Spoiler #REVIEW: Rogue One

Okay.  You may remember my review of The Force Awakens, which basically went through the entire movie point-by-point and dissected the entire thing.  I liked TFA, but it hasn’t held up for me as well as I wanted it to.  In fact, as you can tell from the review, it started falling apart almost as soon as I got home.

My short, spoiler-free review of Rogue One is that it is a much better movie than The Force Awakens was, but– alarmingly– the places where it is bad, it is bad in exactly the same way as TFA.  Which is not a good sign for future films.

I am going to spoil the shit out of this movie.  I’m giving you a picture and then an actual jump screen so that you don’t get caught up accidentally.  But you will Know All the Things when you’re done.  Okay?  No whining.  SPOILERS!

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#REVIEW: INK AND BONE, by Rachel Caine

Y61tZg+d8VbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgou may find it surprising– I certainly did, when I counted– to learn that I have seventeen books by Rachel Caine, which probably puts her under Stephen King and not a whole damn lot of other people in terms of the sheer number of her works that I own.  I don’t talk about Caine’s work much around here because her previous work have slotted in my brain precisely where Star Wars and Conan books go: they’re the literary equivalent of candy, consumed quickly, enjoyed, but not really lingered on that much afterwards.  I don’t think I’ve reread anything she’s written, for example.  That’s not a criticism of her or her work, mind you; I like for my own books to have a bit of the “candy” feel to them, so it’s certainly not a bad thing.

Then I read Ink and Bone.  This is a new series– the second is book is out in hardback, but I don’t have it just yet– and it’s wildly different from everything else she’s ever written, or at least everything she’s written that I’ve read, as I’ve not touched her Morganville Vampires series.

Because vampires.

At any rate: her previous three series that I’ve read have all been urban fantasy, for lack of a better phrase, mostly written in first person.  The Great Library series is alternate history, sort of, except it starts way back with the Library of Alexandria not being burned down two thousand years ago, and from there we end up in a now (or near future, maybe?) where the Library runs the world and there are no  original books left.  Instead, you can access any work ever written through a device called a Codex, which I thought was a little cooler until I realized it was basically just a Kindle.  Throw in some shadowy government conspiracy stuff, a bit of advanced tech in the form of teleportation, creepy forbidden magic, a brutal war between England and Wales, and a bit of Harry Potter-esque librarian school stuff and you have a hell of a story.

Check it out, guys.

#Review: Ken Liu’s THE WALL OF STORMS

fjuhobw1qz0krg4vuqv2.jpgWhen I read the first book of Ken Liu’s Dandelion Dynasty last year, I had nothing but praise for it.  The setting, a (very) loose retelling of the Han dynasty with giant whales, magical books, airships, battle kites, and two-pupilled warlords, was like nothing I’d read before, and the entire thing was fantastically inventive and entertaining as hell.

I read the book in April, and between April and writing my Best Reads of the Year list at the end of the year I read several fairly cogent critiques of the book that led to it not holding up as well as I’d expected.  Chief among the complaints was the rather minimal role that women played in the text.  There were more, but that was the biggest one.

Well, Liu either took that to heart, or had already planned for women to take a much larger role in the sequel, The Wall of Storms.  One way or another, this book is stuffed with fascinating women characters.  Hell, if anything, the men get shortsighted, as one of the main male characters from the previous book is dead (although his influence is felt throughout) and the other is not as foregrounded in this as he was previously.  The book also shows why the series is called the Dandelion Dynasty, as Kuni Garu’s children move to the fore, and there are plenty of hints that the next book (I have no idea how many are planned for the series) will be moving down another generation again.

As a result, and because it doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting of creating the setting that Grace of Kings did, this book has a lot more room to breathe and stretch.  It’s longer than the first, which wasn’t a short book, and while this one clocks in at around 850 pages it’s somehow a fast read at that length.  And it introduces an entirely different culture, the Lyucu, who have antlered, fire-breathing dragons.

Garinafins are very cool, guys.

There’s also a great emphasis on scholarship and scientific advancement, particularly one great leap forward (pardon the pun) late in the book that allows the good guys a chance at victory in the book’s culminating conflict.  Many of the main characters are scholars, and when the book occasionally allows itself to delve into, say, garinafin biology, it’s done for a reason and isn’t as much of a wanky infodump as you might expect.  It’s true to the characters.

I loved this book, guys, and I loved it as much as I loved the first book.  This book doesn’t have the first book’s flaws, either.  I’m not sure yet whether it’s going to end up edging out The Girl with All the Gifts as the year’s best book, but I’ve got a month to let it marinate before I write that post.  Either way, you should be reading it, even if you were scared off a bit by the first book.

#REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE

…because I’m not ready to talk about the election just yet.

