Month: August 2013

The Crossroads of Time

TheCrossroadsofTimeThis morning I finished The Crossroads of Time by Andre Norton (1912 – 2005).  It was originally published in 1956.  The edition that I read is the ACE 1980 version.

Chapter one is a really good example of how to get the reader engaged in a book straightaway.  Instead of giving us a long lead-up or background, we meet the main character in a hotel room. By page two, we meet a gunman, and by page three the main character is a bit of a hero.  Hello, Blake Walker – your life is about to change. Thanks for rescuing Agent Kittson.

Anyway, after reading the first chapter, I basically knew that I would be in for a penny, in for a pound, so to speak. Blake Walker is thrust, by his having been a bit of a hero in the hotel hallway, into a new paradigm in which he learns that travel between his world and parallel worlds is possible.  He learns that there are criminals who are intent on traveling betwixt worlds in order to cause mayhem and distort those worlds’ natural progression of history.  Blake also learns that there are psi’s – persons who have advanced mental capabilities such as telepathy and telekinesis, etc.  In fact, Blake may actually be a psi.  So much for going to art school. . . .

Overall the writing is fast-paced and the story tends to feel like an action thriller.  There is some science fiction in here – but only as a background skeleton to the story itself.  For example, not a whole lot is detailed out on how/why some of these scientific items operate.  They just do.

Unfortunately, there are some flaws in the book.  For example, chapter four.  I have no idea what happens in that chapter – and I read it thrice.  I just could not figure out what happened. Sometimes, writing “action” scenes is tricky.  At least comic book writers have help from their artists to help show you what is going on.  Another thing, the title…. well, since this is not time travel (Cp. Quantum Leap), but rather traveling laterally across a variety of parallel worlds, I feel that the title is misleading.  It is not the crossroads of time.  Finally, other than Blake and Kittson, the other characters kind of blend together and are not really all that distinct or memorable.  I know this is a short-action piece, but maybe a little more distinction between characters would have helped the novel not seem so jumbled at points.

In any case, I am glad I read this.  I had fun.  It was a decent read.  But I wish it were a little bit better.  As I understand it, there is something of a “sequel” as well, though I do not own it.  A good read for someone who just needs a little science fiction and does not want to invest too much into a story.  I admit, I’m probably being a little bit harsh with this one.

2 stars

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Etiquette & Espionage

Etiquette & Espionage – Gail Carriger; 2013

Continuing in my efforts to read “fun/light” things, I finished Gail Carriger’s Etiquette & Espionage.  This is a young-adult novel published in early 2013.  It is the first novel in the Finishing School series. Overall, I really think the concept is good.  I like the idea of a “finishing school” that is actually an espionage school – yet does not neglect the etiquette part of the schooling.  I think that Carriger is a witty and insightful author – and more than anything, she hands-down knows her subject and background. 

Carriger is the pen-name of Tofa Borregaard.  She has several academic degrees and writes novels.  She also seems to dress the part – as she dabbles in history and fashion of the (what seems to be) Victorian era.  In all cases, she has a charming smile and seems to do well with fans. I read the first novel in her first series (Parasol Protectorate) and enjoyed it.  I found it humorous and entertaining. 

I like the main character in Etiquette & Espionage.  I also like the supporting characters.  There’s a good variety of different characters which suit the storyline.  Carriger even includes some of the vampire/werewolf items which now seem mandatory in all young adult books.  Thankfully, these characters are not written in the same way as in other books.  The focus is on the humans and their adventures.  Also, no one sparkled (except a young lass at the school named Dimity, who really loves jewelry).

The characters are charming.  The story starts off wonderfully, immediately capturing the reader’s interest.  The main character, Sophronia Temminnick, is an astute and sharp character.  She is a hassle to her socialite family, and her mother is pleased that a finishing school is interested in taking Sophronia off of her hands and perhaps turning her into a calm and reasonable young woman.  Sophronia, of course, is not completely thrilled with the idea of finishing school, but she is not exactly overwhelmed with freedom and fun at home. 

