Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Book Review: Overtime

book cover for OvertimeStross runs Christmas through the Laundry. Who's coming down the chimney? Is it Santa Claus? Heh. If you know Stross's Laundry-verse, you know the answer.

Bob forgot to put in for time off for the holidays (too busy recovering from the events in The Fuller Memorandum), so he's forced to work Christmas Eve as the Night Duty Officer. In essence, he's there to field any calls that come in regarding extra-dimensional nasties. We endure the limited budget office Christmas party, complete with a guest speaker by the name of Dr. Kringle, and walk with Bob as he patrols the spooky almost-Escher office building.

Recommended for Laundry-verse completists. Better than "Down on the Farm" but not as good (or as scary as) as "Equoid."

Be sure to save room for the mince pies.

3.5 stars.


Monday, December 3, 2018

Disconnecting the Feed

ethernet cable disconnet
When I started this blog, I'd intended it to be a PR feed for all things pertaining to my writing career. I didn't have any illusions that progress was going to be so great that this was going to be a "must watch" space, but I'd hoped for a bit more than it has been. Life has a way of throwing up roadblocks and detours. Let's leave it at that for now.

The blog feed link is a nice feature on Goodreads. It lets authors keep fans updated without having to remember to cross post. But I really haven't been doing that. What this space has become is a repository of book reviews in case something goes awry with Goodreads. I post little else. I have conflicting ideas about privacy versus self-promotion. I also don't want to repeat the mistakes I made with my first blog.

Since my blog feeds into Goodreads, anyone following me there sees double of my book reviews in their feed. That could be perceived as annoying. So I'm disconnecting my blog from Goodreads. This will be the last post that appears there. If I've got something to say that isn't a book review and want it posted there, I'll just use the "general update" feature or their built-in blog.

On the social media front, I'm transitioning from Google+ to Facebook. It's still in the early stages. I have to study what other authors have done in separating the professional from the personal. I'm not posting a link from this blog to Facebook until I'm 100% ready to go. I realize that could be never.

I haven't ruled out other social media platforms, but besides finding the right fit, network size is a major factor in determining if it's worth the effort. At this stage of the game, I'm still unknown enough that I haven't ventured beyond square one. When Gateway is finished (currently about 50%), I'll have more of an impetus to drive social media and marketing. Right now, it's not worth the time or effort.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book Review: Cloud Atlas

book cover for Cloud AtlasCloud Atlas begins in 1850 with Adam Ewing, an American notary voyaging from the Chatham Isles to his home in California. Along the way, Ewing is befriended by a physician, Dr. Goose, who begins to treat him for a rare species of brain parasite... Abruptly, the action jumps to Belgium in 1931, where Robert Frobisher, a disinherited bisexual composer, contrives his way into the household of an infirm maestro who has a beguiling wife and a nubile daughter... From there we jump to the West Coast in the 1970s and a troubled reporter named Luisa Rey, who stumbles upon a web of corporate greed and murder that threatens to claim her life... And onward, with dazzling virtuosity, to an inglorious present-day England; to a Korean superstate of the near future where neocapitalism has run amok; and, finally, to a post-apocalyptic Iron Age Hawaii in the last days of history.

But the story doesn't end even there. The narrative then boomerangs back through centuries and space, returning by the same route, in reverse, to its starting point. Along the way, Mitchell reveals how his disparate characters connect, how their fates intertwine, and how their souls drift across time like clouds across the sky.

A frustrating read. While there were parts that were clever, other parts were irritating and annoying. In the end, I was left unsatisfied. Clearly, I'm in the minority on this one, but I will endeavor to explain why.

The book takes a nested narrative structure, a bit like the dream diving within dreams scenes in Inception (or the "Lawnmower Dog" episode of Rick & Morty), but with different characters. We get the first half of each story and then proceed on to the next until the sixth story, whereupon the order is reversed until the end. In essence, they were cliffhangers with varying levels of intensity. This was annoying. Not only did I have to wait hundreds of pages to resume the earlier stories, but each transition into the new story felt like I was starting over. And on the resumption of the stories, I had to go back to the first halves to recall some of the characters and plot points. The first half of the first story ended so abruptly—mid-sentence—that I thought I had a corrupted file on my Kindle!

