Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch
by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks • August 7, 2007 (1990)
400 Pages • ISBN 978-0060853976 • Paperback



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Book description:
The world will end on Saturday. Next Saturday. Just before dinner, according to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies written in 1655. The armies of Good and Evil are amassing and everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except that a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist.

Put
New York Times bestselling authors Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett together... and all Hell breaks loose.


le sigh

I love this book. I really, really do. It's one that I'll pull off the shelf every couple of years to read and giggle all the way through each and every time, it's just that funny. Realistically, you'd think a story about the Apocalypse really wouldn't be that funny, but in such capable hands as those of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, it's laugh out loud hysterical.

Aziraphale (the angel protecting the Garden of Eden) and Crowley (once known as Crawley, the infamous snake of Eden) have been living comfortably in modern times, having become fast friends after the whole Adam and Eve thing. When it comes time for the Apocalypse to take place, they decide to maybe try to put it off a couple more years, since they rather like living in the human world. Unfortunately, there was a mix up with the Antichrist when he was born (Warlock, who is thought to be the Antichrist, is a wildly normal young boy, while the real Antichrist, Adam Young, is living in the English countryside with his wildly normal family, not having any idea as to his true nature), and now there is a race to find the real Antichrist before everything basically goes to hell. The Four Horsemen are trying to find the Antichrist (Pollution has replaced Pestilence since penicillin was discovered), Aziraphale and Crowley are looking for him, and meanwhile all the incredibly accurate prophecies of Agnes Nutter are coming true. And what do the Tibetans and aliens have to do with anything?

I think part of what makes the story so funny is that it doesn't try to take itself seriously at all. Gaiman and Pratchett never try to take the story farther that what it is, a comedy, and don't try to make anything really philosophical about it, so regardless of your actual beliefs or feelings about the Apocalypse, this story is still accessible and still funny. It is full of Gaiman and Pratchett's trademark wit and cleverness, even though it was written respectively early on in their careers, so it's not always a polished as it could be, which is also part of its charm.

**a note on my most recent encounter with Good Omens**
Recently needing something a little lighthearted and on the recommendation from a friend, I gave the audio edition of Good Omens a go, and was not disappointed. Martin Jarvis' narration was spot on for every character, and he gave the story an entirely fresh feel. I'm sure it wasn't done intentionally, but his Crowley sounded just like David Tennant and Aziraphale sounded just like Michael Sheen, and that made me all the more excited for the upcoming BBC production. I don't know if it was just that I hadn't read it in a while or it was because I was listening to it as an audio, but I found myself laughing out loud at so many bits... it was just what I needed to put me in a better mood when I was listening to it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Mech Cadet Yu, Vol 1 by Greg Pak, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa, colored by Triona Farrell

Mech Cadet Yu, Vol 1
by Greg Pak, illustrated by Takeshi Miyazawa, colored by Triona Farrell
Published by BOOM! Studios • June 5, 2018
128 Pages • ISBN 978-1684151950 • Paperback



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Book description:
A young boy gets the opportunity of a lifetime when he bonds with a giant sentient robot and joins the ranks of the illustrious Sky Corps Academy to protect the world from alien threats.

Every year, giant sentient robots from outer space come to Earth and bond forever with a brand new crop of cadets at Sky Corps Academy to help keep the planet safe. But this year, instead of making a connection with a cadet, one of the mechs bonds with Stanford, a young kid working with his Mom as a janitor at Sky Corps. Stanford has the opportunity of a lifetime but he’ll first have to earn the trust of his classmates if he’s to defend the planet from the monstrous Sharg.

From bestselling author Greg Pak (The Hulk, Superman) and fan favorite artist Takeshi Miyazawa (Runaways, Ms. Marvel), Mech Cadet Yu is a heartfelt underdog story set in a bright and bold sci fi world, uncovering the true makings of heroism and friendship in the face of overwhelming odds. This collection includes an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the making of Mech Cadet Yu, including the comic short story that inspired the series.


