Feb. 16th, 2009

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Marvel 1602 TPB (Quill Award Edition) Marvel 1602 TPB by Neil Gaiman

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Neil Gaiman ventures into Alan Moore territory for Marvel. Oddly, it's not a very exciting expedition.

Gaiman may be the victim of expectations. I was a huge fan of Sandman and The Books of Magic. Frankly, nothing he's done since has impressed me half as much.

In 1602, he takes a clever idea - what if all the Marvel superheroes were alive in the time of Queen Elizabeth? - and does less with it than I would have expected.

But I'll admit that in part, that's because Alan Moore has done so much remarkable work with historical comics and heroes that Gaiman suffers by comparison. I'm used to incredibly dense, clever, brilliant stories - books that make you think, references to other works and historical events that are so complex and interwoven that it takes another book (probably by Jess Nevins) to annotate them all.

Gaiman has approached that level of cleverness in the past, with Shakespeare in Sandman. That's universally agreed to be a classic of the genre. But 1602...was just a comic book.

Oh, it's not a bad comic book. It was just surprisingly unimaginative. And oddly enough Gaiman's strongest suit, his sense of mystery and atmosphere, wasn't particularly notable here.

At one point I had to wonder if some editor at Marvel had interfered with the book! Because to my surprise the mystery of the book was killed dead with a somewhat laborious explanation.

Let me see if I can explain.

The book features many classic Marvel characters as they would be if they had been born and grew up in the late 1500s. I'll admit it: this is a neat idea. But it didn't need to be explained. Making the whole point of the story an explanation of why modern characters were somehow re-born in the past (the explanation provided via a certain deus ex machina character) really killed much of the fun out of the story! It took away the atmosphere and mystery.

It was fun the way it was. Why ruin it with a rationalization? Why kill the sense of magic?

There were a few clever and amusing points which I won't spoil, but they certainly didn't make up for the essentially leaden and unmagical tone of the book.

On the plus side, it was well-illustrated. And at nearly 250 pages, it was longer than most graphic novels; a decent way to kill a couple of hours. In a fractional system, I'd have given it a 2.5.

I just expected more from Neil Gaiman, that's all.

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The Getaway Special The Getaway Special by Jerry Oltion

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Getaway Special never quite seems to settle on what it's going to be. A wacky interstellar comedy, Ron Goulart-style? An edge-of-the-seat novel of nuclear brinkmanship, a la Failsafe in a science fiction setting? A nuts-n-bolts quasi-realistic "here's how we built the spaceship" story, perhaps reminiscent of some of Heinlein's work?

It's neither fish nor fowl. That said, it's edible - I mean, readable.

It's the story of a self-proclaimed "mad scientist" (a cutesy designation which threatens to become actively annoying) and a space shuttle pilot as the venture across the galaxy. At first, there's an interesting semi-realistic tone; it's neat to imagine what would happen if FTL travel suddenly became cheap and easy. Of course, The Great Explosion already covered that ground (though how I wish there were sequels!).

Then the book takes a darker, more paranoiac turn, rather like Capricorn One (which is NOT what I meant by a wacky Goulart comedy, by the way). But it isn't long before it turns into what promises to be an interesting description of how to make a spaceship at home. Alas, this too gets a relatively sketchy treatment (although not before reminding me of Gilpin's Space by R. Bretnor).

Next, the story turns towards interstellar exploration. Once more, though, there's a relative lack of detail and focus.

Other threads follow. Strange aliens, world-saving...to be honest, it wasn't until I got to the roughly the middle of the aliens segment that I found myself no longer taking the book seriously. When aliens start making jokes and display virtually unbelievable abilities, the willing suspension of disbelief breaks - and mine did.

It wasn't an awful book. It was readable, and passed the time. But it wasn't particularly good, either. I'm not likely to make a particular effort to seek out future works by Mr. Oltion, although I'm not going to actively avoid him, either.

In a fractional system, I'd give this book a 2.6. And the .1 that takes it from "okay" to "liked it" is really because I came to the book with low expectations.

(Another book that I was reminded of while reading this one: The Venus Belt and Tom Paine Maru by L. Neil Smith. They, and all the other books I've mentioned above, are (I'm sorry to say) more interesting than The Getaway Special.)

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