Discuss and rate the last thing you read

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Johnny Novgorod:

Hawki:
Star Wars: Phasma (3/5)

They made a book out of Captain "3 scenes 8 lines" Phasma? Where's my Nien Numb trilogy?

Is that surprising? Boba Fett, a character with even less personality than Phasma in the OT, was fleshed out extensively in the old EU, not to mention being brought back in AotC for some pointless reason.

Arguably, that's what the EU is for, to flesh out obscure characters.

Hawki:

Johnny Novgorod:

Hawki:
Star Wars: Phasma (3/5)

They made a book out of Captain "3 scenes 8 lines" Phasma? Where's my Nien Numb trilogy?

Is that surprising? Boba Fett, a character with even less personality than Phasma in the OT, was fleshed out extensively in the old EU, not to mention being brought back in AotC for some pointless reason.

Arguably, that's what the EU is for, to flesh out obscure characters.

From the movies all the personality I got from Phasma was that her armor was shiny. Fett had considerable presence and mystery, the movie singled him out by the way he was framed, his cool cowboy demeanor and the way the camera would occasionally cut to him as a silent reminder. Of course he was overused, overexposed and overxplained in I don't know how many cash in merch over time, but that's over time. I'm surprised they were this quick with Phasma: The Novel.

Johnny Novgorod:

From the movies all the personality I got from Phasma was that her armor was shiny. Fett had considerable presence and mystery, the movie singled him out by the way he was framed, his cool cowboy demeanor and the way the camera would occasionally cut to him as a silent reminder. Of course he was overused, overexposed and overxplained in I don't know how many cash in merch over time, but that's over time. I'm surprised they were this quick with Phasma: The Novel.

Okay - confining this to the OT and ST, let's say what we know about both of them and their personality:

BOBA FETT

-He's a male bounty hunter that works for Jabba the Hutt (or at least does some work for him)

-He flies a starship (never named in the OT - don't think so)

-He wears armour, has a blaster rifle, jetpack, and a grappling hook

-He seems to respect audacity (nods at Leia for her thermal detonator stunt)

PHASMA

-Is a female officer of the First Order

-Wears armour that can withstand blaster rifles

-Has a bullying personality with a vendetta against Finn, though this appears more due to him being a traitor rather than Finn being Finn

-Has a self-serving streak (turns off the shields, and if we include deleted scenes, kills her own men when Finn blabs about her prior actions)

-Is proficient in staff-based combat

So, um, yeah. Neither of these characters are particuarly deep, but Boba Fett rarely does anything (and fails spectacuarly in Return), and has even less personality than Phasma. I get that the EU apparently made Fett a badass, but going just by the films, I've never understood why he's such a popular character. He stands there, looks intimidating, but never does anything, and barely says anything. Phasma at least has an adversarial relationship with Finn, so seeing him overcome her in both films at least complements him as a character. Fett, on the other hand, has no relationship with any character. You could replace him with any other character in Return, and you'd only have to change one line of dialogue (Han exclaiming "Boba Fett? Where?")

Amazing Spider-Man #656 - Resolve

4/5

It's inevitable that Spidey ends up a bleeding heart, but as much as I enjoy his messiah complex and pacifism, he does come off as a tad naive here. One of the many reasons comic book super villains get to hurt people is because they end up escaping. That's the cold hard truth of comics. Applying the same mercy to comic book criminals as we would towards murderers in real life can be problematic, given what we know about supervillains.

And besides, murderers are given the death sentence in many states of America anyway. It's not exactly unheard of. Of course, I don't approve of Jonah publicly executing Massacre - there still needs to be due process. But the death sentence? That's something that I feel is necessary for certain dangerous criminals. What Spidey says, that he'll stop them if they ever break out of prison, is not only naive, it's irresponsible.

That being said, I do enjoy the part of the issue where Peter chastises his co-workers for enjoying themselves while death is all around. I could definitely relate when the Parkland shooting happened just a little over two months ago. It's frustrating that we can't do anything about those deaths, but we have to accept that life goes on as usual for many people.

Even Jonah Jameson here, once a newsman himself, have to accept that the death of his loved one is yesterday's news. The world has already moved on, and so must he.

Last book in the Fitz and Fool stuff by Robin Hobb. Not so much of a fan of the most recent trilogy, and felt there was some serious shoehorning and revisionism to make it possible to write it. Decent, but not as good as the previous trilogies.

Anime Supremacy
4/5

This was a good one!
The novel follows three women who work with anime--one producer, one director and one animator. Though I say "novel," it's more like three novellas, one for each protagonist, plus a short epilogue.

All the characters were interesting and colorful without becoming one-dimensional, and I liked how several characters from one woman's story turned up in another woman's. This is a novel that deserves way more attention that it's received here in the west. My one issue with the writing is that the author is way too fond of replacing "said" with some other word that expressed nothing that wasn't already made clear by the spoken line. But that's my one problem with an otherwise very good novel!