More or less the love child of Pacific Rim and The Iron Giant, Mech Cadet Yu is a fun book that I found myself enjoying more and more thru each chapter. For the last sixty years, every four years giant Mechs fall from the sky and bond with a young child and thru that bond and the training the young cadet has gone thru, they become a champion of the human race against the alien threat of the Sharg. No one knows where the Mechs come from and no one knows how they choose the child they bond with, but they have become the front line defense for the human race. In the most recent bonding, one of the Mechs chooses Standford Yu, the son of a janitor at Sky Corps, who has had no experience or training to be a Mech pilot/companion but because the Mech has chosen him, he is thrown immediately into training.

There is the inevitable rivalry between Yu and the daughter of the program director who has supposed to bond with the third Mech and is instead given the first human-built Mech (which reminds me very much stylistically of the Evangelion mechs), and of course they are immediately thrown into a battle with the Sharg when no one is prepared for this since they are still first year cadets, and of course they win this battle; to be fair, the entire story is and of itself a very simple heroes journey, and one that we've all read before. However, Greg Pak's writing really brings some heart and soul to both the cadets and their Mechs and the whole thing just feels fresh in a very nostalgic way. Takeshi Miyazawa's art is dynamic and his Mech designs are both intimidating and friendly; these are robots that can kick ass and be your best friend.

I am pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this initial volume and am looking forward to reading more of Yu's adventures.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Dr. Blackfoot's Carnival Extraordinaire by Ron Chatalbash

Dr. Blackfoot's Carnival Extraordinaire
by Ron Chatalbash
Published by D.R. Godine, Boston • 1982
36 Pages • ISBN 978-0879234263 • Hardcover



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Book description:
Tim is so discouraged and bored by life at home and school that he seizes a chance to join a circus, not knowing what really awaits him.


I think there can be something inherently creepy and unsettling about the circus; obviously not the fun-filled, cotton candy-coated circus of childhood dreams, but the darker, misfit inhabited circus of childhood nightmares. The book that always come to mind for me of those darker, mysterious circuses is obviously Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ron Chatalbash's Dr. Blackfoot's Carnival Extraordinaire can also fit snugly into this category.

Tim, bored and discouraged with his life, dreams of running away with the circus, where he is sure that his life will be filled with wonder and adventure. When Dr. Blackfoot's Carnival Extraordinaire mysteriously arrives one night, Tim decides that this is his chance and chases after the caravan. However, Dr. Blackfoot and company are not the shiny, beautiful circus that Tim has dreamed of, but a more sinister group, offering Tim a more frightening view into the darker side of the circus, one that Tim decides is definitely not for him.

The story here is fairly predictable, but what makes this short story really shine are Chatalbash's accompanying illustrations. Taking influence from M. C. Escher, Chatalbash creates some equally mesmerizing and disturbing art to go along with his story. His illustrations lend themselves perfectly to the story and really help flesh out the creepy undertones. A quick read, but one that would be perfect for the Halloween season.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Star Wars: Chewie and the Courageous Kid by Lucasfilm Press, adapted by Nate Millici, illustrated by Pilot Studio

Star Wars: Chewie and the Courageous Kid
by Lucasfilm Press, adapted by Nate Millici, illustrated by Pilot Studio
Published by Lucasfilm Press • April 17, 2018
24 Pages • ISBN 978-1368016315 • Paperback



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Book description:
A Wookiee is a girl's best friend! When Chewbacca meets young Zarro on and Outer Rim planet, he has no choice but to set aside his own mission to help her rescue her father from a dangerous mine.


A quick and easy adaptation of the Star Wars: Chewbacca mini series from Marvel Comics, perfect for younger readers. From what I remember of the original comics, this is a faithful adaptation, and the accompanying illustrated are perfect for the story and I think will engage kids when reading/being read to. There are also stickers included that use some of the interior artwork.

