Blog Archives

#CBR5 Maneuver #16 – Saga Vol.1

Saga Vol 1Target: Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga.  Art by Fiona Staples. Collecting issues 1-6

Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

Saga is probably the most praised comic currently running.  Brain K. Vaughan has a bit of a reputation for excellent comics with his Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina stories making lots of people’s must-read lists.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that readers and industry wonks alike were practically frothing over Vaughan’s new series.  I got to this party a little late, mostly because I don’t see the point of collecting individual issues and prefer to wait for the mass-market paperback collections.  So I write this review with the enormous pressure of thousands of positive reviews sitting on my back.  Not that I feel the need to contradict them.  Saga is an excellent book with only one serious fault.  And that fault is one that could easily be corrected with time/more issues.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #15 – Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

NextwaveTarget: Warren Ellis’ Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.  Art by Stuart Immonen. Collecting Issues 1-12

Profile: Comics, Action, Comedy

After Action Report:   

Nextwave is a great comic.  It’s not deep.  It doesn’t challenge your expectations.  It doesn’t change the paradigm for what a comic book is supposed to be, but it’s still a good comic.  It’s also somewhat hard to access.  Nextwave is a parody/satire written for and by a certain cross-section of the geek population who enjoy a broad spectrum of geeky entertainment.  In the first issue alone, Nextwave references: Japanese monster movies, 90s television, pretty much every major team-up comic series ever, and itself for good measure. All of this means that if you aren’t conversant in these genres some of the comedy of Nextwave might go right over your head.  There is still a fair amount of generally accessible comic moments in the vein of slap-stick, crude language and the funny scenario.  And we are fortunate enough to live in a world where S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers and comics in general have become common conversation topics. 

For all of its almost reverential nods to the geek community, Nextwave is definitely making fun of the comic book establishment.  Author Warren Ellis is well known for his distaste for the directions that mainstream comics have been moving since the late 80s.  Here, that distain is transmuted into irreverent comedy that still manages to twist the knife every so often, particularly if you’re more up-to-speed on the state of Marvel Comics circa 2006.  I am not, so I had to get most of this stuff off of TVTropes but that research really enhanced a re-reading of the book.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #13-14 – Evgeny Morozov Double Feature

The Net DelusionTarget: Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion: The Darkside of Internet Freedom and To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism

Profile: Non-Fiction, Technology, International Studies, Cultural Studies

After Action Report:

This is going to be a very atypical review.  In reading The Net Delusion and Click Here, I was attempting to develop a cohesive personal position on the problems of internet advocacy.  There is a lot of literature and scholarly articles on the benefits of using the internet in the cause of advocacy, either as a method of raising awareness or as a means to a fundraising end, but there is very little in the way of criticism outside of the shallow critique of ‘Slacktivism.’  Morozov’s books offered a more cutting look at my subject area, but failed, by and large, to dig deeper or offer a cohesive alternative.  This is broadly true of both books, but is more apparent in Click Here.

Because both books failed to meet my personal metric for usefulness, it is difficult for me to recommend them.  Even ignoring that, both books left me with a bad taste in my mouth, not because Morozov’s ideas are wrong or uninteresting, but because he is such a hostile author.  That hostility, directed against politicians, pundits, academics, and above all else the Techno-Literati of Silicon Valley, is an enormous barrier-to-entry for readers who haven’t already bought into Morozov’s aggressive architecture.  Again, Click Here is the worst offender, with The Net Delusion appearing relatively calm and reasoned.  But let’s go ahead and get into the books.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #12 – Blue Remembered Earth

Blue Remembered EarthTarget: Alastair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

Summary: Adapted from Goodreads.com, “One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey’s family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey’s grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked – well, blackmailed, really – to go up there and make sure the family’s name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise – or anyone else in the family, for that matter – what he’s about to unravel.

Eunice’s ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything.  Or shatter this near-utopia into shards…”

After Action Report:

I’ve mentioned this before, but Alastair Reynolds’ novels leave me a little bewildered.  The scope of his settings are daunting and even Blue Remembered Earth, a book that starts and finishes within our own solar system and a scant 150 years in the future, promises to have gotten just as big by the time we get to the end of the Poseidon’s Children series.  Reynolds packs a lot of interesting ideas into this opening novel, but the plot seems to get pushed aside to make room for it all.