Each story is told with a different style. We have journal entries, personal letters, a standard mystery thriller manuscript, a fourth wall breakdown, an interview, and a campfire tale. Each story is referenced by the one that comes after it, while clever, it opens up a potentially fatal flaw. The fourth story refers to the third as being fiction, but with all the references to the two preceding stories, I'm left wondering how much that story's "author" made up and what she incorporated from the "real" world of this novel. I have too many questions and to properly ask them would be spoilers.

I appreciated the changing of the narrator's voice from one story to the next. There was a good deal of playing around with language, too. You've got Victorian English in Adam Ewing's journal. The letters are written with Frobisher's shorthand abbreviations, formal continental vocabulary stocked with antique words, and sprinkled with French and Latin. After the two contemporary stories, Mitchell subjects language to further modifications. Our Korean tale is filled with shortened words, the phonetic spellings taking over (ex- to x-, -ight to -ite). And with it being a corporate dictatorship, brand names are substituted for everyday words (ford for car, nikes for shoes). But I absolutely hated the Huckleberry Finn dialogue style used for the last story. While certainly a possible outcome, it made the last story practically unreadable for me.

The characters, while they were all unique, were a mixed bag. I had trouble making a connection with or caring about most of them. Sonmi and Luisa Rey were the two I rooted for (honorable mentions to Sixsmith and Napier). Frobisher was a foppish fool at first, but improved with time. Ewing was dreadful. Don't get me started on Zachry. Cavendish was the worst. He was an insufferable jerk in the first half of his story. While he was still an ass in the second half, there was enough growth in him to warrant finishing his story.

I'm going to give Mitchell credit that he can write in any style he chooses, but I'm not sure about the choices he made here. Journals and letters, interviews and fireside storytelling, just don't work for me these days. The first two are dated. The latter two aren't strong enough to carry entire stories. One hundred page interviews require a recollection of minute details that only computers have, but apparently Sonmi did. Fireside storytelling for 70+ pages, especially in that dialect and without any back and forth conversation, is tiresome.

I don't want to go into too much about the messages or the reincarnation bits. I'm too tired and have spent too much time finding the right words for my complaints. Quite simply, I found the reincarnation thread to be lacking, and the execution of the messages heavy-handed and pedestrian.

No, I haven't seen the movie, though that's probably less likely now. Maybe with the right direction and proper editing, these stories will reach their full potential.

2.5 stars.


Monday, November 26, 2018

Book Review: Saga - Volume 4

book cover for Saga volume 4It's been several months since the events in Volume Three transpired. Alana is working as an actor for some kind of lame super hero soap opera, while Marko is a stay-at-home dad. Hazel is a rambunctious toddler. Marko's mom and Izabel the ghost nanny still live with them too. The whole situation is extremely stressful and putting a definite strain on their relationship. There are temptations which cloud their judgement and make them forget that they're a team. Kudos to Vaughn for bringing in an element of everyday life to the story.

Prince Robot IV is trying to find himself—more like he's losing himself—on the pleasure planet, Sextillion. Not only is he spoiled in the material sense, but in an emotional sense as well. Meanwhile, his wife has given birth to their son. We learn that not everyone on their world is as fortunate as the royal family, and the story takes on a decidedly dark turn.

The Will is still in the hospital, lost in a hallucinatory dreamscape. Gwendolyn and Sophie are out looking for a cure and run into The Brand, who is out seeking revenge for what happened to her brother. Not nearly enough Lying Cat in this issue!

There's the usual sex and graphic violence, but there's a birth mixed in with all the death. The artwork continues to be excellent, but here it's not so much about the fantastic elements as it is capturing the everyday and encapsulating a character's emotional state with just a single frame.


Friday, November 9, 2018

Book Review: Transmetropolitan, Vol 2

book cover for volume 2 of TransmetropolitanAt this point in the series, Spider Jerusalem is fully settled in the city he hates, cranking out a column of acerbic wit and caustic insight each week. There are three standalone stories in this volume along with a three-part tale.