A great addition for a younger Star Wars fan's library.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels by Joe Hill

Strange Weather: Four Short Novels
by Joe Hill
Published by William Morrow • October 24, 2017
448 Pages • ISBN 978-0062663115 • Hardcover



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Book description:
A collection of four chilling novels, ingeniously wrought gems of terror from the brilliantly imaginative, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman, Joe Hill.

"One of America’s finest horror writers" (
Time magazine), Joe Hill has been hailed among legendary talents such as Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Lethem. In Strange Weather, this "compelling chronicler of human nature’s continual war between good and evil," (Providence Journal-Bulletin) who "pushes genre conventions to new extremes" (New York Times Book Review) deftly expose the darkness that lies just beneath the surface of everyday life.

"Snapshot" is the disturbing story of a Silicon Valley adolescent who finds himself threatened by "The Phoenician," a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid Instant Camera that erases memories, snap by snap.

A young man takes to the skies to experience his first parachute jump. . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero’s island of roiling vapor that seems animated by a mind of its own in "Aloft."

On a seemingly ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails—splinters of bright crystal that shred the skin of anyone not safely under cover. "Rain" explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as the deluge of nails spreads out across the country and around the world.

In "Loaded," a mall security guard in a coastal Florida town courageously stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun rights movement. But under the glare of the spotlights, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it. When an out-of-control summer blaze approaches the town, he will reach for the gun again and embark on one last day of reckoning.

Masterfully exploring classic literary themes through the prism of the supernatural,
Strange Weather is a stellar collection from an artist who is "quite simply the best horror writer of our generation" (Michael Koryta).


Generally, books don't make me uncomfortable. Scary movies can scare me, creepy TV shows can make me creepy, but generally books don't have that affect. However...

All four stories in Joe Hill's Strange Weather made me uncomfortable, each in their own specific, and different, ways. "Snapshot" creeped me out: a young boy is trying to find out why his elderly neighbor is losing her memories, only to discover that it is a tattooed man with a memory stealing camera to blame. The final confrontation, and what was discovered in the camera and its eventual use, will make you rethink today's technology. In "Loaded," a mall security cop stops a mass shooting, or does he? This one hits a little too close to home, given the current national crisis with gun violence. "Aloft" will make you look at clouds in a decidedly different light (are they watching back?). And finally "Rain," a terrorism story of a different kind, but one that again hit too close to home with too much death during a time period of my own personal loss over my mother and dogs.

These stories left me uncomfortable in a variety of ways, but they also made me think, and both are signs of excellent writing. Hill continues to prove that he is just as adept a writer as his father, and in some ways he may be a stronger writer. King's short stories often hit with scare factor in overdrive, and while Hill's stories also do, they continue to have a heart and soul that I don't always find in King's work. (Hill's "20th Century Ghost" remains one of my all time favorite short stories.) While Hill gave himself more room to work in by writing novellas instead of short stories, he still manages to pack a remarkable amount of feeling into these stories.

I honestly can't recommend this book more.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Star Wars: Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel by Daniel José Older

Star Wars: Last Shot: A Han and Lando Novel
by Daniel José Older
Published by Del Rey • April 17, 2018
368 Pages • ISBN 978-0525622130 • Hardcover



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Book description:
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Han Solo and Lando Calrissian are reunited on the Millennium Falcon in a galaxy-spanning novel inspired by Solo: A Star Wars Story. But even the fastest ship in the universe can’t outrun the past...

The hardcover edition includes a reversible jacket, with one side featuring Han and the other featuring Lando!

