Good Reads #18 – Broken Angel

Title: Broken Angel

Author: Sigmund Brouwer

Genre: Dsytopia

Sigh. This one had a great promise: Christian Fundamentalists end up seceding from the United States and become a territory called Appalachia. The world they set up is kind of a Christian Big Brother. People are stoned to death for their crimes and illiteracy is mandated because the “all-seeing” Bar Elohim deems that the ability to read, or have access to the bible is dangerous; all the priests learn their liturgy from an audio book.

In this word there is a girl named Caitlyn. She is on the run from a bounty hunter for reasons she doesn’t understand. All she knows is that she must get “Outside” and that per her Papa, she musn’t allow herself to get captured – living or otherwise.

And what I’ve told you is about as deep as the book ever gets. We never get any real insight into who she is. I couldn’t describe her character in anything other than a physical sense. Her secret is ridiculously easy to figure it out: I had it solved in the first few pages. This not only makes the big reveal anti-climatic, it makes her musings on what is happening to her feel unimportant.

Another character we learn is a runaway whose parents was stoned to death and he talks a lot. That’s about it. There’s also a bounty hunter who can only be described as a pyschopath. He has no qualms against torture, and it’s made clear that “women suffer at his hands” more than men and it’s been implied that he has and enjoys raping women. The characterization in this book just isn’t deep, so if you like that sort of thing, look elsewhere.

And that world that had promise? The world building is okay at best. For every neat tidbit – like communion wafers being doctored with opium to make the citizens feel like God is with them and that Church is the place to be there’s then an element that doesn’t quite make sense like the citizens do have access to internet-enabled computers (content censored of course) but the computers are run with pictographs since they can’t read. Is all information read to them? And the explanation for why they went from cars to horses is meh at best.

Really “meh” is a good description for this book. It just kind of is, and it’s short to boot at only 243 pages. It’s the first in the series and feels like another book that was purposefully cut shot so that a series could be made.

This book is the author’s 18th so he clearly has a following and I can see why because it was a quick read. It’s just ultimately insubstantial and didn’t give me any reason to care about these characters. And if you don’t care about the characters and the world building isn’t enough to keep you going why should I keep read? I won’t, and you can find something better to read.

Verdict: Don’t bother.

Good Reads #17 – The Dream of Perpetual Motion

Title: The Dream of Perpetual Motion

Author: Dexter Palmer

Genre: Literary Fiction, Steam Punk, Dystopia

I found this book while surfing the LA Public Library’s electronic catalog for dystopian fantasy. I’ve read a decent amount of the YA variant and was happy to stumble upon a few tales for adults. And man, you can tell the difference in the intended audience.

There is no plucky hero or heroine here. There is no fight against that what is suppressing the masses. Hell, there isn’t even an obvious Evil Government that needs to be fought. No.

This is a tale of a society where machines have come to the for, where robots are plentiful and have taken the place of humans in many aspects of society. Teachers no longer teacher, they merely feed pages of books into machines that jam the knowledge into the heads of children, bands don’t play at clubs, bands of robots play and so on.

It is a society that feels fundamentally unhappy. The protagonist’s sister commits suicide. A person is horribly crushed to death in a club. The object of the narrator’s love is operated on in ways that can only be described as inhumane and driven mad. The “father” of the love interest is full on insane by the end.

The narrator, a greeting card author, is no hero. He does not have pretensions to it and admits that he fails at it miserably. His heart’s desire is a reflection of what a broken man he is.

This story is a downer. There’s no other way to put it. There is no one to root for and the ending is bleak.

This is how dystopian fantasy probably should end: with a whimper.

I mentioned to a friend how I was struggling with the book and wondered if I should swear off literary fiction. Having finished it, I won’t eschew further literary fiction, I think I just need to read something a bit more…upbeat.

It’s a good book, just a downer, so prepare yourself for that.

Verdict: Borrow it.

Good Reads #16 – The Name of the Wind

Title: The Name of the Wind

Author: Patrick Rothfuss

Usually when I’m writing up reviews, I almost always have two sets of opinions: what I write for Good Reads and what I write here, with my more raw reactions reserved for here because I don’t think Good Reads is necessarily the place to diatriabe.