Not that Blue Remembered Earth is bad.  It feels like its setting up for something really interesting and, like a lot of setup stories, it doesn’t quite stand on its own.  Reynolds’ attention to detail draws a compelling map to the stars and the future of humanity, but the reason we keep turning pages has nothing to do with Geoffrey Akinya or his sister, Sunday.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #11 – Alif the Unseen

Alif the UnseenTarget: G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Religion

Summary: From the dust jacket, “The Unseen:1: anonymity, a space or state of being occupied in order to commit mischief; 2: That which cannot be perceived by human eyes; 3: an unimaginable new dimension of power waiting for someone to grasp it…

In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients–dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups–from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble.  He goes by Alif–the first letter of the Arabic alphabet.  The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his compter has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line.

It turns out that his lover’s new fiancé is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground.  When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.

After Action Report:

Alif the Unseen is honestly one of the best novels I’ve read in recent memory.  It practically sparkles with fresh ideas and invigorating prose.  Like Throne of the Crescent Moon, I picked up Alif on the recommendation of io9.com’s best speculative fiction of 2012 list, and out of a desire to read more non-Eurocentric fantasy.  But the two books shouldn’t even be compared.  Alif is on a completely different level of fiction, the same level occupied by giants like China Miéville’s Kraken and Neil Gaimen’s American Gods, or perhaps more saliently, his Anansi Boys.

The novel is also a triumph of multiculturalism.  The author, G. Willow Wilson, an American journalist who converted to Islam and moved to Cairo where she wrote for a number of magazines and newspapers, has written a magnificent window into contemporary Middle Eastern culture, and one that stand surprisingly accessible to readers who might not know anything about the history or culture of this incredibly interesting and diverse region.  Where Saladin Ahmed utterly failed to connect with the richness of Arabian and Islamic mythology in his Crescent Moon, Wilson has succeeded in stunning fashion.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #10 – The Dechronization of Sam Magruder

The Dechronization of Sam MagruderTarget: George Gaylord Simpson’s The Dechronization of Sam Magruder

Profile: Science Fiction, Time Travel

Summary: From the back cover,

“Vanishing from Earth on February 30, 2162, while working on a problem of quantum theory, research chronologist Sam Magruder is thrown back 80 million years in time.  Endowed with the intelligence of a twenty-second-century man, Magruder struggles to survive, feeding on scrambled turtle eggs and diligently recording his observations on a stone-slap diary, even as menacing tyrannosaurs try to gnaw off his limbs.

Filled with magnificent descriptions of the dinosaurs as only Simpson himself could render them, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is not only a classic time-travel tale, but a philosophical work that astutely ponders the complexities of human existence and achievement.”

After Action Report:

The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is a strange little novella that is equal parts time travel story, homage to H.G. Wells and paleontological argument.  The author, George Gaylord Simpson, was one of the most influential and prolific evolutionists and paleontologists of the 20th century, if not all time.  More curiously, he wasn’t a fiction writer.  Of the 15 books he wrote or contributed to, only the posthumously published Dechronization approached the genre of science fiction and even then from the perspective of an academic.

Before I get into the review itself, I would like to mention that I would be much less conversant on the matter of 1940s paleontology were it not for the substantial introduction by Arthur C. Clarke included in my slim paperback edition.  Clarke discusses the sometimes unpopular opinions of Simpson that were eventually borne out by new discoveries, but also reminds the reader that this book was being written in the mid-1900s and some of what we knew then has since been proven wrong.  Most importantly, he emphasizes the science fiction nature of the novella, drawing the attention back to the setting which makes some unusual assumptions about the shape of the future that might not be so far off reality.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #9 – Jam

JamTarget: ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw’s Jam

Profile: Parody, Post-Apocalyptic

Summary: From the back cover,

“We were prepared for an earthquake.  We had a flood plan in place.  We could even have dealt with zombies.  Probably.

But no one expected the end to be quite so… sticky… or strawberry scented.”

After Action Report:

This one falls clearly under the category of book candy.  I enjoyed Ben Croshaw’s first novel, Mogworld, mostly because it parodied a subject close to my heart, MMOs, and did so with a level of clever understanding that a lot of satirists don’t manage. It was no Hitchhiker’s Guide or Guards Guards! but it scratched that itch at the time.  In contrast, I read Jam because I enjoyed Mogworld and was disappointed because I definitely wasn’t the target audience.

