1 vs 1: Red Sonja vs Surviving Megalopolis

vs Red Sonja & Surving Megalopolis

1 vs 1 is where two comic books battle it out in a winner takes all contest to see which one I’ll continue to purchase and which one gets dropped.except when I decide to keep reading the second one anyway.

Winner: Three way tie between Red Sonja and Gail Simone and Marguerite Bennett

The Contestants

There are so many first issues out this month with so many interesting story lines it seems overwhelming.

The Favorite(s)

Gail Simone. Not only is the writer for Surviving Megalopolis, she had an amazing run on  Red Sonja and coordinated Dynamite’s cross over event Swords of Sorrow which set the stage for Marguerite Bennett to begin her run on Red Sonja.

So while only one of these two walks away. Gail Simone has a share in both. So she wins either way. An historic first if this completely made up competition that is less than a year old.

Marguerite Bennett has had what I consider an amazing (and overlooked) run on Marvel’s Angela. Both in Angela Assassin of Asgard and Angela Queen of Hel. Angela is a character that is not dissimilar from Red Sonja. And Bennett has done some remarkable storytelling on those titles. Having her follow Simone on the title is equal parts: good fortune and a no brainer.

The Match

  • Red Sonja
    • Doesn’t explain the change in Red Sonja’s wardrobe. And it doesn’t need to. Good call on Bennett. The last thing the story needs is 6 panel explanation on why a warrior needs to wear cloths. If any explanation is owed it is the previous chain mail bikini that needs to be explained. And not by the writer. By me. To my wife… So this is the first time a print version of Red Sonja made it into my house. (Digital is a totally different story).
    • There were a couple pages where I didn’t understand the sequence, which took me out of the story as I tried (and failed) to understand what was going on. I don’t mind not understanding a sequence, as long as I’m not supposed to understand it based on what I’ve read. But this had the feel that I should have known.
    • Red Sonja’s characterization had it’s moments, but it also had a few moments where I wondered if Red Sonja was being written too soft. But at the end of the story we begin to see a familiar Red Sonja emerge. There’s potential that this could carry through well into the next issue. I hope that’s the case, but I’ve had my hopes crushed before so I won’t hope to the point of convincing myself that the second issue will be action packed Red Sonja madness.
    • The Art by Aneke was fantastic.
  • Surviving Megalopolis
    • Little did I know that Surviving Megalopolis is a continuation or follow up to Leaving Megalopolis. It looks brilliant. Both in terms of art and storytelling. It’s just not a great place to start the series from.

What Others Think

Red Sonja Vol. 3 sold out. So, retailers have good things to say about Red Sonja. Surviving Megalopolis hasn’t received that many reviews, so eh.

Final Thoughts… a Question Really

I noticed the variant covers for the new Dynamite titles can be put side by side to form a larger image. An obvious tactic to cross sell titles. Each of the covers for Surviving Megalopolis are a piece of a larger image. Is this part of Gail Simone’s play book?

One Two Review: Snow Blind

One Two Review is a series that reviews the first two installments of a comic book as one whole.

Snow Blind is a 4 issue crime/mystery written by Ollie Masters with art by Tyler Jenkins and published by Boom Studios.

Why I Picked this Title

Aside from super heros, comic books produce a couple other genres. My experience (which is minimal) is that Horror and Crime are the two other genres that are regularly published. But since they are almost never published by Marvel or DC, they aren’t nearly as accessible. Especially Crime. There maybe a handful of titles a year that are published by the smaller companies.

So I feel pretty compelled to pick up a crime story when one comes out.

What Others Thought

Most of the reviews I’ve read have been positive. I can’t recall a single negative review. More importantly, both issues have received reviews from sites that normally focus on super heros.

What I Thought

I mixed feelings about the first issue’s story, or set up. After reading the second issue it becomes clear that this is one story told in four installments. Not 4 stories that when read together becomes 5. That works for me. For these types of titles, I benefit from rereading the previous installments before reading the current one.

