Review: Brandon Sanderson – Snapshot

Snapshot is the recent “between novellas” project by Brandon Sanderson. This one is a little different, a science fantasy near-future world where police can create these “Snapshots” which are direct copies of the world before a crime occurs. Police can go into these snapshots and investigate by seeing what actually happened for a period of hours. Any action they do inside creates ripples called “deviations” which tarnishes the evidence, so they have to be careful. It’s not explained how this works, or really anything about it other than a cursory “I don’t know how it works” by the main character, which is why I call it science fantasy. I’m fine with that, as it’s a neat concept. It reminds me a little of his 2016 novella, Perfect State, in the sense that this is a tech-driven story rather than a magic one.

Because Sanderson’s books are so twist-dependent, there will be spoilers. If you want to avoid those, stop reading now.

This story follows two detectives who are investigating a murder, but that’s not the main crux of it as they solve that relatively quickly. There’s a serial killer on the loose that they discover, that the department hasn’t been talking about or letting them in on at all. It’s not abnormal as they’re snapshot investigators, separate from the rest of the force, but it does appear it’s covered up. They take it into their own hands during the snapshot time left to uncover this information and catch the killer.

The characters are a little hard to connect to. Sanderson’s been using a formula lately of straight man / comic relief buddy, and while it’s okay once or twice, I’m seeing it as a pattern in all of his work that made this a bit rough. I really didn’t start connecting with the characters or being interested until about 25% into the book, where some personal stuff develops that makes it a little more interesting.  Still, they come across as vehicles for a plot or comic relief jokes a lot of time rather than real characters.

This is a short book so I’m going to jump to where it gave me the biggest problem. Sanderson also does a “two-stage twist” in all of his books. He gives you one where it’s obvious and you’ll call well in advance, in order to lull you reading wise into not realizing what the big twist is. Since again he employs this formula with extreme regularity, I was prepared for it. What threw me off was what happened. The twist was that the main perspective character was in the snapshot to uncover his partner boinking his ex-wife and kill him for betrayal. It’s actually a cool plot point, but the problem is– it was the perspective character. We went along the whole book without the guy thinking about killing his partner. There were points he was mad at him, calling him a liar, but it seemed almost in fun. He was never concerned about the event until it happened, which means the reader was cheated the entire time to put a twist in there. The story fell apart for me because of this. This was the “twist you don’t expect”. The twist that you do expect was that this was a snapshot of a snapshot to investigate this whole thing, which we discover later on. Usually the order of these are reversed for Sanderson — and in the essay after in the collector’s edition, he does address that he would have liked to have reversed those but didn’t find a way to in the story — but that was pretty flat and expected, and I didn’t buy the big twist because of the above.

With low character work that made the story tough to get into, and a twist that imminently didn’t work and felt forced for the sake of it, this is probably my least favorite Sanderson work to date. I really wanted to like this, and read it fairly quickly — as the pacing is the element that saves this, but found that this story didn’t work at all.  5/10

Retro Review: Sassinak by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Moon #SpaceOperaWeek

What timing, as over the weekend I read this space opera beauty by Grand Master of Science Fiction Anne McCaffrey, and one of the space opera greats, Elizabeth Moon. Ms. McCaffrey was extremely generous with the brand name in the late 80s early 90s, co-writing with a number of folk to help increase awareness for young writers. Sassinak is the product of that, a book in her Planet Pirates series which followed the two Ireta Dinosaur Planet books.

The original books in the series are not the best of McCaffrey work, but not the worst either, resulting in a world that I wasn’t all that impressed with after those novels. When I read the co-written The Death Of Sleep with Jody Lynn Nye is when the series really took hold for me. A beautiful story about the perils of space travel and cryogenic freezing, and dealing with life, love, family over time. It gave a lot of depth to the character of Lunzie, and crossed over at the end of the book with the original two books.

Sassinak follows the same format. It starts with young Sassinak growing up with pirates, getting captured by slavers, and rescued by the fleet. The fleet then becomes the only family she knows and she works her tail off to move up the ranks despite no help or political influence to the name. The book really breaks down into 4 novellas, each stories of their own: 1. youth and slavers 2. first fleet assignments 3. Sassinak, commander and pirate hunter 4. the overlap with Ireta.