Naturally, when Sophronia arrives at the finishing school she does not fit in.  She is too rugged and wild.  But her smarts get her through and she manages to win over the hearts of several of the other girls at the school.  As well as make a few enemies. And, as the storyline progresses, Sophronia learns to enjoy the espionage she is studying and she also is gradually learning social graces and etiquette, as well.

All of that is very fine and good.  However, the whole finishing school is a dirigible that floats over Dartmoor.  There are mechanimals – steam-powered animals and mechmaids and mechbutlers – which are steam-powered robots that clean and work on board the dirigible.  I know that this series is set in the same overall world as the Parasol Protectorate.  So, I supposed it must include a variety of the same things.  But, honestly, I feel like the Steampunk stuff actually did not help the story.  I, frankly, would have enjoyed the concept if we left out most, if not all, of the steampunk stuff.  Maybe that’s just because I am a cantankerous philosopher, but I still think the idea is good – but it was slightly overworked for this novel.

Just a mention of the cover – I like it.  It does look “girly,” but it also has an element to it that makes you wonder what this book is about. I bet I will be reading the second installment when that is released.

3 stars

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Revan

RevanI have been trying to read some fun items.  Just pulp and comics and franchised stuff.  Light reading without lugging any tomes around.  This weekend I read Drew Karpyshyn’s Revan.  Published in 2011, the storyline comes from the Star Wars video game “The Old Republic,” but it fits in early in the overall Star Wars Universe timeline.  One does not need to have any experience regarding the game to enjoy the novel.  Overall, it is a good three-star weekend read.  I borrowed my copy from the local library branch.

The main character is supposedly Revan – a Jedi who fought in the Mandalorian Wars. He was always a bit of a trouble-maker Jedi, and during the wars, he was turned into a Sith Lord.  Eventually, the Jedi re-turned Revan to his Jedi-training.  However, they also wiped his mind.  The novel begins with glimpses into Revan’s troubled memory.  Readers will probably be reminded a bit of Marvel’s Wolverine character in this respect.

Revan is an okay character – but I cannot say that I found him terribly interesting or that he induced any sympathy.  In fact, I feel more chapters are dedicated to Sith Lord Scourge – who is actually a really good character.  Scourge is a warrior hero who is making a name for himself off-world of the Sith  baseworld.  He is recalled to the service of Darth Nyriss on the baseworld of Dromund Kass.  Through a series of exploits, misadventures, and capturing Revan, Scourge develops as a really cool character in the Star Wars Universe.  He gets caught in murky betrayals, tests, and bickerings among the Sith Lords and Council members.  He becomes adept at more than just combat.  Upon meeting Revan, he begins to discover new depths to the Force and his encounters with it.  Overall, if you read this novel – it should not be for Revan, but for Scourge.

The last half of the book is where the action comes in.  The first half is a bit sluggish and seems to rely a bit too much on the video game. e.g. going out on quests, completing them, turning them in and then continuing on in a questline.  However, the second half of the novel gives us history and background on the Sith Emperor and a couple decent fight scenes.  Lightsabres abound.

I’m glad I read this – it was fun.  I liked the background on Darth Vitiate.  I did enjoy following Scourge around and watching his character develop.  And the villains – Nyriss and her cronies – were acceptably villainous.  Also, I liked the concept of the dead-world Nathema.  I kind of do hope someone else picks up threads of the character Scourge in other places in the Star Wars franchise. Fans of Star Wars and/or fun should be okay with this novel.