The pace is good, the characters are never in one place for too long. And the dialogue doesn’t dominate over the art. These are two very important elements for any comic book, but seem particularly hard to pull off in a crime story.

One thing I noticed was that there was a polar bear on the cover and in the story the news in the background covers a wild animal that viewers are advised not to approach. But we never see the animal. Is the wild animal the wolf or fox we saw in the first issue? Or is it the polar bear on the cover? It’s a clever device, and I hope it leads somewhere.

The art by Tyler Jenkins is a healthy stylistic departure from the familiar comic book art. What I find interesting is that the characters are always easily identifiable, which is challenging for a non-super hero book (that’s why super hero’s have distinctive costumes).

So with two down and the story building, picking up the second half of the installment is a no brainer. If you haven’t started the series, it may be worth waiting for the TPB.

Would I read it to my kids?

No. The violence feels a little too real for an 8 & 5 year old. But it’s not overly dominate. When they start showing interest in crime dramas they might enjoy it, but then at that age I probably won’t be reading to them.

One Two Review: Sherriff of Babylon

One Two Review is a series that reviews the first two installments as one whole.

Everyone knows that Comic Books are the medium that do super heroes the best. It’s so prevalent I often wonder why we haven’t started calling them Super Hero books instead. But other types of stories that are published in the comic book medium. Some are extremely impressive. Like The Sherriff of Babylon written by Tom King and published by Vertigo.

It is set in Baghdad, but clearly feels like a western. I’m pretty confident that was the intent because it has the word “Sherriff” in the title. It also blurs the line between detective and crime fiction.

In any case, the premise is that one of the trainees from the new Iraqi police was murdered and his body was left in the Green Zone. And since it is a trainee the American trainer (Chris) needs to handle the body… and really the murder investigation since Baghdad is lawless at this point.

And the the rest of the explores that lawlessness. In gritty and suspenseful detail. Most of the time the reader witnesses this violence away from the main character, so readers know way more than the main character does. This is a common device in writing and Tom King leverages it masterfully at the end of the second issue. We know the person assisting the main character is a deeply disturbed individual. So when he says to the main character, to stay outside while he enters a sketchy apartment, we know nothing good is going to happen in that apartment.

Not surprisingly the main character comes charging in with his gun drawn. But there’s a little bait and switch. The other guy is saying things that are out of place. So out of place that I went back a page to see if I missed something about a cat. Then I just assumed that something caused the guy to come completely unhinged. This goes on for several panels and then at the end it all makes sense (holy moly do something about the freaking cat!)

The end of the second issue has had me thinking for the last several days. The story is so well written that I am fully engaged in it, but can’t make any my normal wild speculations because it feels like anything can happen and everything is at stake.

The one speculation I’ll make is that I don’t see happy ending to this story.

The Sherriff of Babylon would make a great movie, if a movie studio was willing to send a production crew and A list actors to Baghdad for months of filming. The cinematic feel is owed to the impressive work of artist Mitch Gerads. For now the only medium this story will be available for you to enjoy is as a Super Hero Comic Book.

Will I Read it To My Children?

I try to answer this question at the end of each review. The short answer is No. But I will probably recommend it to them when they’re older.

Gotham Academy #14 is like…

…American Idol. Wait am I dating myself? Would America’s Got Talent be more timely?

In either case, the January issue of Gotham Academy reads like a talent show with 3 unique stories from 3 different teams (and the main story to tie all of it together). It appears this format will continue for two more issues.

Quick disclaimer: My posts are usually minimally edited drafts which may have a kernel of insight or humor. If I waited until I had a perfect draft, I wouldn’t find the time and it would stay in my drafts folder hidden away from the world.

I still feel new to comic books, but not so new to know that these types of issues are common practice for comic books. So familiar enough to know what it is; new enough not to know what everyone calls it. I’m going with ‘3 story format’.