Tom Clancy's Power and Empire by Marc Cameron

2/5

My girlfriend's son got it for me for Christmas. He knows how much I like "Tom Clancy's" Splinter Cell games and I gave him my copy of "Tom Clancy's" The Division on Xbox One a while back, so I guess when he saw the name "Tom Clancy" on an audio book, he figured it'd be something I'd like. Kudos for focusing his ADHD-addled brain long enough to make that reasonably logical connection considering he'd likely forget his own name if his mother and I weren't screaming it at him dozens of times a day, but man, NOT a good book.

You know the plot: political unrest in China leads some of those in positions of power to try and clandestinely incite a war between China and the USA because of reasons, and President Jack Ryan's son, Jack Ryan, Jr., and his merry band of perfect federal agents spend the rest of the book dodging bullets and invariably having the right tools on hand for every highly unlikely situations in their attempt to untangle the web of intrigue and unmask the culprits at the center of it all.

I'm not big on a lot of modern writing, particularly the "geo-political disaster staved off by overly clever, resourceful, devilishly handsome/beautiful and charming middle-aged white spies/agents/rogues" stuff that seems better suited to the screen than genuinely engrossing reading/listening. It seems to me that writing like this is more an exercise in the writer wanting a pat on the back for all the research he/she did to make the tale sound authentic and less about fleshing out believable, likeable characters and interesting situations, i.e.: I don't care that Jack Ryan's weapon of choice is the SIG sauer p226; I couldn't identify one if it was pointed directly at me, so you don't need to spend a page of text describing it let alone comparing it to/describing other pistols he might have chosen if doing so adds nothing save for "words" to the story; call it a fucking "gun" and move the hell on! Oh, but you WERE so clever doing the research; here's a hand job...

I also dislike that every protagonist in this book is exceptional and never caught with their pants down, literally not a flaw between the handful of them. Found themselves in Japan? Of course one of them speaks enough conversational Japanese to get around because who doesn't, right? Someone tries to drown one of them unexpectedly? Of course he just happens to be an ex-Navy seal and takes to water like a fish where we're told he can hold his breath for over a minute even while struggling. I'm sorry, good guys who're always one step ahead of the bad guys aren't interesting to me much less make for a relatable read. There was never a point in the book where it felt like there was ever any real danger or risk; I've experienced more danger reaching for my toothbrush in the morning!

I enjoy the next Jason Bourne, John Wick, James Bond, Ethan Hunt, et al as much as the next guy, but I WATCH them, preferably with a $12 tub of popcorn and $9 slushy; you won't catch me reading them. This book was little more than a screenplay, and were it ever adapted to screen, it might actually work as a reasonably entertaining-if-eye-rolling 2 hour distraction, but listening to it for 15 hours was 13 hours too much. I'd have been pissed if I actually READ it.

Wow, the spambots normally filled up a page or two on the thread listings. Now, it's 2 pages within a single thread.

Anyhoo, dealing with things that I've read, I just finished a couple of good non-fiction works.

Tried by War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander in Chief [2008] by James McPherson.

One of the only works to deal specifically with the presidency of Lincoln as a military commander, it is very well written (as usual, McPherson is a very skilled and compelling writer). However, I can't help but notice that the material, while given a fairly tight focus and a new perspective, is still material that McPherson and others have already studied and delved into in other works. Certainly, I have no regrets in purchasing the work, but I can't call it a vital necessity for the historian's library.

Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West [1991] by William Cronon

Cronon looks at the linkages between urban and rural America, using Chicago as the case study. Cronon's thesis posits that the urban/rural divide that seems so prevalent in politics, popular culture, and general perception is a myth and that the ties that bind the two together are far stronger, though less researched, than they seem. Essentially, that one cannot exist without the other economically. I found it to be a wonderful study of the ever-changing dynamics of the 1800s through the interplay of the natural landscape, the alterations made to the landscape by humanity and the development of transportation technology all on the development of the American West and Chicago's place in that story. I highly recommend it.

Bunnerong (3/5)

Yeah, it's a book I got in a hotel I stayed in in Hobart, but shadup, it counts.

So, it's fine, it's nice, it's actually kinda interesting to see how many animals come into the sanctuary but can't be released into the wild due to not being native to Tasmania.

Anyway, reading Mercy Kill now and...yeah. I'll have a lot more to say on that.

Foundation and Earth, by Isaac Asimov (6/10).

Foundation is one of my favourite series, but I didn't find this one-- which is the last book chronologically-- nearly as satisfying as earlier instalments.

It has some interesting sci-fi sociology, and provokes some pretty intriguing moral questions. Yet by the end, the trio of protagonists had become repetitive with the arguments they would have, resulting in some of the dialogue feeling like a chore.

The central storyline is also quite contrived, and took a direction I wasn't terribly happy with either (and which did not seem in keeping with the spirit of the original Foundation Trilogy).

Points for connecting together the Foundation series with the Robot series, though (Asimov's two most well-realised series).

