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Triumph of the WhimTriumph of the Whim by Adam Thrasher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Funny as hell. The balls-out, totally over-the-top collected comic strip (not a complete collection, mind you) of the adventures of Space Moose, the most perverted moose imaginable. How perverted, you ask? Well, when he gets his hands on a time machine, he -

No. I won't spoil it for you. Let's just say that if coprophagy, misogyny, abort-o-matic machines, feces, gore, sheer insanity, ----, and lots more ---- don't make you cringe, and if you don't hold anything sacred, you'll find this a hell of a funny read.

Or rather, you WOULD find it a hell of a funny read. But you can't read it. Because it was only available direct from the author, and he's not doing that stuff any more. I have my copy (and t-shirt), but you're out of luck!

But don't be sad. The online web archive of Space Moose was taken down when the author discovered that the grown-up world of employment and grants doesn't have much of a sense of humor. Luckily, I, personally, had cached a copy of most of the site. And I passed it on to a few select people. Google "Space Moose" and you should be able to find a copy.

They're all there because I saved that site. You're welcome!

But FYI, there are a couple of strips in the book that were never published online, including the soul-stirring sequel to "F-----io Barn". The humor! The tears! The nausea! The, um...

Never mind. You'll just have to imagine it.

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While re-reading the Harry Potter series and watching the movies, I was struck by the ways in which J.K. Rowling's style resembles that of Agatha Christie. They share an intensely English, insular outlook - and rather a nationalistic, even racist one.

This is most evident in Rowling's portrayal of the two "visitor" schools in the Triwizard Tournament. Beauxbatons is a caricature of the French, at least as many older Britons perceive them: superficially attractive, concerned mainly about appearance (although to her credit Rowling did make an exception to that point later in the series, when Fleur surprises Mrs. Weasley by not breaking her engagement after Bill is badly scarred), and ultimately light-weights in every way (except, perhaps, in the field of romance). The movie accentuates this by representing the Beauxbatons student body as almost entirely female, and throws in a gratuitous mass-ass-wiggling scene which is simply ridiculous.

Likewise, Durmstrang is a heavy-handed parody of Russians and East Europeans in general. Virtually all male, sullen, buzz-cut, large, taciturn, and given to violence; the personification of the racist fantasies of some angry, graying old Briton, and an old-fashioned one at that. If they weren't school-age, I'd imagine Rowling would have made them drunks, too!

I almost wish that Rowling had included Americans in her books. Dame Agatha would doubtless once again have provided the template: quaint accents out of a 1930s western movie, combined with exaggerated New England ones from the 1890s. Ridiculous Biblical names like "Hiram", "Ezekiel", and "Jedediah". Poor taste in virtually everything. Far too much money than is good for them, and a propensity to throw that money around thoughtlessly. Ignorance combined with overweening arrogance. And I'd bet there'd be at least a touch of over-reliance on technology or its magical equivalent, as well - with a good solid comeuppance in the end, as our plucky British heroes prove that old-fashioned spunk and stick-to-it-iveness are the qualities that really matter when the chips are down.
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The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #6) The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once again C.S. Lewis went beyond the borders of Narnia for another "Narnian" book - and once again, he came up with a new character with enormous humor and appeal for children.

In this case, the character is Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle. He guides Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb as they "follow the signs" on a quest given them by Aslan. They must rescue the lost Prince Rilian, son of Prince Caspian.

There are several points at which characters are irritatingly oblivious to the obvious, throughout the book. I'll give no spoilers, but they're rather obvious. And Aslan comes off as something of a nagging wanker; what's with the mysterious "signs"? Jerking people around with hints and confusing portents may represent some sort of divine test of their moral fiber, but in my book it's just irritating. As Lewis himself seems to realize, since Aslan says at the end "I shall not always be scolding."
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I might also mention the BBC television adaptation of this book. It featured Tom Baker (best known as Doctor Who) in the role of Puddleglum, and he did his usual outstanding job. But some of his best lines were cut, which surprised me - particularly since my rendition of them while reading to my son earned me some very enthusiastic laughs.

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Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 03: 1941 Isaac Asimov Presents The Great SF Stories 03: 1941 by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cynic once said something like "The Golden Age of science fiction is about sixteen."

But they're wrong. 1941 was the heart of the Golden Age of science fiction. And this book is the proof.

