Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book #62

Simon & Kirby Superheroes, by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby.  

I have reviewed specific  batches of stories from this book on this blog already (with more to come), so I don't need to write a long review on the book as a whole. 

The Simon & Kirby Library are beautiful hardcover collections of the comic legends' work for publishers other than the "Big 2" of Marvel and DC. The series has 4 more volumes, a "best of" and separate volumes covering their Romance, Crime, and Horror stories. 

There were moments in reading these stories that it was clear that these were 50+ years old, but there are also many stories and characters could walk right off the pages into the modern comic world. It is this mix of classic and timeless that demonstrate why Simon & Kirby's creations (most famously Captain America) still work today. Although this collection does not contain any specific character or story that is still relevant today, one can see from the work contained in this volume the same creativity and skill apparent in these "forgotten" stories. I was glad I picked this big book up.

Neil Gaiman's introduction and Jim Simon's essays added context and historical facts, much of which I used for my reviews.

Tuesday, November 27, 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 the prologue of Bitter Brew: The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer, by William Knoedelseder: "Untethered from both family expectations and company responsibilities for the first time in his life, Augustus IV quickly descended into an abyss. According to friends, family members, and court documents, when the police came for him in February 2010, America's last king of beer was holed up in his mansion, grievously addicted to drugs, gripped by paranoia, beset by hallucinations, and armed with hundreds of high-powered weapons, including several .50-caliber machine guns."

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book #61

Crucible of Gold, by Naomi Novik. Unabridged audio.

This is one of my favorite ongoing series. Naomi Novik presents a plausible narrative of life during the Napoleonic Wars. Except that the world contains dragons. These are not mythical beasts, not magical beasts, simply very large (and reasonably intelligent) animals. It is a great premise, and more importantly, Novik has spun some great novels out of it.

At the start of this one, Laurence finds his rank restored, although he does not believe himself worthy. But Napoleon's arms have reached Brazil, and the country (and her dragons) appear poised to ally with the French, via the powerful African Tswana empire. The British government sees Laurance and Temeraire as their best hope of negotiating peace in South America. But the trip from Australia to Brazil is fraught with peril, with death and despair rampant.

Napoleon makes an appearance in the novel, arriving in Rio with a retinue of dragons and gifts. Having left Josephine, he is available as a potential spouse for the queen of the Incas. This is the last thing that Laurence needs if he is to accomplish his mission. The sense of dread, of the long odds against success in this mission, add a great sense of drama to the book.

There is a bit of repetition here, as Novik may be running out of interesting places to send Laurance and Temeraire. But the character aspects are strong as always, and all the characters (both human and dragon) have had interesting arcs over the sweep of the series. The discussion of marriage in this book gave the characters something new to discuss, and there are surprising revelations throughout.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Quarter-Bin Finds!

The local comics shop in the town where I work hold a 25-cent sale, every 3 or 4 months. Most of the books in the quarter bins deserve to be in the quarte bins, but I have fond some fun and enjoyable reads there in the past. The last time, I spent under $5, and got some potentially great reads, including these:

I picked up Thor 409 simply because it has Doctor Doom on the cover,and the rightful ruler of Latveria is my favorite character in comics. To give context to the Doom story in 409, I grabbed 407 & 408. As it turns out, there is a slight cliffhanger, and now I need to track down 410!

I used to have the final 100 or so issues of Warlord, and sold them more than a decade ago in order to cut down my collection before a major move. Via the quarter bins, I have re-collected about 40 of these issues over the last few years, and in this trip I picked up the double-sized 100 and issue 125. I am a huge fan of Mike Grell's work, and although he was long gone from the title by the time these two issues came out, I remember enjoying the story (albeit not as much) after his departure. Disclosure: Although I have found many of the issues my original collection, I have not read any of them. There are sill too many holes in the run.

The terrific podcast From Crisis to Crisis is covering a particular range of Superman-related comics, and they are approaching the 1994 books. I enjoy "following along" with comic book podcasts if I have the book on hand (or can get it for a quarter!) that is being discussed, and the quarter boxes contained a few from this era.

Another podcast I am a fan of is Shawn Engel's Green Lantern show, Just One of the Guys. Shawn focuses on the character of Guy Gardner, so when I found Guy Gardner: Warrior 25, I decided it was well worth all 25 cents. The show will not cover this issue for another 4 or 5 months, but I can wait.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Books I'm Thankful For

In honor of Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow (in the US), I am listing book I am thankful for. These are not necessarily my favorite books, but books that have impacted me, books that I am glad exist, glad that I have read. There are listed alphabetically, so as to not imply an order:

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle. This was the first "real book" I ever owned. I assume it was a birthday present, from when I was maybe 10 years old or so. I still own it.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien. I remember reading it at the school library. I don't think I checked it out, I just remember going there regularly and reading a few pages at a time. It opened my eyes to the world of fantasy fiction, a genre I read regularly to this day.