In this case though, I really don’t have anything else to say. This is a good piece of fantasy that feels grounded in reality, is an anti-epic since it’s about one man that isn’t out to set the world and his primary antagonist as a teenager is a wealthy noble’s son.

My only real complaint is that it’s a bit long-winded and we seemingly don’t get that far in the first book. But still, it’s very much worth a read.

My full good reads review here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/551235315 if you’re interested, but just go out and read it if you have any love of a good story at all.

Verdict: Buy it.

Good Reads #15: Trial of the Clone: An Interactive Adventure!

Title: Trial of the Clone: An Interactive Adventure!

Author: Zach Weinersmith

Where to buy it: Breadpig

I was surfing the Breadpig website (I’m waiting for this to come out; I missed the kickstarter to my eternal sadness) and stumbled across this book. It sounded like fun, so I gave it a shot because I loved these kind of books when I was younger, and still do. So one written geared towards adults?

Win!

Except this was kind a fail. The RP elements were a neat idea, but potchkey to deal with when actually sitting in bed reading (so later on I just ignored them) and worst the book felt like it was written for frat boys. The writing wasn’t awful, it just wasn’t geared at people like me.

Case in point. I flipped to a random page and there were as story paths where you, the character, has to decide if he wants to punch himself in the balls to drive away his lust to continue adventuring. If he doesn’t, he joins a village where it is implied he lives happily ever after in an endless orgy and the story ends with you losing. Only it says “you…lose?” because in a frat boy world that is like the best ending ever, right?

But yeah, I think that example above is the biggest reason I can’t recommend the book if you don’t like that kind of humor. You’ll spend more time cringing than wanting to press on.

I look forward to more trying the formula, but this one is a no-go for me.

Verdict: Don’t Bother.

Good Reads #14: Beautiful Chaos

Title: Beautiful Chaos

Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

Sigh. I think I have a like/dislike complex with this series. It’s well written enough to not be a guilty pleasure, and yet this book, more so than the others, really puts the weaknesses of the authors on display. In fact, I think I might even go so far as to say it’s the weakest of the three.

My issues:

1. It’s slow to start. Again. Beautiful Creatures was like this, but Beautiful Darkness got going right away. That book also had the by of it being the first book in the series so some time to set up the world isn’t unexpected (even if it did take longer than my patience would normally allow)

2. It feels like almost characterization, save for Link’s, has more or less ground to a halt here. For the most part, all of these characters feel like they’re in the same spot they were at the beginning of the story. Ethan does mature some, but the biggest crime is Amma. I don’t know what they did to Amma here but it just doesn’t feel right at all. She’s always been one of the rocks of the book and it feels like she’s come unhinged. When you find out her reasons for doing so, you kind of get it, but it’s still hard to shake the feeling that she wouldn’t have responded in that manner.

3. The Deus-Ex Machina/hand-waving aspects of this book are stronger than they’ve ever been and that is not a good thing. The books have always had an issue with this – like an adult just happening to turn up where they are needed at just the right time, but I feel this book takes it from minor annoyance to it’s how the whole plot actually works. Like a certain character develops a power it doesn’t really make sense for him to have (that of course becomes very important at the end) and someone calls him out on it and we get a platitude and hand-wave dismissal.It’s feeling more and more like lazy writing.

And finally..

4. I feel like the plot doesn’t make as much sense as it could. Basically, as a result of Lena’s Claiming, things are batshit cray cray not only in the world but also to Ethan personally. But why? Ethan is, even for his place in the world, essentially Mortal. This stuff shouldn’t be effecting him. There is an explanation at the end that kind of works, but still feels like one of those “oh.” moments. And the big reveal of who The One Who is Two is really shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

In the end I didn’t hate this book, but it certainly didn’t live up to my expectations either.

Recommendation: Borrow it.

Good Reads #13: Feast of Souls

Title: Feast of Souls (Magister Trilogy #1)

Author: C.S. Friedman

ISBN: 9780756404635

Ugh. My feelings on this book are so incredibly mixed!