If you've read a fair selection of classic SF, some of these stories will doubtless be familiar to you. Others probably won't be. In any case, these are some of the all-time classics of the genre.

Each story is introduced by Isaac Asimov, and he provides some interesting (and tantalizing) commentary. I can't help but wonder, for example, why he included Fredric Brown (one of my favorite writers) as an author whose personality was different from his stories (as opposed to authors who resembled their stories, some of whom he also lists). I was surprised and pleased to see that Asimov was, like me, a fan of Robert Arthur as well - although I have to admit that Arthur's story may be the weakest one in the book (though still worth reading!).

There are no stories by Robert Heinlein in this collection, apparently because he (or his wife) wouldn't allow it. Since this book was published in 1980 and Heinlein lived until 1988, Heinlein must have been aware of this. Nonetheless Asimov listed the titles of the Heinlein stories that he would have included in the book, and commented on them. I've often wondered about the relationship between Asimov and Heinlein, and this book only adds to the mystery.

There's a tendency to think of old science fiction as being corny and simplistic. In fact, the best authors of the Golden Age had a sophistication and brilliance which is rarely seen in modern genre authors. If you're not familiar with Golden Age SF, I recommend The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, volume I, which is the definitive collection. But if you get a chance to buy any of The Great SF Stories, grab them! I know I will.

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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #5) The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We enjoyed this one very much. Sebastian (my 7-year-old son) became an instant fan of Reepicheep the talking mouse, even though I never quite managed to develop a distinctive voice for him.

Placing the story primarily outside of Narnia was a good idea; the result is a considerably more imaginative book than the previous one (Prince Caspian).

As always, I must note that the numbering placed on modern editions of the books by the publisher is wrong. The books should be read in the order in which they were written; reading them in the "modern" order actually ruins many of the surprises.

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We finished reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader last week. Sebastian enjoyed it very much. So we started right in on The Silver Chair. That has been going very well, too.

The library has a DVD of the British TV series of The Chronicles of Narnia, or at least the first three discs (which cover Lion, Caspian, Voyage, and Chair). We watched the first disc, and was pretty silly. The special effects were awfully cheesy, but that was pretty much to be expected. The pacing was much slower than the movie, of course, and Teri was bored out of her mind; but that was to be expected too (Sebastian wasn't bored at all).

But what got to me was the terrible British overacting. When a British actor is good they're outstanding, but when they're bad they're terrible. And there were a lot of actors in The Lion who were just painfully bad. "Bellowing scene-chewers" seems the best way to describe them. The Witch, in particular, was like a black hole of bad acting. She kept trying to shout her lines louder and louder, and it was simply awful.

When I was in [ profile] stairflight's production of Romeo and Juliet, some of the other actors urged me to shout more to show that I was angry. I refused. I knew damned well that you can often convey far more anger in a softer voice, and that constantly screaming your lines can be surprisingly ineffective.

Eventually the bad acting got to me. I cracked and started MSTing (that is, commenting on the action MST3K-style). When the Witch's face was on the scream, I dubbed for her "I need some more TOILET PAPER!!!" with the requisite hamminess and eye-rolling. Sebastian completely cracked up, and made me say it again and again for the next two days.

Aslan was quite amusing too. For one thing, he was obviously stuffed. His mouth movements weren't synchronized with his words. So when he was on his way to the Stone Table to be sacrificed by the Witch, and Lucy asked him what was going to happen, I emoted "She's going to cut out my STUFFING!!!". More wild laughter from Sebastian. Ah, the fun. :D

The show of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is far less silly. The sea-serpent actually scared Sebastian a little (lots of spiky teeth). The effects were better, as was the acting. In The Lion talking animals were played (painfully) by people wearing costumes, and other creatures were portrayed with quite amateurish cartoon effects; in Voyage there was only one talking animal, Reepicheep, and although he was played by a (little person? Is that the correct term?), he was relatively well-played and not too irritating.
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The Cat Who Walks Through Walls The Cat Who Walks Through Walls by Robert A. Heinlein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One of Heinlein's last books, and not one of his best. It represents yet another installment in the "World As Myth" theme that he used so often later in life, and therefore includes many characters from his older, better works - including, inevitably, Lazarus Long, who continues his long (pun intended) degeneration from the original interesting protagonist of "Methuselah's Children" into an annoying incest-freak, Heinlein surrogate, self-parody (I suspect), and all-around jerk-who-must-be-worshiped-due-to-his-natural-moral-superiority.
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Heinlein only wrote one more book after this; I've read it, but don't remember much of it (which is not very high praise, I must say). Unfortunately, that means that I don't remember if there was any mention of the outcome in that book. I suppose I'll have to re-read it to find out.