The character work is wonderful, great plot that goes through it dealing with the prejudice against “heavy worlders” in the fleet, and sabotage erupting from political conflict. I loved the real glimpse at military life, and the bond that’s formed “once fleet, always fleet” between people looking out for each other. The second act with Sassinak dealing with a saboteur and getting jettisoned into an escape pod with limited air was very tense and beautiful. The third novella was most fun with the pirates attacking, hiding on a moon and using resourcefulness to get back to fleet. It really provided a great character lead, using wits and smarts and social skills — the character feeling like a real woman and a great lead at the same time.

I think the fourth novella/act in the book is the weakest, which is where it overlaps with Ireta. We see things from a different perspective, and a lot of the story is glossed over to where I’m not sure it even works if you didn’t read Ireta. As a consequence, this part felt a little flat for me, but the first 3/4 of the book was good enough that it makes it worth it.  I look forward to the sequel Generation Warriors as the end set up a nice little promise to go hunt some space pirates.

8/10

Comic Review: Green Lantern Corps: Rebirth Vol. 1

What’s interesting about the DC reboots is some of them don’t even try to “start over” but launch with the assumption that you know everyone and everything going on. For Green Lantern Corps and the Sinestro Corps and all that with the yellow/green war for who’s policing the galaxy – it pretty much assumes you’ve read a lot of Geoff Johns’ now classic work on the characters, and is probably slightly more rewarding when you do.

I picked this up mainly because I like Robert Venditti and wanted to support him. It’s the first Marvel/DC title I’ve read in a couple of years, having stopped after Marvel got so crazy and when the new-52 was having problems. And when I read this it validated my decision.

Don’t get me wrong, this is actually an excellent book by Marvel/DC standards. There’s tons of of action, a nice arc, its’ cleanly written, the characters are all in classic form. Robert Venditti did a great job, and the art is epic too – great work with the green lantern powers on that front producing stunning visuals, my only complaint is it suffers from “modern movie-ism” on the art front where a lot of the pages are so cluttered and dense that it’s distracting.

The problem is the old comic book characters and brands. There’s really nothing at stake so even these high powered cosmic action stories like this, mean nothing. Hal Jordan will always come back, even if he dies. Sinestro too. The corps were “dead/disappeared” for like 3 issues of this comic, but they just poofed back into existence. When there literally are no stakes for a character, it just makes things impossible to care about.

That’s not the creative team’s fault, but Marvel/DC’s. No matter what, it’s going to reset in a couple years. No matter what, there will be no real development. And it shows in the book, as it seems like the writer is almost ordered not to do anything that will have any lasting impact to the character.

Content wise: you get a lot of fights. It’s a very decompressed story that reads a full volume of 7 issues in like 20 minutes, you get some Sinestro vs. Jordan action as well as yellow corps vs. green corps. The most interesting thing is the bit with Sinestro’s daughter where she seems to care for Hal despite following the yellow corps Sinestro put together. The moments there with that character were about the only time I cared.

I compare this to Venditti’s XO Manowar, which I’ve been reading in trade and spurred me to pick this up. Same writer. Same action. The difference is in XO, the character can grow, suffer real loss, change. There’s tension there because of that. It wasn’t always like this with Marvel/DC. They actively tried to progress characters up through the 90s. Then they panicked with sales slumps (due to crowding the market and variant covers killing collecting) and pushed everything back to “classic”. I like seeing classic characters, but the thing that makes them classic is that they’re actual characters – and that requires development.

While this is a fine story, fine art, everything’s just fine about it. At the same time, it doesn’t offer me anything to care about. I’m going back to reading Valiant Comics now.

Comic Review: Eternal Warrior Awakening #1

 

After discovering the new X-O Manowar and going back through the Valiant universe titles… I’m very near the point where if it says “Valiant Comics” on it, I’m going to at least try out an issue. Eternal Warrior: Awakening also is written by Robert Venditti, who as I mentioned in a review of Armor Hunters, wrote some of the best comics I’ve read in recent years. Add Artist Renato Guedes, who did some great work on the Superman/Batman book awhile back and is no stranger to valiant work himself, and you have quite the creative team.

