Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Brief Review: Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Sex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One CopSex Criminals, Vol. 2: Two Worlds, One Cop by Matt Fraction
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A sex positive spin on the old stop-watch-that-can-actually-stop-time story. Volume two of this graphic novel series is just as delightful as the first, if a little more confused and confusing. Fraction and Zdarsky take us into their mad world where special people have special orgasms that stop time and maybe turn them into golden gods?

Jon and Suzie are still trying to figure out all the rules to this place, but they really know they've stepped in it when they start getting into confrontations with the sex cops in Cumworld, or the Quiet, or you know whatever your personal moniker for the place you go after you... Uh, know what? Yeah, perhaps just read it. This is only going to confuse you more.

This one is for you if you like sex, and talking about sex, and thinking about sex, and joking about sex, and some time funkiness.

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Amazon Link: Sex Criminals Volume 2: Two Worlds, One Cop

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Brief Review: Trees by Warren Ellis

Trees, Vol. 1 (Trees #1)Trees, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As usual, Ellis brings his unique style to bear on a graphic novel so original that only he could mind-birth it. Full disclosure here, I'm a long time fan of Warren Ellis and the opening volume of Trees is just what I was hoping for. He brushes fingertips along the issues of over-militarization, Trans-culture, scientific hubris, and just straight up gangsterism without missing a beat...

Oh yeah, and there are gigantic alien structures that people call trees which have planted themselves sporadically across the face of the Earth. Every so often, they splooge deadly green goo, but no one is quite sure why they're there or where they came from. But one thing you can be sure of, they're going to wake up and start talking eventually.

Trees is another book that I hope will inspire my creative mind for a long time to come and I can't wait to read volume 2.

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Amazon Link: Trees Volume 1

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Brief Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick

The Three Stigmata of Palmer EldritchThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this book, Dick deals desperately with some of his favorite topics, specifically drugs and philosophy. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch follows a few main characters who become less and less rooted in reality and more and more engulfed in a struggle to save humanity, possibly from themselves. The text tackles topics from religion to addiction, solipsism to exorcism, action to reaction, and reaction to inaction. The sometimes labored language quickly fades from the mind as the raw ideas of the book reach out and grab you.

I've waited too long to read more Philip K. works and I'm finally getting around to fixing that. I've always found his ideas enthralling and his philosophy somewhat horrifying, but resonant with my own. I'm glad that I chose this one to start back up on as it was fast paced, and like many of his works, left me dizzy with the implications of the situations he invents. The best authors don't just give you the story, they plant a seed of curiosity in your mind as they work, and that's what Dick's writing does for me.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to do more exploration of their own reality.

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Amazon Link: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Brief Review: Pyongyang by Guy Delisle

Pyongyang: A Journey in North KoreaPyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting look inside an enigmatic country. In the tradition of Sacco and Satrapi, Delisle (known as Mr. Guy to his guides and translators) paints the picture of a fascist North Korea with an outsider's brush. The art is good, but where this book really shines is the story. As an animator working with a team in Pyongyang, Delisle introduces us to his many overseers, employees, and foreign friends who turn out to be great windows into the workings of the city.

The book is short enough to read in an hour or two, and I would have loved to learn more about the trip, but it did seem as though everything about Mr. Guy's time in the country was kept pretty tightly controlled. Not to mention the fact that most of his stay was spent working on his animation project probably led to some long dull spells.

There is an issue with Delisle being kind of a dick, which I suppose I should touch on. He certainly looks down on the North Koreans and infantilizes them a bit. I don't think he is as bad as some other reviews have stated, however, he definitely doesn't look at other cultures as equal. He's also weirdly sexist. There was an obvious innuendo that involved torture. I'm sure he meant it to be a compliment... but as I said earlier, it seems like he's kind of a dick. Who knows, maybe he's a great guy in person, but there was some phrasing in this book that really should have been heavily edited.

Anyway, it is definitely worth a look for anyone interested in learning more about North Korea. Short, easy read, and interesting stuff.

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Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Brief Review: That Weird City by C. Brian Hickey and Aaron Jacobs

That Weird CityThat Weird City by C. Brian Hickey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I finally got around to reading this book and I'm sorry it took me so long. I've encountered Hickey via a message board that we both used to frequent and posted this message shortly after the book came out:

"steevo Mar 14th 2012 (10550.5)

Will review when I finish. Exciting stuff, gentlemen, congratulations."

True to my word, here I am, having just yesterday finished reading. This was a book that created worlds. It was a book that made them feel lived in. Hickey and Jacobs each take their stories to places I didn't expect and I'm glad they did.

Some stand outs in the collection:

Inner City Life, Inner City Pressure (Soul Invictus Mix) - This short starts the collection off right, really grounding the audience in the urban rhythm of the city.

Magitechnical Support - I really liked the idea of a spirit hunting IT guy.

Last Night: A Triptych and its sequel Afterparty - Both really fun shorts, both on their very own plane of weird.

Of Grim Dealings by Nightlight - The scariest things are always under the bed.