If it weren't for Heinlein's great skill as a storyteller, I'd have given this two stars at best. It's certainly among his weakest novels.

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Day of the Giants Day of the Giants by Lester Del Rey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a mere 128 pages, Lester Del Rey tells a better story than most modern writers can in 500. Day of the Giants feels astonishingly slim next to the mammoth tomes which are de rigueur these days, but that slimness just points up the fact that most of those gargantuan books are simply padded.

The book is very strongly reminiscent of the Compleat Enchanter series by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. Both feature modern twentieth-century men who are unexpectedly faced with the world of Norse mythology. But while the situation was expertly played for laughs by de Camp and Pratt (the Compleat Enchanter series is rightfully considered a classic of the genre), in Day of the Giants del Rey plays it straight. Fimbulwinter has descended on the Earth, Ragnarok approaches, and two twin brothers - one a war hero, the other a farmer - have been taken up to Asgard by Loki and Thor to play a role in the final battle.

The interaction of modern science with magic and mythology is always interesting. I consider one of the failures of the Harry Potter series to be J.K. Rowling's relative neglect of that topic. For example, didn't witches care about the threat of nuclear war, or or ecological collapse? Surely witches who grew up as Muggles, as Harry did, must have been aware of those dangers - so why weren't they addressed? The idea of two societies existing side by side, with one unknown to the other, has all sorts of interesting possibilities...none of which were addressed by Rowling.

It's true that the issue of science vs. magic has become a cliche in modern genre fiction. But it certainly wasn't a cliche in 1959, when DotG was published.

In Day of the Giants, the interaction of science and mythology is handled in a much more satisfying way (I am tempted to compare the relative page counts of DotG with the Harry Potter series, just for laughs). del Rey's handling of the characters is never awkward or clumsy. By the end of the book, I found myself more satisfied than I've been at the end of many a weightier tome.

I suppose that there's no way that a 128-page novel is ever going to be reissued by a modern publisher, so Day of the Giants will remain a curiosity, only to be found in libraries and used book stores. That's a pity, because it deserves a wider readership. It's not a classic that will last for the ages, but it's a very well-written, entertaining book that many modern genre writers would do well to emulate.

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Heaven's Reach (Uplift Trilogy, Book 3) Heaven's Reach by David Brin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I consider David Brin one of the three best genre writers among those who started writing after 1970 (the other two are Lawrence Watt-Evans and Steven Brust; Barry Longyear might be on that list except I think he started writing before 1970, and I haven't seen anything new from him in quite a while. Barry Hughart would be on that list if he hadn't had to give up writing due to his idiotic publishers).

I'm a huge fan of a lot of his work. His original Uplift trilogy is a favorite of mine. But I was disappointed by the first two books in his second Uplift trilogy. Heaven's Reach represents a significant improvement on those books.

It might get a bit too cosmic (in the same way that his Kiln People did, towards the end), but it's a solid, intelligent, imaginative, and well-written book. Perhaps I like it more because the action takes place out on the space lanes, rather than being cooped up on the sooner planet of Jijo.

Many mysteries are explained, and the resolution, while by no means tying up all the threads of the Uplift series, is quite satisfying. I plan to go back to the first two books in the trilogy to see if I like them better in the light of this book.

And I'll be re-reading the entire first trilogy before too long, of course.

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Batman: Dark Victory Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I thought long and hard before giving two stars to this one. It's possible that I should have given it three.

It was long, and a decent enough read. In many ways it resembles Frank Miller's acclaimed Batman: Year One miniseries. Much of the art closely resembles David Mazzucchelli's subdued, semi-realistic and oddly crumpled-looking style in Year One. That's not a style I particularly like, but I don't hate it either.

Many of the secondary characters from Year One appear in Dark Victory. But the storytelling style diverges more from Miller's, particularly in the latter half of the book.