One issue in, I’m happy to say, Valiant has killed it again. And I mean that with the best puns possible with the Eternal Warrior’s premise — an immortal man who fights through the ages. This is a book set in ancient times, where the Eternal Warrior has lost his memory from an old wound, having nightmares, a wife, a new life as a farmer. A Geomancer shows and reminds him of his history, and sets off a hero’s call to action. Those who are familiar with the Warrior and Geomancers from past Valiant books are already salivating for more, but for new folk, this is a great origin #1 issue set-up. I haven’t read the prior Eternal Warrior books yet, but am familiar with the character from Archer & Armstrong.

What impressed me about the book is that it has a full story in it. We didn’t meet the villain, have the hero brush his teeth and head out like a lot of comics do in their first issue. We have the villain. We have the hero setting out. We have the action. We have the conclusion and then there’s a set up for a larger story afterward. I compare this to Kindt’s X-O Manowar run currently — and with the two, I believe that Valiant Comics have rediscovered the “tell a story in a single issue but leave them wanting more” formula that made old comics great, and not material to wait for trades.  I have to think it’s intentional on these writers’ parts, and I’m extremely happy to see it. Applause on that.

With comparing this to Valiant’s Manowar relaunch, I would say that if Manowar represents pulp sci-fi John Carter Warlord Of Mars in all its gloriousness, The Eternal Warrior: Awakening is Michael Moorcock Elric Saga in modern comic form. That’s about as high of praise I can give, and these books have both earned it in its own right. Eternal Warrior really is the pulp action-adventure fantasy that I’ve been craving out of comics for a long time.

The art’s great. Guedes does a wonderful job in expressions, figures, crowd scenes, having to draw camels (I like seeing cool animals in comics, +1!) fight scenes, all sorts of breadth here. The background gets a little lost at points which I’m guessing was a time consideration, and gets filled in with a little bit of aggressive coloring, but very minor complaint on that front for what is near perfect art to compliment near perfect storytelling.

I said last week that I think I’m in for whatever Matt Kindt writes from here on out… I think I’m there with Robert Venditti too. This is a great book and you should pick it up. Another epic win for Valiant Comics.  10/10

Comic Review: Discovering the Valiant: Amor Hunters Event

I recently read the Armor Hunters crossover event by Valiant, which spans 5 trade paperbacks with an event series itself, two tie-ins from prominent Valiant books in XO Manowar and Unity, and two offshoot spinoff miniseries. It was a daunting task, and curtailed my reading of catching up on the Valiant universe for a time while I obtained a couple of these to get the full story. Crossover events like this make me nervous, as I’ve been burned by Marvel far too many times with bad tie-ins and sub-series that really don’t add much, and storylines that are unfulfilling.

I’m happy to report that Armor Hunters is a crossover done right. The story was epic, every book added something, and I’m glad I bought and read all five trades in paying attention to this series. I’m going to review them individually as well below.

I’ll also note that I used the suggested reading order on Reddit which went like this:

Armor Hunters #1/4
Unity #8
X-O Manowar #26
Armor Hunters #2/4
Unity #9
Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #1/3
Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1/3
X-O Manowar #27
Armor Hunters #3/4
Unity #10
Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #2/3
Armor Hunters: Harbinger #2/3
X-O Manowar #28
Armor Hunters: Harbinger #3/3
Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #3/3
Unity #11
Armor Hunters #4/4
X-O Manowar #29
Armor Hunters: Aftermath #1

So I had a lot of flipping between books. This order worked really well and I suggest reading them in this order as well – though you could read XO 26-28 as a prequel series and get 29 in its place and it’d work just as well, perhaps better.

Onto the series.

Armor Hunters:

XO Manowar has been followed to earth by an alien army that will stop at nothing but to see the Armor destroyed. They attack earth, including an installation that has an alien that Alric captured that is slowly morphing into the armor. Alien starships. Giant robots. Battles with aliens. It’s all here. Great pulp action adventure at its finest, never a dull moment. I would say the Aftermath issue at the end is a bit slow, really a full issue of denouement, but it was separated out and labeled Aftermath so I knew what I was getting into there. As a big event, with Earth getting attacked big, lots of destruction and chaos, the heroes all playing their part to make sure Earth is safe again – I loved every second of it. This should be event comic writers required reading.

Art was excellent in it. Cool aliens. Cool designs. Lots of background detail so we didn’t feel like characters fighting against a white screen. Figures drawn great. Colors engaging. I was very happy all the way around. Aftermath again suffered compared to the main book but it was fine for what it was.

