Month: April 2011

Creepers

Creepers

Creepers cover

I read Creepers by David Morrell today. (Published 2005)  It only took an afternoon and an evening to read it.  It is rather gripping in the sense that it is an action novel with plenty of “suspense.”

Disguising himself as a journalist, Frank Balenger, ex-U.S. Army Ranger and Iraqi war veteran, joins a group of “Creepers,” also known as infiltrators, urban explorers—men and women who outfit themselves with caving gear to break into and explore buildings that have long been closed up and abandoned. Though what they’re doing is technically illegal, participants pride themselves on never stealing or destroying anything they find at these sites. They take only photographs and aim to leave no footprints. This gang infiltrates the Paragon Hotel, an abandoned, seven-story, pyramidal structure built in 1901 by eccentric, hemophiliac Morgan Carlisle.

It starts out quite good. I was unsure where the story was going – but I was certain that wherever it was going, it was gonna be a creepy, suspenseful trip.  The buildup and background for the story was unique and interesting and really creative. The characters, particularly Cora and Rick, were really one-dimensional. Dialogue for these characters was not done well. They spoke just to move the plot along, not because they were dynamic, full characters.

I was actually really interested in the storyline – starting at the hotel in the beginning and moving into the tunnel-drains.  Finally, as the characters moved into the Paragon Hotel, I was thinking that this book was going to be really good.

But the book went somewhat downhill with the introduction of three young, goofy criminals. I was annoyed that the creepyness was ruined by these goons. I was on the edge of my seat until the kids with the surplus night-vision goggles entered the story. Think about it:  an eccentric builds a huge, pyramid-shaped hotel around 1900. The hotel has hidden passageways, a secretive penthouse, and creepy old furnishings. This is good stuff for a nighttime “urban explorer” theme.

After we meet and deal with the three dummies, we are then introduced rather violently to someone else who is in this old hotel that is about to be demolished:  the true menace!  And, at this point, I gave up all hope of the great and scary suspense novel.  I settled in for an action read. I was pretty annoyed when it turned out that the menace of the book has a sordid past based on sexual abuse as a child and he has taken his mental issues out on random girls he brought to the hotel. (He didn’t molest them, just killed ’em.) Anyway, blah blah. Its always back to sex as motive/motivation for modern authors.  I would rather have read the surreal creepy novel that I started with than the shootout with the crazy dude. This isn’t a bad novel, there’s not much in it that is R-rated. Its pretty much pg-13 for a novel. But I wanted to read the scary novel instead.

I think I rated this one a bit lower because it wasn’t what I, personally, felt like reading. I could probably give it 3 stars on a different day.

2 stars

Dune Messiah

I finally read Dune Messiah.  I re-read Dune Messiahapproximately every two years, but I never read any further into the “series.”  I knew at once, after completing Dune, that the rest of the books would pale in comparison.  Dune is a perfect novel – and perfect novels are extremely rare. So, finally, I decided to read Dune Messiah. I am glad I did and I want to read the rest of the series, but as I knew:  its not Dune.

This novel is set roughly twelve years after the events that took place in Dune.   At this time, Paul Atreides is the emperor of the universe.  When he accepted the role of Mahdi to the Fremen, the Fremen launched the Muad’Dib’s Jihad.  This was basically, a political/religious jihad on all of the planets within the universe to accept rule by Atreides.  60 billion people have perished as a result of the Jihad, which has spiraled out of the direct control of Paul Atreides.

Paul has also failed to produce an heir to the throne.  This becomes a court intrigue and a stepping stone for the enemies of the emperor.  The conspirators seek to infiltrate and force Paul Atreides to ruin.

If the above reads like a political thriller in space, that’s because its the mere barebones of the novel.  In reality, the novel reads like an esoteric, LSD-induced rambling.  Most of the novel involves Paul’s emotional/psychological visions, oracles, and prescience. This makes for some really challenging reading.  I assume most people drop the book when they read these parts because they just don’t want to be taken on a crazy ride.  Herbert draws heavily from Zen, Taoist, and Muslim esoterica. He melds these into the storyline by focusing on the key players:  Paul, and Paul’s sister and Paul’s wife. There are definite point in the novel where the reader has no idea what’s going on, and loses track of the amorphous babble. (The dwarf character, Bijaz, is exceptionally maddeningly bizarre.)

Dune Messiah oldI felt reading this book that I had stumbled into a book that a weird PKD + Nietzsche clone wrote after having gotten high from a mixture of hallucinogenics. Trust me, there are some parts that are just plain “out there.”