In fact, that's the reason I ended up giving Dark Victory only two stars; it starts well, with a promising mystery that seems as if it might be a mystery - that is, that it might be a mystery which the reader could actually have a chance to figure out, rather than simply read and wait for a deus ex machina. The characters are interesting. But as the book progresses, it goes downhill.

I don't like the way that the various supervillains are drawn, for one thing. Semi-realism goes out the window for them, and the effect doesn't work. Two-Face looks as if he's half Mafioso, and half Red Skull - but with a strange-looking nose that manages to be both weirdly long and pug at the same time (and not just on one side, which might make sense, but on both). The Joker is drawn so unrealistically that he might as well be from another universe; his head is twice the size of anyone else's, and half of his face is giant teeth. Again, the effect doesn't work. Robin looks as if he's drifting towards an anime look, of the typical "cute/frightened little kid with a tiny mouth" type.

The writing goes downhill even faster than the art. A major plotline involving betrayal is resolved in an unsatisfying, off-hand manner. The mystery, which began with such promise, sputters out with a whimper; no matter how I try to connect the interesting clues to the resolution, I can't make sense of it. Batman makes more stupid mistakes than he should, throughout; this is NOT a character who should often miss the obvious, and it's annoying when an author plays that tired old card to extend the story.

The addition of Robin to the story doesn't work at all. This is the "dark" Batman, or purports to be, and adding a cutesy/spunky sidekick to that character is a tricky proposition at best. I don't consider Frank Miller to be infallible, but at least he handled the same issue far more skillfully in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. In this book, Robin is just annoying. I can see what the author was going for, an attempt to make the sidekick issue work with the "dark lone avenger" theme, but he simply fails to carry it off successfully.

I think I might have given this book three stars if it hadn't resembled a far superior work so closely in the beginning, and then failed so completely to fulfil its promise.

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Tales From the White Hart Tales From the White Hart by Arthur C. Clarke

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Absolutely outstanding. I hadn't re-read this book for at least twenty years. Somehow it had gotten pigeonholed in my memory as a bit boring and dull.

But it's anything but dull or boring! Classic and funny science fiction stories using the classic bar-story format. Over and over I found myself coming across phrases and ideas which I'd incorporated into my personal lexicon, only to forget where they'd come from. "Oh, so this is where I first read that!" I kept saying.

It's a pity that Clarke wrote so few of these stories. They're wonderful.

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Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 4) Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

First, a note: the re-ordering of the Narnia series by the publisher should be ignored. It is utterly misguided, spoils some of the charm of the series, and makes no internal sense. Prince Caspian was the second Narnia book that C.S. Lewis wrote, not the fourth.

However, in reading the series to my son I chose to read Prince Caspian third - immediately after The Magician's Nephew. Which itself came after the true first book in the series, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.

In many ways, this is the dullest book of the series. It lacks a true villain, unlike the White Witch or Queen Jadis; the only villains are the Telmarine nobility, and Lewis didn't make them particularly strong or interesting characters. There isn't even a hint of balance or tension. The villains have no way to overpower or overthrow Aslan. Once he shows up, the struggle and story are effectively over.

There are some lines which are remarkable for their unintended humor. The one that has really stuck with my son was "And the feasts on the poop and the musicians." Since the next book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, takes places mostly on board a ship with a poop deck, that line is being constantly quoted back to me every time the word "poop" comes up in the text (which is often) - invariably preceded and followed by a torrent of uncontrollable giggles. Coprophagy and cannibalism!

I must also admit that I found it difficult to read the line "...the Maenads who whirled her round in a merry dance and helped her take off some of the unnecessary and uncomfortable clothes she was wearing" while keeping a straight face. Lewis describes Bacchus and the Maenads as slightly naughty English madcaps and jackanapes, which is simply ridiculous to anyone who knows anything of Greek mythology. And of course Lewis' mixture of Greek and Christian mythology which so offended Tolkien is rather jarring, to put it mildly.

While still an excellent book, Prince Caspian is definitely the weakest and least interesting book of the Narnia series. Fortunately it's followed by one of the best books in the series.