3 stars

The Flash Vol. 1: Move Forward

The Flash vol. 1: Move Forward – DC Comics; Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato

I have been working my way through a number of the first volumes of DC’s New 52 comics series – the ones that I do not have on my pull list.  So far, I read Animal Man, which I thought was a bust, and Demon Knights, which was really good, but as of issue 23 or 24, it’s been canceled.   The next volume I read through was The Flash.  This volume is really good and I do wish I had gotten on board and put it on my pull list with issue #1.   The first volume, entitled Move Forward, collects the first 8 issues of the series.  This is a neat thing because frequently these hardback/tradeback volumes only collect five or six issues.

This series, so far, has had creators Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato and I think they have done a fantastic job.  Everything works well in these first eight issues.  The DC New 52 was supposed to be able to introduce and draw in new readership who have not been involved in comics or who are unfamiliar with DC’s universe.  Not all of the New 52 series have accomplished this goal with a seamless and non-confusing presentation.  The Flash, however, definitely succeeds – and probably the best of all that I have read.  Excellent work on that point.  Secondly, I love all of the art.  I love the covers – and the variant covers.  I love the interior art.  I also am really impressed by each individual issue’s splash page – the title pages are actually “artistic.”  Go figure! Real design in a comic book!

The Flash #3 variant cover – Jim Lee; DC Comics

The storyline is decent.  The first five issues (in terms of the story) were not absolutely awesome and amazing (or whatever words are used today to describe really cool things), but the story was solid and readable.  Not every story is a rock ’em shock ’em big deal and a huge universe-spanning event.  The storylines here are good and solid and accessible – so precisely what one should demand from a comic series. Therefore, I have no complaints.

The characterizations are also good.  It struck me while reading through this volume that of all the superheroes that DC has, I think working on The Flash has to be the most fun.  I cannot imagine the creators not having fun with this.  He’s fun to draw, fun to write.  And I think that fun shows through in this volume.  It is not goofy or silly (sometimes Spider-man is intolerably goofy), but Flash is fun.  And if comics do not, at the end of the day, contain any fun – what’s the whole point?  The supporting characters are also developed nicely; Patty Spivot and Iris West are interesting and do not seem to be there just as filler characters.  In this series, Barry Allen has a lot of good qualities and can definitely sustain a long-term ongoing comic.  And that, too, is precisely what readers should be looking for.

I think this title got over-looked and treated poorly by readers who got all caught up in Scott Snyder’s Batman title and with the Grant Morrison working on Action Comics thing.  However, while Batman has been excellent, the Action Comics title has suffered a lot.  Meanwhile, The Flash has been solid – at least through the first eight issues – and I think readers ought to give it a chance – or even a second chance, if that is the case.  I really enjoyed the art and design and the character is fun and good.  This is a five-star volume.

5 stars

The Big Four

TheBigFourThe Big Four is Agatha Christie’s fifth Hercule Poirot book, fourth novel.  I enjoyed it, Poirot was a lot of fun, and it was good to have Hastings back in the story.  It was originally published in 1927 and some of the language is not as politically-correct, as we say nowadays, as one would think.  Christie was, obviously, a spunky and sharp-witted woman.

The Big Four is perfect for people who are new to Poirot, I think, and don’t really enjoy cozy mysteries.  This is really a mystery/thriller and really seems a prime candidate for some film company to use as a summer blockbuster.  Adjust a few things, get a couple solid actors, and shazam! a movie.   The storyline speeds along much quicker in this novel than in the previous ones and there are more physical confrontations.  In the previous novels, Poirot and Hastings do not really deal with situations in which they are in true physical danger.  Generally, they are involved in intellectual battles.

The Big Four is actually an international group of anarchist criminals.  There are four and we are to believe that they have a hand in many worldwide occurrences.  In fact, today, we would call them a terrorist cell.  Christie, I feel, was trying out Poirot on a big stage – international events and crimes that affect the world, not just some small UK village.  I kind of want to ask Christie:  “So, how do you feel about Poirot and Hastings on this level?”  I think Poirot is much more charming on a smaller scale, but I do want to say that this story seems to make Poirot even more unbelievably impressive.