However, this novel also has some of the same gripping strength of its precursor.  There’s something unique, dynamic, and deep about the story and the characters that make you keep reading.  Most novels are written in a sort of “news report” sort of way.  For example, person X experienced event y, which caused event z…. and so on.  Herbert doesn’t bother with long descriptions and news-reporting. This makes the book both interesting and unbearable.  Dune is the planet which provides the spice melange. And the whole universe is addicted to it. And when reading this book, you feel like maybe you have ingested some melange and are experiencing a melange trip.   I wish there was a better balance to the book – delving into the subconscious “awareness-spectrum” stuff, but also more straightforward storytelling.

I don’t know that I like Paul. He’s likeable and hateable all at once. I am quite certain that I do not like Alia, his sister. But she’s the one left standing at the end of this novel, and I am dreading the next novel because I am certain it will focus on her.  The ending of this book is tragic, but then, the whole book is filled with a heaviness and a darkness. It is not a book of optimism and hope. However, there certainly is not another book like it.

This is not necessarily a great read. But it is an important read, if you can make sense of that.

2 stars

Kris Longknife: Mutineer

Kris Longknife: Mutineer

Kris Longknife: Mutineer

Kris Longknife: Mutineer is the first book of Mike Shepherd’s “Longknife” series starring the character Kris Longknife. It was published in 2004.

I like military space science fiction. Of course, we are all familiar with Honor Harrington so this book gets compared to David Weber’s novels frequently. Female main characters, military in future space, etc. There are a lot of common elements. I am not entirely familiar with the Honorverse, I have started the first of the H.H. series, though.  From what I can tell, Longknife is a better character straight out of the gate. She’s interesting and more developed. However, Weber is the better storyteller.

Kris Longknife is a young ensign in the Navy. (Someone’s Navy. Wardhaven? Earth? Other???) She comes from a wealthy family with plenty of political and military history. Her mother is a bit of an idiot. Her younger brother was assassinated.

I liked this novel, don’t get me wrong. However, there are many elements that the reader should just read and not spend another moment thinking about.  This novel (and the character) are involved in a lot of political/governmental drama.  Shepherd doesn’t really make it easy to follow, though.  A lot of times, when Longknife is dealing with her family, I just read it and pretended that I knew exactly who was who. In reality, I have no idea who her family members are. I feel like she has something like 18 grandfathers….

The supporting character, Tom, was interesting to a point. I figured he would be a potential love interest, but (thankfully) that never developed. Instead, Tom is just a yes-man for Kris. I tired of him being constantly “out of his element” and “surprised.”

The universe in which this (and the rest of the series) is set is a big place and we are sort of thrown into it in media res.  A small chart/graph might have been helpful. In some places its just:  someone is fighting someone for some reason. On some planet. Also, its future stuff – so there are ships made of adaptable and controllable metals. There are a variety of different ships that aren’t really explained to us. Again, the reader just takes it all in stride.

The story contains several adventures of Kris Longknife. I think the stories should show a progression through a larger storyarc, but they kind of fail at that. At the end of the book there are still a number of questions that don’t get answered (but that’s why there are more books in the series, I suppose.)

Overall, from an impartial, purely honest standpoint – this book probably should only barely get 3 stars.  However, personally, I like this sort of theme and while I got lost in some parts, got preached at in other parts, and just felt let down in others, its still a good read. It was still fun and interesting as long as I didn’t worry too much about things and just kept my eye on the main character. I own several other books in the series and will probably read them all eventually.

3 stars

Analog Science Fiction and Fact March 2011

Analog March 2011

Analog March 2011 cover

I finally finished reading the March 2011 issue of Analog.  I have to say that it was not as good as the first issue I had read, and that may account for my slow reading of this issue.  There are 8 stories contained in this issue.

Contents (fiction only) and my rating:
Rule Book  – 1 star
Falls the Firebrand  – 2 stars
Hiding from Nature   -2 stars
Julie is Three  -3 stars
Timeshare  – 4 stars
Astronomic Distance, Geologic Time   – 3 stars
Taboo   – 2 stars
Betty Knox and Dictionary Jones   – 4 stars

The first story, “Rule Book,” started out interesting me, but it was very long and went absolutely nowhere. I suppose some argument could be made discussing the utility and purpose of robots in the future.  However, overall, the story was just too long, too boring, and too uninteresting to be given a good rating from me.  I think reading this story as the first in the issue somewhat tainted my enthusiasm for reading the rest of the issue.  Overall, the story seemed to shift its focus a lot and the ending was just downright rotten.

The second story “Falls the Firebrand” had a lot of potential, but it ended up just being a dull entry.  After having read the first two stories, I was somewhat disappointed.

