Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Teaser Tuesday


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:

Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Chapter 2 of the Doctor Who novel The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock.

MY TEASERS:
"At which point a lanky, beaky, Harris tweed-jacketed individual wearing a rudely laundered grey-striped shirt and a small, not to say rowdy, maroon bow tie flung itself across his field of vision and snatched an arrow from the air just before it landed a few inches from his nose. The lanky individual then fitted the arrow into a bow he carried, drew back the string, aimed for the wotsit, hit it squarely in the centre before the bewildered gaze of the Judoon whackit keeper, and uttered a triumphant, if mysterious cry."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book #11

Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright. Hardcover.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright is one of the leading scholars of the New Testament of the last fifty years. His mix of scholarship (currently a department chair at the University of St. Andrews) and practical church work (formerly the Anglican Bishop of Durham) gives him a unique position among teachers.

His ability to write "up" to the scholar and "down" to the layman is again on display in this latest work, an unoffical sequel to his Simply Christian. This work places the life and work of Jesus in its proper first-century, Jewish context, explaining the "perfect storm" into which Jesus walked. The "perfect strom" metaphor is utilized by Wright throughout the book, referring to the culture of the Roman Empire occupying Palestine, the belief of the Jewish peole that a Messiah was coming to set things right, and the movement of God, working in Jesus.

Wright's discussion of the prior messianic movements, including those of Judah the Hammer and Simon the Star, is one of this book's stronger points. The context he puts these movments into helped me understand the potent mix of expectations and hopes that Jesus walked into.

As always, Wright's theology is shot through the concept of the Kingdom of God. His view is that Jesus' work was not to "lead people to heaven," but instead to bring Heaven to the Earth. This view of the now-and-net-yet Kingdom makes sense in the light of Wright's explanations.

This was a profound, and profoundly interesting, book.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book #10

Green Lantern: Sleepers, book one (ua), by Christopher J. Priest and Mike Baron.

Sleepers is a trilogy of novels created by Mike Baron and Christopher J. Priest. It is a stand-alone series, not novelizations of stories from the comic books. Each volume focuses on a different Green Lantern — book one focuses on Kyle Rayner, although Alan Scott and Hal Jordan are also appear in this first volume of the series.

To set the world of this novel, Alan Scott is a retired Green Lantern, now a succesful businessman. His daughter Jenny-Lynn possesses the power of the Starheart, giving her similar powers as Jade. She is dating Kyle Rayner, the current Green Lantern, who has gone through his stage as Ion. In the continuity of this story, former Green Lantern Hal Jordan has been Parallax and is currently The Spectre, the manifestation of God's divine judgment.

The story starts in the World War II era, where an American serviceman is given a strange ring by a mysterious alien. The ring stays in his family until the present day, when the serviceman's grandson Eddie Roach finds it. By putting on the ring, Roach activates the buried program of the ring, which slowly turns Roach into a manifestation of Green Lantern's arch-villain Sinestro.

This manifestation of Sinestro is being used by Qwardian weaponers to stage an invasion of earth from Saturn. They have ruined their own planet, and believe that Earth would be a suitable replacement. Unfortunately the Qwardian exists in an anti-matter univese, so their presence in our universe would end with an ugly explosion.

Kyle and Jade come together to fight Eddie/Sinestro. Many members of the Justice League are neutralized, much to Plastic Man's chagrin. But they are aided in their final battle by Black Canary and the Spectre. There are super-powered battles in space, on Saturn, and on Earth. The ultimate conclusion to the novel seemed to come quickly, but mostly made sense and fit the rest of the story.

I am not as knowledgable of Kyle's tenure as GL as I am of others, but the basic characterization of him in this novel seemed appropriate. He is a little self-centered, a little selfish, but at heart a good man. The character beats with Jade give us glimpses of his romantic side, and also his jealous side. These were nice breaks in the action.

I listened to the GraphicAudio version of the book. GraphicAudio has carved out an impressive niche turning DC Comics novelizations and novels into full-cast audio dramas. They are very well produced, with cinematic music and sound effects that almost always enhace rather than detract from the listening experience.

Green Lantern is among the most visual of comic book characters, which poses a challenge for an audio production. But the descriptions of constructions were find, and good audio presentation lets the listener's imagination fill in the details, maybe even better than a visual can.

In this one specifically, most of the voice acting was strong, especially Alan Scott, Hal Jordan, Eddie and Jade. Kyle is fine, as are Green Arrow and Plastic Man. Superman stands out in my memory as one of the weaker performances.

I enjoyed this as a fun light listen, and anticipate getting to the other two novels soon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mini-casts

I listen to podcasts of varying lengths. Many try to fit pretty close to an hour, but I prefer ones that let the episode breathe, running as long as they need to, whether that is 90 minutes, 120 minutes, 180 minutes, or even longer.

But I also appreciate the shorter podcasts, and wrote about some of my faves in a prior entry. To that original list, I would add a few more:

Fantastic Fourcast -- Dave Elliot releases 2 to 3 episodes per week, running 10-12 minutes each. Each episode covers a single issue of the classic Marvel comics title, The Fantastic Four.

The 20-minute Longbox -- As the name implies, this show is designed to be 20 minutes, and host Steve Lacey does a pretty good job at bringing his shows in around that time. This is also a comic book podcast (sorry, I listen to a TON of comic book podcasts), the unique aspect being that Lacey uses a random number generator to determine what specific issues he covers.

The Malex Minute -- Although this show stopped producing new episodes at the end of 2012, the shows are still up, and I highly recommend them. It is a hilarious show that chronicles the life and times of a fuzzy alien creature, a talkative laptop, and the poor human they live with.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book #9

A Thousand Cuts, by Simon Lelic. Hardcover.