Next, I'm going to be reading Chocky, by John Wyndham, and finishing Uzumaki, by Junji Ito.

I actually read a video game book for the first time in a long time.

Dark Souls: Beyond the Grave(Vol 1) by Damien Mecheri and Sylvain Romieu

As someone who likes the souls series, I was intrigued by this. It had some interesting background info about DeS, DS and DS2 but it felt like kind of a letdown in the end. I don't know if it's because I'm already thoroughly familiar with the games from playing them and watching the Vaati videos, or something else but it wasn't what I was expecting.

Then there was some of the weird pet theories that the authors have glommed onto and kept mentioning. One was the one that goes "Sure, that looks like Gwyn at the end of Dark Souls, but it could be another chosen undead who was suckered into this before you, because Gwyn should be much taller then the dude you fight". Ignoring the fact it literally says "Gwyn, Lord of Cinder"" during his boss fight.

Another one during the DS2 section posits that Vendrick was the chosen undead from Dark Souls, and follows it up with essentially "There's no evidence for it but there's no evidence against it either". Which is different then wild speculation how?

Xprimentyl:
Tom Clancy?s Power and Empire by Marc Cameron

2/5

My girlfriend?s son got it for me for Christmas. He knows how much I like ?Tom Clancy?s? Splinter Cell games and I gave him my copy of ?Tom Clancy?s? The Division on Xbox One a while back, so I guess when he saw the name ?Tom Clancy? on an audio book, he figured it?d be something I?d like. Kudos for focusing his ADHD-addled brain long enough to make that reasonably logical connection considering he?d likely forget his own name if his mother and I weren?t screaming it at him dozens of times a day, but man, NOT a good book.

You know the plot: political unrest in China leads some of those in positions of power to try and clandestinely incite a war between China and the USA because of reasons, and President Jack Ryan?s son, Jack Ryan, Jr., and his merry band of perfect federal agents spend the rest of the book dodging bullets and invariably having the right tools on hand for every highly unlikely situations in their attempt to untangle the web of intrigue and unmask the culprits at the center of it all.

I used to read Tom Clancy all the time and that sounds like the man's work to a tee. Which is one of the reasons I stopped reading his stuff. It became very clear that Team USA always wins in these, no matter how far fetched or contrived it seems.

I think the final straw was "The Bear and the Dragon" when near the end, the Chinese launch a nuke at the US and there's no way to stop it. Except, of all the possible targets it could be heading towards(because they don't know where the missile was headed), there just happened to be an anti-ballistic missile AEGIS cruiser waiting to launch an interceptor missile and blow up the nuke. Because of course there was.

At that point, I'd had enough and stopped reading him after that.

Star Wars: X-Wing: Mercy Kill (2/5)

...I really don't like this book.

Is that the same as saying it's "bad?" Well, maybe. The rating I've given this book does correspond to the "bad" area of the spectrum of quality. Nevertheless, being honest, I feel I should list a number of things that cripple this book for me from the start, namely:

-Of the Star Wars EU, I've never had much interest in what happens post-RotJ. So stuff happening in 44ABY, with stuff like the "Galactic Alliance" and repeated mentions of the yuzhan vong and Jacen Solo's actions...yeah, I know of these things, I just don't care about them.

-Of said time period, I never read the original X-Wing novel series that this is part of.

-This is military sci-fi, which is a genre I've never cared for (as in military of any kind - exceptions exist, but they're just that, "exceptions"). This is a double whammy for Star Wars, where the 'war' part has never enticed me as much as the more mystical side, or at times, the 'underbelly' side. As in, give me stuff like Last Jedi and Solo before Rogue One, thanks.

So, am I being unfair? Before you answer, I'd like to point out that years ago I read the first installment of the Lost Fleet series. I consider it a good book. I have no particular desire to read more of the series because I just don't care for its genre, but for what it is, I did consider it good. Same goes for the first of Traviss's Republic Commando novels - I didn't care for the novel, and I'm very mixed about Traviss as a writer, but it was still "good." But this, even with all that going against it, I just don't think Mercy Kill is good. I couldn't bring myself to care about the characters. The setting felt far too mundane. The action was "meh." The villains were offscreen (if that's a good word) most of the time, and had no 'spark' to them. This book is ultimately an action/military story. If you like that sort of thing, you might like it more than me, but even after being as fair as I can, I just can't bring myself to care about any of it.

Blindsight by Peter Watts

5/5.

My novel of 2018 handily beats 2017's We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor. Hell, that book (and the whole trilogy I can assume) is just a nerd/engineer fantasy for smartypants engineers. The guy is an engineer himself! He can't tell a story at all!

Watts' novel is dope. Subject matter explores sentience, Chinese rooms, a sort of autism, and one of the main characters is a Finnish vampire.

The King of Elfland's Daughter, Lord Dunsany - 8,5/10

Lord Dunsany is, in my opinion, probably the most criminally overlooked author in the history of the fantasy genre; and while he tended to stick more to short stories, this - one of his relatively few novels - was probably my second favorite among his works, next only to The Gods of Pegana (which I consider one of the best pieces of writing ever committed to paper, full stop).