After losing two of the three all stars who brought the idea to life, I’m convinced this is the best course for Gotham Academy. Since it’s beginning the art of Karl Kershl has been front and center. Most reviewers love it (including me) or others can’t stand it. But everyone notices it. Still, the series itself is story driven and full of drama, mystery and obscure characters from Batman story lines. It is a fun series from Kershl, Brenden Fletcher and Becky Cloonan.

But now Fletcher is the proverbial cheese that stands alone and the series will need to find an artist to fill Kershl’s spot. Or fans will have to accept a different style.

Gotham Academy #14 showcases 3 very different styles. This is an important distinction from the other time the 3 story format was used, in Gotham Academy Endgame. That was part of a tie-in to a story for a different Gotham character, but #14 (15 & 16) aren’t tied to any other story. I imagine that 15 & 16 will continue to challenge fans with bold and unfamiliar artistic styles.

Cloonan’s influence on the dialogue was missed (or what I imagine her influence is). Olive and Maps are certainly close friends, but Olive is a complex character and shoulders all the emotional weight that comes with that complexity. Maps is a virtuous, imaginative and excitable superfan. The dialogue fell a little short of what we normally see from these two. But then again, it isn’t a normal issue.

It’s worth mentioning that in both 14 & Endgame, the story featuring Isla MacPherson was my favorite.

I’m grateful that this interlude is taking place in between arcs and not being shoe horned into the middle of an arc.

One final note about the artwork of Karl Kershl. Gotham Academy tells the same story in print or digital. But the medium is different and Karl Kershl’s art (more than any other artist) is clearly intended for print. Gotham Academy was one of the titles that convinced me to buy print copies, instead of digital. I was already buying 1 or 2 print comic books a month, but it was the first time I actively tracked down back issues that were not in the store. Meaning… it was the first time I bought comics from ebay. It’s a thing that can’t be undone.

 

A Rebirth at DC

DC_Rebirth

Yesterday some important people at DC Comics posted a simple image that suggests something big is happening. I have no inside scoop and but here are my random speculations and questions.

  1. A renumbering of titles. That would make sense if a publishing company is going to have a ‘Rebirth’.
  2. An attempt at tighter continuity or maintain the current loose continuity?
    1. The previous tighter continuity of the New52 required Batman to have 6 Robins in like 3 years (or something almost as ridiculous). It also complicated the Batman Eternal storyline when Batgirl’s character was redesigned.
    2. The post convergence continuity is a lot looser. The Wonder Woman in the Comic has a different costume than the one in the Justice League. It allowed for titles like Bizarro, which was a hilarious departure from the grim and gritty universe is at stake (but not really… because reboot!) of the DC Universe. The looser continuity also allows for titles like Dark Knight III, which has been a huge boost to DC.
    3. My own opinion is that DC’s continuity has been disrupted and beyond repair for decades. I like to current focus on trying to write better stories and worrying about continuity later.
  3. More Digital First Comics?
    1. I have no proof but this seems like an unmitigated success. DC chops up a story line into thirds and then does a print run. It’s a good way of proving that the title has enough demand to sell through the more expensive channel.
  4. Price hike?
    1. While I’ve tried to steer away from super-hero titles in my reading. The prices of DC (usually the lowest) keep me in. The ads aren’t any more distracting than the ones in Marvel’s books. But I’m much more likely to pick up an ongoing DC title than an ongoing Marvel, based on price alone.
  5. Weeklies? or Bi-Weeklies?
    1. I read an internet rumor that DC was going to start printing some titles twice a month, but in the past couple years DC has produced some titles weekly. (Batman Eternal being a rather important one for me).
  6. ?
    1. Will DC follow Marvel’s lead and include vouchers for digital versions of the purchased book? In part to justify a price hike?
  7. Tying in or Aligning with TV and Movies?
    1. Very few of the characters that are on TV are remotely close to their characters that have books… assuming they have books. There are a few inbetween stories told in comics of the TV shows, but they aren’t even alluded to a little bit in the shows.
  8. What’s going to happen to the titles I’m reading?
    1. Black Canary… ok I actually was planning on stopping after the first arc, but the end of the first arc was inconclusive. They have a great set up now for what could turn into a long run. If they align the character to what’s on tv… it will end before it even started.
    2. Gotham Academy… The series has had a strong start, but has had to deal with the typical tie ins that disrupt the momentum. It could have a nice long run. But it feels incredibly fragile.
  9. Will titles ship on time?
    1. This has been a problem since DC’s move to LA.