One last note: although the movie that was made of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was relatively faithful to the book, the same can't be said of the movie of Prince Caspian. That movie is violently at odds with the book, so much so that my son complained often about the differences between the two (he much preferred the book, thank goodness). I'd urge anyone who loves the Narnia books to avoid the movie like the plague, but if you must let your children see it, be sure to read the book to them first. The filmmakers simply lifted the characters, the title, and a few plot elements from the book and then made a film that stole equally from Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings movies, and some sort of tawdry Spanish love story. Caspian is a child, not a hot-blooded teenage hunk bursting with passion, and the attraction between Susan and Caspian in the movie is simply wrong.

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The Magician's Nephew (The Chronicles of Narnia, Book 1) The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, about the numbering: This book should NOT be read first in the Narnia series. It was actually the sixth of the seven Narnia books that Lewis wrote. The remarkably clueless publishers renumbered the series recently, placing The Magician's Nephew first, but that simply ruins what is otherwise a lovely surprise: the origin of the Wardrobe from The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. And from the internal text, it's clear that TL,TW,&TW should be read first. It's in that book that Lewis introduces Aslan, after all.

However, rather than read the series in strict publication order, I chose to read The Magician's Nephew to my son, Sebastian, as the second book in the series. That enhances the surprise at the end, and answered some questions that he'd been asking as we read TL,TW,&TW while they were still fresh in his mind.

The connection of this book to the Pevensies, the four children from TL,TW,&TW, is comparatively tenuous compared to all the other books in the series (except for The Horse and His Boy, which is the only book in the series to have no connection with them at all). However, the link to the Wardrobe that is revealed at the end was more than enough to interest and delight my son.

We follow two English children, Digory and Polly, through some very memorable world-crossing adventures that end up bringing them into the origin of Narnia. Lewis had a gift for imagery, and his Wood Between the Worlds is particularly strong and memorable - as is dead, accursed Charn.

This turned out to be one of Sebastian's favorite books in the series so far, in large part due to the comical but frightening character of Uncle Andrew, the Magician of the book. Sebastian connected with the characters and the story right away, more easily than he did with TL,TW,&TW.

The one drawback is that the illustrations in this particular edition are rather dull and literal. I much preferred the simpler and more imaginative illustrations from the editions that I read when I was young. They had an almost art deco style that reminded me of Tolkien's illustrations for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

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You may remember that a while back I wrote some sarcastic posts complaining about the "lame novelizations by some hack with the fake-sounding name of J.R.R. Tolkien" of Peter Jackson's "brilliant" Lord of the Rings movies. One of those posts was over on GoodReads.

Well, someone read that post recently, and took it literally. She wrote to scold me, and tell me that JRRT was the original author. I wrote back and explained that my post had been pure sarcasm. She responded quite nicely, apologizing for getting angry at me, and suggesting that the expanded editions of the movies explained why it had been necessary to make changes from the books. My reply:

No problem! I've been online since the 1990s; I've been flamed by professionals. :D

I only saw the first two movies. The second one made me so angry that I refused to watch the third, and I won't be watching The Hobbit or any other Middle-Earth movies they put out.

You see...have you read Fahrenheit 451? I don't quite have a photographic memory, but my memory IS excellent - and I've been re-reading the complete TLOTR every six months (or less) for the last 30 years. So every change that Peter Jackson made practically exploded in my eyes.

One thing (of many) that bothered me was that Jackson changed the words. The language of TLOTR was brilliant. Yet time and again, Peter Jackson substituted his own language for JRRT's. Jackson's lines weren't shorter, and they certainly weren't better; in every case, Tolkien's language was both more moving and more dramatic. So as I see it, Jackson decided to rewrite TLOTR because he thought that his own (lame) dialog was better.

That's utterly wrong, and unforgivable in my eyes. It rendered the movies unwatchable. Oh, if they weren't supposed to be based on The Lord of the Rings, I might have enjoyed them. But since they claim to be based on my favorite books, but instead pervert them...well, I think I've made my point.

Many of my friends are die-hard LOTR fans, and almost none of them dislike the movies as much as I do. But I'm an old-fashioned curmudgeon, and they're used to me. :D

I'm convinced that as the years pass the Jackson movies will be seen as superficial and flawed at best, while the books will remain the deathless classics that they always have been.

Take care!
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Doctor Dolittle's Return Doctor Dolittle's Return by Hugh Lofting

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Doctor Dolittle's Return is the ninth book in Hugh Lofting's classic Doctor Dolittle series. Remarkably, it features some of the most memorable and funniest moments of the whole series. That's a rare thing in a long series!