The Holy Bible. For inspiration, wisdom, and truth.

Superman from the Thirties to the Seventies. A hardcover collection of Superman stories, published in the early seventies.

Tess of the d'Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy. I read this in high school, and it was the first time I could not put a book down. I was up until almost 3 AM one night to finish it. I re-read it every 5 years or so.

The World of Pooh, by A.A. Milne. We owned a hardcover version of this volume, which contains both Winnie-the-Pooh and House at Pooh Corner. I loved these stories, from having them read to me, to when I was able to read them myself. Somehow, my older sister managed to snag this book for her kids.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book #60

Renegades of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. Unabridged audio.

I confess that I am not as passionate a fan of Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels as some are, but I do enjoy reading one every year or so. What I like about this series is that each book tries to do something a little different, to tell a Pern story from a different location, or different time, or different point of view.

Renegades of Pern takes place in the general timeframe of the novel DragonFlight, and covers the time leading up to (and perhaps slightly past) the events of The White Dragon. But it covers the Southern continent, whose inhabitants have not been central to previous Pern novels.

This novel looks at the events from the perspective of the holdless, nomads who may have ended this way as a punishment, or who chose to live the free life. We meet Jayge, a member of a trader clan, and Aramina (who has a telepathic link to dragon), whose family had lost their holds through the cruelty and injustice of others. Whatever the reason one lives without a hold, living like that is a huge risk -- when the deadly silver threads fall from the sky to ravage the land, the holdless have no natural allies to protect them. There are no dragon-riders who will protect them. Lady Thella, a leader among the holdless, is trying to forge this nomadic people into a force.

This is a fine work, telling a range of interconnected tales of these holdless families and characters. I loved the ending of this story, which is the discovery of ancient artifacts that have important implications on the future (and the past) of Pern. This may have whetted my appetite for more Pern novels, and I will probably not wait as long as I usually do to pick up another one.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A medium, not a genre

In writing a review of the last arc of Y: The Last Man (to be posted here in the near future), I was writing about how great it was that in the 2000s, comic books had moved beyond their superhero heritage and were embracing a wide range of genres.

But I have been reminded by a series of entries at TheLongbox Graveyard blog that comics have long been a way of telling a wide range of stories, far beyond just superhero tales. Paul O'Connor often writes about his love for Marvel's horror comics of the 1970's, and for Master of Kung Fu and Conan. 

To be fair (to me), Paul is a few years older than me, so these particular books were not on my radar screen when I started reading. The only non-hero comics I ran across in my early days of reading were the decidedly not-very-good Gold Key Star Trek, and the disappointing Logan's Run adaptation. These experiences colored my opinions of non-hero books for more than a decade. So I firmly set my feet in the "capes & cowls" world of the mid-seventies, becoming a fan of (of course) Batman and Superman, but also Flash, the Legion of Superheroes, Iron Man, and Captain America. 

There was a local comics shop within walking distance of my college campus, and that was the first time I browsed full shelves for reading, as opposed to subscribing to a few titles, or picking from the limited selections on the spinner rack at the local drug store. At this time, independent comics were breaking into the mainstream, and some of the ones I liked the most from these publishers were non-hero books, including the excellent Jon Sable Freelance (First Comics, 1983), from Mike Grell, whose writing and art I have always been a fan of. Over the years, I also discovered Somerset Holmes (Eclipse, 1983), Eternity Smith (First, 1986 & Hero, 1987), Evangeline (Comico, 1984 and First, 1987), Maze Agency (Comico, 1988 and Innovation, 1989) and Baker Street (Caliber, 1989). 

Somehow I forgot all of my love for these non-hero books when I began to wax poetic about the 2000's boom in this style of books. Yes, these publishers were unstable, and some of these books did not last very long, but I was simply wrong in thinking that the comics world has recently moved from superhero to non-hero books. 

Comics have always been a medium, not a genre. And even though Superman and his powered friends have always dominated comics, there have long been creators using the form to tell very different types of stories.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Guys Show!

We have done some exciting episodes the last few episodes of the Book Guys podcast. Go to the website or check us out on iTunes. And if you like what you hear, leave us a review, and maybe even 5 stars!

Episode 57:We had some audio issues, dealing with the Frankenstorm on the East Coast. We spoke with Brian D. Anderson (for the second time in a few weeks) co-author of The Godling Chronicles series. He was riding out the storm, speaking with us on a cell phone from his automobile (he wasn't driving, he was just in the car). We also talked to Carl Brookins, about his book Reunion, and he was a total delight.