Building on the volume 1 tale of humans rewriting their DNA to make themselves alien, all of the stories explore some of the different pathways of the human condition in the 23rd century. In "Boyfriend Is a Virus," we learn that you can upload your consciousness into a computer whereupon it will then be downloaded into a nanobot dust cloud. "Another Cold Morning" reveals what happens to those cryogenically frozen heads from the 20th and 21st centuries. "Wild in the Country" reveals that there are "reservations" where one can live any lifestyle from history, a memory wipe removing any trace of your past modern life. Even in the "Freeze Me With Your Kiss" story arc, we encounter a group of people who wear hazmat suits 24/7, the Total Solitude Culture.

But "Freeze Me With Your Kiss" has more of a story to it. Spider's ex-wife's head, which is in a jar full of cryonic fluid, has been stolen, and he's being hunted down by groups wanting revenge for past wrongs. I suspect that this is an occupational hazard of his that we'll see more of in the future.

"Another Cold Morning" was my favorite of the bunch. It's the subject of one of Spider's columns and gets at his sense of injustice, revealing how lousy people are. Spider's compassion is on display, in his unique way, in "Boyfriend Is a Virus" as he tries to help Channon, his assistant, deal with her boyfriend's selfish life choice.

Robertson's artwork is excellent, perfectly capturing the helter skelter insanity of normal urban life in the 23rd century.


Sunday, October 28, 2018

Book Review: Hellboy Volume 2 - Wake The Devil

book cover for Hellboy volume 2Volume 2 picks up where volume 1 left off. Defrosted WW2 Nazis are striving to build their "vampir sturm" army, but they need resources to build it and Vladimir Giurescu to finish the job. While the resource problem is quickly solved, ol' Vlad's been dead since the war and his body is hard to find. A year later, Hellboy and his fellow field agents from the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (I didn't realize it was located so close to home. I should see if they're hiring.) are sent to Romania to investigate.

The artwork is much like the first volume with lots of black ink: shadows and brooding darkness. Mignola is quite capable of evoking emotion and story out of the gloomier colors in his palette without seeming drab or dull.

Here in volume 2, Mignola takes over the writing duties and improves the storyline. There's a lot more dialogue and multiple POVs. There is quite a bit of infodumping up front, but it's done in the form of a BPRD briefing. The one thing I would've liked to have seen is more interaction between Hellboy and his co-workers. While on assignment, he's told that he has to go solo in order to cover more ground (not enough agents to go around) so most of the volume is him alone. There are a couple of conversations that teased at deeper connections which will hopefully be explored more in detail later.

As for our intrepid hero, Mignola brings out some of his charm during and between fights with his foes. He refuses to be anyone's pawn and will gladly clobber anyone who would have him be otherwise. Not only do we get more details on Hellboy's origin and purpose, but we get more insight into the villains in this tale. Sure they still like to monologue a lot, but this time they also carry on conversations with each other over friendship, faith in the Master, trust, and love. Still, one of my favorite lines comes from a resurrected Nazi general's disembodied head in a jar:

"Think. Why burn down the world when we can be its masters?"


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Book Review: Saga - Volume 3

book cover for Saga volume 3So volume two left off with a bit of a cliffhanger. Rather than pick right up where they left off, Vaughn and Staples rewind a few days to show our heroes arriving on Quietus to meet the author of the novel that sparked their relationship. There's a bit of exploration on how people cope with loss. Some depth is added to Marko's mom.

Meanwhile, The Will is hanging out on a planetoid with Gwendolyn and Sophie (formerly Slave Girl) waiting for AAA to come and repair his ship. Things are fine until he starts arguing with his dead ex-girlfriend. The problem is: No one else can see her.

There's a sub-plot involving a pair of investigative reporters trying to uncover the story about Alana and Marko. It serves to flesh out more of the universe the story inhabits. Something is revealed, but it could just be a red herring.

Eventually, the two forces hunting down our heroes converge on their location and force the conflict to be resolved—for now.

If I could, I'd give this 4.5 stars. I can't, so I'm rounding down. Why? Well, because of the way certain events were handled, I didn't finish this volume with quite the same feels. There were also some meta bits that seemed out of place. Nothing to really mar it, but enough to make it not nearly as awesome as the first two volumes.