#REVIEW: The Prey of Gods, by Nicky Drayden

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Every so often I go back and forth on whether I should ever be posting book reviews here.  I follow a lot of Real Author blogs, and most of them don’t do book reviews– or, if they do, they mostly let the authors talk themselves.  This is actually how I encountered The Prey of Gods, a book I first found in a Big Idea post over at John Scalzi’s blog.

Honestly, I’d have ordered the thing based on the cover alone.  Look at that.   It’s awesome.

The book’s completely goddamned out of control, though.  Completely.  Out.  Of.  Control.  There are at least two more main POV characters than there need to be, probably half-a-dozen unnecessary subplots, and the story itself has so many things mashed together– a runaway dik-dik invasion (and if you’re thinking “will there be jokes about dik-diks?” right now?  Yes there will.), a species-jumping gene-altered virus that turns people into gods, actual gods, AIs gaining sentience, adult circumcision, 37,000 people being murdered by the main character in a fit of rage that we’re all supposed to forget about because she’s supposed to be sympathetic, a number of other brutal murders, a character with mind-control powers who has sex (? Maybe?) with his best friend then wipes his memory of the event, which is more than a little rapey, a pop musician who also has healing powers, a politician tasked with eliminating the dik-dik invasion who is also a cross-dressing singer who wants to open for the previous singer, his mother who is some sort of tree goddess, and jesus christ it never stops.

Here’s the thing, y’all: I stopped reading this with like 20 pages left because I just couldn’t take the crazy any longer– right around the time when mind-control dude swapped his boy/friend’s brain into his, then downloaded his own brain into his pet robot, then had several pages of stressing out about available hard drive space while he was trying to find room in the robot’s hard drive for his entire brain and the robot’s personality, but only after preventing his boy/friend, who may or may not have been dead at the time, from becoming a tree.

That’s not an exaggeration.  

I couldn’t do it any longer.  But if you read the GoodReads reviews, there are a lot of people who really like this book, and I wouldn’t even really argue with someone who did?  Nicky Drayden is an impressive writer, and I want to see more from her.  But I couldn’t take this book.  So… check it out, maybe?  But caveat emptor, or something?

I see movies

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You like movies, right?  Everybody likes movies.  You may have noticed that they made another movie about that Spider-Man dude recently.

Quick!  Guess if I saw it.

Of course I did.  And I’m pleased to report that I liked it quite a damn lot; I continue to be amazed that Marvel has cranked out something like ten thousand of these movies and I haven’t seen one I disliked yet.  It’s not the best superhero movie of the year– that title belongs to Wonder Woman still, but it’s a solid effort, especially when you consider that there have been like seventeen movies just about Spider-Man in the last fifteen years or so.

Highlights: Tom Holland, Tom Holland, Tom Holland, and Tom Holland.  Also Michael Keaton.  Actually, hell, let’s be honest here: I like the entire damn cast.  There’s just enough Robert Downey Jr– I didn’t want this to have as much Iron Man in it as, say, Civil War did– and he’s got enough screen time that it’s more than a cameo but not a lot more than a cameo, if you know what I mean.  Putting Peter Parker back in high school was the right move, and Tom Holland plays young more than well enough.  Michael Keaton as the Vulture (who, note, is never actually referred to by that name) is the best villain Marvel’s put on-screen since Loki, and I actually really like how low-stakes the film is for most of its runtime; it fits Spider-Man’s role as a street-level hero.  This movie gets the character’s soul completely right, and that’s really important.

One minor gripe: this guy?

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The character’s name is supposedly Ned?  And maybe he’s supposed to be Ned Leeds, although they don’t ever use his last name, and shouldn’t Ned Leeds be a lot older than Peter anyway?  And: nah.  Fuck that.  This isn’t Ned.  This is Ganke, dammit, and I want Miles Morales in a Marvel movie.  Donald Glover plays his uncle Aaron!  He’s out there, dammit!  Quit giving me his friends under weird pseudonyms and his relatives and give me Miles Morales!  

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I also saw this, finally.  You may remember my review of the book of The Girl With All the Gifts: I loved the hell out of it, and it ended up being my second favorite book of 2016.  I actually first heard of the book when I saw the trailer for the movie and it blew me away, and then I waited a year and a goddamn half and the damn movie either never came out in the States at all (I’ve been unable to get a solid answer on this, and believe me, I’ve looked) or got such a limited release that I was never anywhere near a theater that showed it.

Well, good news: Apple to the rescue!  I was able to rent the movie for 24 hours for just 99 cents, and if anything it’s even a bit creepier than the book was– and, remember, I loved the book.  You won’t be able to find this in theaters anywhere, but it’s absolutely worth hunting down if you have any way to stream it.  Read the book, too, while you’re at it.

