Blog Archives

#CBR7 Review #3-4 – Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword

Ancillary Justice

Target: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) and Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

The Imperial Radch series is a relatively simple little space opera, in the classic sense of the term.  Spanning hundreds, if not thousands of years, multiple star systems and a variety of cultural influences, it’s a series firmly rooted in the tropes of its genre.  While Ancillary Justice does wonderful things with those ideas and concepts, building a surprisingly compelling setting and cast, the series as a whole is somewhat underwhelming.  Lacking the bombast of James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse or the vision of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space, Imperial Radch sits in an uncomfortable place between top-tier SF and the middle of the road dross that clogs the shelves at Barnes and Noble.

Ancillary Justice follows Breq, also known as Justice of Toren, One Esk, a surviving fragment of the controlling AI of an interstellar warship.  A portion of Justice examines Breq’s life as the ship Justice of Toren before it was destroyed, while the main narrative picks up after Breq has been on her own for years, executing a long plan that might make up for some of the mistakes she made as Justice of Toren.  The PoV snaps back and forth between the present and the past until we witness the moment of Justice of Toren’s destruction.  After which we shift entirely to Breq on her mission of justice and vengeance.

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#CBR7 Review #1 – Ready Player One

Ready Player OneTarget: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One

Profile: Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Pop Culture, Adventure!

After Action Report:

Ready Player One is one of those books that’s been sitting on the shelves at Barnes and Nobel taunting me with nearly universal acclaim for longer than I care to think about.  Not only that, but it falls clearly into my ‘near future, speculative fiction’ bailiwick and even focuses on video game culture, so I really have no excuse as to why I’m only just now adding it to my library.  And that’s a shame, because it really is quite good.

Any returning readers will recall that I intensely dislike reading books with good press or recommendations, mostly because it means that I’m suddenly holding the author (and the book) to much higher standards than are reasonable, but also because it messes with the way that I think about writing these reviews.  I feel pressure to generate ‘original’ criticism, which puts my tendency to nitpick into overdrive.

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#CBR6 Review #23 – A.D.D.

A.D.D.Target: Douglas Rushkoff’s A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division. Art by Goran Sudžuka and José Marzán Jr.

Profile: Comics, Media Criticism, Science Fiction

After Action Report:

For those of you who don’t know, Denver is home to the largest single comic book store in the world.  I didn’t know this either until a few months ago when a friend of mine blew into town from Boston and we went.  The warehouse used to be a clearing house for cross-country comic shipping and at some point Mile High Comics claimed it, along with the considerable overstock and turned it into 45,000 square feet of comic book nerd wet dream.  While we were there, I found myself drooling over collector’s editions of Chew omnibus volumes and an essential guide to the Top Cow universe, but the only thing I walked out with was this quirky little Vertigo title.  At the register, the clerk on duty looked the hardcover volume over and gave me an audible “Huh,” which pretty much sums up my experience with the book.

Set in the near future, A.D.D. follows Lionel, a top tier gamer who is part of an unusual reality show/experiment.  Raised from birth to play games, test technology and generally be archetypal internet brats, these kids enjoy a life of luxury and media saturation, and in return act as mascots for their corporate owners.  For Lionel and his friends, it seems like paradise, but Lionel still has questions: what happens when they ‘graduate?’  And why can he ‘see’ things no one else can?

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#CBR6 Review #21: Count to a Trillion

Count to a TrillionTarget: John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion. (Count to Eschaton Sequence #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

Count to a Trillion is a strange sort of novel.  It seems primarily dedicated to avoiding any kind of resolution to any of the narratives it establishes and finding other literary ways to annoy me.  Poor characterization, egregious technobabble and obnoxious timeskips are just a few of the book’s many sins.  And yet, there is an interesting and ambitious concept at its core.  Ultimately, I think the novel falls short of its goals, but it takes us on what could be the start of an intriguing ride.

Count to a Trillion opens an unspecified amount of time in the future. The Earth has been ravaged by non-nuclear global war and racial strife. These events have left the Indosphere and Hispanosphere in control of much of the world.  Born in the relative backwater of the southern United States, Menelaus Illation Montrose grows up as a judicial gun-for-hire, but hides a unique secret: a phenomenal gift for higher mathematics.  Pressganged into an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to examine an alien artifact orbiting a tantalizing source of free energy, Menelaus subjects himself to an experimental procedure designed to artificially enhance his brain to a posthuman level.  The process drives him insane.

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#CBR6 Review #20: Dial H, Vol. 2

Dial H 2Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol. 2: Exchange. Art by Alberto Ponticelli, David Lapham and Dan Green.  Collecting issues #7-15 and Justice League issue #23.3

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

After Action Report:

When last we left Dial H, Miéville was busy adding weird fiction and horror tropes to a little known corner of the DC Universe.  The events of the last volume have raised the stakes and opened the door to a multiverse of possibilities.  Unfortunately, while Dial H was an incredible critical success, its sales numbers left something to be desired and DC ended the run at issue 16.  True to form, Miéville seems to treat the cancelation as a challenge and crashes through two storylines to bring readers a climax worthy of this creative adventure, and a thoughtful coda that hints that we might not have seen the last of the Dialers.