I’m pleased and would recommend people read at least the first couple trades of XO Manowar first to get a feel for the characters, or perhaps as much as I have in the Valiant Universe for a lot of depth, but this is a great jumping on point and great read. 10/10

Unity Volume 3

This was on the weaker side for the event, which is still a strong comic. Still, with the others to contend with, the unity storyline of the event came down to fighting alien dog things then Livewire doing some techie thing to stop some alien probes. Pretty simple and drawn out into 4 issues. Thus is somewhat the issue with events in a nutshell, as the tie ins can tend to suffer. But by suffer I still mean this was a really fun comic. It’s very quick to read and very light on dialogue. Certainly doesn’t work without the context of the Armor Hunters main event as a book by itself.

Art is fine. It’s got early 2000s forward standard style with medium to light detail on the background. The colors aren’t exciting but aren’t offputting either.

Decent fun, adds texture to Armor Hunters but not a lot of deapth. 7/10

Armor Hunters: Bloodshot

I haven’t loved Bloodshot a lot thus far. It’s been fine, but a little too dark for my tastes. This continues here, but actually this may be my favorite volume of Bloodshot I’ve read so far. I like seeing him work with Unity and the Colonel from XO Manowar to stop the aliens. I love the battle between ever-healing Bloodshot and ever-healing alien in XO Armor. The storyline is simple, but it progresses and adds nice depth to the overall Armor Hunters storyline.

The art is dated looking, 90s with a lot of grittiness, good for Bloodshot, but not my favorite. The colors are a bit washed out and make it have a dated 90s look even moreso.

Fun, pure gorey action and not much to complain about. 8/10

Armor Hunters: Harbinger

This is probably my least favorite installment here. I like seeing Faith but her comments are getting a little old at this point. I don’t really care much about the Generation Zero heroes even from the last event, Harbinger Wars, and there hasn’t been a ton of time for them to develop to where they mean much to me. There’s too many and with the frantic pace of the event, I lose track of who’s who to some extent. There’s blurbs to tell me, but that just means the characters aren’t standing out enough on their own for me to recognize. Makes it difficult. If there’s one book in the series to skip, I’d say this is it.

The art is fine. Everyone tends to have these perplexed stiff faces through a lot of the panels though. The colors save it as they’re pretty vibrant on this.

If you really like Generation Zero or Faith, maybe worth the pick up, but it’s an isolated spot that plays off one major point in Armor Hunters, not the most necessary of them. 6/10

XO Manowar vol 7.

This makes it all worthwhile. Now, you can’t go into this thinking you’re going to get much Aric or XO, but Robert Venditti has told one of the finest space opera tales I’ve ever seen in comics in issues 26-28 with an amazing origin story, great action and resolution. For characters I didn’t meet and didn’t care about before, for enemies of Aric, I really began to care about them and this made the Armor Hunters event way more interesting than it would have been otherwise. 29 deals with Malgam and the aftermath of it, but with the set up in 28 I care about Malgam a lot more than I used to as well. Fine comic storytelling.

The art can get a bit repetitive at points with just action shots even when in talky scenes. The colors are good in that they’re vibrant but they are lacking a little bit in detail which makes those backgrounds wash together a bit and makes the art look sparse. Not perfect, but the storytelling aspects of it are so it’s fine.

I loved this story so much. Even with the medium-like of the art, it surpassed my expectations so much I give it a thumbs up. 9/10


Book Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The review you’ve all been waiting for! Note: there are some spoilers in here as I had to really get into what I liked or didn’t like in the book, but I tried to keep the ending in tact as much as I could for those who are interested in actual reading.

I discovered The Black Witch a couple of months ago, when a book reviewer slammed the book with 8,500+ words of screeching, flailing and literally can’t even-ing. Like fake news, this person provided a FAKE REVIEW. It began with: The Black Witch is the most dangerous, offensive, book I’ve ever read. It’s racist, ableist, homophobic, and is written with no marginalized people in mind.

Wow. I wish I could get such a review for my next book. Imagine what my sales would be then? I’d ask her for one but I find myself already blocked by this person.

Anyhow, the fake review is extremely long, and really doesn’t speak to the substance of the book at all, but takes lines without context to make some of the most bizarre, inaccurate points one could ever have imagined about this extremely innocuous YA fantasy novel. Because of this, hundreds of alt-left internet trolls took to Goodreads and left drive-by hate reviews to try to torch the book and author without ever having read it. If the original review hadn’t gotten me interested, the sheer bullying evil that the reviewer’s followers acted with made me certain to support this author. I might add, that kind of bullying is something that the author speaks against heavily in the book. Irony points for people too stupid to read.