What most impressed me in this was how very reminiscent of Tolkien his handling of elves is, considering I don't really recall ever reading any mentions of him being among the former's influences. Maybe they were both drawing from the same sources I know nothing about, but all the main elements are all there - the fondness for stars and twilight, the immortality, the timelessness, and particularly, the contrast between those and the brevity and impermanence of human life.

As what is essentially a novel-length fairy tale, it does seem to meander and lose some focus at some points, but Dunsany's knack for evocative language and beautiful imagery more than makes up for it. This deserves to be up there with all of the genre's most well-known classics, as far as I'm concerned.

Maus.

4.5/5

Aside from a couple of plot burps (Art's tone going from zero to 60 at the end of Volume 1), this was very much as good as it was made out to be. Somber, mature, and willing to get down to the grit and horror without wallowing in cheap gore or exploitative content.

Yes, I read a lot of non-fiction. It's my shtick.

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I (2011) by Miranda Carter

While a great deal of analysis has been done on the lead-in to WWI, this was the first work I've found that focuses on the royal families of Russia, Germany and England. All inter-related and feeling that their "special" bonds held real power over the shaping of world events and international diplomacy, the reigning monarchs all tried to manipulate and move their relations one way or another. (Spoiler alert: despite whatever intentions they may have held, they were unable to stave off general war. Surprising, I know). The research, analysis and writing are all superb.

No Ordinary Time; Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II (1994) by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This biographical work deals primarily with the marriage between the Roosevelts and how that relationship affected events, and was affected in turn, on the American home front during the war. While WWII certainly has to be mentioned to put things into perspective, the primary focus is on domestic events. I think the book does suffer from a bit of lack of focus. It jumps between Eleanor's life and work, Franklin's life and work, the war affecting American life, events surrounding civil rights actions and tensions, the changing economy, etc. Perhaps a bit of rewriting would have tied each event to one another a bit more, or perhaps it's just a matter of personal perception on my part that created a wider gulf between sections. Regardless, that particular complaint is very minor, and I enjoyed to book quite a bit, learning quite a few things I had never come across before.

Both books are very informative, excellent reads (the one minor quibble above aside), well researched and documented. Everything one could hope for in historical works. I highly recommend both works.

It's been a slow roll and I've only read three more books since my last update.

Fight Club 2, a graphic novel by Chuck Palahniuk that picks up 10 years after (slightly retconning) the ending of the original story, with what's-his-name and Marla married with a kid and bored out of their wits in suburbia. Narrator's schizophrenia break out again and "Tyler Durden" burns up his home and kidnaps his kid as the first in a long, increasingly silly series of chess moves culminating in yet another Fuck The Man magnum opus.

It's about what you'd expect from an uninspired sequel to a cult classic... hell, the thing almost feels like a parody of an uninspired sequel, an in-joke about throwaway cash-ins. Things get really stupid - I'm talking army of midgets, zombie Rob Paulson and I don't know how many other fever dream lunacy. Also Palahniuk inserts himself in the story freely writing it on the go while lunching with his girlfriends and ringing up his characters with instructions. WTF Chuck.

Poems of Heaven and Hell from Ancient Mesopotamia, translated by N. K. Sendars, covers 2 epic poems from Babylonian mythology (creation myth & descent into hell), a fable about man's mortality and a couple of shorter poems. I can't give any opinions on the translation and the wording on the poems is so dry and ritualistic - a large chunk of them even consists of repeated statements - that I didn't find them to be particularly evocative. I have an anthropological interest in these things though and it's always fascinating to figure out the ethos of an ancient culture from the stories they kept telling themselves. There's also the issue that Babylonian mythology appears to have assimilated a lot of Sumerian myths and retconned them to showcase their own local gods as upstaging the old Sumerian ones. The creation myth in particular is essentially a shameless retcon in which Marduk embarrasses Sumerian gods with his awesomeness by taming the (dragon?) Tiamat. The whole story, in turn, appears to have served as the basis for Zeus' victory over Typhon and his monsters.

The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells. I've never been that big of a fan of Wells but this one finally sold me on his stuff. From a structural point it's one of the most perfectly mapped-out stories I've ever read, from the tight unity of action that arcs across each chapter, the steady trickle of mysteries that build up the (largely unseen) character of Moreau and the way the story pays off in its closing chapters, which switch gears without losing any steam. What a satisfying read.

(Currently reading Junkie by William S. Burroughs)

Star Trek: The Folded World (3/5)

Captain Kirk and co. find a ghost ship.