Issue #7 picks up a few weeks after Nelson’s fight with the villain Ex Nihlio and her pet Abyss.  In light of the new threat of the Shadow on the Line, Nelson and his new partner Roxie, set off to uncover more secrets of the dials.  But their leisurely globetrotting quickly turns scary as they catch the eye of a Canadian super-agent who knows more about what they are than they do.

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#CBR6 Review #14-15 – Saga Vol. 2-3

Saga 2Target: Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga.  Art by Fiona Staples.  Collecting issues 7-18

Profile: Comics, Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

It’s been too long, but I’m finally getting around to reviewing Saga Volume 2 and, as a limited time bonus offer, you get Volume 3 thrown in for free.  Back when I first picked up this epic comic series, I noted that the one flaw holding it back was the lack of focus and development.  To quote myself, “While many of the details needed for true long-term success are still missing, Saga tantalizes with an incredible spread of fantastic ideas and well-drawn characters.”  Vaughan has done a lot to build a cohesive story from the flighty bits of Volume 1.  The pacing and, more importantly, unfocused nature of the comic are still getting in the way of strong narrative flow, but Saga somehow transcends these limitations and is building a beautifully cohesive world out of the narrative equivalent of confetti.

After the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 6, Volume 2 disjoints briefly from the narrative of Marko and Alana to take time for some flashbacks.  We look at Marko’s youth, Alana’s time as a solider and their joint experiences as prisoner and guard that preceded the events of Volume 1.  We also meet a whole gaggle of characters from Marko’s past and pick up some of the threads from The Will’s side story.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #25 – Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan WakesTarget: James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

The Expanse has received a lot of attention, mostly from other authors, for being a fresh take on space-based science fiction.  The books have also received high praise for their cinematic fight sequences and politically charged plot lines.  The books are each fairly lengthy, sitting well over the 500 page mark, but manage to feel like much shorter novels thanks to brisk pacing and strong, dynamic characters.

In spite of the ‘space opera’ tag, the stories of The Expanse are really more like war stories, having more in common with John Scalzi than they do with Iain M. Banks or Alastair Reynolds.  The scope of the setting is mostly limited to the solar system and there isn’t the same sense of wonder and discovery that has become associated with New Wave Space Opera.  Instead, The Expanse feels like older styles of space opera that focused more on combat, and the brave actions of courageous soldiers against overwhelming odds and the threat of the unknown.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #21 – Birds of Prey Volume 2

Birds of PreyTarget: Duane Swierczynski’s Birds of Prey: Your Kiss Might Kill.  Art by Jesus Saiz and Travel Foreman.  Collecting Issues #8-12 and Issue #0 of Birds of Prey (N52)

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction

After Action Report:

DC’s release dates for its mass-market collections are stupid.  Between the hardcover special releases and some bizarre need to spread releases out, it’s been eight months since I reviewed Volume 1 and fourteen months since the first issue in Volume 2, issue #8, was printed.  This obviously isn’t a problem for people who are just collecting the issues, but DC seems pretty intent on screwing its MMP base, particularly those of us who are fans of Batwoman.  Now, part of this delay is because I’m STILL enormously behind on the reviews, but, much like the U.S. government, I refuse to let facts get in the way of a good rant.

I really enjoyed the first collection of the new Birds of Prey, so it is with mixed feelings that I report that Volume 2 leaves much to be desired.  Between the jerky plot jumps and the ill-conceived Poison Ivy arc, the issues in this volume never really get down to business.  Some of this is due to the Night of Owls and Issue #0 ‘crossover’ events, which derail the existing plot lines in really jarring ways.  But even the two arcs that belong to the Birds feel clunky and don’t have the same storytelling hook present in Swierczynski’s first arc.

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#CBR5 Maneuver #19 – Dial H, Vol.1

Dial H Vol 1Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol.1: Into You.  Art by Mateus Santolouco and David Lapham. Collecting issues #1-6 and #0

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

After Action Report:

Like many of China Miéville’s novels, Dial H tries to alter the way readers look at its genres.  It uses the tropes of superheroics to tell an entirely different kind of story with a lot of style and unique take on the world of DC Comics.  It is a quintessentially Miéville story, where the rules have to be learned, or re-learned at the very least.  And in spite of all that, it stays true to the comic book canon and is a huge breath of fresh air in a space that has been stagnant for a while.

I am a huge fan of Miéville’s ability to turn the boundaries of genre into creative playgrounds and Dial H doesn’t disappoint in this respect.  It is a brilliantly rendered series that taps into the ‘weird’ space that DC has been attempting to capitalize on in their ‘New 52’ reboot.  It isn’t as grand in scope or story as some of the great graphic novels, like Sandman, but it bridges the gap between a superhero story and a ‘larger’ adventure.

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#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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