STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI: The spoiler-free #review

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I begin so many of my reviews this way, but I think it’s important enough that I keep repeating it: I tend to get caught up in my own head when I really like something or when I really hate it, and it’s generally good for me to give myself a few days to think about something before expressing an opinion on it.  This is me three hours out of the theater.  When I write the spoiler review, which I’ll try to get done Sunday but could be any time after today, my opinions may be somewhat different.   Most of y’all know this about me.  The rest of you: FYI.

(And, for the record, The Force Awakens has only sunk in my estimation since seeing it, and Rogue One may be my favorite Star Wars movie.)

This is, of course, the spoiler-free version.  I will spoil every last plot point in the next review.

Here are the three worst things about The Last Jedi:

  • Rian Johnson is not directing Episode Nine;
  • There is not a trailer for the Han Solo movie before it;
  • About five seconds of dodgy CGI involving Leia, but not the kind of dodgy Leia CGI from the end of Rogue One.  Different dodgy CGI.

I walked out of TFA generally pleased with it but with a list of what at the time I thought were minor complaints.  I am, right now, hard pressed to come up with a single substantive whine about TLJ other than the aforementioned five seconds of dodgy CGI.  I struggled very hard to avoid using the word “perfect” in the car on the way home, and then failed and did it anyway.

I fucking loved this movie.  Loved every fucking second of it.  Loved things about it that at the moment I cannot explain why I loved, since some of the things I loved about this movie were things I hated about TFA.

I want Mark Hamill– Mark fucking Hamill— nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.  One of the things I will still praise unto death from TFA is the quality of the performances.  Mark’s performance in this movie makes them all look like amateurs.  He’s amazing.

Every last moment of TFA was telegraphed and expected.  The movie was more or less a point-by-point remake of A New Hope.  This movie took me by surprise on at least half a dozen different occasions.  Not a damn thing went like I thought it was going to.  That line from Luke in the trailer, where he says “This is not going to go the way you think”?  He’s talking to the audience.  I have, right now, no idea where Episode IX is going to go.  None.

So, yeah.  Right now: absolutely goddamned brilliant, and you should be running-not-walking to theaters to see this movie.  I hope I still feel the same way in a couple of days.

(Oh, one more thing: not one second of useless, stupid fanservice, unlike a solid 20% of TFA and several of the worst moments of R1.  Which may be my favorite thing about the movie.)

(One more thing– a very minor spoiler: neither Greg Grunberg nor his stupid Greg Grunberg face appear in this movie!  Which is wonderful!)

On things that should wait until morning

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I’m not tagging this as a #review for reasons that are probably going to become obvious pretty soon.  For starters, it’s fuck o’clock in the morning.  I was asleep an hour or so ago but for some fucking reason I’m WIDE THE HELL AWAKE NOW THANKS and got rapidly tired of tossing and turning in bed so now I’m in the living room and angryblogging on my laptop, because that is a wise decision.

I blew someone some shit on Twitter earlier today for starting a Tweet with the words “everyone will shit on me for saying this, but…”.  I feel like if you’re starting to say something with those words, that’s your brain telling you that you’re probably wrong and that you should probably listen to it.  Listening to my own advice apparently isn’t one of my strong suits.

So, with that in mind, let’s write an intemperate post about Taste of Marrow, by Sarah Gailey.  You may recall my review of River of Teeth, her first book, which I wanted to be fond of but really wasn’t.  I ended that review by saying I was disappointed but I was still in for the sequel– the premise, remember, is basically cowboys riding hippos, which covers for a lot of sins– and having finished Taste of Marrow tonight before briefly going to sleep I think I’m officially out.  The sins of the first book are all still there, from the sidelining of the hippos to that one character’s annoying accent to, again, the dude who is apparently the bad guy randomly getting eaten by hippos in what is probably the single most deus ex hippo ending I’ve read in a book in a long time… to Hero.

Hero moved from an annoyance I was able to put up with in River of Teeth to something that actively pissed me off in this book.  Hero is again consistently referred to with plural pronouns for the entire book, by every character.  Hero is also still never once described.  I think at one point Gailey says that Hero is wearing a shirt, which they must open in order to examine a scar.  That’s as far as it goes.  Gailey goes out of her way to never have any character who isn’t part of the core cast mention or speak to Hero, because those people presumably wouldn’t use Hero’s preferred pronouns and would at least guess at Hero’s gender.  At this point I’m not even willing to describe Hero as a nonbinary or trans character; Hero isn’t a character in this book so much as a little game that Gailey is playing with her readers.  For all I can tell from everyone’s behavior in the book, the most reasonable conclusion is that Hero is a cis straight woman who the author is just playing the Pronoun Game with for no fucking reason at all.