That's pretty much this story in a nutshell. I mean, I could go into details, such as the plot twist at the end, but aside from that, there isn't much to say. The crew of the Enterprise find an area of space that's 'folded,' where time doesn't pass normally, and thought can become reality (so...the Eye of Terror?) It's pulp sci-fi in its pulpiest form, female OC that male OCs fawn over included. And apparently she's fine with that, despite suffering PTSD. Honestly, I couldn't help but feel awkward at some of the subtext you could potentially read into here. It's nothing really insidious, but this is the TOS era we're talking about, where encountering new and exotic alien lifeforms will at times involve shagging them.

Funny thing is, this book is written like it's an episode - at least in regards to how its plot unfolds, I could see this being packed into a 45 minute period. What's funnier is that there's another Star Trek novel I read years ago, the Rings of Time, that also read like a TOS episode, and was an excellent read, whereas this is painfully average. Not sure why one book succeeds where one didn't - could be my tastes changing, could be that one is simply better written than the other. But at the end of the day, this book is, in a word, "meh." Ain't going boldy anywhere except back to the bookshelf (or book rack technically, since it's a paperback).

Serenity: Better Days (2/5)

I bought this for the same reason I bought the novelization of Rainbow Rocks - because when I write fanfiction, I want it to be as accurate (and good) as possible. And since the Firefly wiki isn't good for much EU stuff outside ship and planetary data (which IS useful, don't get me wrong), it behoves me to get EU stuff when necessary. I actually bought this graphic novel specifically for the 'Float-Out' short story, since the Serenity graphic novels are now the only way to get the one-shot Firefly comics since Dark Horse appears to have lost the rights. But while Float-Out is quite decent, this isn't. It's...it's about stuff, okay. Stuff happens. The crew gets a cache of green, spends it, but bad people want to stop their fun. One of whom is a guy who's ticked that they destroyed his drone, said drone coming back and engaging Book in a sword fight. Yes, in a universe like Firefly, this is apparently a thing. Plus there's an Alliance guy who wants something, takes Mal, or...honestly, I've already forgotten. I was that uninterested.

So, "better days" this aint'. And in case you're wondering, no, this story didn't help my current writing. While I have to endure Rainbow Rocks hiding away on my bookshelf from now until whenever, that at least helped me in writing 'Sunset's Shimmer'.

La Maison du Canal, Georges Simenon - 7/10

So it struck me, one of these days, that for all my profound and long-lasting admiration for Belgian comics (as well as beers and sweets in general) I'd never really read any Belgian prose writers... so now the top of my to-read pile is full of Franz Hellens, Georges Rodenbach, Michel de Ghelderode and Georges Simenon, among others.

As for the work in question here, though... yeesh, talk about bleak. Seen through the eyes of his mercurial and unsympathetic protagonist, an orphaned young girl from Brussels sent to live with relatives in the country, early 20th century rural Flanders is a cold, drab, gray frozen wasteland full of backwards, inbred, diseased people, where cruelty towards animals can be simply a way to pass the time, and children missing is something no one so much as bats an eyelid at.

While I've seen it defined as a crime novel, the only time a police investigation even figures into it is at its very conclusion - rather, what it focuses on is the lead up to the deed, with its eventual resolution coming across almost as an afterthought.

Still, despite how relentlessly dark and cynical it is, there really being not a single likeable character nor uplifting moment in sight, I still found it a compelling and enjoyable read - somewhat, I admit, to my own surprise.

Alba, General and Servant to the Crown. Mostly interested due to the fearsome reputation the 'Iron Duke' had for suppressing the Dutch revolt in the 16th century. This book is written by a group of scholars with the intent to portray a more balanced and detailed look on the duke's career. His loyalty and service to his kings Charles V and Philip II and his private life as an avid art collector. Speaking of which, the pictures of original paintings that accompany the text is espescially impressive.

Ogoid:

As for the work in question here, though... yeesh, talk about bleak. Seen through the eyes of his mercurial and unsympathetic protagonist, an orphaned young girl from Brussels sent to live with relatives in the country, early 20th century rural Flanders is a cold, drab, gray frozen wasteland full of backwards, inbred, diseased people, where cruelty towards animals can be simply a way to pass the time, and children missing is something no one so much as bats an eyelid at.

As someone who passed through the Belgian countryside on quite a few occasions, even now there is a.. distinct kind of atmosphere there. :p I like Belgium a lot as well though. Besides the beer and chocolate I feel this is one of the few countries where you can still find a sense of melancholy. Even in many of the towns you can see many junctions of history coming together from middle-ages to Rennaisance to modernity.

A photographer took 15 years making a photo document wandering through Belgium which almost feel impressionistic in a way:

http://stephanvanfleteren.com/nl/portfolio/detail/belgicum

Hawki:

So, um, yeah. Neither of these characters are particuarly deep, but Boba Fett rarely does anything (and fails spectacuarly in Return), and has even less personality than Phasma. I get that the EU apparently made Fett a badass, but going just by the films, I've never understood why he's such a popular character. He stands there, looks intimidating, but never does anything, and barely says anything. Phasma at least has an adversarial relationship with Finn, so seeing him overcome her in both films at least complements him as a character. Fett, on the other hand, has no relationship with any character. You could replace him with any other character in Return, and you'd only have to change one line of dialogue (Han exclaiming "Boba Fett? Where?")