Episode 58: This was a guestless show, or as the say on the Nerdist podcast, it was a hostful show! This one included our discussion of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Shadow, as well as comic book news and other interesting stuff.

Episode 59: Scott McKenzie joined us all the way from England, to talk about the new version of his seasonal book, Krampus: A Christmas Tale. We played the brief audio version of the book, and also talked about Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet. And other stuff, too!


Tuesday, November 13, 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 8 of Crucible of Gold, a Temeraire novel by Naomi Novik:
"In any case, his ornaments of office would have lent even a lesser beast enormous gravity. A band of gold was wrapped about the top of his throat, set into a woolen collar with a tassled fringe in a bright green color, which stood markedly against the deep inense violet of his scales."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

New 52 Review: Aquaman 1-6

 Aquaman: The Trench Hardcover Collection, by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Rod Reis. 

Aquaman was the surprise hit of the last year's New 52 initiative from DC Comics. His book continually sells in DC's top ten, and critical reaction has been equally as positive. And the good news is that the book deserves all of this praise.

Issues 1-4 introduce a great new villain, the Trench, unthinking monsters of the deep that just want food. And by food they mean humans. The 4 issues are mostly an extended battle, with some action-packed art. The entire art team (penciler, inker, and colorist) is at the top of their game here, putting out dynamic page after dynamic page.

  Issue 5 is a solo story featuring Aquaman lost in a desert, but issues 6 is the best of this batch. All Mera (don't call her "Aquawoman") wants to do is buy food for the couple's new dog. She ends up breaking one man's wrist, escaping from the police, and nearly killing an escaped murderer. What makes this issue great is not just how great Mera looks when she is kicking butt (though this is part of what makes this issue great), but Geoff Johns and the art team are also able to communicate just how "other" Mera is. The "stranger in a strange land" motif has been used many times in many types of stories, but this version is terrific. The joint misunderstandings between humanity and Mera cause both sides to err. But this makes her commitment to serve humanity at her husband's side at the end of the issue all the more touching.

There is meta-narrative at work in these issues, as well. Aquaman is considered a lame hero, nothing but the guy who talks to fish, which is a commentary on how comics readers felt about the character before this series started. There is no reason to think that in the less than five years that Aquaman and Mera have been present on Earth (per the New 52 timeline) that these feelings would have generated, but this is Johns' way of commenting on readers' preconceived notions of the character. The scene is issue 1 where he orders fish and chips at a seafood joint is terrific.

The art team will be leaving the book in the near future, moving on to DC's flagship Justice League book. They deserve this honor, but it does leave fans of Aquaman wonder what is next for the king of the seven seas.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book #59

Hell's Bay, by James W. Hall. Unabridged audio.

Throughout Hall's prior dozen books or so, the character of Thorn has played the role of reluctant hero. He is a loner who would like nothing more than to spend his entire life in the Florida Keys making a meager living as a fishing guide. But circumstances never allow for that, and he always finds himself wrapped up in adventure, drama, and danger.
The combination of Thorn's first-person POV and other characters' third-person POV is a style that I have run across more all the time in modern thrillers or mysteries, but it always strikes me as awkward at first. But once I got used to this style choice, I could enjoy the story itself. Hall writes in a very lyrical way, and his books have a very easily-readable feel to them. His thrillers tends to possess a nice combination of plot, character development, description and dialog.

Thorn has been talked into partnering with an old flame in upscale fishing-guide business, which thrusts Thorn out of his comfort zone and into having to engage in small talk with customers. When it is revealed that the first batch of customers are in fact Thorn's long-lost relatives, he grows even more uncomfortable. When it is revealed that the woman murdered in the first few pages of the novel was Thorn's very rich businesswoman grandmother, his discomfort turns to dread. As the fishing expedition proceeds, the killer tries to pick off members of the party, leading Thorn into a face-to-face confrontation with the killer, a woman seeking revenge. It turns out that the family business (which Thorn has just learned about) has damaged by the woman's family through its business practices.

Thorn's old buddy Sugarman, former deputy and current private investigator, looks into Thorn's newfound family and learns of the death of the grandmother. The local sheriff has declared the death an accident, but Sugarman knows better, and he finds the evidence to prove the sheriff wrong. And he senses a deeper conspiracy involved in the murder and the cover-up. These two plot threads converge in a logical way, and the end of the novel is very dramatic.
This story lays the groundwork for a potential change in Thorn's life and lifestyle. The next book will tell how much of a change actually happens. And I am looking forward to finding out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

This Week in Reading

I always have an unabridged audiobook going, as well as an old-fashioned paper-book going. It doesn't happen very often, but a few times a year based on chance and probability, I finish both of these on the same day.  That is what happened yesterday (reviews coming in the next week), and I am not totally sure what I am going to start next.