That’s all I can think of for now… What else am I missing (or got wrong)?

 

Review: The Quantum League #1 (Spell Robbers)

Quantum League 1

There are two types of books I read to my children. The ones I read to them and the ones I will read on my own after they’ve gone to bed (abandoning my normal mix of comic books and genre fiction).

The fact that I’m bringing this up should tell you what camp Spell Robbers (the first of three installments of Matthew J. Kirby‘s Quantum League) is in.

I’ve only recently been exposed to Middle Grade level novels. Not to be confused with grades in middle school. For those of you who don’t know it targets readers age 8 -12. From what I remember from the writing group I periodically attend this has historically been a hard group to break into because parents always have their go to favorites, which often times were there parents favorites.

But recently going through GoodReads it seems that there has been a lot of growth in recent years. I’m guessing because the target market still buys physical books. In any case, these books seem to be taking the space that comic books used to fill… when they were primarily sold to children in that same age group.

So getting back to the book and why I thought it was amazing. In a word: Drama. A lot of the elements can be found in other stories (regardless of their medium). Sorcery, Jedi Mind Tricks, Leagues of Superheros and Villains…. but these elements are surrounded by a well defined and imaginative context which makes them feel original and not at all a distraction from the continual escalating tension between the characters.

Personally, my favorite stories are ones where a virtuous hero faces an ethical dilemma on top of whatever other thing they are facing. Spell Robbers raises challenging questions about authority, power, good and evil, and collateral damage. These are grown up themes which makes it incredibly engaging for an 8 year old (my 5 year old did not share our enthusiasm).

An exciting story like Spell Robbers will usually result in fans craving for a movie. Surprisingly, I’m against that. The story is best told in a novel because what makes the familiar elements feel original can’t be translated well to film. And therefore a movie will seem derivative and sadly detract from an excellent story.

The book does not conclude with a cliff hanger, but it leaves plenty to be resolved in the next two installments. According to the author’s website the second book is completed, but it seems the publisher (Scholastic) hasn’t announced it’s release date.

If you, dear reader, know the release date then please  let me know in the comments.

Is Sword of Shannara a Rip off?

I just finished the Sword of Shannara (SoS) by Terry Brooks. Like many books I read, I wait until I’ve finished to check out what others think. And wow are there people who do not like this book. Practically all of the unhappy reviewers claim (or rant) that it is a rip off of Lord of the Rings (LoTR).

I’m not in that camp. I enjoyed both SoS and LoTR. It has been more than 15 years since I’ve read LoTR so I’m sure to remember some of the tory incorrectly. If you are curious I read Scions of Shannara first which is a 4 book cycle that is 2 books after SoS. I also read most (if not all) of Brooks’ Landover series. Not long after I read LoTR and 15+ years later I’ve read SoS.

Undeniably there are a lot of similarities between the two. A tall magical man charges a younger character to journey to a council in a faraway land where a quest is commissioned with representatives of different races. There is also a reluctance to travel through a mountain but inevitably both parties do it. And there is the defense of a walled city from an invading army.

There are many other elements that appear to be similar become entirely different on closer examination. Many readers (including some professional critics) skip that closer examination and jump right to claims of copying or plagiarism. Some of the more polite attacks have claimed that SoS is “overly derivative”.