The third and fourth stories were a bit better, though not by much.  They were rather dismal in tone, though.  I felt that “Julie is Three” was unique, but just not fascinating.

The next little writing piece was “Timeshare” (a one page “story”).  This was one of the best pieces in the book.  It was perfect for what it is – a quick one-page read that had just enough wit to it.

I really don’t know what to say about Jerry Oltion’s contribution to this issue “Taboo.”  I guess I expected better from him.  He’s a good writer – that much is obvious. However this story is definitely taboo. (Its not graphic or vile, don’t be misled.) But I just really didn’t like this at all. I gave it two stars because the writing is definitely among the best in the issue.

The last story is easily the prize of the issue and is fun and well worth reading.  There are elements of crime, love, and time travel – which makes this story super. Reading this story and “Timeshare” are really the only worthwhile reads, but that being said, they are indeed worthwhile and probably shouldn’t be passed over.

I believe that the cover art is taken from the story “Falls the Firebrand.”  I wish the story was as interesting as the cover depicts.

MEAN:  2.625
MEDIAN:  2.5
MODE:  2

Avengers #235

Avengers @35

Avengers #235

So, I started going through  my Avengers issues.  The earliest issue I have that has surrounding issues and makes sense to start with is #235. Its kind of a random place to start, but its also what I have to work with.  I have #234, but I’ve already gone over that issue in a elsewhere – specifically focusing on the Scarlet Witch.

#235 was written by Roger Stern with art by Bud Budiansky for September 1983.

The issue begins with repairmen working at Avengers Mansion.  (Apparently, this is the result of something that occurred in Fantastic Four #257).  Wasp is flitting around nagging and bossing the workmen.  Captain America is there as well, and he seems to be in a sour mood.  We soon learn why he’s so sour:  he is worried about the Avengers.  Thor has left the team temporarily to attend to a personal mission in space (Cp. Thor #334).  Iron Man has recently given up the suit because he has fallen into his alcoholism.  The reservist Avengers, Scarlet Witch and Vision, are both in the medical lab – the Vision is in a medical bed in some sort of “coma” while the Witch hovers over him.  Vision had been injured in a battle with Annihilus, which occurred in Avengers #233.  Basically, Wasp is chairwoman of the Avengers, and the Avengers now consist of Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Captain Marvel, Starfox, and She-Hulk.

She-Hulk has been called in from the West Coast and she is jogging through NYC where she meets up and banters with Spider-Man.  She relates to him that as an Avenger, she gets paid $1,000 a week.  Of course Spider-Man is awed and regrets having passed up the chance to be an Avenger himself – back in issue #221.

The National Security Council contacts the Avengers and requests their help.  The Wizard has escaped from the Vermont Federal Penitentiary and the NSC asks the Avengers to help relocate the criminal mastermind.  Wasp gathers her team and divides them into two groups.  Captain America will lead the Witch and She-Hulk to check out The Wizard’s home.

Of course The Wizard is at his home and has been devising defensive measures.  And, actually, that’s the biggest reason I like this issue.  I really like traps and puzzles for heroes to contend with.  She-Hulk is “trapped” in a room with two doors, when she goes through one door, the room “spins” and so she just, basically, walks back across the room to the first door. And then she repeats. Finally, she gets wise and makes marks on the wall to help her ascertain what is happening.  Naturally, when she finds out, she just starts knocking walls down.

The trap for Captain America seems pretty intense, honestly.  He enters a room wherein zero-gravity has been established.  As soon as he enters, he floats into the air.  This isn’t so terrible, however there are also a lot of high-intensity lasers installed on the walls which shoot beams at Captain America. So he has to time his movements in zero-gravity to avoid these beams.  In order to escape, he uses his shield to knock out a few lasers, and then he finds a working laser and shoots the rest.  There is a frame depicting this where there are 15 lasers shooting at him. This is rich!  Good old 1980s comics!!!! Woot!!!

The Scarlet Witch enters a room which, I think, is the most creative and interesting.  Her trap is a room that a field effect that generates a pocket of non-causality.  We are told that all actions have an equal chance of occurrence inside the room – nullifying Witch’s powers. I won’t give any more away, but suffice it to say, the Avengers capture The Wizard.  They also realize that Wasp is quite a cunning Chairwoman for teaming them up as she did.  The mission made the Witch feel better about Vision, made Captain America focus on more than woes, and made She-Hulk feel participatory in the team.