The rest of the stories were fantastic too and well worth reading, but these are the ones that stood out to me.

Give this one a read if you're looking for something to satisfy your strange quota.

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Amazon Link: That Weird City

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brief Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The MartianThe Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The beautifully told story of Mark Watney, NASA astronaut. The Martian addresses science like nothing I've ever read before. I could not stop reading this book. I would think about getting home from work to read. I would feel like I was wasting precious Martian time whenever the TV was on.

The Martian gave me a new outlook on the term hard Sci-Fi and is easily the best thing I have read from that (admittedly underexplored) genre. The amount of raw data crunching that author Andy Weir must have done for this book is astonishing. I'd be really interested in learning how accurate the math and looney-tunes ideas for surviving really were.

On top of that, not only were all the pages from Mark's journal terrific, but the ever changing looks at what was going on in the outside world were fantastic too. While we only ever saw the world through Mark's eyes via his journal, the other narration (whether it was the NASA chiefs, the crew of the mission, or even the plastic made to provide shelter and protection on Mars) kept me guessing. I never knew how Weir was going to approach a section, but I was never disappointed.

A standout in a sea of good reads for me lately.

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Amazon Link: The Martian

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Brief Review: The King in Yellow by R. W. Chambers

The King In YellowThe King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The King in Yellow, a book of offputting (in a good way) short stories, is a fun read, plain and simple. As many others have said, the first half of the book (four stories) is more along the lines of what most expect going into this collection. Short stories of normal humans beset by an elusive madness, difficult to understand and seemingly impossible to cure. The source of this madness is a book, which holds the play, "The King in Yellow." Anyone foolish enough to read the tome seems to fall into an irreversible trance. Those stories felt very much akin to a turn of the century Twilight Zone and I sped through them happily.

The second half of the book seems to focus a lot more on that emotion I understand humans call 'love'. These stories are by no means bad. In fact, they are beautifully written, perhaps even more so than the previous four. Several times I found myself stopping and thanking whatever book deities there are that I got this on my Kindle, as a simple point and drag captured the language for my future perusal. The main issue with these stories was, well, they were about the mooshy stuff. Which is all well and good, but I got into reading this book for the occult references and unnatural madnesses.

I found myself wondering what it would have been like to write this. Living in an age of burgeoning progress and knowledge and still so little information about illness, mental or otherwise. People die. People break down. People change and go mad and get sick. But this book was written right at the turn. When people still believed in magical things. But they also began hailing science and technology as new gods. People still weren't sure which side would win. Throw in the uncertainty of the world at the time (at least one thing has remained the same), and you have an entrancing book about unexplainable things like madness and plays and love. It is recommended reading, and I'm fairly sure I haven't lost my mind from it, which is a bonus. I need that.

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Amazon Link: The King in Yellow

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Brief Review: Jamestown by Matthew Sharpe

JamestownJamestown by Matthew Sharpe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jamestown is a difficult book to pin down. It is one of those books about which you say, "By turns..." and then list three or four different emotions it made you feel. It is one of those books where you don't really get all of what the author was doing, but you get enough of it that you think to yourself it was really deep. And it probably was.

Jamestown makes me want to learn more about the original Jamestown. Jamestown makes me wonder if it is racist, or perhaps an attempt at post-racism. I mean, even if it is racist, who is it racist against? It's about a post-apocalyptic melting pot of vileness/violence/vindication. Languages are confusing, as to make you read them harder, only to make you realize that this is all sing song, sling slang.

The book is funny. But not like "Haha." More like, "What the hell?" The murder is funny. It evokes slaughter laughter.

I like this book. I'm not sure that I should, but I like it. You might too.

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Amazon Link: Jamestown

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Brief Review: Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Ham on RyeHam on Rye by Charles Bukowski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An semi-autobiographical story about a boy named Henry Chinaski, Ham on Rye is a series of vignettes about growing up rough. It is raw and unforgivingly real. Its brevity and frankness punch you in the mouth, much like Henry would probably do if you ever met him. Bukowski is a master of transporting the reader into the book. Our protagonist is really kind of an asshole, but you feel terrible for him. He never wins, he never gets better. Growing up for Henry is a series of drinking and fights and losing the few friends he has for some reason or another.

It's hard to say what makes this book so good, but it is eminently hard to put it down, it flows, it dips and dives and jabs. It knocks you in the nose. The minute you think you see the punch coming, it gives you something different. It's a classic for a reason. It's the story of a poor, punk growing up in the 30s and 40s. And when you read it, you realize that things never change all that much. Kids are still kids. The world is still the world. Bukowski saw it for what it was, and then he put it in his book.

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Amazon Link: Ham on Rye: A Novel

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brief Review: Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Of Love and Other DemonsOf Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of Love and Other Demons is my first Marquez book. I really see the appeal. Even as translated, the language is beautiful and sharp. It makes me wish I could read Spanish as I would love to be able to experience this book in its original form. All of the threads in this book begin at a dog's rabid tooth and flourish away from each other, racing for infinity before inevitably falling short.