Without further ado, a real review of The Black Witch:

The Black Witch follows a girl in a rural village. There’s a prophecy that they believe she’ll rise up and fight the evil one – standard fantasy fare. The evil ones are considered some abomination race that sprouts wings and the like, and they seem to be able to come from any birth whether it’s our Gardnerian humans or elves. It’s not exactly clear where they originate from but there’s some background that there were fae in the world that intermixed with everyone, and a lot of people have fae blood which is magical, but the fae themselves were mostly exterminated in a war a long time back or gone into hiding. It ramps up as one of Elloren (the main character)’s friends has one of these abomination children, which shows she was unfaithful to the mage she’s been wandfasted (their form of marriage which isn’t shown on screen but I believe involves some magical tie) to. The friend goes on the run to save her baby. Elloren is whisked away by her very powerful mage aunt. Her friend left with her some powerful wand that’s supposed to be a relic from myth. Only problem is, Elloren can’t actually do magic. Some power stirs within her, but there’s a mystery that’s left her magicless.

Elloren is set to live with her aunt for a few days before she goes to university – which is sorta Harry Potter-style wizard school but also deals with apothecary and other fantasy trope items in this book. At this section we meet the powerful bad boy love interest, Lukas Grey, and the rival Fallon Bane as this develops more into a paranormal romance than regular fantasy for a good chunk of pages. It returns to its fantasy plot when Elloren is attacked by members of the evil race who know she’s going to be the reincarnated Black Witch, as her grandmother decimated them years ago. Elloren escapes with the help of Lukas and they head to wizard school.

This was about the first 100-150 pages – and honestly, I found it extremely exciting. The pacing was relentless, the writing crisp, nothing really to complain about at all here. We get glimpses that the Gardnerians hate other fantasy races, especially from the aunt, and we get the feeling that Elloren the main character is uncomfortable with this, but trusts her authorities on it anyway as she has no life experience. The reader definitely wishes she wouldn’t, because that’s where the sympathies are played by the author, but any sane reader would be good with being immersed in a very well developed world with a fun plot, high danger, and interesting romance. What’s interesting is how every character seems to treat Elloren terribly except for Lukas, which continues for awhile throughout the book. She’s almost psychologically abused from every angle, and it both creates sympathy for the character and shows her resolve and value.  Reallly an A+ on the characterization and world and even the plot at this point.

Once it gets to university, however, the story bogs down and loses focus.  There are a lot of pages where meanders to meeting different fantasy races, showing why Elloren and Gardnerians hate them, and why they hate Gardnerians and Elloren, as well as dropping far too much backstory history.  This continues for the next three hundred or so pages of the book. We’re in very mundane situations in school, with extraordinary creatures like elves, wolf-shifters, etc. just doing ordinary things, but also sneering at our main character and making her life miserable and abusing her like everyone else does in the book. Elloren naturally reacts that she hates these people, and blames it on their race, where it can get a little preachy at points that this reaction is bad and one shouldn’t do that. Of course, with these people actively trying to physically and psychologically injure her at every turn, can’t say I blame her in the least. There’s a large cast of characters introduced, many of whom are interchangeable for this message beyond descriptions of their races and histories. I don’t really have much of a problem with the preachiness there other than a suspension of disbelief problem of the sudden switch in Elloren where she realizes she just hates her own race and loves all these others to force the message. She reads some books that show her people basically caused all these races to hate them, and that they’re just terrible. It’s a bit over the top of a presentation and reaction.