Because jetpack? It's hard not to like jetpacks. I will say that I kind of like the mythos behind the character in the prequel trilogy. Also helps give him retroactive depth and a natural reason why he might work with the Empire given in a way he's related in an intrinsic way. To the birth of the strength behind the organization, and his father's legacy in retroactively avenging his own death before it happened.

stroopwafel:

As someone who passed through the Belgian countryside on quite a few occasions, even now there is a.. distinct kind of atmosphere there. :p I like Belgium a lot as well though. Besides the beer and chocolate I feel this is one of the few countries where you can still find a sense of melancholy. Even in many of the towns you can see many junctions of history coming together from middle-ages to Rennaisance to modernity.

A photographer took 15 years making a photo document wandering through Belgium which almost feel impressionistic in a way:

http://stephanvanfleteren.com/nl/portfolio/detail/belgicum

Dayum, no crow-stepped gables or canals to be found here, are there?

Interesting stuff, indeed.

Finished Junky and while I like the style over Naked Lunch's the story itself has left me simultaneously depressed and indifferent. What a sadsack Burroughs was.

I read Vonnegut's Mother Night in a record 2 days, which is the fastest I've read a full-length novel in a while - maybe years. It's my 10th Vonnegut book. The guy's become a massive comfort zone for me.

Mechanica: A Beginner's Field Guide (2/5)

You might be wondering what I was doing reading a children's book, and at this point in time, I'm asking the same question. I borrowed it on a whim because I kept seeing this book pass through the desk, and apparently it was really impactful in light of global warming. Having since read the book, I can only say that if you want the effects of climate change contextualized in the confines of junior fiction, look elsewhere.

Reading this book, I actually wondered if it might have been a supplement for a fiction series, but apparently no, this isn't the case. Reason being is that the intro of the book details with events and dates in its fictional universe. Basically, by the 22nd century, all wildlife on Earth is extinct, leading to the creation of the mechanica - robotic stand-ins. At first, they had utilitarian uses (e.g. replacing bees), but more complex forms of life were reproduced. Unfortunately, the mechanica got out of control, recombined with nanites (or something), which led to entire areas of Earth being labeled no-go zones as the mechanica reproduced. So, basically Horizon Zero Dawn, only without dinosaurs. After a forty year war, humanity won...maybe? Problem is, it touches on these things, but there's no real context or narrative impetus for them. The majority of the book is dealt with looking at a variety of mechanica species, giving statistics and background. Hence, me wondering if there was a fiction series this was based off, because while the book's in-universe justification is showing the voyage of a 23rd century HMS Beagle, it's a context that adds nothing beyond "here's some cool drawings of steampunk animals." If I was being generous, I could translate my boredom into the acknowledgement that machines will never replace the beauty of actual living organisms. Maybe it's a bid of the author to get children invested in actual animals by showing them robot duplicates. Either way, didn't work for me. I admit I'm way past the intended age range, but even that aside, I don't this book, well, "works."

Then again, the author's already written a sequel titled "Aquatica," so what do I know? Either way, I'm in no hurry to borrow it.

Since my last post, I've read

Dictionary of the Khazars, Milorad Pavic - 8/10

As I've said elsewhere, one of the weirdest books I've ever read - and coming from me, that's always the highest form of compliment.

Although it's a novel, it's presented as a compilation from three sources, one from each of the Abrahamic religions, forming a dictionary on common topics on (a fictional version of) the Khazar people and their conversion to one of said religions in the 9th century (each source claiming it was their own), and in its own turn, a re-edition of an Umberto Eco-esque 17th century book printed in poisonous ink.

The result reads at once like a puzzle and a treasure trove of short stories, fables, and vignettes, rife with Christian, Islamic and Jewish mysticism, as well as Middle Eastern and Eastern European folklore.

Meanwhile, I've also read

Malpertuis, Jean Ray - 8/10

My impressions with this one were all over the place. At first its premise seemed entirely too cliche'd - old uncle dies and leaves fortune behind, on the condition his inheritors have to live in his creepy and obviously haunted old estate - if well-executed enough. Soon enough, though, it took a left turn into such utter and complete surreal weirdness, I was completely in love with it.

By the end, though, Ray seems to have felt the need to explain all of said weirdness, which in my opinion, only really detracted from it. I didn't have a problem with the explanation, per se, but I felt that if he had left all of it implied but unstated, the effect could have been much more powerful.

Still, I found it to be quite enjoyable overall.