Originally this comic issue cost .60¢.  I think that was a steal. Even though I didn’t have any of the background story (e.g. what happened with Annihilus? why is the Mansion a wreck?), I was able to read along and enjoy the story.  We saw Captain America worried and intent on training and missions.  We saw Wasp, as the oldest Avenger on the team, making wise decisions as their leader.  Finally, we had a cameo by Spider-Man.  The villain was stubborn, smart-until-dumb, and the challenges he presented were interesting.   My world as a kid was very DC and not very Marvel.  So its kind of fun to return to these older issues and read a good story that I didn’t have to get lost in backstory with.  And even though this team is not the original, traditional Avengers, there is plenty of character dynamism involved to make the team engaging.

4 stars

The Guild: Seasons 1 & 2

The Guild

The Guild: DVDs

If you have never played an MMORPG and you are not a geek in any way, shape, or form, then this review (and perhaps this series) will be a complete mystery for you.  I recently ordered and watched “The Guild” seasons 1 and 2 from Amazon.com.  Got all the episodes for $9. Watched them in one afternoon, and enjoyed them and was sad when the last episode played.

What’s it all about?  This is from the official website:

The Guild is a independent sitcom web series about a group of online gamers. The show started in the late summer of 2007, and for the first season was financed solely by Paypal donations from fans. Since season 2, The Guild has been distributed by Xbox Live and Microsoft and sponsored by Sprint.

Episodes vary from 3-8 minutes in length, and follow the Guild members’ lives online and offline.

However, this doesn’t really give you enough information.  The idea is one that I am surprised no one else came up with – because its an obvious one.  It has been spoofed many times in different media (TV shows like “Big Bang Theory,” and comics, movies, cartoons, novels, etc.) However, this show is literally based on the idea.

And what is this idea? Its the idea of Felicia Day.  She plays the main character in “The Guild” – this is what Wikipedia has to say: The show revolves around the lives of an online guild, The Knights of Good, who play countless hours of an unnamed video game. The story focuses on Codex, the guild’s Priestess, who attempts to lead a normal life after one of her guild-mates, Warlock Zaboo, shows up on her doorstep.

Felicia Day played in a number of TV shows (including 8 episodes of Buffy the Vampire and 1 episode of House), and smaller movies before The Guild.

The show is absurd and silly and funny.  It is particularly heavy on the lingo used in MMORPG’s, so if you are ignorant of that, I can see that this will be a bit frustrating for you.  Also, leave your sensibilities at the door, because they will trample on you with double entendres, figures of speech, idioms, metaphors, etc.  What goes on in the first two “seasons” is when the people in the online guild spill over into the “real world” and interact with each other. True to the stereotype, these online gamers have very poor social skills and chaos ensues.  The status between “guildie” and “friend” blurs as they struggle to successfully interact in the real world.  Sure, at some point someone will complain that this series mocks online gamers and that gamers are not dysfunctional retards. True. But this series is not about the best online gamers, but the stereotypes. And that’s what makes it funny.

I liked these episodes and feel I did get my money’s worth. I would be interested in pursuing it further. At this time, I believe the crew has organized for a fifth season.  I think the show is definitely not for everyone….. but neither is MMORPG-ing.  The actors are pretty good. I really hate Vork and Zaboo is insanely annoying – but I admit Zaboo is played by an actor who is really doing his best. Felicia Day is excellent as is Tinkerballa, played by Amy Okuda.  Okuda does a very good job.

All in all this was a fun afternoon viewing and while I cannot recommend to everyone, I can recommend to everyone in MY Guild.

3 stars

Booster Gold (1986) #2

Booster Gold (1986) #2

Booster Gold (1986) #2 cover

This issue’s story is largely about the fact that in issue #1, Booster Gold failed while fighting Mindancer. He failed publicly, and the media is eating him alive. A lot of people who are involved in Booster’s life as it is a commercial product are pretty ticked off at him because of this.   Booster does a have a few folk that are sympathetic to him, but overall, he is feeling alone.  He tells Skeets:  “I went into this thinking about the money and the celebrity. I knew the media was going to make me – but I never realized they’d just as soon break me. We’re a little out of place here, Skeets and we can’t even go home.”

Mindancer was able to take STARs satellite guidance system from Booster without too much trouble.  Booster and Skeetz realize this and attempt, in this issue to deal with Mindancer in such a way that they can avoid the same mistakes.  However, it seems the villains have developed a new strategy, too, involving Blackguard destroying Skeets. Mindancer is clearly the more formidable opponent of the two, such that even those who have hired Mindancer and Blackguard are exasperated with Blackguard’s own failings.

The question on the cover:  Can Booster defeat Mindancer and Blackguard before Skeets is destroyed? — isn’t answered in this issue. You gotta keep on reading to find out.

3 stars