It seems that all of the characters in this book flirt with their own ideas of love: religious or secular, chaste or carnal. They are all deeply flawed and that's what makes each character tragic in his or her own way.

The book is slow going and it takes time and patience to penetrate Marquez's thick, weighty text, but if you stick with it and get yourself into a reading groove, you start to see the beauty of his descriptions. That seems to be where Marquez makes his home, tempting his readers in, building the world around them, and showing them the good and bad of each character without judgment. The judgement, he leaves to you.

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Amazon Link: Of Love and Other Demons (Vintage International)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Brief Review: The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall

The Raw Shark TextsThe Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eric Sanderson has lost his memory, but he's got a few clues as to where he can find it, as long as he isn't overtaken by those terrors that lurk below his own consciousness. The Raw Shark Texts pulls you down a rabbit hole of complete nonsense in the best possible way. While reading, I often found myself trying to understand what the hell was going on early in the book only to be confounded over and over again. Eventually, and only after I'd stopped struggling, everything just sort of fell into place.

The comparisons that have been made for this book (Jaws, House of Leaves, Fight Club, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) are all apt, but Raw Shark shoulders up and takes its own place alongside these giants instead of attaching to them like so many other remora-books. It is mind-fuckingly great. It is a gasp of fresh air. It's a conceptual animal all its own.

I would guess that it takes a certain type of reader to appreciate this book, but I can definitively say, and without hesitation, that I am that exact type of reader. The prose was terrific, deftly guiding me at breakneck speed without ever tripping over its own feet. I don't often reread, but I may dip my toes in for this one again.

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Amazon Link: The Raw Shark Texts: A Novel

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Brief Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wikipedia tells me that the male version of a Mary Sue is a Gary Stu. The main character of this book, Kvothe, is a massive one of those. There is nothing this guy can't do, except, according to him, talk to women, even though the fairest maiden in all the land who every dude within a thousand miles is trying to bed, is in story-book-doe-eyed-true-love with him. Additionally, he is unapologetically a bragging douche about it.

He is utterly convinced of his own importance. He threatens to burn people's houses down a lot, which was a bit offputting for someone who seems to think himself so virtuous. In fact, the heroes in this book threaten people who aren't giving them their way pretty much any chance they get. Kvothe is kind of a bully, and I did not end up pitying him his many many injuries throughout the book.

Also, I'm fairly certain he is in a gay relationship without knowing it. For all his talk of maidens, Kvothe saves the tenderest words for his companion, Bast. My first instinct is to commend such a bold move by the author, but since it seems entirely unintentional, I don't know how to feel about it. Or maybe he knew the whole time.

Despite all this, the book is incredibly hard to put down and I read the 600+ page tome in about a week. There is something endearing about the way Kvothe views himself and the world. Something that seems incredibly innocent for such a man of deep studying and knowledge. It's worth a read if you're in between books and looking for a page turner. If you want something that will challenge you as a reader, this probably won't be your jam.

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Amazon Link: The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Brief Review: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first foray into a Chuck Wendig book after a year or two reading his blog (which I am a big fan of). I really wanted to like this book, but it left me a bit cold. The protagonist, Miriam is way too fond of awkward similes, she is overly crass (to the point where she's trying to find a new way to say fuck rather than concern herself with the very real danger she is in), and she seems either brilliant or moronic depending on what the plot requires. Oh yeah, and she can see when you're going to die by touching your skin, which is a fine plot device, I suppose...

That said, the villains were actually a breath of fresh air, I felt they were more multi-faceted than Miriam herself, and to be honest, I would have preferred to read a book about them. If you're going to read Blackbirds, really dig into those three characters.

All in all, a mediocre first outing for the pen-monkey, but because I love Wendig and his can-do attitude, I'll probably read the rest of this series at some point.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Brief Reviews: The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis

The Man Who Fell to Earth The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Despite his grand plans of saving his species from a dying planet (and possibly the human race from themselves). Our protagonist, the alien named T.J. Newton, slowly discovers that human beings are themselves a corrupting influence. It seems like Tevis was treading new sci-fi ground when he wrote this (especially by making the alien mundane and the humans the real aliens) and I enjoyed his grasp of descriptive language. I truly saw 1980s Earth as a strange land, as Newton would have.

It is a book that makes you ponder the universe a bit, but in the end, I think it gives humanity and booze a little too much credit. Though, to be fair, who knows how Anthean physiology works? Certainly not me.

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Amazon Link: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Brief Reviews: Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress

Beggars in Spain: The Original Hugo & Nebula Winning NovellaBeggars in Spain: The Original Hugo & Nebula Winning Novella by Nancy Kress
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Set in the near future where biological engineering has created a small section of society who does not need to sleep, Beggars in Spain is a great study in the hierarchy of knowledge. While the people of the story themselves sometimes feel a bit stilted, this novella asks important questions about how we view ourselves, especially in light of our own (self-induced) evolution.

Edited to Add: I hate this cover, the woman with crazy green eye shadow conjures a 1970s pastiche of 1950s sci-fi.

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Amazon Link: Beggars in Spain: The Original Hugo & Nebula Winning Novella