Batman Rebirth #18

Story 6/10
Art 8/10

I am finding Tom King's run on Batman frustrating. On the one hand, he is incredibly adept at portraying the stoic, soldierly version of Batman who relentlessly marches forward no matter the toll it exacts from him. King's Batman is a monolith of resolve and determination, but King is able to weave in some touching character moments that cut deep into Bruce's psyche and play up the parallels between him and his rogue's gallery. This particular issue has a flashback scene interspersed with the big Batman-Bane confrontation (more on that later) that explores the similar, but vitally different circumstances that forged these two titans. Bane's imprisonment and suffering in Santa Prisca following the loss of his mother contrasted with Bruce's lavish wealth and voluntary training. These character are both built from loss and struggle, and it makes the reader wonder how things could have been for Bane had circumstances been different. But as is his style, King does his best to ruin the wonderful moments he set up. King loves to use repeated dialogue and he frequently draws things out for far too long. In this issue we have (during the combat mentioned above) Bane yelling about how he is not a "joke" or a "riddle" or a "bird" etc. Stating that he isn't one of Batman's silly villains but something more, something real. This is completely anachronistic for the character and just ridiculous in the moment. The list goes on for a full two pages of panels, becoming almost comical.

There are some great character moments in King's run but they are frequently muddied by overly-complicated plots and schemes that are simultaneously poorly thought out. We see this again in Batman #18 as Bruce (for the second time in King's run) allows himself to be beaten mercilessly by Bane, this time while Bane is fully juiced up on Venom. And why does he do this? As Bane reaches out to his men to execute the hostages, Selina answers the communicator. Having freed herself during the time Bruce was distracting Bane acting as a punching bag, Selina reveals that this was Bruce's plan all along. To distract Bane and allow her to free herself and the other hostages who perhaps also allowed themselves to be taken voluntarily (it isn't exactly clear). And that lack of clarity is my main complaint with King. Why all the circuitous planning? Why all the needless deception? Batman again essentially puts himself at Bane's mercy in order to enact a plan that would have been completely unnecessary if Selina and his allies had simply left the city as instructed. Or if Bruce had secluded them away as he did Alfred and the Robins (albeit after their initial defeat by Bane). There is no way he could know that the gunman who shot Selina wouldn't have accidentally killed her instead. Or that Bane wouldn't have executed one of them just to prove a point. Or that he wouldn't sustain any debilitating injuries with his fight with Bane.

Frustratingly, all of this ends with an amazing sequence of panels of the entrance to Arkham Asylum with Batman highlighted briefly by lightning only to disappear into the depths of the mad house. This is some epic Batman imagery that caps off a decidedly un-Batman like plan. King does a great job portraying Batman's inner psyche and morality but struggles with what makes Batman...Batman. King's Batman is emotional, throwing his body and the safety of his allies into frequent danger. He takes risks that a character defined by his human vulnerability and meticulous planning wouldn't take. Overall, I think the art saves this one. David Finch's dynamic panels are full of movement and he draws action like a pro- Bane's muscles and tendons flexing as he does what he does best. And that last page... Whoo... what a great moment. It's just a shame that King keeps getting in the way with these overly-complicated and strangely orchestrated plots.

22 volumes of Attack on titan. Was playing the second attack on titan game (really good btw), and needed to know more of what happened. and also wanted to be ready for season 3. The series gets really good and I thought some of the plot twists were really good.
Now i'm switching between Made in abyss and Neon genesis Evangelion mostly, planning to get to some of my warhammer 40k novels afterwards

So, I did a lot of reading today. Don't know if I'll be able to do detailed reviews, but quick list and ratings are as follows:

-World of Warcraft: Chronicle: Volume 2 (4/5)

-World of Warcraft: Before the Storm (4/5)

-Gears of War: Rise of RAAM (3/5)

-Halo: Helljumper (3/5)

-Halo: Initiation (3/5)

Prayers Written at Vailima, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I'm not religious but it was a lovely, peaceful read.
Before that I read some manga because I was bored at work, cute but barely worth mentioning.
I'm currently reading Tony and Susan (AKA "Nocturnal Animals"). The movie was my favorite of 2016 and for now can confirm it's a rigorously faithful adaptation of the book. Something doesn't quite grab me as much though. Maybe it's got to do with knowing all the twists and turns up ahead in what's essentially a thriller. Not sure.

The Walking Dead: Volume 1: Days Gone Bye (4/5)

Before you say anything, no, that's not a typo. Rather, it's proof that the zombie apocalypse doesn't stop people from making puns.

So, yeah. This is the first graphic novel of the Walking Dead comic series. Since the show follows the general beats of the comic, I won't waste time expositing on the setup, as it's practically identical, sometimes shots being transferred directly to the series. I will say that I think that the TV series is superior, at least in regards to its respective timeframe. Shane makes the descent to homicidal git far too quickly here, and as we're missing characters like T-Dog, Merle, and Daryl, the sections in Atlanta feel abridged. Which of course isn't the case, but the TV series makes things more fleshed out in my mind. Still, Lori is more pleasant here, though I never got the hate behind her TV counterpart.