So here are the differences I notice which distinguish SoS as a separate story from LoTR.

First, the setting. Middle Earth is a secret history of our own Earth. It is a story during the age of the Elves which predates the age of Men. SoS takes place in a post apocalyptic earth. In addition to the location is the time elapsed in the story. If I remember correctly the events of Fellowship of the Ring take place over a year. SoS takes place over several weeks.

Next, each story has a unique premise. LoTR is to deliver a magical artifact into enemy territory in order to destroy it and therefore destroy the enemy. The premise for SoS is to retrieve a magical artifact and then confront the enemy with it.

I found the premise of LoTR to be weak. Why do they need to travel all the way into enemy territory to destroy it? How does the destruction of the artifact cause the demise of the enemy? I know there are answers to this but it asks a lot of first time readers to buy into it.

A weak premise doesn’t make an inferior story. It means that first time readers will struggle to stay interested. Looking back on it, nothing in Fellowship of the Ring hooked me into the series. It was all external factors. Mostly, my friends telling me that it was worth it. (It totally was.)

On the flipside, I had no problem becoming interested in SoS.

The main parallel that readers and critics seem to draw between the two are the characters. Again, this is something that makes sense on the surface, but to me ultimately fails on closer examination. And I’m not talking a detailed analysis. Here are how the characters are generally equated by critics…

Shea = Frodo. They are similar in the sense that they both fit the archetype of a reluctant hero and that they are forced into their initial journey by being chased by bad guys. But that is the extent of it. Shea is half elf who was raised by humans away from elves. His entire elvish family has been wiped out, a fact that is unknown to him. Shea’s bloodline is what ties him to the sword. The hope of the story lies in the fact that Shea will be able to use the sword in a direct confrontation with Brona. Frodo on the other hand is a full blooded hobbit who inherits a magical ring from Bilbo and carries it with him wherever he goes. Anyone could carry the ring on the quest. However, it is more advantageous for a hobbit, because the ring has a different effect on hobbits than it does other living things. I think the Frodo is selected in order to contain the effects of the ring to as few people as possible.

Flick = Samwise. These two are both devoted to the hero of their stories. Both are practical. But Flick is Shea’s equal, and as I remember it Samwise more or less follows Frodo’s lead. Samwise is silly and silliness isn’t part of Flick’s character.  Samwise is always by Frodo’s side in his quest. Flick is not always with Shea. The two characters aren’t even opposites. They’re just different.

Allanon = Gandalf. Both are tall magical men that assemble and lead the quest. Gandalf is a friend to hobbits and puts on firework displays for them. Allanon is unrecognizable to the people of Shady Vale.  He is known to them only as a myth. Allanon is already on his mission at the start of SoS, while Gandalf starts his mission after LoTR begins. Allanon is the last of his kind. Gandalf is one of many in an order. There is a scene that is reminiscent of the Gandalf’s battle with the Balrog. But Allanon’s reappearance is more immediate and more easily explained. In many ways these two characters are opposites.

Balinor = Boromir and Faramir. As I recall Boromir and Farimir have very different temperaments. Boromir serves as an antagonist within the fellowship. He holds the belief that they can wield the ring in their own right. Balinor is none of these things. I don’t remember much about Faramir, but I do remember that he wasn’t part of the quest.

The critics arguments really begin to deteriorate when they can’t decide which character has been repurposed from one story into the other. As we see with the next comparison because it once again involves Balinor.

Balinor = Aragorn. Aragorn is a king in exile. Balinor is a prince who lives in his kingdom and is loved by his subjects. Aragorn has no family. Balinor’s father is King and his Brother is next in line to the thrown after himself.