I read the dead-tree version of James W. Hall's thriller Hell's Bay, and the only reason I actaully "read" that one was that my library has most of Hall's novels on audio, but not this one.  This novel came out a few years ago, but I put it of, waiting for the audio to become available -- but it didn't. Last time I checked, the audio of the next of Hall's novels is at the library, so I will pick it up soon. I am looking at a non-fiction book as my next paper-book, but we'll see.

The audio that I did listen to was Anne McCaffrey's Renegades of Pern, which is about the 10th Pern novel I've read. I am not passionate about the series, as some are, but every year or two, I pick another one up and generally enjoy it. Next up for my earbuds is probably another dragon-related novel (purely a coincidence), the lastest novel in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Retro-review: Captain 3-D!

The only issue of this comic came out in December 1953, published by Harvey Comics, and created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.

Originally, readers needed special green-and-red glasses to view this comic, but the reprinted version in the Simon & Kirby collection restores the story to its original art and full color, both for the first time. The restoration is very well done, as there is no evidence that the book was intended solely to be read in 3-D. And there are no obvious 3-D "tricks" in the art, that the movies of the time so often relied on t oemphasize the gimmick.

The story is a classic sci-fi/fantasy tale: a mysterious book finds its way into the hands of young Danny Davis, enabling him to use magic glasses (hidden inside the book) to bring Captain 3-D from the pages of the Book of D into our world. Captain 3-D reveals to Danny that he is part of race of humanoid survivors,  all but wiped out by their enemies, the Cat People. Following a destructive war, the elders placed their great champion in the pages of the magical Book of D, of which Danny is now the guardian.

The stories in this issue mostly involve the return of the Cat People, and Captain 3-D's battle against them, although he and Danny do a little old-fashioned crime-fighting, as well. In our realm, the Captain possesses strength and speed beyond those of normal humans.
It is certainly a crazy premise, but it is also an interesting read as a curiosity. This comic series lasted about as long as the fad did in movies, as this one issue was the only one published.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Walking Dead, issues 25-36.

The key plot development in this series of issues if that we are introduced to the Governor, a man who runs the nearby town of Woodbury.  He is violent and cruel, but has managed to keep his people relatively safe. The man is obviously a villain from the perspective of our heroes, but I like that Kirkman does show that his reign of terror has been effective in its own way. Perhaps this type of "leadership" is what is needed in this horrific new world.

In a horrifying reveal of exactly how crazy the Governor is, we know that we are seeing in the Governor what (the newly disfigured) Rick may become . After escaping from the Governor, Michonne does some unspeakable things to the man with her sword. Upon fleeing, we see that he may indeed be alive after all that. But that won't come back to haunt Rick and the gang, I suppose. {SPOILER: it does}

Kirkman continues to focus on the theme of man's inhumanity to man, that the living may in fact be a more dangerous threat than the undead. This volume contains lots and lots of blood, relatively little of it zombie-related. The act of killing, relentless killing, even of the undead, even to survive, leaves its mark on the soul.

But the strength of this series, what has turned The Walking Dead into a modern classic, is the quiet scenes that serve as a counterpoint to the zombie horror.  Whatever the surroundings, humanity does persevere, and life does goes on. We get some wonderful scenes of life going on, as a baby is ready to come, and a young couple is figuring out how to get married in this terrible new world.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book #58

Ender's Shadow, by Orson Scott Card. Unabridged audio.

Not exactly a "sequel" to Ender's Game, this book is closer to being a "co-quel," if you will. It covers the same time frame and events as Game, but this one tells the story of Bean, and Ender Wiggin is merely a supporting character. This change of POV is an interesting idea in storytelling, and the fact that Card is able to in essence tell the same story again in an engaging way is impressive.

The first 80% of the book was very interesting, as the focus on Bean was something entirely different from what I've already read in Game. The introduction of the character of Sister Carlotta helped add originality to this novel, successfully placing the novel in a different world from its predecessor (literally and figuratively). I appreciated much that this new character represented, and felt that she added depth and a sense of reality to this very sci-fi world. The story of Bean's early life in this novel more compelling to me than Wiggin's early life in Game, and Card does a great job explaining the complicated psychology (and physiology) of Bean. 

But the last few chapters of Shadow, the most plot-heavy parts of the novel, felt too familiar. The ending was a highlight of Game, with a terrific twist that I did not see coming at all. The tension that was thick in Game is much lessened here, as the ending of the story is already known. The ending states of the characters were not known, and Card does a good job filling in those, but the story is such a critical part of both Shadow and Game, that is hard to make that part of the book compelling.

The character of Bean, and the overall world that Card has created in these novels, make this a worthwhile read. I will pick up more books in from this world, continuing with either (or both) the Wiggin stories, or the Bean stories.