THEN:


It’s one of the galaxy’s most dangerous secrets: a mysterious transmitter with unknown power and a reward for its discovery that most could only dream of claiming. But those who fly the Millennium Falcon throughout its infamous history aren’t your average scoundrels. Not once, but twice, the crew of the Falcon tries to claim the elusive prize—first, Lando Calrissian and the droid L3-37 at the dawn of an ambitious career, and later, a young and hungry Han Solo with the help of his copilot, Chewbacca. But the device’s creator, the volatile criminal Fyzen Gor, isn’t interested in sharing. And Gor knows how to hold a grudge...

NOW:

It’s been ten years since the rebel hero Han Solo last encountered Fyzen Gor. After mounting a successful rebellion against the Empire and starting a family with an Alderaanian princess, Han hasn’t given much thought to the mad inventor. But when Lando turns up at Han’s doorstep in the middle of the night, it’s Fyzen’s assassins that he’s running from. And without Han’s help, Lando—and all life on Cloud City—will be annihilated.

With the assistance of a young hotshot pilot, an Ewok slicer prodigy, the woman who might be the love of Lando’s life, and Han’s best and furriest friend, the two most notorious scoundrels in the New Republic are working together once more. They’ll have to journey across the stars—and into the past—before Gor uses the device’s power to reshape the galaxy.


Sigh.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. But... no. Just, no.

And I'm not one of the SW haters, either. Even the stuff I generally don't like, I can still find something to relate to in the story. Last Jedi? Loved it. Solo? Went into it expecting to not like it, was pleasantly surprised by how much I did end up enjoying it. I can accept new ideas in the SW universe, and I can be persuaded to change my mind about something I'm sure I'm not going to like.

I'm so disappointed in this book. I've been immensely enjoying how the books that have been released in the new Disney streamlined storytelling have tied into some aspect of the SW universe, how you can connect the dots from other books or movies. Last Shot had no feeling of continuity to it with the larger story. In fact, it doesn't really feel like a SW story at all; it feels like a story that Older had already written and then reworked into a SW novel. There's just too much working against this story for me to have really gotten into it (possible spoiler territory).

First off, it falls back on a too-often used scifi trope: That droids are going to rise up and attack the organics, but this time adding in a Frankenstein/zombie aspect that just seemed more awkward than original. That definitely didn't feel like SW. Older's writing style is clearly not for me, as there are far too many awkward chapter breaks (Why break what is essentially one chapter into 2 or 3 separate mini-chapters?), too many repetitive elements (When you make a point of having multiple characters yelling the same thing over each other so many times that the reader begins to notice this is happening, that's too much), and way too many time frames. The whole space jet suit thing? Again, doesn't feel like SW. Computer genius Ewoks? Nope, given that just 2 years prior to this story they still thought droids were gods. Gungans who speak in normal basic? Nope, since this would appear to be the only Gungan who can, and actually felt like it was written this way as an intentional excuse to show, thru Han, that RACISM IS BAD! The inclusion of a gender non-binary character is nice, but after all the other things that seemed wrong in this book, that little aspect got lost.

The multiple time frames is very problematic for me. There is Fyzen Gor, the main antagonist's, back story; Lando's back story how he and L3 encountered Gor; Han's back story on how he & Chewie also encountered Gor in the past; and then the story occurring in the now, where all three of these back stories are supposed to come together. Each of these time frames are broken up throughout the book, so there is a lot of bouncing around. I think if maybe one time frame was told and that led into the next, with the book culminating in the final story arc, this would have flowed much better, maybe. Adding to this problem for me is that I listened to this on Audible, and there are three narrators for four time frames: one for Han's story (January LaVoy), one for Lando's story (Daniel José Older), and one for Gor's story and the current story (Marc Thompson). There were numerous times that I got confused about which time frame was being handled when the story jumped between the now and Gor's story, since it was the same narrator. There really should have been four narrators total for this book. And speaking of narrators, Marc Thompson and January LaVoy did their usual spot on narrations, but I think Older needs some practice still before he narrates his own work. He narrates too quickly, and doesn't handle each of the characters as separate characters. Everything he reads sounds exactly the same, as if he's just speeding thru a reading of the book, instead of a performance of the book.