I feel compelled, again, to point out my pronoun bona fides, insofar as such things exist; the next book I’m reading is Jy Yang’s The Red Threads of Fortune, which postulates a culture where all children are referred to with plural pronouns until such time as the children themselves announce their gender, which sometimes takes years; Yang themself prefers the plural also.  I’m a couple of weeks away from writing my 10 Best Books of the Year post, and a series with a trans main character is going to be very high on that list.  Elves in the Benevolence Archives, my series, are genderless and referred to with custom pronouns.  You can look far and wide in the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve written on this blog and not see a single word complaining about pronouns other than the two posts relating to this series.  It’s emphatically not the singular “they” I have an issue with, it’s the fact that this author is deliberately fucking with her readers with this character and that Hero’s nonbinaryness, if in fact Hero is actually nonbinary, feels like the “what’s in Hero’s pants” guessing game is exactly what Gailey wants her readers doing.   Which is bullshit.

Blech.

#REVIEW, sorta: ARTEMIS, by Andy Weir

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Sophomore books are a bitch and a half, man.  You’ve got literally your entire life to get that first book written and ready to go and completely 100% perfect, right?  And then if your first book is a big hit, you’ve only got at most a year or two to get that sophomore effort out the door.  Some authors end up with a second effort that is every bit as brilliant as their first: I point at April Daniels, whose Dreadnought and Sovereign I both read in 2017 and… well, wait a few weeks to see how well those turn out.  Or somebody like Kevin Hearne, whose first three Iron Druid books came out in something like six months and were somehow all of equivalent high quality.

At the other end of the spectrum is Ernest Cline, whose second book was so bad that it called my high opinion of his first into question, highlighting every single weakness of his writing and somehow diminishing both books.  We kinda want to avoid that.

Andy Weir’s The Martian was a brilliant book; my favorite book of 2014.  I talked the other day about the annoying similarities Martian and my own Skylights have, and the fact that I plan at the moment to follow up Skylights with a book involving the Moon, and, well, so did fucking Andy Weir.  So it’s kind of hard to review the book entirely independent of my own shit, right?  I know I’m not on remotely the level that Weir is, obviously, and that most of this shit’s only in my head, but I don’t want copies ideas from more well-known authors as a thing that’s hanging over my head.

Well, here’s the good thing:  other than being set on the moon, Artemis doesn’t have a damn thing in common with what I have planned for Moonlight.  Not a single damn thing.  The cover is also annoyingly similar to the cover I put together for the bookyears ago, which really pisses me off because I still love that cover and I may not be able to use it now.  But I’ll worry about that once the damn thing is written.

But anyway: is the book any damn good?  Well, there’s a reason I started this piece the way I did: while Artemis is is not as good of a book as The Martian was, and the places where it isn’t as good kind of are things that show weaknesses in The Martian, it’s still a really solid effort.  In some ways it’s a very different book; the main character is a female, at least nominally Muslim smuggler, which one would think would be a very different person from corn-fed Iowa botanist Mark Watney.(*)  And the thing is, she’s not.  She’s Mark Watney in niqab.  And since Mark Watney was basically Andy Weir, as he’s admitted in reviews… well, so is Jazz Bashara.   And while Watney’s constant science-and-chemistry talk made sense in-book, as he was trying to keep himself alive, Jazz’s kind of feels forced.  Like, I know she’s on the Moon, but so is everyone else in the book, and the constant science asides don’t work as well.

That said, I’m a huge astronomy geek, so while it bugs me on a craft level it’s fascinating on a bunch of other levels, which kept me from disliking the book.  I liked Artemis, but I absolutely didn’t love it, and after his first book owned 2014, that can’t help but be a bit of a disappointment.

(*) Okay, maybe he’s not from Iowa.  Maybe he is?  That sounds right.  I’m not looking it up.  He’s sure as hell not a Muslimah.

Two more brief book reviewlets

Today is super exciting.  It is Friday, and yet I am home with my wife and son, who I get to spend an entire day with, and none of the three of us have to go to work or school!  Friday is always one of my days off, the boy is out because his school is doing parent/teacher conferences today (ours was last night; I was gratified to learn that, insofar as such things exist at my kid’s school, he’s in the high reading group) and my wife took the day off because my wife never takes days off and as it turns out if she doesn’t take every Friday off for the rest of the year she’s going to lose a lot of vacation days for no good reason.  So we’re all home!  I got up and had a cup of coffee and now I don’t need to hustle to get to work!

It’s exciting.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot in the last couple of days and there are more books I want you to know about:


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First, let’s talk about Corey J. White’s Killing Gravity, a book billed as book one of the “Voidwitch Saga,” which is awesome because my main takeaway from this little novella is that I want a lot more of it.  Tor has absolutely been killing it with their novella imprint; these are short books but I have most of a bookshelf dedicated to them already and I’m getting to the point where if I find out a new one is out I buy it instantly without further investigation.  I’ve never done that with an imprint before.