A British school is shocked by a brutal shooting perpetrated by a teacher, who kills three students and a colleague before killing himself. The police are called in to perform a perfunctory investigation of the open-and-shut case. The murders took place at a school assembly, and were witnessed by hundreds.

But one investigator, Lucia May, the only female in her department, wants to dig further. She wants to uncover what caused the teacher to "snap." Her colleagues mock her for her tenacity, and her boss tries to warn her off the case. As she continues to dig, Lucia uncovers a culture of bullying, coming from both students and teachers, and officials choosing to ignore the bullying. This bullying and ignoring is reflected in Lucia's experiences in her police department.

This is an ambitious work, both in the subject matter and the prose style. The book is told in what seems to be a 2nd person POV, but what these chapters are, are Detective Inspector May's interviews. We are in essence "hearing" one side of a conversation, which puts us complete in Lucia's head. I am guessing that these sections make up perhaps two-thirds of the novel, while the rest of the novel is standard 3rd person format.

This is an ambitious first novel, and Lelic pulls it off. For as rich and deep as the work was, it read easily, but it leaves a lasting impression. I would enjoyed a more concrete conclusion, but I imagine that Lelic was not interested in giving readers a neatly wrapped-up story. I suppose the theme would not have been served by that.

Note: I heard about this book, and saw an interview of the author, on Adam Curry's Big Book Show app, part of his Big App Show app.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book #8

Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris. Unabridged audio.

This volume closes out Morris' 3-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It has been a grand undertaking, each book adding depth to portrait the painted in the prior books. What results is a very thorough portrait of a truly American man. Roosevelt was expansive in his rhetoric, agile in his thinking, and firm in his belief in American exceptionalism.

The first book of the trilogy covered the Rough Rider era, leading up to Roosevelt's elevation to the US Presidency. The second covered the presidential years, and this one covers his active post-presidency. Roosevelt was the first "modern" President in many ways, including remaining involved in politics and policy debates after leaving his office.

Morris' detailed writing shows a tremendous amount of research, and a deep understanding of his subject. Yes, it is on balance a positive portrait, but there is enough negative aspects to avoid hagiogrpahy. Morris spent so many years inhabiting Roosevelt's world, that I worried that he would fall into either of the biographer's extreme. But this volume walks that fine line well, erring neither on the side of deomonizing or glossing over. It was a very strong read.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Book #7

Doctor Who: Fugitive, by Tony Lee, et. al. Graphic novel.

This volume covers the first 6 issues of the 2009 edition, covering the 2-issue Silver Scream arc, and 4-issue Fugitive arc. These are adventures of the 10th doctor, although the issues are much in the style of the classic series -- every issue ends on a cliffhanger, for instance. There are many references to events and characters from the entire scope of the Doctor's history, although there are no major characters that appear.

The Doctor begins the adventure companion-less, placig the story somewhere in the "Specials" era. He arrives in early Hollywood (then still Hollywoodland) and meets actress Emily Winter and studio employee Matthew Finnegan. It turns out that the studio is in the middle of a Chronal Template, and in order to save Emily from having her acting talent sucked out of her by aliens, the Doctor has to violate the Shadow Proclamation. He is taken to the Shadow Proclamation to stand trial for this crime. Emily and Matthew join him, taking on the role of his companions, as he argues (and fights) for his life.

The writing is very strong. Tony Lee knows his Doctor Who lore, and weaves this history into the ongoing story very well. There are some awkward one-liners put into the mouth of the Doctor, but other than these few moments, the writing was clean. The story moved quickly, and there was a nice balance between exposition and action.

Judging art is subjective, and it is not an area where I claim expertise. But in these books, there is an additional concern beyond a standard critique of artistic consistency, proportion, movement, and serial storytelling. There is the issue of likeness -- this is the doctor as portrayed by David Tenant. There are some wonderful moments, wherein aspects of Tenant's characterizaion of the Doctor are captured, but there are many times when it looked less like the actor. I found myself distracted more often than I would have preferred.

This was a good read, and I expect to pick up the next trade paperback when it comes out.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Chapter 13 of Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris, the final part of his three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt.

MY TEASERS:
"Imagination, Roosevelt argued, did not have to be invention. In non-fiction writing, it should be no more than the ability to see and feel intensely what was there to be seen and felt."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Book #6

V is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton. Unabridged audio.

I started reading these novels about the time that "H" was published, and consider myself a very big fan. Kinsey Millhone is a terrific character, combining traits of toughness, intelligence, vulnerability, confidence, and doubt. This novel brings us into the worlds of small-city mobsters, corrupt cops, loan sharks, and organized shoplifting rackets.

Through 22 novels, Kinsey's life and personality have both changed, and maybe she has even become a bit more mature. This is not always the case in long series of novels, but these ones don't fall back on to formulas.

Some time around "O," (if my memory serves) Grafton began to move away from standard first-person POV into multiple POV format. This allows Grafton to expand the scope of these novels, allowing us to see events that Millhone doesn't, and for us to know more about what is going on than the protagonist does. This allows for suspense, as we worry about Kinsey getting into situations that we know may be dangerous.

I don't know if it was a conscious effort on Grafton's part, but it was nice to see one long-term subplot wrap up (or seem to) with only four novels left in the alphabet (and the series). I have high hopes that when I finsih "Z," I will be satisfied that a 26-book arc will have ended well. Ending series is not easy, but I trust that Grafton will be able to pull it off.

As always, the quality of the audio program and the narration are terrific.