On the one hand, if you’re looking for a good, solid fantasy novel: this is it. It’s got a good world, some interesting characters and a decent enough set up. It’s a more substantive book than most, but not quite on the same level if epic fantasy as say Robert Jordan or George R. R. Martin – which honestly isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, it makes it a good entry point in that sub-genre, because if you think this is too dense you’re not going to be handle the other books.

That said, this book invited trouble by being marketed as the “spiritual successor” to the Coldfire Trilogy. But doing so invites comparison between the two books, and when you compare them, this book falls flat.

None of the characters in Feast of Souls are as interesting or as complex as Damian Vryce or Gerald Tarrant. The world in Feast of Souls is a typical alternate-Earth-medieval times kind of setting where as Erna was a whole new planet with a whole new set of rules. The magic in Feast of Souls – is actually a pretty basic system once you take away the aspect that you literally give up minutes of your life for every spell you cast (not a spoiler, it’s given away on the back cover of the book). It’s not nearly as compelling as the Fae of the other series, it doesn’t feel as dangerous, it doesn’t feel as fleshed out. It just…is. It’s supposed to be this big thing but it just doesn’t grab the reader in the same way.

At the end of the day, Feast of Souls is just a more generic series. If you can find the other books, I’d recommend those over this. If you still want to read both, or get a feel for Friedman (I think these are easier to find) I’d read these first and then the other ones so you don’t get that nagging sense of disappointment that I did.

Verdict: Buy it if you are a fan of the genre and haven’t read Friedman before. Borrow it if you have read the Coldfire Trilogy so you can decide for yourself if this will satisfy you.

Comics: Sex #1 (Take Two)

*grumbles*

It would seem that Word Press ate my review of Sex #1 and it’s a pity, because I think it’s a comic that’s worth a look, if you’re open minded enough for it.

The basic set up of this comic is not unlike a side-story of Batman: Simon Cooke, a wealthy socialite and former super hero, has returned to Saturn City to take control of The Cooke Company. His lawyer/friend Warren has been covering up for him while he’s been gone. The issue takes its time to set up the situation and the characters. No major action goes down here, as it’s really about a man reconnecting with the former home.

The reason that Sex has gotten so much attention is that well, there is Sex. This is an adult title. When I got to the first sex scene my initial reaction was a lesbian sex show, really? But this is a title written by men with a majority male audience. As long as we get some heterosexual sex in there at some point, I’ll be fine with it. But after I finished reading it and I started to digest it all I realized several things:

1. The sex was well integrated into the plot. It doesn’t just happen and it doesn’t feel forced.

2. The sex scene actually served multiple purposes: Casey used the opportunity of the scene to build character development – despite the fact that Simon is there and nominally watching, he isn’t getting off on this. He’s not there for the cheap thrill. In fact, he’s so not paying attention to it that one of the women even remarks on his disinterest. Because he’s disinterested it gives the scene a feeling of distance, at least it did for me. And finally, the scene sets up the start of the next issue. This brings me to my final point…

3. This sex isn’t exploitative. The women don’t have G cups. The positions they’re put in are nature and don’t feature things like arching their backs out in unnatural ways to put their chest into our face, and honestly,  it feels like they’ve got more clothing on than many female characters in mainstream non-adult titles. This isn’t porn and for that I give huge props to both Casey for writing it that way, but especially to Kowalski for drawing it that way. The pair has found a really good tone here that lets them get the titillation in that they want but leaves me feeling so much less dirty than reading comics with fanservice from the Big Two.

At the end of the day I’m really intrigued here. I want to see where this is going and I’d hope that the industry would take note that you can have something more adult without devolving into pure porn. Hell, it proves you can have sexy women without devolving into the ridiculous proportions and questionable poses that the industry has become known for.

I picked this title up at the recommendation of my shop and honestly didn’t have huge hopes for it. I wound up being pleasantly surprised. If you get a chance to, pick it up. This is the type of title that we as comic fans should be encouraging.