, and I’m aware of just how vague I’m being: this is for spoiler purposes. But if you personally want to know what I would be waving you off from as a hazard, just let me know and I will divulge.

Lastly, it’s a little weird how political King has become. I mean, not on Twitter, he should do whatever he wants there. And I also understand that one writes what one knows. It’s just jarring after reading everything he’s written, a catalog that by a small margin predates my own birth, to see how much politics has seeped into his overall viewpoint in just these last recent years. The good news is, boomer blind spots or not, at least he’s on the right side of history. (The other good news is that just because it’s there to notice and be surprised by, it’s not like he has, this time or previously, written a book about politics. (Even if act three is sort of a political revenge fantasy.))

[1] Possible way to address it: accept that I’m primarily a comics reader and have 35 years still to catch up on. For various reasons, I’m not perfectly happy with this option.

Ancillary Mercy

I finished Anne Leckie’s Ancillary trilogy yesterday, and it comes with a realization that I had completely failed to anticipate what the story was actually about.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been sussing out the thematic ground all along, but the plot? I thought I was learning about the end of something[1], when I was actually learning about the beginning of something else entirely.

Which is to say, now that I know what story I was actually reading, the trilogy does in fact have three strong, reasonably divided acts that tell exactly the story they were always telling, even though it took me until the end of the series to correctly order things in my own head and be able to see it clearly. Also, it’s a good story that I’m happy to have read, even though I’m sad I’ll probably never get a clear look at either the millennia old beginnings of the story nor the equally distant ending of it.

Perhaps because of my inability to grasp the picture until so late, I’m particularly spoiler averse here, so I will say only that issues raised in each of the prior books are well-resolved in Ancillary Mercy, and with more room than you can shake a stick at for Leckie to return to this universe and tell other, completely different stories, were she of a mind to.

[1] It’s not impossible for it to be both, but I doubt I’ll ever know.

Powers: Gods

This is the last book in the Powers series!

Okay, it actually isn’t, but at the same time, if you’re going to figure out a way to wrap up the apparently third run of your series before rebranding it as something slightly different, and your series started out as “What if cops had to investigate when superheroes get murdered, and also what if one of those cops used to be a superhero but lost his powers?”, then it stands to reason that you have to end bigger.

Bigger, in this case, is solving the murder of a god, Damocles. Which… okay, it felt a little cheap, and here’s why. If you’re going to have had Greek (in this case) gods hanging out throughout the history of the series, there in the background all along, then you can’t wait to mention it until one of them is going to be your plot device. You especially cannot have your commentary track TV show that everyone (or possibly no one) watches, Powers That Be, talk about said gods and whether people believe in them as gods or as fancier heroes or not at all, like it’s a whole big theological issue, and also never have mentioned them in the previous thirteen volumes of your ongoing series. It’s a problem!

BUT: if you can ignore all that, which I was able to do until the composition of this missive you see before you, they act as a good plot device to reveal a lot of closely held character secrets and catapult the series into its next phase, which I will no doubt discuss next time, whenever that may be.

Ancillary Sword

Look at me, cleaning up my partially-read series backlog. Woo! But also, it’s nice in this case because I still remembered at least a little bit of Ancillary Justice. Not nearly everything, but probably enough.

A thing about that book and about Ancillary Sword that I find disheartening in myself is how much importance I place on gender. I should not spend large swathes of a book who is purposely (by the author, at least) cloaking gender by making it completely irrelevant to the society the series portrays, I should not I was saying spend most of the book wondering as to the gender identity of its characters as they come and go. And yet I do. Not that non-binary is what the book is portraying, exactly, but it is definitely clear to me via this book (and okay, not only via this book) that it’s not a concept I have yet comprehended. Gender dysphoria, I comprehend. Rejection of the concept, I just… don’t. (And for all I know, that description of it may even be missing the point.)

That bit of failed self-examination aside, the book continues to concern itself with the concept of justice, albeit from a different angle. A particularly of the moment angle, although the fires[1] of BLM had not yet started when the book was being written, as it happens: what justice is owed by a government to its citizens, especially when not all citizens are considered equal, and the divisors are by (in this instance) planet of origin[2].

Anyway: it is a) a good book, once more, and b) a maddeningly sparse book in the sense of resolving what I had considered to be the prime issue of the series. Okay, that’s not right. You don’t resolve the issues of your trilogy in the second book, but you… you advance them, right? This barely felt like that at all.

But that’s a me issue, reacting to the structure with which I have been presented. Taken on its own, this book, just like the one before it, is one of the best things I’ve read in many a year. Would heartily recommend.

[1] Figurative fires. Don’t even with me on this.
[2] At least I think I’m reading this correctly, between the lines. It’s made explicit now and again that there are alien species, and how many. Therefore, everyone else must be human and just of different origins prior to the Imperial Radch swallowing them up, whether decades, centuries, or millennia ago. I think. Like a lot of sci-fi, things are left for you to figure out on your own, and therefore arguably this entire footnote is a massive spoiler.