Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Showcase Presents Justice League of America Vol.3

The old Gardner Fox stories contained in this third collection of the Justice League of America are a bit of a mixed bag. The stories suffer a lot from the same poor characterization displayed in the prior two volumes. Every member of the league (with the possible exception of Snapper Carr) is an interchangeable blank slate. The only personality characteristic they all share is to be insufferably nice.

Granted that was pretty much the house style for DC at this point in time, but when the characters are all sharing the same stage it becomes that much more glaring. Still this book is a big improvement over the prior two. The plots have become a little more interesting and the villains are start to come into their own at last (with the debuts of the Key, the Shaggy Man, and the Royal Flush Gang). But the highlight of this collection is without a doubt the three JLA/JSA crisis team-ups, which are just a lot of fun to read still and which have a far greater sense of scale.

So there are some good comics in here, but ultimately it just reminds me of why I became a Marvel junkie.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing

MT Anderson is far and away the best author working in the YA field today. His novel Feed had more of an emotional resonance with me than any other book I can remember in recent history. At the end of it I really felt like someone had trampled over my heart. And now he's done it again with his first novel, chronicling the astonishing life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation.

Octavian is a slave boy, growing up in Revolutionary Massachusetts, and he is the subject of a grand philosophical experiment, which grants him the benefit of a classical education. Octavian also provides Anderson with the perfect point of view character, a slave who has to learn throughout the course of the novel that he is one.

The book is masterfully written, but the one fault I have with it is that I'm not sure what age it is really intended for. It's certainly marketed as YA, and it won quite a few awards in that category as well, but the attention paid to historical speech and the bone chilling nature of portions of the book (the death of one character is only revealed through the reading of a scholarly article on their dissection afterwards) elevates the reading level of the book quite a bit to my mind.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Little Brother

Hey it's my one hundredth post! And to celebrate I finished reading what will probably prove to be the best reviewed YA novel of the year, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, and I'm happy to say that the reviews are very well deserved. This is easily Doctorow's best novel since his debut, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, and this is largely due to the fact that he finally worked the passion of his day job into one of his books.

The real rough description for the story is the Department of Homeland Security vs. the youth of America. Along the way Doctorow gets to espouse on the virtues of hacking, how privacy and security can coexist peacefully, and on why each generation should redefine the world around them on their own terms. Unsurprisingly the novel reads a bit like a call to arms, but that's entirely appropriate. This book is supposed to inspire, which very few works of fiction attempt to do, and even fewer succeed at. My first response after finishing this book was that it was such a shame to have to wait until November to vote. For that alone this book should be required reading for every high school student today.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Queen and Country Vol.2

Queen and Country is the book Greg Rucka was born to write, and the second volume cements that claim. This collection is comprised of three stories, and this time Rucka has done a far better job of tailoring his stories to his artists (although their three styles don't mesh so well in a single collection).

Jason Shawn Alexander leads off the book with a story involving the blackmailing of an English citizen by the French government. Carla Speed McNeil follows with an unusually action-heavy story involving a kidnapping in T'Bilisi. Then Mike Hawthorne closes the book on a more political note. Each one is flawless and all together they create the most politically astute espionage thriller I have ever encountered.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Dearly Devoted Dexter

Dearly Devoted Dexter is the second novel to feature the serial killing title character. The story improves quite a bit on the original book. The first often felt like the author, Jeff Linday, had to try too hard to be clever. He seems far more assured now and the characters are all a bit more defined.

However, much like the first book the plot isn't terribly interesting. Granted I'm probably a bit biased from having first seen the show which borrows plot elements from these two books and builds a far more satisfying story out of them. The story here mostly suffers from being predictable, while trying to hide this fact behind an over the top crime that's there for the sake of shock value alone.

Still I enjoyed the book, the character of Dexter is just fascinating enough to carry the book along, and the ways in which he reacts to any given situation are consistently brilliant. I'm not sure how much longer Lindsay can continue these stories before they start feeling tiresome, but I suspect Dexter will be able to carry these books for quite some time.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Essential Iron Man Vol.3

To coincide with the movie (two thumbs up) I decided to read through some old Iron Man comics. Now Iron Man has always been a frustrating comic for me. I love the character, he's one of the best that Marvel has. He also has one of the better rogues galleries (as long as you can look past the cold war origins for nearly all of them). Yet there have been remarkable few classic Iron Man comics. The David Micheline/Bob Layton run in the 80's is really about it.

Still, this volume comprises one of the better portions. Archie Goodwin, Allyn Brodsky & Gerry Conway handle most of the writing, with the art George Tuska, Don Heck, and legendary EC artist Johnny Craig. These stories are mostly notable for introducing 3 of the series better (non-communist villains), Madame Masque, the Controller, and Spymaster. The actual stories are mostly forgettable, although fun in a silver age way.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey

Hey, 2 in one day (thanks to the wonder of audio books) not bad. This time out it's Rant by Chuck Palahniuk. Like Halting State earlier today, this is a novel that takes some enormous chances, but this time around it's not for the best. I'm actually kind of amazed this book became the giant mess it did given how strongly it began, really just kind of sad, especially from a writer as assured as Palahniuk.

Anyway, the setup for the book is brilliant. The novel is told as an oral biography of Buster Casey, a kid with a stash of rare coins, a penchant for getting bit by wild animals and living through car crashes, and most importantly the originator of a country wide Rabies epidemic. To make things even stranger, the story takes place in a near future in which the population has been divided into daytime and nighttime camps, and in which playing back the experiences of others has replace all other forms of entertainment. All of these elements are blended together flawlessly.

And narrative pulls a total 180 and becomes a debate over the feasibility of time travel, and what would happen if you impregnated and/or killed your mother. Yeah, an odd choice to say the least, and it ruins what otherwise may have been Palahniuk's best novel (which I still say is Lullaby).

Halting State

Halting State is Charles Stross' latest contender for the best novel Hugo. It's got a shot too (although mostly because it wasn't a terribly great year). Which is not to say that this isn't a good book, just that it narrowly misses being a great one. The novel is a techno thriller, disguised as a spy novel, disguised as a heist story. The whole package is a lot of fun, but it would probably be less so for anyone who can't grok all the techo-babble.

What's also notable about this book, is that the whole thing is written in the 2nd person (from three alternating perspectives at that). It's an interesting choice, and it's used well for the purpose of adding a bit of immersiveness to a story that is largely about gaming. Stross has always been a writer who has been willing to gamble, which I respect even if he fails on occasion (and yes I do mean Accelerando). He certainly doesn't lack for ambition and he does succeed more than he fails. Halting State certainly makes it into his win column.