The matching of characters continues to fall apart when other critics insist that:

Menion Leah = Aragorn. really? No. I call BS. Prince Menion Leah is a long time friend to Shea and reluctant acquaintance of Flick. Aragorn was the heir of a major kingdom in exile and a complete stranger to the hobbits. Menion was a prince of a small kingdom that is tucked away from the border kingdoms. Aragorn was an ally of Gandalf. Shea brought Menion into the entanglement against the advice of both Allanon and Flick. Menion is an experienced *hunter*. He is not a formidable warrior like Aragorn.

And just to round out the indecisiveness about which LoTR characters appear to be represented in we have

Menion Leah = Merry and Peppin. From what I can tell critics have made the connection because Menion is from out of town.

There’s one more worth mentioning.

Orl Fane = Gollum. Both characters become obsessed with the relic in the story. In SoS, the narration on more than one instance refers to the artifact as being precious to him, which draws the undeniable comparison to Gollum. But the Orl’s attraction to the sword is so different from Gollum’s obsession. For Gollum it is a multi-century addiction of the ring’s magical power. He is tormented when he is apart from it. Simply put: the ring has control over him. Orl’s obsession is originally based on greed, possibly restoration of honor, but towards the end Orl’s obsession is one of desperation because it is the only earthly thing he recognizes as his mental faculties have eroded so severely. And this is without the effect of the sword’s magical powers. When those are tapped Orl’s relationship with sword changes significantly.

In the end there are other key characters and events in LoTR that don’t have a counterpart in SoS. And Vice Versa. The authors have two very different writing styles, which could be a separate post altogether. There are just too many distinctions to lend any credit to the “rip off” label that is so casually tossed around.

Put another way, If SoS was a true rip-off, reading it would spoil LoTR. Which it clearly does not. At a bare minimum a rip-off would provide insight into what happens in LoTR and SoS provides none.

Upon reflection, my primary irritation with all the complaining that SoS copies LoTR is that the ones criticizing are overlooking or forgetting key elements of LoTR (which they all clearly love).

In the end lets not be fooled into thinking one must join team SoS or team LoTR. You can love both equally or in different amounts or in different ways. You can dislike entire portions of either book and still enjoy both stories.

You can also dislike SoS and like LoTR. You can claim it is a rip-off. But for reasons I’ve already stated I just don’t understand the claim.

 

Chewbacca in The Force Awakens

Been a while since my last post, but since then I’ve read some awesome stuff and seen Star Wars Episode 8. This post contains spoilers, but if you’ve arrived here chances are you have seen the movie or are actively seeking spoilers (even if you say you aren’t).

My own feelings are that 1) the movie was fun, 2) I’ll probably see it in theaters again, 3) I’m looking forward to the next installment, and 4) if I think too hard on it the plot falls apart. But I’m okay with that (see reason #1).

I guess you could call this post a counter point to some of the reviews that are out there. Many of the reviews are positive, but some very detailed ones are extremely critical.

 

One the common criticisms is Chewbacca’s behavior in the movie, which I am here to defend. Specifically the complaint is that that Chewbacca would never have let Han into that situation.

Let’s level set here. Chewbacca is a fictional character. I’m not defending the actions or inactions of a fictional character. If I were, then Chewbacca shouldn’t have let him onto a narrow bridge over a bottomless cavern not because there was an emotionally stunted force wielder on the bridge. But because there were no hand railings on the bridge! So ridiculously easy to fall off.

Again, I’m not defending behavior; I’m defending the writing. Better yet: I’m answering the question if the previous body of work supported the characters actions.

For starters, it has been some 30 years in Star Wars time since audiences have last seen the character. It’s fair to allow some latitude in his behavior. In real time, it’s been a lot less than 30 years because Chewbacca makes an appearance as a General (I think) in Episode 3. A General. Not a rank giving to a youngling. So basically, Chewbacca’s old. Really old. I read a blog that estimated he was over 200 years old. That part of the writing I’m not happy with, but I’ll deal with it.