Still, comparisons to the TV show aside, the comic is still solid. Good writing and good characters, and per the use of winter, good setting/mood as well. It makes good on its promise to explore the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

Notes on an Exodus (4/5)

This is an essay by Richard Flannegan written a few years ago as he charted the journey of Syrian refugees through the Middle-east to Europe. Let's just say that it isn't pleasant. Not so much in regards to direct descriptions of violence, but rather its effects on people's lives. You have Syria itself, where people are caught between the Assad regime and groups such as Deash. You have these people getting in debt to people smugglers. You have the squalor of the camps in Lebanon. You have the death trap that's the Agean Sea. You have a lot of things that I challenge anyone to read this and not be affected by. It's the kind of book I want people who ask "why don't you stay in Syria?" or "why don't you go to Muslim countries?" to read. Because the answer to the first question is that many people would love to return, but not only is Syria a war-zone, but the people are caught between a death cult on one side, and a dictatorship that drops bombs indiscriminately on the other. And as for the question of Muslim countries, many do go to countries like Lebanon and Turkey, but at least in Lebanon, circumstances are so bad that sometimes, there's no recourse but to keep looking for shelter.

What got me most of all thought is the children that were interviewed, how often they describe having nightmares. Fear of just entering a building because they fear that a helicopter will drop bombs on it. Fear of seeing a Red Cross Plane because they associate it with bombs dropping from fighter jets. There's a copy of a picture one of the children drew, showing a helicopter dropping barrel bombs on a school, with dead bodies outside. When I was their age, it's the type of picture I might have drawn because war is "kewl." I had the luxury of not having to live through it. Stick figures, sure, but stick figures can say a lot when they're drawn by a child who's fled war and been left traumatized by it.

So, yeah. Gonna leave it at that. Just typing this has made me emotional. I get that there's no good solutions to the migrant/refugee issue in Europe and the Middle-east, but...yeah. I can only imagine what these people (and others) have gone through. And I can only hope that I never have to find out for myself.

Finished Tony & Susan. Still mulling it over.

Hawki:
Still, Lori is more pleasant here, though I never got the hate behind her TV counterpart..

World War I: A Very Peculiar History (3/5)

At less than 200 pages long, I was able to borrow it and read it on the train home from work. And as a read, it was...okay.

Thing is, this isn't really the kind of book you're going to go to get info on WWI. I mean, maybe if you have no familiarity with the subject, and even then, I'm not sure. When it came to stuff like the Western Front and Gallipoli, it was stuff I was already familiar with. And with the Southern and Eastern Fronts, while it touches on them, it doesn't go into any particular detail.

As a plus (sort of), the book has a lot of dark humour to the tactics (or lack of them) used in the conflict. We're all aware of the stereotypes of WWI ("lions lead by donkeys" as the saying goes), and while it's not that quite clear cut, the book nevertheless does dabble in it. Not enough to make the book a comedy, but more than to sell the book as 'hard' non-fiction.

So, yeah. Entertaining read, but nothing special.

Hyperion Cantos By Dan Simmons, 1989

8/10

The first book, Hyperion, is an epic built around a religious pilgrimage taken by seven characters, all with their own agendas, and how they all arrive at the enigmatic Time Tombs of Hyperion- structures that defy science by existing backwards in time, at a time when the known universe and all of humanity are at a terrifying moment of change, and all of them stalked by the nigh indestructible and seemingly chaotic guardian of the Tombs- the demon entity known as the Shrike. What follows their arrival at the Time Tombs paves the way for changes across the known universe, and also within the inscrutable depths of the digital realms of the super-sentient AIs that seem to control all information...

I gotta say that the first book was... awesome. I loved the characters and the fun ideas about where technology goes in the next 800 years or so, and the fact that, although the book references a lot of current or modern issues or subjects, it also peppers in constant references to ideas and concepts from our far past, as well as the times between then and now. Comparisons to Dune are not undeserved.

(Naturally, for those of you who are more scholarly than I, you may have noticed that the title also refers to an unfinished epic poem by John Keats. This is intentional, as the works of several other poets and thinkers are brought to stage in this tale.)

I went on to read the three remaining books in the Cantos, and though I did enjoy them more or less, it was the first (and arguably the second, Fall of Hyperion, though the scope of the second novel feels... compressed? to me, in hindsight) that I liked the most. The last two books (Endymion and Endymion Rising) were enjoyable enough, and still had some awesome ideas, but the main protagonist for these two books was almost constantly without any agency of his own, and though at first I was amused by this, it felt like he was never allowed to take control of his own destiny, and I was getting rather tired of the constant fawning over his seemingly infallible prophet/lover.

Apparently, Dan Simmons has also written some additional short stories in this universe. I will gladly read them, as soon as I can.

So, because of the site being down, don't have time to go in-depth, so:

-Star Trek: Titan: Synthesis (3/5)

It's...okay. Nice premise compounded by me not being overly invested in Star Trek, let alone the crew of the USS Titan

-Halo: Tales from Slipspace (3/5)

Average by virtue of the quality of 'tales' varying from the very good, to the good, to the okay, to "what the hell did I just read?"

But I enjoyed it.

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