#Review: WONDER WOMAN

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I meant to get this written a bit earlier, but this ended up being a much busier (or at least much more tiring) week than I’d originally anticipated.  Keep something in mind, though; this is my review after almost a week.  So this is after I’ve had time to think about the movie for a while and let it roll around in my head for a bit.

I’ll be direct: I’ve hated almost every DC movie released since 1989.  Nineteen eighty fucking nine.  The only reason for the “almost”?  I never saw Catwoman— because why the hell would you?– and I did not hate Suicide Squad, mostly because I didn’t care enough about any of the characters in the film to properly hate it and Harley Quinn was fun to watch.  I got home from Batman Returns way back in 1992 and ranted about it at such length and such volume to my parents that my neighbor actually came over and asked me to cut it out.  My parents live in a house.  The last several DC films have been so bad that I refuse to even admit that the characters they are supposedly about are even in the movies.  Man of Steel wasn’t about Superman.  Batman Begins was about some sort of sword-fighting ninja dude who isn’t a detective and doesn’t give a wet shit about human life, and by the time Alien Jesus v. Wing-Rat Psycho came around, he was literally branding criminals so they’d get killed in jail.  Fuck that.

That fuckin’ movie actually had the word Justice in the title.  Was there at any point any concern with justice anywhere in that movie?  Ever?  Nah, of course not.

Wonder Woman is probably the best superhero movie since Superman and Superman 2.

Why “probably”?  Because I’m not capable of watching Iron Man or Avengers with any sort of objectivity.  I need to watch Civil War again; when that came out, I called it the best Marvel movie; I’m not sure it’s held up to me as well as they have.  Wonder Woman is so much better than the rest of DC’s film product in the last thirty years that we shouldn’t even refer to it in the same category any longer.  It’s like saying that out of this giant pile of shit the carefully plastic-wrapped apple on top is the tastiest.  Of course it is; it’s the only fucking apple.

Proposal: that, from now on, the remainder of the DC murderverse films (and those not formally part of the murderverse as well, such as the execrable Superman Returns, which revealed him to be a deadbeat dat) be referred to as murples.  Only Wonder Woman gets to be a movie.

Damn near 500 words in, so I probably ought to get to the “why” part.  It actually isn’t all that complicated, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it:  Wonder Woman is actually a hero in this movie, who does heroic things and whose primary motivation is to save people.  The first time we see Diana in full Wonder Woman getup, she’s charging– against the advice of everyone around her— across No Man’s Land straight into rifles, mortars and machine guns to save a French village full of strangers who she has never met.  It’s an outstanding moment; the best in the film and one of the best superhero reveals I’ve ever seen.

Why is she doing that?  Because they’re there and they need help.

This, you see, is what superheroes do.  And what Wonder Woman gets right that literally no DC movies and not enough of the Marvel films have gotten right is that it remembers that its main character is supposed to be a superhero and so she acts like one.

There’s more, of course, but that’s the core of my love for this film and everything else is really window dressing.  Gal Gadot is phenomenal; I really wasn’t into the idea of her playing this character (I’m still on Team Gina Torres) but turns out I was at least as wrong about that as I was about Tom Holland playing Spider-Man.  The other standout from the movie is Robin Wright as Antiope and, while most of Lucy Davis’ lines were in the trailer, she steals every second that her Etta Candy is on the screen.  Chris Pine is exactly what he needs to be and no more.  And Elena Anaya as Dr. Maru is creepy as fuck in another role that doesn’t get a huge amount of screen time.  The opening bits on Themyscira are fantastic; I want to see more of all of that, Antiope in particular.  I mean, c’mon:

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(I have, in case it’s not clear, no serious complaints about the film.  About the closest I can get is that the CGI could be a bit better in parts.  But whatever.  Graphics barely even register to me anymore.)

A word about setting the film during World War I instead of World War II:  I think it was a brilliant idea.  Why?  Because Wonder Woman fights against the idea of war itself.  Her role is to be as an ambassador for peace before any other moral good.  And, much unlike WWII, World War I is a perfect examplar of the utter pointlessness of war.  It strikes me every time I read a history book about it: World War I was a war fought for nothing.  Literally nothing.  Not one person who died during that war died for anything.  And yet millions of people died horrible deaths and millions more were wounded.  It actually dilutes Wonder Woman’s anti-war message to put her into World War II, because fighting to stop fascism is actually a cause.  So as much as I’d like to see Wonder Woman punching some Nazis, I think it was a solid change to make to the story.

The big question, of course, is whether this means I’m going to have to see Justice League when it comes to theaters.  I’m still leaning toward no, as nothing I’ve seen from the film makes me think that the word justice is going to belong in the team’s name and there’s going to be more Alien Christ in it.  But the fact that Wonder Woman even got me to consider seeing Justice League?

If that’s not a solid reason to see the movie, I don’t know what possibly could be.

#REVIEW: RIVER OF TEETH, by Sarah Gailey

31445891I wanted to like this book so much.