Even with a geriatric Chewbacca factored in, was his character inconsistent from previous installments? Was there a time in the previous movies where he allowed Han to go to his certain doom without a fight? You betcha. In Empire Strikes back, Han ventures off by himself on a ton ton in search of a missing Luke Skywalker with minimal chances of survival. I know at least one person reading this will know the odds C3PO translates from R2D2.

Chewey’s character doesn’t shield Han from making high risk decisions. He helps Han deal with some of the consequences of those decisions. Chewey’s storm trooper tossing freak out in Cloud City was that Han was truly and completely defenseless.

The other thing we need to know about Episode 7, is whether Chewbacca knew that Han wasn’t coming back? I raise this question because Han’s character was acting as if he knew he was not coming back from Star Killer base. What actions am I speaking of?

I can think of 2 from memory of the a 6am showing several days ago:

  1. Abandoning his winter coat. Chewbacca is the one who gives it back to him and Han isn’t pleased about it. At the time, I thought it was a joke. Chewbacca acting as the parent and saying it’s cold outside, and Han rolling his eyes as if he were a child caught… going outside without a jacket. But Han hates the cold. Remember his obnoxiously huge winter coat in Empire, and his disdain for the planet Hoth in general? On reflection, Han was busted. Not because he had forgotten his coat, but because Chewbacca knew he wasn’t planning on coming back.
  2. Handing all the charges over to Chewbacca. As someone I know mentioned, “There was only one reason to do that.” (Granted the discussion we were having was centered on when we… audience members… knew that Han was going to be killed.)

At least to me this seems like enough evidence that Chewbacca knew what was up. And that Han had made a decision.

After Han’s murder at the hands of Kylo Wren, I think it was Chewbacca who fired the shot that injured Kylo Wren. That part of the scene I take issue with because Wren had force stopped a blast early on in the movie and now allowed himself to be hit. One person commented to me that this is believable because of the emotional turmoil going through Kylo Wren. And in that case, I will give equal measure to Chewbacca’s emotional turmoil influencing his aim. Also… Wookie’s like 200 years old and doesn’t wear glasses. I really shouldn’t nitpick about his aim.

Drawing my meandering thoughts to a close. The details of the writing is consistent and supports Chewbacca’s actions. But perhaps it would have been easier for the audience to be more in the moment if Chewbacca had been more emotional at some point.

What do you think of Chewbacca’s character in The Force Awakens? Let me know in the comments.

 

Review: Halting State

halting state

Another book review that isn’t a comic book. Don’t worry everyone, I’m still reading comics but I’m pushing to add novels back into my life.

Why I Read It

Halting State has been on my ‘to read’ list for about 5 years now. I was doing research on sci-fi novels that were set in the near future, and with more focus on how society has adapted to new technology (not necessarily how the tech works). By research, I was really comparing a manuscript I was working on to something in the sub-genre.

Halting State fit the bill precisely, and unsurprisingly I’m not as good of a writer as Charles Stross. There is a heavy emphasis on role playing games and gamifcation in general. It’s set in 2018 and was written in 2007.

What Others Think

A lot of reviews I’ve read about the book focus on three primary detractions:

  1. The story is told in the 2nd person. Which means, “You” are the character. It is pretty much how I remember every RPG I played in 90’s (all 3 times I played one), so I viewed it as a nod to the fan base. Others have viewed it as a joke, that missed its mark.
  2. The point of view rotates between 3 characters. Compared to William Faulkner’s My Mom is a Fish   As I Lay Dying which many hold up as the gold standard for multiple point of view story telling, Halting State was way more enjoyable. Multiple points of view is difficult to master because it requires each narrator to have a distinct voice. Which Stross nails. Layer on top the narration in the 2nd person and you’ve got some exploratory story telling.
  3. The author’s vision didn’t come true. Well duh. I used to be this snooty about sci-fi too, but then I became more interested in stories told in the comic book medium. Inaccurate visions of the near future are common place in comic books, and no one really cares because it’s accepted as a future vision of an alternate reality. So now I look at these complaints and think, “Well Duh, of course he didn’t get everything right.” This particular vision of the world had wide spread use of augmented reality via Google glasses, driverless cars, and a distributed gaming platform by Microsoft that allowed gamers to create one avatar but play it in many different realms (each run by different companies).