I’ll reiterate that I agree with the message: don’t dehumanize individuals around you just because of who they are. That’s quite a sensible message, but it again comes back to the length and how that message is presented with the “I’m really fighting for the wrong side” trope. It both convolutes the great lengths the author went to present the message, and derails the cool, exciting fantasy story in the beginning of the book. During this time we lose all focus on anything in the opening.  Lukas Grey goes away, Fallon Bane the evil witch rival gets a lot of mentions but gets less and less on screen time as it goes on too. We find most of the plot and characters abandoned for new ones. I read somewhere that this book was written out-of-order scene wise, and it could have used some tighter outlining to keep the plot on point. I think if this section was 100 pages instead of 300 pages, it would have been a much stronger novel. My suggestion would have been: the evil winged creatures would have come and attacked her in the night but her roommate winged creatures defended her—just to keep that early developed plot thread going. If that happened or something similar in the middle there to break it up, it would have felt more cohesive. The reader could have still received the don’t dehumanize individuals message but also maintained the original plot and not had it feel like the book’s entire purpose is an allegory for white guilt. Instead what we find is the Gardnerians are just bad at every turn. Even though all the fantasy races are also awful to her, in many cases moreso than her own people, Elloren just accepts that awfulness and over pages, while hating her own people. The fantasy races we learn are really just that way because they’re so oppressed. Lukas is ignored during this and she develops a relationship with a boy who has a mysterious mixed-race background Yvan instead, which also disappointed me, as co-opting Lukas would have made for a better plot as well.

Then it gets back to what I loved about the beginning. The kids decide they’re going to take on the Gardnerian military and escape and get all the fantasy creatures to safety. Action picks up, pace picks back up, the last 150 pages of the book stutter at points back into the message fiction, but when it hits full stride it really hits full stride and is masterfully done. It doesn’t fulfill much of the promises at the beginning of the book – thus is the way of series these days sadly, as they serialize plots across books rather than chapters, but it’s got its own plot that I found worth reading and a lot of fun that I won’t spoil.

The result is we have about half a great book, half a meandering message fiction book. The message was pretty subtle at the beginning and it went full tilt as the book went on to a point where it became too much in a reader’s face without advancing plot. An example of the more annoying aspects is there is a mage running for their office who was LITERALLY HITLER talking about eradicating species and making everyone where arm bands in support. It was a bit much.  There’s also a section where one of the other races starts lecturing Elloren “why do you think your religion is right we have our own creation myths too!” or something of the like, and Elloren just nods and agrees, pushing the multiculturalism is great angle, which I strongly disagree with the premise of, and it doesn’t make much sense given the characters that it was just accepted.

That’s not to say that the message/allegory were all bad either. What I did like about those points that none of it directly lined up with current events or current cultures, so it wasn’t finger wagging at a group either. I give this props as a lot of authors of this particular multiculturalist viewpoint tend to show their real prejudices in picking on American/Christian culture, which this author avoids. The Gardnerians act like extreme islamists in the way they force girls into marriage at a hyper young age (which was a cool point of the culture from a worldbuilding perspective – especially with the magic involved), but not all the way so as it has a lot of Christian religious elements as well, no direct allegory there. The Hitler dude in power was definitely is its own unique thing with the way their mage-council was structured, not an “American culture is bad” message. Dehumanizing people is bad. Real racism is bad. That’s all stuff that we can agree on and appreciate that the author is trying to say.

Her writing was also excellent on the prose level. This was in a first person present form for most of the book, which usually annoys me to the point where I won’t read past a page, but the author pulled this off fine to where I didn’t even notice it. It just kept the pace at awesome speed, and that’s a testament to her ability to write. It switched perspectives and forms at points and that didn’t ever throw me out, which is a difficult task. Descriptions are great, the world really had a lot of thought as I mentioned, many of the characters were unique and interesting. I do keep in mind that this is a debut novel and she’ll probably only get better from this point forward. It’s an interesting start to a series, got a great climax, good times, sets up the next book nicely.

Overall, because of the lengthiness and how I felt it could have been trimmed down, I call this a 7/10. Very close to being the next great fantasy, and with her talent I honestly expect that her next book will be. I do have one point for her as I saw some alarming interviews that I’m guessing were a reaction to the bullying: please ignore sensitivity readers. Don’t let people censor your thoughts or your ideas. This is your world, your story, keep it that way. Watering it down will only prevent greatness.

 

Comic Review: Eleanor And the Egret #1

Being a big Chew fan, when I saw that John Layman had another comic out with a very silly concept, I went to check it out. With Sam Keith, I thought I could expect some quirky art and quirky story like I saw in Chew.

This issue sets up one of those “what’s going on” mysteries that a lot of modern, more hipster style comics do. It starts with a scene of this gal who I presume is Eleanor falling in a swamp. And then it cuts to a museum where she’s looking at art. It switches perspective to detectives when the art is missing, and then the detective interviews her asking after a bird feather that was left in the museum.

