Monthly Archives: October 2010

Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories

Remember that time when you watched Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and it was funny and poignant even though Felicia Day’s character ended up being wasted? And then nothing else ever happened, since it was a writer’s strike project for fun that didn’t really go anywhere, despite solid DVD sales? And you wished the story could continue? Well, albeit in prequel format, that very thing has occurred! Although perhaps a little pricey for the speed of the read, it was consistently interesting and funny both, and I hope to see more of the same sooner rather than later. The best of a good lot followed the Evil League of Evil’s rampage through the city, while the superheroes were all off on a forest retreat, getting back to nature or something.

If none of the premises in the previous paragraph are valid, I have the show on DVD and will happily watch it with you at any time. You’ll be glad you did!

The Passage

The Passage is exactly the kind of widely popular fiction that I avoid, the kind that is probably cited as the most recent book read on 3 out of 5 new eHarmony accounts right now. (Well, the ones that acknowledge reading as something people actually do.) I honestly have no idea how it got on my radar in the first place, given that. I guess from a person I know, or NPR? It’s a total blank, I just remember that it got added to my shopping list notepad on the iPhone, and that at the time, I was not shocked, so apparently remembered having added it. My brain works like this far more often than I am comfortable with. Anyway, whatever I had heard was sufficiently convincing, I guess, so I did end up reading it, and really quite early after purchase considering my enormous queue.

But, okay, whatever convinced me was basically right, as the book is at its most basic level a post-apocalyptic overrun-world story, with only a few beacons of huddled humanity in pools of infinite darkness. And I like that setting a lot. As you can perhaps imagine from the title, the people with whom we are concerned don’t just stay huddled under the beacon, but why they go, from whom they are huddled, and what they hope to accomplish are all questions with interesting enough answers that I don’t want to spoil them, except to tease by saying that Amy, introduced in the first sentence of the book as The Girl Who Lived a Thousand Years, is definitely involved. (Every good post-apocalyptic story that isn’t about the actual apocalypse needs a character from Before, to tie the reader to the shattered landscape. Otherwise, it might as well not be set on Earth in the first place!)

So, it has a setting I like and a story I’ve approved of. Why am I not gushing, as I almost certainly too often do? It’s a number of little things that add up to overall dissatisfaction. Like, the perfect record of using “wretch” as a verb. Or the innocent murderer on death row in act one of the story who eventually provided nothing to the plot’s genesis or resolution. Or, and I suppose this is not so little, the overly coincidental coming together of the hero and the plot token just as doom was assured through means unrelated to that doom, without there being some kind of fantastic element or prophecy to justify it.[1] Or the spiritual underpinning throughout the story that never quite gelled for me. Or the sadism of the last sentence of the epilogue. And now it sounds like a story I didn’t like, which isn’t right either. I guess it was a story that I liked a lot, but that had some real need for editing, enough so that I was too often pulled out of the story by it. There is some irony in the fact that I’ve never had this complaint about what are objectively worse books in the Deathlands series.

[1] I am apparently willing to swallow all manner of implausible coincidence, as long as the author tells me that some person wrote it down cryptically generations before.

Red (2010)

Remember that time when they made that movie about a bunch of retired astronauts who went back into space one last time, for some reason? Red is like that, except about spies. The Double-Oh kind, I mean. On the bright side, it’s quite a bit funnier than I remember the astronaut movie being, as long as you don’t look too closely at the romantic subplot that Bruce Willis kicks off by kidnapping the hot mom from Weeds in order to head off (self-fulfilling) attempts upon her life. But of course it all works out, as movies do, without any long-term police involvement. Anyway, though, aside from that it’s a fun, breezy romp of exactly the type you’d expect from a spy movie based on a graphic novel of some kind. There’s a plot, but only enough to justify young spies trying and failing in spectacular ways to kill old spies; definitely nowhere near enough to comment upon. So, if you like that kind of thing, or just recognizable actors being reasonably funny? Dig it.

It’s a Funny Kind of Story

It’s really no wonder I see as many movies as I do, since I intend (with failures, sure, but the intent is always there) to see a movie on any given Wednesday afternoon, and then I still see other movies on the weekends or whenever. This Wednesday’s movie was It’s Kind of a Funny Story, an accurately-titled light drama about an overstretched New York City teen who asks to be committed to a mental hospital to get away from his suicidal thoughts, and only realizes after the fact what being committed actually means. And then he, y’know, learns about life and love and himself, and a lot of his fellow patients learn about these things on the way. If this sounds more than a little twee, well, it kind of was, but it had that type of self-aware tweeness that seems to say, look, this is basically a real story, and sometimes life can be a little twee, and, what are ya gonna do?

But the important thing is that it was often funny and extremely sweet, and sometimes I like movies that make me feel good. (I always like movies that make me laugh.) Oh, and another important thing is that it was populated in the main by very talented actors. Other than a few of the ancillary high school kids, pretty much everyone was really good. Good enough for me to take note of it, I mean, and one has to be a pretty strong outlier (in either the good or bad direction) for me to take note of one’s acting skill. So there’s that. But mainly, the funny and the sweet.