What I Think

More than anything, there is some genuinely great storytelling here. Even when I didn’t understand what was going on (which was plenty of times) I enjoyed the way the language of the story was crafted.

However, some of the plot elements have been done before and this story did not elevate them above the existing body of work. In fact, having read some of that existing body of work is what made understand the plot. Had I not read read Simple Genius by David Baldacci or Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson I would have been hopelessly lost. But maybe that’s modern storytelling. Most readers have access to the internet so if they’re confused on something they’ll look it up themselves.

The part of the story I enjoyed most was how the author ramped up the suspense at the halfway point. And by halfway point I mean it was literally page 175 in a 350 page book.

Also +10 for accurately working in financial derivatives.

After reading some of the hang-ups reviewers have with the author’s ability to predict a very exact future, it dawned on me that they missed the point entirely. While never mentioned explicitly, I distilled that in order for some of the games envisioned in the story, specifically SPOOKS, to exist in 2018 development would have had to have started in or around 2007. Which makes some of the ideas in the book all the more chilling and some of Charles Stross’s vision of the future more accurate than it appears at first glance.

Review: Mutiny on the Bounty

Mutiny_HMS_BountyMy History with this Title

About ten years ago my wife and I visited the botanical gardens in Honolulu with my Dad. He had been to Oahu several times, but never to the botanical gardens. And as I recall he wasn’t eager to go. But once there we couldn’t keep up with him (he was early 70ish and we were mid 20ish). And when he learned they had a breadfruit tree I swear we almost lost him.

We had no idea what a breadfruit tree was or why he would be so excited about it, or why he was rattling on about someone named Captain Bligh. Turns out it was all in Mutiny On The Bounty a book he read as a kid:.

The Story

The mutineers and those held against their will (mostly the latter) on the HMS Bounty after acquiring breadfruit trees in Tahiti.

It is based on an actual mutiny on the actual ship named the Bounty. In fact, very little of the novel deviates from historical account (at least the history according to wikipedia). The main difference is that it is narrated by a fictional character, who is still largely based on an actual crew member.

Finally Getting to Reading the Book

Not too long after that trip I told myself I’d read the book. And ten plus years later I finally did. I enjoyed the second half of the book is much better than the first two thirds. That might not make sense, but I don’t care. For a book that is set in our world, it has a lot of world building, which was necessary because it was written at a time when the world was nowhere near as small as it is today. (Thank you Internet).

My enjoyment of this book was different from Herman Melville’s Typee, which had a similar theme and was also based on a true story (semi-autobiographical). Instead of Mutiny, Typee deals with desertion of a whaling vessel. Both books involve the main character living among the indigenous tribes.

Typee has one of the greatest first chapter’s I’ve ever read and a spectacular end, but sandwiched in the middle is a very dry exposition about the Typee tribe which is independent of the plot.

On the other hand the drama for the Mutiny on the Bounty was really enhanced during the portion of the story where the characters were relying upon the Tahitians.

Other things worth publishing on the Internet

I don’t know what the rational is or when it started becoming so prevelant, but I can’t stand when publishers print a summary on the back cover that takes you all the way into the third act, or the last 100 pages. I can’t stand this, and won’t read the back of any novel until I think it’s safe. Turns out I wasn’t far enough into the story and parts were spoiled for me.

Although, I began to enjoy the story more after I read the Wikipedia account of the historical events. This included some spoilers, but it wasn’t to the same degree as the summary in the inside cover.

The authors Charles Nordoff and James Hall went on to publish two more stories connected to the Mutiny. At this point I don’t have plans to read the other two novels.