If it sounds perplexing and honestly a bit boring — it was. There wasn’t much of a hook. Nothing to really get me going “I love this character”, the high concept of having some Egret that helps her fly (which wasn’t done on screen, speculating) is silly I guess but again, since it wasn’t on screen I didn’t see it.

I mentioned this style before, and frankly, I hate it. It’s one of those “Oh, reader, are you as clever as I am and can you figure out the real twist of what’s going on?” And unfortunately every time this is implemented it comes across as being talked down to, which is especially irking in funnybook form.  With muted colors and Sam Keith’s–albeit nice looking–noir style art, it really sends that message more than it should. For such a ridiculous concept of some girl with her egret, it really needed some more vibrancy to the both the line art and the color schemes.

Very little happened in the issue, unlike Chew where you have FDA raids on illegal chicken restaurants and get a guy having to cannibalize to use his powers, stuff that makes you pay attention immediately — this had very little hook otehr than “well I hope the Egret does something cool in future issues.”

I really wanted to like this. I love Chew, and having met John Layman a few times I think he’s a great guy with a fun sense of humor, but unfortunately I’m going to have to pass on the rest of this series.

Retro Review: Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Last week, the new book Thrawn by Timothy Zahn came out, a book I didn’t expect to see until it was announced. It hit #2 on the NYT Bestsellers list, so big congratulations to Mr. Zahn. I picked it up, but I wanted to reread the original Thrawn Trilogy first as it’s been about 19 years, and see if it was as good as I remember as a teenager. 

I begin with Heir To The Empire. This is space opera at its finest. Sure, it helps that we already care about Luke, Leia, Han, Lando and Chewie as characters. But even if we didn’t, this book gives us reason to. Han is struggling with going legitimate, Leia is torn between starting a government, being pregnant with twins and potential training as a jedi. Luke is trying to forge a path on his own without mentors for the first time. Lando has a new business venture and is working with the republic. Chewie is Chewie. Good stuff!  But where the book shines is its original characters.

Zahn had to set up a credible threat for post Emperor and Vader in a star wars world, one without copying the two characters. Enter Thrawn. He’s a real tactician, thinking about the long term, not getting caught up in the power, but interested in showing real military prowess. The Empire is described as hurt from Endor, kinda in a role reversal with the rebels where they have to act more as the guerrillas now. It’s an intriguing future for Star Wars, and Thrawn as a character is deep and interesting. Naturally we have a dark Jedi to go along with our imperial tactician, and this guy has his own motives separate and distinct from the Emperor as well.

  But the new characters don’t stop there for interest. Karrde is a crime lord type, and the twist on this end of the galaxy is that he’s got a code of honor. His organization is where we meet Mara Jade, who’s been the dream of fanboys for a generation. This really is the seminal star wars novel, with a cast of characters about as interesting and memorable as the original films themselves, maybe moreso. He took the world, and he truly put a good twist on it, a nice backdrop for the future.

Plot and pacing are as you would expect — fast. There’s a lot of set up in the early chapters but it pays off as the last quarter of the book is a convergence of wall to wall action. My only critique here is it’s a little bit “oh I guess we’ll head here real quick before going to Coruscant” coincidence for all the characters to end up in the same place for a battle, but that’s fine. I can chalk that up to the force guiding the way.

But it’s pretty deep. We have our heroes all set out for their own separate motivations, making this a deeper work than the Star Wars trilogy, where they all kinda were forced into one simple battle each movie (other than Empire). Leia has her mission, Han has his plans, Luke is distinct and separate. They end up together in the end but with their own journeys.

What’s really interesting is the way Zahn takes away Luke’s force powers for a lot of the ground battle. He shows Luke’s innate talents to us as a scrappy fighter, something that we get hints of in the trilogy but we’re told it’s reliance on the force that gets him his lucky victories. I enjoyed the way Luke took down the imperials while “blinded” as he said. 

But what was most enjoyable was the end space battle. It was written perfectly, with a twist to objectives so it didn’t end up standard blow up pew pew. The Empire wanted to steal ships, not destroy them, and the way the New Republic was able to fend it off both had consequences and is refreshing. Thrawn made a point to not go all in over a small objective, furthering his distinction from the Emperor and showing that he is a threat for books to come.