Anyway, Killing Gravity is compared to Firefly on the cover but I don’t find that to be an especially apt comparison; I think for most people what they look for in a Firefly lookalike is the sense of humor and this book is emphatically not funny.  It’s a 160-page exercise in tone and badassery and gene modification and bioimplants and psychic assassins and shadowy corporations and lots and lots of psychokinetic murder and oh there’s also sort of a flying squirrel?  But it’s not funny.  That’s not a complaint; most books don’t have to be funny to be good, but you do have to be funny to remind someone of Firefly.   The prose is a particular standout here; this is one of those books where it’s so distinctively written that it almost doesn’t matter what it’s about– the writing is that good– but it’s an awesome setting and a cool story too and I really want to see more of it.  (EDIT:  March of 2018!)


518d7K+AT4LThe second book I just read this morning, and will almost certainly take you less than an hour to get through cover to cover.  You Have the Right to Remain Innocent isn’t so much a good book as an important one.

The premise of the book’s pretty damn straightforward, and the author isn’t especially subtle about making the point over and over again: don’t talk to cops.  Don’t talk to cops, don’t talk to cops, don’t talk to cops.  Don’t talk to cops if you’re innocent, don’t talk to cops if you’re guilty, don’t talk to cops at all unless you have your lawyer sitting right next to you, in which case your lawyer will tell you not to talk to the cops, or unless you’re telling the cops clearly and unambiguously that you will say not one word until that lawyer is sitting next to you.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  That’s not really a book all by itself, but this is America and folks need to be constantly reminded of simple shit like this, so the book is full of examples of the cops and prosecutors fucking innocent people over who were stupid enough to “head down to the station to get things cleared up” and ended up in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

Don’t talk to cops.  If that statement isn’t obvious to you, read the book a couple of times until it sinks in.

#REVIEW: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne

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I’m pretty certain I’ve read, or at least tried to read, all of Kevin Hearne’s books.  His Iron Druid series is about to conclude with… I dunno, book nine or ten or something like that, and I’ve read and enjoyed all of them.  He also wrote a Star Wars book that attempted to be a first-person Luke Skywalker story, and… well, I’ll just say it didn’t work for me.

A Plague of Giants is the first book in a brand-new series.  Iron Druid was Celtic-flavored urban fantasy.  APoG is much more traditional epic fantasy, with magic and monsters– or at least some really scary wildlife– and, well, giants.  It’s also much… weightier, maybe? than his previous work, both in the literal sense (over 600 pages, twice the length of most of the Druid books) and in the sense that he’s telling a story about a world and not just a dude.  Some quick research hasn’t discovered how many books he has planned in the series (I just asked him on Twitter, too; we’ll see if he responds) but I’d be surprised if it weren’t at least four or five.  (EDIT: Found an interview, it’s a trilogy.)

At any rate, it’s a big story, with a dozen or so POV characters scattered around six countries and one large continent.  The most interesting thing about the book is the structure, actually; it does the rotating-POV thing that’s been so popular lately, but all of the first-person accounts are actually being narrated by a bard, who is speaking in front of a large crowd over the course of fourteen or fifteen days, and is using his bard magic to appear to be each of these people as they’re narrating their parts of the story.  I don’t think this is where Hearne is going, but there’s an interesting opening in here for the bard to be an unreliable narrator for some or many of these people.  Rotating POV is all over the place, but I can’t think of anything I’ve read with rotating first-person POV, and rotating first-person POV narrated by a third-person POV character?

Yeah, that’s new.

You may be able to glean an idea of the plot from the title, with one big twist: there are two different giant-plagues, or at least giant invasions, going on.  Giants (the Hathrim) and humans normally get along, but one particular group gets driven from their home by a volcanic eruption and decides to basically invade one of the other countries, set up a new city, and basically squat until their presence is accepted.  Meanwhile, across the world, an entire different group of giants from a different continent are invading and killing the hell out of everyone, and finding out who they are, where they came from, and why they’re there is one of the big threads of the book that I won’t spoil.  Toss in the fact that every country in the book has their own form of magic (the titular “kennings”) except for one, and that that country finds its kenning through the course of the book, and you’ve got plenty of intrigue and political and military machination to go around.  I like the story quite a lot but I realized partway through that the structure robs the story of a bit of its drama– one of the disadvantages of the idea that the whole story is being narrated by a bard as oral history is that at some point the story had to be told to the bard, which means that if someone is the POV character it’s safe to assume they’re going to survive their chapter.

Just look out if they happen to meet one of the other POV characters in their chapter.  That’s a bad sign.  🙂

At any rate: if you’ve read any of Hearne’s books in the past and enjoyed them, you should definitely pick this up; if you aren’t familiar with him but are in the mood for some meaty epic fantasy you should definitely pick this up, and I even think it’s worth checking out purely for the craft involved because the structure is so intriguing.  This will end up in my top 10 for the year, I think.  Go check it out.