The book directly continues the plot line begun in the preceeding book, Doctor Dolittle in the Moon. It should be noted that Lofting originally intended to end the series with that book, but for some reason changed his mind; five years after the publication of Doctor Dolittle in the Moon, Doctor Dolittle's Return was published.
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I believe I read the entire series when I was young, with the exception of the Gub-Gub book (which is quite rare). But I don't remember anything past the end of Doctor Dolittle's Return. Is that because the later books were depressing? Or is it that I never read them? I'm not sure. I'll admit that I'm a little concerned, because Sebastian very much wants to continue reading the Dolittle series; as described, though, the final books may not be appropriate for him. We'll simply have to try and see. And if for some reason they're not appropriate for a seven-year-old, at least we'll have the pleasure of reading the first nine books all over again - at least one or two more times, before he's too grown-up to listen to stories read by his old Dad.

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I just wrote this as a comment over on my friend Steve's blog. He was writing about Monsters Vs. Aliens.

I saw it a couple of days ago with Teri and Sebastian. Then I saw "Bolt" with them on DVD tonight.

I won't say the two merged in my mind. But in both cases, there wasn't anything really new there; nothing that will last in my memories for long. The scripts didn't suck, but they also didn't have anything to say that hadn't been said a thousand times before, often better. Hell, they didn't even have one strong laugh-out-out-loud moment.

Okay, "Bolt" did manage to pull the heartstrings once or twice. But that's easy to do when you've got kids, dogs, and love to work with (even for a confirmed dog-hater like me).

MvA wasn't bad, and the 3D was okay. Since I had to wear me regular glasses under the 3D ones, the effect was probably not quite as impressive. Also, I couldn't help but think about a recent article that I read over on Slate claiming (in a fairly convincing way) that 3D caused headaches and had other inevitable problems ( Certainly I had a headache after the movie.

I don't seems to me that when you spend millions and millions of dollars to make a movie, it wouldn't be asking too much to have a script that really works...that shows real human emotion. Beyond greed and marketability, that is.

I'd given anything to see a few more movies as good as The Iron Giant.
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Chronicles of The Black Company (The Black Company / Shadows Linger / The White Rose) Chronicles of The Black Company by Glen Cook

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the collected first three books of Glen Cook's "Black Company" series, chronicling the adventures of a famous mercenary company in grim world threatened by all sorts of darkness. Although the series was continued, the first three books are an effectively self-contained trilogy.

I first read them in college. And back then (so long ago!) they seemed terribly dark - almost unbearably so. How times have changed; compared to some of the torture-porn that's being put out under the fantasy and science fiction labels, the Black Company seems almost as tame a Curious George.*

Well, not really. But it is much less horrible than I remembered, in retrospect. It's also much better than I remembered. While not necessarily a deathless classic of the genre, the books are very well written, well-paced, and exciting. Yes, there is some darkness, but this series would be a good addition to the library of any fantasy fan from mid-teen to adult. And if my memory serves me, the Black Company books did break new ground in fantasy, extending the "dark" trend previously exemplified in Michael Moorcock's Elric books.

* - I'm talking about you, David Wingrove: you should be in prison, along with Jack Chalker's corpse and some of the contributors to the Wild Cards series.

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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, 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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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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Circus World Circus World by Barry B. Longyear

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

Now this is what science fiction is supposed to be. Funny, clever, intelligent stories. They're all too rare these days!

Circus World is a collection of linked short stories in the classic SF style. They share the setting of City of Baraboo and Elephant Song, which were published after it but are set before. This is vintage Longyear, light, amusing, clever, and very enjoyable.

It's the story of a world settled by the survivors of a crashed traveling circus starship. As such, it's particularly recommended for science fiction fans and those who love circuses.

In general, Circus World is somewhat reminiscent of the Hoka stories by Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson - the humor is nowhere near as broad, but the tone, theme, and styles are somewhat similar. If you like Circus World, you'll probably also like the Hoka books (which I'll review later).

The mystery and science fiction writer Fredric Brown also included old-time carny (carnival) themes in some of his stories in both genres (he worked as a carny for a while), so fans of Circus World are likely to enjoy his books as well.

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