Honestly, Heir to the Empire should be used as a primer for writers for character, depth, plot and pacing, and exciting action/adventure story. It’s got everything, and very little in the way of failings. Amazing work. It shows that tie-in novels can be just as good or better than other books. It not only holds up but I might say this is one of the best books of all time, and better than any individual Star Wars film. Onto book two!

Sci-Fi Movie Review: Passengers

Most of you are probably already aware that I liked this movie, as it made my list for the 2017 Dragon Award nominations for best Sci-Fi film. Part of that was a lack of other great sci-fi films in this last year, but that doesn’t mean that I enjoyed Passengers any less.

The concept of the movie is that a passenger of a interstellar colony ship wakes up from stasis early because of an error. He’s named Jim (I’m guessing a star trek homage?) and is played by Chris Pratt, one of the few a-list hollywood actors who I don’t find annoying. The first 20 minutes or so of the movie reminded me of Castaway starring Tom Hanks, with a man going a bit crazy while he’s alone, beard growing, realizing he can run around naked, but with cool sci-fi technical entertainment options. He’s unable to wake the captain and ship’s crew to get himself back into stasis, and he’s stuck with 90 years left on a voyage — alone. Truly a frightening proposition.

A year into the journey, he has learned to awaken another passenger, and he, after deliberating on how immoral it is to condemn someone else to the same fate as him, decides to wake her. Being the only two people on the ship, romance ensues and of course she eventually finds out that he woke her intentionally and that it was not an error, setting off the drama later. The ship errors compound until it’s a threat to kill everyone on board, and our heroes do their thing, pretty standard plot and romance with little in the way of surprises.

And that’s fine. I didn’t need to be surprised. The plot was fun. The actors were charming, with great lines that made you care for them. It wasn’t overly dark, overly scary, and honestly it could have been PG if they hadn’t had to have the sex scene with the A-List actors to be gratuitous.

The effects looked great. I loved the ship, the rotating sections, the loss of gravity at points, all of their futuristic food replicators and entertainment amenities. The bartender robot was great. It’s about the perfect starliner space setting.

Acting was 2nd to none. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt as mentioned before are imminently likable. Nothing to complain about there at all. Good range from laughter to fear to anger to passion from each of them. A+

If it sounds like the pacing could get a little slow in parts, it did. Like most modern movies, they could have shaved off 10-15 minutes and it would have been a little tighter and better. It still didn’t deter my enjoyment of it.

There is one scene where it went a little far for my suspension of disbelief when one character is floating lost in space, the other jumps out into zero-g to grab hold and save him. Getting that trajectory right having almost zero experience in null g…. I didn’t quite buy it, but it is a movie. Only having one bad instance like that I can give a pass.

Great romance, great sci-fi, all around recommended. I’ll actually watch this one again.

Discovering The Valiant: Bloodshot vol. 1 Review

Bloodshot vol. 1

And here I thought Harbinger was dark. This is probably the darkest Valiant comic I’ve read. What a concept. Bloodshot is a military weapon of a man filled with nanobots that repair him and give him superpowers. He gets beat to a pulp more than Wolverine. The military or secret ops or whoever is pulling the strings erases his memory when convenient, and fills him with stories for the mission. They’ve wiped his memory hundreds of time and sent him back out on suicide missions, where he’s taken out a crazy amount of people. The action, violence and gore level of this book reminds me of Garth Ennis’s MAX Punisher run, yikes. He’s on the run, meets up with the grounding character woman who doesn’t have powers, and the military chases after him with a living EMP called Pulse. I Had fun with it and found it hard to put down. The last page of this volume was pretty fuzzed and difficult to read from what looks like a printing error, but I was able to make it out. Overall, really dark, but I enjoyed it.

There are two artists on art duty in this, and unfortunately their styles don’t mesh at all. It seems like one’s used just for his flashbacks in an attempt to mitigate that but it’s a weird look, and doesn’t mesh well with the traditional comic look. It’s mostly fine at points, but there are some strange proportions and faces drawn in areas that look a little rushed. Art is okay, but not my favorite.

Overall, not sure I’m attached to the character, it’s hard to be, and I would have liked just a little more in terms of char development attachment to the nurse woman whose name I couldn’t quite read on that blurred last page, and with Pulse for that matter, but it’s a solid first book and I’m interested enough to keep reading. 7/10