So, here’s the premise of River of Teeth, and tell me if you aren’t chomping at the bit to read this motherfucker after you hear it:  It is a true fact that in the early 20th century the US Government actually planned to import hippopotamuses into the delta of the Mississippi in order to raise them for meat.  This didn’t actually happen, because are you kidding, of course it didn’t.

In River of Teeth, Sarah Gailey backs that timeline up by a hundred years or so and then gives us an alternate history where it actually happened.

And, like, you’re in, right?  Look at the damn cover.  Cowboy adventures on hippos.  How could you not go buy this immediately and read the hell out of it?

And for a while, it’s cool. Hippos have been in the US for long enough that we’ve domesticated them into a few different breeds (I’m good with the idea of breeds; less so with the “domesticated” idea, but whatever) and so there are, like, meat hippos and ridin’ hippos and one that, honest to God, appears to be some sort of ninja stealth attack hippo, and each of the main characters has their own hippo that they have a relationship with and ride on and are bonded with.

So, that premise gets you through about the first third of the book, and you’re still super excited, and then the cracks start to show and it becomes pretty clear that the utterly fantastic premise was all the book had, and maybe it was worth reading anyway, I think?   But the following things all happen:

  • The hippos get sidelined for big chunks of the book because you can’t get hippos into buildings and such.  The hippos are cool!  Make this a road adventure so that the hippos are around more often!
  • The book is weirdly structured; the author was clearly trying to write to novella length and had a bit more story than that so the actual Big Adventure part is sort of unfocused and gets resolved really abruptly.  There’s also a weird scale thing happening where it’s never clear at all just how much open land they have to work with; it could be anything from a few acres to several square miles. That’s a big difference when you’re hunting hippos!
  • Speaking of: the Mad Caper is almost an afterthought for most of the book.  There’s a big Putting the Band Together sequence that is well-written and neat until you realize that it’s never really clear why any of these characters are necessary for the Caper to occur, or for the most part what their roles are intended to be– especially once the Caper occurs and it turns out to have been the least complicated plan of all time.
  • The main character Wants Revenge from a certain other character for, no shit, burning his hippo ranch to the ground and killing all his hippos.  Cool!  Motivation! And then a third character kills the object of revenge at about the 2/3 mark of the story for cheating at cards and well I guess that storyline can sorta fizzle.  Sure, things like this might happen on earth, but they’re not narratively very interesting. There’s a reason the bad guy never randomly dies of a heart attack or a car accident halfway through the story.
  • One character is inexplicably hugely pregnant.  The parentage of the child is kept in the dark until it is Suddenly Revealed, at which point no one cares, because we don’t know these characters so why does it matter who they were banging before we met them?  Also, the pregnancy is ignored whenever convenient.
  • Another character is French, which is fine, except the accent she’s written with is ‘orribly annoying and involves huge numbers of apostrophes.
  • And then there’s Hero.  I feel crappy complaining about Hero, but I’m gonna do it anyway.  Hero is… trans?  Maybe?  Nonbinary, somehow?  Genderqueer?  Unconcerned?  Who knows, but Hero is referred to with plural pronouns throughout the book, including by characters who have never met them prior to referring to them as “they.”  And we are never told why.  Now, I have an entire race of characters in my Benevolence Archives book who don’t conform to gender binary and use specialized pronouns, so maybe I ought to shut up here?  But the combination of constant plurals with a deliberate refusal to ever actually describe Hero is insanely annoying. Hero even gets into a relationship with the main character at one point!  They have sex, I think!

And here’s where I break away from the bullet points, because they’re going to become unwieldy:  there’s nothing wrong, obviously, with including nonbinary characters in your book.  I recommend it, in fact!  My favorite book of the year so far features a trans main character!  But give me some way to hook into these characters, or at least to picture them.  And as much as I hate to complain about historical accuracy in a book about people riding hippos, I feel like no one in the mid/late 1800s who has never met Hero is going to look at Hero and automatically call them “they” without even asking any questions.  Similarly, the love relationship: Hero flirts with the main character throughout the book and they eventually end up in bed together.  Cool!  Except that when they meet Hero immediately tries to poison him.  It’s not so much “trans (maybe!) character gets a love interest” that I have an issue with– that part’s fine– but I don’t know how many romantic relationships begin with attempted murder.(*)

I’m gonna keep an eye on Sarah Gailey, guys, because the cool things about this book are really cool, and the writing in general is fast and snappy and it’s a fun book.  The issues with it are mostly issues of authorial control; I feel like if she had been writing a full-length novel a lot of the issues might have gone away.  One way or another, I’m disappointed with this one, but I’m pretty sure I’m still in for her next book.

(*) Okay, I’ve referred to Rhundi holding Brazel at gunpoint on their first date repeatedly in the Benevolence Archives books.  But y’all haven’t seen the whole story yet.