Neutron Solstice

I am still a little bit astounded by just how well the Deathlands series is paying off for me. Okay, sure, I’ve only read three of them so far and the series is still being published some 25 years later, but the truth of the matter is that the setting, formula, and characters are enough to keep me satisfied for a very, very long time. It turns out that post-apocalyptic gun porn with a hearty dash of science fiction and hints of a large backstory around the edges, being revealed piece by laborious piece, is pretty much my idea of comfort reading. And the irony of it is that my review of Neutron Solstice is essentially identical to my review of Red Holocaust, at least in every important way. The only differences are in the window dressing; instead of the bitter cold of Alaska, our heroes have teleported to the steamy swamps of Lousiana, and instead of Soviet invaders as the enemy, they must face the iron fist of a giant baron who is improbably not named Samedi.

But if you are looking for giant mutant alligators, voodoo zombies, maddening hints of the past from resident anachronism Doc Theophilus, or a decent chunk of backstory on one-eyed hunk Ryan Cawdor, you’ve come to the right place. Of course, you have no reason to be looking for most of those things, but that’s what I’m here for. If you’re like me and societal decay is your literary bread and butter, prepare to be astonished by just how much you’ll care about these characters, and especially by how affecting each scenario can become. Whoever this James Axler is[1], he’s actually a pretty damn good writer. Who knew?

[1] Pete knows, and I cannot help but dread the day when a new author shows up under the farm name, because what if the books drop back down to the quality of generic men’s adventure stories?

The Way of Kings

51WC999OnyLTruth be told, I finished The Way of Kings days ago, during the weekend. (Don’t worry, I’ve been reading only loose comics since, so it’s not like I’m getting backed up or anything.) I guess the reason there’s been no review is because it’s a very large book. Physically, too, but I mean it’s a very large story. I mean, it’s referenced on the cover as Book One of The Stormlight Archive, and it’s being written by the guy who stepped in because Robert Jordan was crushed under the weight of the Wheel of Time.[1] So you can see why this is tricky; I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed the first book of a doorstop fantasy series without having read other books in its series prior to any review. Still, since I keep thinking about the physicality of the book, it’s a good place to start, particularly during a month in which a lot of the chatter I see in my corner of the internet is about the migration to Kindles or other electronic book-reading devices.

Whether because Tor is also thinking about the e-book revolution a lot lately or simply because they’ve been sufficiently satisfied with Sanderson’s output over the past few years to want to splurge or maybe it’s something Sanderson wanted out of this book in the first place, but The Way of Kings is probably the prettiest modern book I’ve ever seen. The cover art is nice but not all that noteworthy; the inside is where it’s at. The inner covers have multiple different maps of the same continent, in startlingly fine color detail. The paper is heavier than I’m used to, not quite to the way I imagine vellum, but definitely of superior stock. There are any number of drawings and diagrams scattered throughout the story, each also of excellent quality. It’s the kind of book you’d expect to buy a special edition version of, years later, to get this many goodies. I know that has no real relevance to whether it has a good story, but it strongly informed my initial impressions, and even filtered through my distaste for non-physical books, it would be a pity to be looking at this on a screen. (Or even a paperback, almost certainly.)

So, was it a good book? I will say unreservedly yes, because a) I otherwise had nothing to complain about and b) my favorite part of any good-sized tale, the characterizations, was masterfully drawn. There are about four main characters and a handful of important secondaries, and another handful of very minor characters adding world flavor and possibly highlighting Important Facts that are not yet clear to me but will seem painfully obvious upon some future mythical reread. And except for those last few, I really do care a great deal about what’s going to happen to all of them. Of course, things will happen to them, as Sanderson doesn’t innovate the fantasy tropes: the world is falling under a long shadow for the first time in millennia, a shadow humanity has all but forgotten, and our heroes must figure out their own shit if they have a hope of doing anything about the worse shit coming. But Sanderson innovates like nobody’s business on sense of wonder, and he got it all over me. Still, that wouldn’t be enough to leave me excited[2] without how well he writes his characters and without the attention to foreshadowing and as yet unsolved mysteries and the promise of more that lie ahead.

I guess, after all is said and done, my excitement comes from the fact that this is the best kind of doorstop fantasy: the kind that leaves me wanting more and at the same time willing to pause and digest and discuss and (yes, someday) re-read. And while there are several series I’m in the middle of that leave me with some portion of those desires, this really is the first one since I finished Jordan’s The Shadow Rising and was officially caught up on Wheel of Time publications that has left me with all of them at once. That’s a heavy expectation to leave on a book, but I can’t really lie about it, right?

[1] I have a saidin-poisoning joke floating around in my head, but it would almost certainly be in bad taste. Well, worse taste.
[2] As opposed to merely entertained.