At points, the reader will truly feel that Christie is pulling a bit too much from Doyle’s Watson, Sherlock, Moriarty, Irene setup.  And I’m okay with it.  Other readers may want to complain about using a recycled idea.   Another small complaint:  Hastings rushed off to Argentina, but in this novel it seems like he is in England with Poirot (and for no other reason than hanging out with Poirot) for at least two years.  I mean, what was all the googly-eyed romance about his wife about if he can take off to England for years?  This was a bit odd.  On the other hand, yeah, we missed Hastings, so who cares about his silly wife in South America?

I probably should give this novel 3 stars.  However, I am giving it 4.  I cannot help myself… I still love Poirot and Agatha is a Dame Commander, so who am I to criticize?  I think I will try to cast this movie in my head this evening. Should be a fun supper activity.  And thinking about a book after the last page is done good and read is a good sign!

(Not to put too fine a point on it, but OF COURSE I have to give this FOUR stars!)

4 stars

Demon Knights Vol. 1

Demon Knights, Vol. 1 – DC Comics

After returning N. Gaiman’s The Sandman Vol. 1 to the library, I picked up Demon Knights Vol. 1.   Demon Knights is a title DC introduced as part of their New 52 reorganization/reboot in 2011.   I confess that I was not/am not fully versed in DC’s magic realm. I know of The Phantom Stranger and I know of The Spectre, but that’s about it.  The demon Etrigan and his connection to Merlin and Vandal Savage has a vague and fuzzy image in my brain.   However, I saw this tradeback sitting on the shelf and could not resist.

This volume collects issues #1-7 of the title.  I had no idea what to expect and after reading it, I am a happy reader. The title has survived the various “waves” of roster moves that DC made since the New 52, which is good.  (Some titles, like Blue Beetle, didn’t last.)  Overall, the story is interesting and the art is suitable.  It’s not perfect, the flaws are there, but I think as a whole this title adds a diversification to the DC lineup that allows readers to read something different than a Bat-title (how many are there? 6? 8?)

So, when I say that I had no idea what to expect, I mean it. I just enjoyed the cover for a few minutes and then started turning pages.  The story starts off at the fall of Camelot.  Arthur is dead and three women are in a boat taking his body to Avalon.  Excalibur is tossed into the waters – but Xanadu, one of the women in the boat, dives after the sword.  We are then taken to the castle wherein we are given something of a point of departure for the demon Etrigan.  Merlin has summoned and captured the demon.  Jason of Norwich, a young boy, enters to tell Merlin the castle has fallen and they must flee. Merlin then “fixes” the demon to Jason.  Moving forward in time, we meet Mordru and the Questing Queen.  They are marching their horde army through the land to Alba Sarum.

That’s basically the first issue.  And while it is a bit in media res, the careful reader can follow the storyline well enough.  Part of the impetus of the New 52 was to re-introduce readers to the DC universe – without the readership having to be familiar with the entirety of DC’s history.  I think this is done in this issue/volume, but it does take some patience.  In some places in this volume, it seems like a simple battle book.  I think that the “demon knights” are made distinct enough by the writer (Paul Cornell), but I also think that the storyline moved really fast.  We are given some background story on some characters, perhaps enough to keep readers curious, but maybe not enough to keep us invested in the scenarios.

I like Conan and Kull and so this title works for me.  I like the dark ages feel to it, with the debates of battle-strategy, magical elements, and questions of personal honor and destiny.  The pacing was a bit too quick for me and the Questing Queen seems too distant/unknown to me.  Also, I’m kind of guessing at how the magic powering works… people seem to “power down” and “power up,” but I am not entirely sure how that works exactly. Madame Xanadu is definitely a good character and has a lot of fun frames by the artist.  Also, the covers done by Michael Choi are really pretty.

I definitely want to read the next volume – and I hope DC keeps this title running.  Overall, I’m going to give this volume 4 stars.

4 stars