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Here’s the deal about this movie, guys:  when I walked out, my wife said to me that she had no complaints about it at all.  And I agreed with her.  You will enjoy watching Doctor Strange, and you will see some shit you haven’t seen on screen before, and you’ll see a movie where the good guy wins not by winning a big fight but by outsmarting the bad guy at the end.  This movie is fun to watch.  But now, six days later, I’m finding that while it’s not the worst Marvel movie (that would be Iron Man 2) it’s definitely held up more poorly than any of them.  I knew IM2 had problems when I saw it.

In no particular order, a list of complaints:

  • Okay, I get why this sorta had to be an origin movie.  But goddammit it’s damn near the same origin movie that Iron Man had, only Iron Man’s transition to heroism stretched out over a few movies and Bangledoof Climberbunch’s takes like ten minutes.  Is there any reason, really, that we couldn’t have had a movie where Doctor Strange is already the Sorcerer Supreme and we just do like a five-minute flashback to his origin, a la every Batman appearance in the last twenty years?
  • Speaking of Binglethump Clammerplatch, I spent the whole movie wanting him to say “Carl.”  His American accent is basically exactly the same as Hugh Laurie’s.  He certainly looks the part, though.
  • Although, that said, there’s no reason a white guy had to play this part.  None at all.  There was supposedly going to be a story-based reason why the Ancient One was a white woman; that boiled down to Baron Mordo saying “She’s Celtic” at one point.  Not that she sounded Irish or anything either, mind you.
  • The fight scenes are kind of cool because of the reality-folding stuff and gravity-bending that happens, only it’s not really entirely clear why reality-folding and gravity-bending follows from the rest of the stuff that magic can do, which mostly involves generating weird glowy things out of one’s hands.  Magic is boring in the Marvel universe.
  • Also boring: learning magic.  If we’re going to waste a big chunk of the movie on Bufflepuff Cummerdammerung training to use magic and not being a big old dumb empiricist anymore, maybe we could have seen the moment where he first succeeds at something?  Maybe.  It really seems like doing magic in the Marvel Universe basically just involves waving your hands around, and sometimes wearing a weird two-finger ring for some reason.  I have a few years’ worth of Doctor Strange comics, by the way, and the ring has made no appearance.  We spent a lot of time watching him train, but never saw him learn.  There’s no Word and the Way conversation here, no indication at all of how magic actually works, or why him waving his hands in a way does something but me waving my hands the same way in front of my computer wouldn’t.
  • Oh, and he also learns karate, because of course he does.
  • This isn’t a complaint: Kaecilius, the villain, makes more sense than any other Marvel villain so far.  His role is criminally underwritten, but his evil plan makes sense.  Especially this fucking week.  This movie was loaded with acting talent– it may have the best cast of any Marvel movie, with the possible exception of Thor.  It just wasn’t interesting.
  • The Female Love Interest had no reason to be there, at all.  None.  They shoulda had Strange working out of Night Nurse’s hospital and brought Rosario Dawson in.

There’s probably more, but I think you get the idea.  I’m not actually recommending not seeing this; my wife liked it a lot, and again, all these problems came up later, not while I was watching it.  But the ultimate assessment?  Meh.  If I write much more, it’ll just be so I can find more ways to say Blimpledimp Clinkypunch’s name, and that’s gonna get old eventually.

(No it won’t.  Bumplemump Carrybrinks.  Buzzawump Clubberpick.  Bonklesnuzz Clippersmell.  It will never get old.)

In which I’ve been reading

img_4968One of the more underrated aspects of the recent Netflix Luke Cage miniseries was the attention it paid to black literature.  In particular, a conversation about author Donald Goines during one episode instantly sold me four of his books– and by instantly, I mean I literally opened the Amazon app on my phone and ordered the books in between scenes.  Goines’ Kenyatta series– Crime Partners, Death List, Kenyatta’s Escape, and Kenyatta’s Last Hit, have been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of weeks now waiting for me to finish the Hamilton biography and get to them.

I read all four of them today and yesterday.  It sounds like an accomplishment, but they’re not very long– only Last Hit tops 200 pages– and I’ve been off from work.

Imagine Conan, but written in the 1970s– dear God, there is nothing more 1970s than these books– and set in the ghettos of Detroit and Los Angeles instead of Cimmeria, and you actually have a pretty good idea of what these books are like.  The prose is occasionally, to put it mildly, terrible– see the excerpt above– but the books have so much energy and passion to them that I couldn’t put any of them down.  Goines’ literary career lasted something like five years and he released over a dozen books during that time before being found shot to death in his home.  I hate to bring in a Hamilton reference again, but it’s appropriate: the man wrote like he was running out of time, and his Wikipedia entry speculates that he wrote to stave off heroin addiction.  The Kenyatta series is frantically-paced in the best way; it’s as if Goines physically needed to get the story out of him as best he could and barely glanced at it before moving on to the next one.

Think about checking them out, is what I’m saying, even if the page above makes you cringe.  Do it anyway.