Given the amount of build up to the conclusion of the story, and given how much is at stake in the galaxy, the resolution seems far too quick, and too easy. L3's participation in the conclusion seemed too contrived (and honestly, I would have much rather seem more of her in this story) and of course, everything is resolved in just the nick of time so that there was never really any threat at all in the end. About the only thing that this book resolves is a possible explanation as to where Lando is in the current trilogy movies. And if that is all this book was supposed to do, I don't think that's really a question that was all that important in answering.

I really do hate writing reviews like this, but every book can't be a winner. I will be hard pressed to read anything by Older again; Last Shot is simply not a satisfying book.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, illustrated by George Perez & Ron Lim

The Infinity Gauntlet
by Jim Starlin, illustrated by George Perez & Ron Lim
Published by Marvel • September 28, 2011
256 Pages • ISBN 978-0785156598 • Paperback



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Book description:
For the dark Titan, Thanos, the Infinity Gauntlet was the Holy Grail, the ultimate prize to be coveted above all else. Now, on the edge of Armageddon and led by the mysterious Adam Warlock, Earth's super heroes join in a desperate attempt to thwart this nihilistic god's insane plunge into galactic self-destruction.

Collects
The Infinity Gauntlet #1-6


A re-read for me, but it has been a while and I wanted to see how the original Infinity Gauntlet story stands up against the MCU version. While there are obvious differences, I think both The Infinity Gauntlet and Avengers: Infinity War both stand up very well for their respective mediums. Also, given that The Infinity Gauntlet was published almost 30 years ago (how did that happen?!), I was pleasantly surprised that it still held up as well. It's also fun now to try to anticipate what is going to happen in the next movie based on the events that have been occurring in the MCU films. It's also interesting to see how the groundwork was laid for future events in the Marvel Comic Universe, even if they didn't know at the time that this story was going to have such long lasting affects.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

John Byrne's Stowaway to the Stars by John Byrne, colored by Leonard O'Grady

John Byrne's Stowaway to the Stars
by John Byrne, colored by Leonard O'Grady
Published by IDW Publishing • June 5, 2018
48 Pages • ISBN 827714015461 • Paperback



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Book description:
Robots, aliens, and a spunky teenaged girl. John Byrne explores a whole new way of storytelling in Stowaway to the Stars, where Byrne (Star Trek New Visions, John Byrne's Next Men) takes you on a journey through brand-new worlds and galaxies with this beautiful series of full-page, full-color illustrations, accompanied by a light, evocative, science-fiction storyline.


A short story about a young girl who dreams of traveling to the stars, and one night makes the decision that she needs to fulfill this dream and stows away on a cargo ship. Of course, she's discovered and then has to work on the ship to earn her way. And of course, the ship is attacked and she is thrown into a life and death escape. And of course, she survives and makes it home, where she settles back into her routine but continues to dream of adventuring to the stars.

To be frank, the whole thing is fairly predictable and there's not much meat to the story, and I don't think I'd have paid this any attention had it not been for its creator, John Byrne. Byrne was one of my favorite artists back in the day when I was collecting earlier X-Men comics. His style is distinctly his own, and always held a sort of dynamism for me. It's been a while since he produced anything new, so I was excited to pick this up, and he doesn't disappoint with his art. The story is 48 pages long, with the left hand page carrying the prose, and the opposite page carrying the art. I breezed thru the story (again, it's fairly simple), but I immediately went back and poured over each page of art. Byrne fills each page with remarkable detail, and Leonard O'Grady's colors really pop (even if there are several inconsistencies with the coloring of characters throughout the book).

I'm not sure that this will appeal to a large crowd, and I don't think it's intended to. I fell that Byrne produced this more for himself than anyone else, and I'm glad that he decided to share it. It may not be the most remarkable book you'll read, but it's full of heart and soul, and that's what counts.