Jam is an offhanded response to the glut of zombie apocalypses in popular culture today, the premise being that we are really unprepared for the potential variety of apocalypses that are waiting out there.  What would the survivalists of the world do in response to an ocean of carnivorous jam?  Unfortunately, the parody doesn’t quite connect because it never manages to shed the tropes of the genre.  While there are great moments of humor peppered about, the majority of the satire is lost because, on a very basic level, zombies and carnivorous jam are very much the same.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #8 – The Emperor’s Soul

The Emperor's SoulTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Short Story

Summary: From the back cover,

“When Shai is caught replacing the Moon Scepter with her nearly flawless forgery, she must bargain for her life.  An assassin has left the Emperor Ashravan without consciousness, a circumstance concealed only by the death of his wife.  If the emperor does not emerge after his hundred-day mourning period, the rule of the Heritage Faction will be forfeit and the empire will fall into chaos.

Shai is given an impossible task: to create – to Forge – a new soul for the emperor in fewer than one hundred days.  But her soul-Forgery is considered an abomination by her captors.  She is confined to a tiny, dirty chamber, guarded by a man who hates her, spied upon by politicians, and trapped behind a door sealed in her own blood.  Shai’s only possible ally is the emperor’s most loyal councilor, Gaotona, who struggles to understand her true talent.

Time is running out for Shai.  Forging, while deducing the motivations of her captors, she needs a perfect plan to escape.”

After Action Report:

Okay, I lied.  There was one more Sanderson book.  Sorry.  The Emperor’s Soul is a short novella set in the same world as Elantris but removed from the events of that book by significant distance and an unspecified amount of time.  It is a very different sort of work than Sanderson’s typical epic fantasy fare.  As dictated by its size, it is a very focused story with only one protagonist and one storyline.  But there is some surprising depth contained in this small package.  At its heart, The Emperor’s Soul is about understanding people, and in a roundabout way, about the process of writing characters; creating people.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #7 – Elantris

ElantrisTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Summary: From the back cover,

“Elantris was the city of the gods.  What power could have cursed it?

Raoden, prince of Arelon, was loved by all, including the princess he’d never met.  Where has he gone?

Hrathen, high priest of Fjordell, will convert the people of Arelon or kill them.  How will he decide?

Sarene, princess of Teod, was a widow before she was ever married.  Why can stand against her?”

After Action Report:

Aside from having a pithy back cover; Elantris has a lot going for it.  While it is far from the perfect fantasy novel, it does feature Sanderson’s typical strong world building, and a cast of characters that is interesting, if not actually realistic.  At the same time, Sanderson’s refusal to rely exclusively on the fallback tropes of his genre keeps the book feeling fresh.  Elantris isn’t as polished as some of Sanderson’s other stories, with the core mystery feeling a little underutilized, and the story dragging on just a touch too long.  But at the same time, these little flaws give the story a more honest feeling than, for example, the highly polished The Hero of Ages.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #6 – Warbreaker

WarbreakerTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Summary: From the back cover, “T’Telir, the capital of Hallandren, is a colorful city by the sea where gaily dressed crowds bustle though sunny streets and worship heroes who have been reborn as gods.  Ruled by the silent, mysterious God King, the pantheon is nourished by offerings of Breath, the life force that keeps them alive and youthful.

Exiled in Idris, the former royal family reluctantly betrothed a princess to the God King.  Arriving in T’Telir, she finds both the city and the marriage are not at all what she expected.  Her only ally is Lightsong, a god who is skeptical of his own divinity, who fears that war with Idris is inevitable.

Meanwhile, another new arrival in T’Telir, one who bares the sentient sword Nightblood, makes cunning plans based on the unique magic of Hallandren, which uses color to focus the power of Breath – plans that could change the world.

After Action Report:

I was incredibly excited to get started on this month’s book sequence; namely, a speedy run through the remainder of Brandon Sanderson’s bibliography.  I can’t really talk about why because of spoilers.  Suffice it to say my re-read of The Way of Kings revealed something that I missed because it was the first Sanderson book I had ever read.  While I may still dislike the man for his abysmal treatment of The Hero of Ages, I have to say that the greater body of his work is quite good, and the more you read of it, the better it gets.

Warbreaker was originally a free web publication that was serialized on Sanderson’s website.  Older draft copies of some of the chapters are still available there, but I ended up reading the finished novel in paperback form.  While it shares a number of traits with Sanderson’s other epic fantasies, Warbreaker feels like a very different kind of novel.  In the same vein of the Mistborn sequence, it plays with the extremes of power, wealth and status and transposes a more modern society into a fantasy setting.  Sanderson’s strong emphases on religions and cohesive magic systems are also present, but the sum of these parts ends up being very different because, at its heart, Warbreaker is a story about averting a crisis, rather than confronting one.

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