Sunday, April 27, 2014

read: Annihilators (3 stars)

AnnihilatorsAnnihilators by Dan Abnett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A pair of enjoyable super hero stories related to the Guardians of the Galaxy. The Rocket Raccoon and Groot story was shorter, but gives more insight and background into core characters.

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

read: Napoleon's Pyramids (4 stars)

Napoleon's Pyramids (Ethan Gage, #1)Napoleon's Pyramids by William Dietrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another reviewer likened this to "Indiana Jones meets The Three Musketeers". I think that assessment is spot on. I might also throw in a bit of James Bond, though not quite as focused. If you like (or don't mind) your protagonists ready for anything, but rough around the edges, Ethan Gage is your man.

As the story opens, we find him in Paris, at loose ends, focused on cards and women and not much else. He wins a mysterious artifact in a poker game. He enjoys the company of a woman. She winds up dead and he winds up being the number one suspect. The rest of the book follows the misadventures wrought by the artifact and the trumped up murder charge.

He manages to escape the initial investigation by attaching himself to Napoleon's voyage to invade Egypt, along with several other scientists (constantly referred to as savants). But his trouble, along with Napoleon's, is only beginning. There are abundant battles won and lost, intrigues solved and raised, and harrowing escapes. Gage seems to accumulate allies and enemies as easily as most of us find dinner companions. The pace is not blistering, but it is relentless.

The prose is solid. The characters are colorful. The research seems solid. I really enjoyed this adventure.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

read: All You Need Is Kill (5 stars)

All You Need Is KillAll You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I prefer to read books before they're adapted into films. I don't mind it the other way around. But reading the book first gives me a chance to establish the character in my head before seeing it on screen. When I started seeing previews for the film Edge of Tomorrow and discovered that it was based on this book, I made sure to snap it up ASAP. The premise sounded very interesting and I wanted to be sure to read the source material before Tom Cruise got too far into my head. I'm glad I did, because he's almost the exact opposite of the twenty-something Asian protagonist of the novel. On the other hand, he's so different that it would be difficult for anyone to mistake his world-weary fifty-something American character for the same guy. It will be interesting to see what bits the filmmakers kept and what they completely reinvented.

The premise is simple. As the film poster puts it: Live. Die. Repeat. This is basically Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers. Keiji Kiriya is a fresh recruit in a war against alien invaders. He's thrown into battle, barely prepared, and comes to a pretty quick end. But then he wakes up and is pretty sure it was only a dream. Except he re-lives the events of the dream in startling detail until the sense of deja vu is overwhelming and only explanation is that it wasn't a dream. He's actually stuck in some sort of time loop.

Since this is translated into English from Japanese, it's difficult to know how much of the terse writing style comes from the original author and how much from the translator. I'm sure it's a bit of both. It fits the story and keeps the reader turning pages. It's very readable and I never felt lost. Description and introspection is applied appropriately. War is gritty, messy and painful. Soldiers are real people. Backstory is skillfully woven into unfolding events. The story keeps moving. I'm sure the word count puts this more into novella territory than novel, but there is plenty of character and story to make this a novel.

I really liked this book. It's well worth reading before Tom Cruise gets into your head.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

read: The World Below (3 stars)

The World BelowThe World Below by Paul Chadwick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Paul Chadwick notes in the introduction to this collection that this series was his attempt to broaden his audience and write something different than his successful title, Concrete. It focuses on an ensemble cast, rather than a single main character, and hearkens back to old-time adventure stories as well as new ones, like Lost. My personal take is that it's basically "Journey to the Center of the Earth" meets "Alien".

As an adventure with a sci-fi tinge, it measures up on several fronts. There are plenty of weird creatures and situations in a totally alien setting. It's handy to be on, or rather under, the Earth so that its not unreasonable for the team to be small and privately funded. On the other hand, the landscapes would make much more sense as the surface of a different planet. My educated brain couldn't make the leap to allow for so much undetected subterranean space and variety of life forms (even if they are supposed to be from another world).

The art is often up to Chadwick's fine standard. The humans are identifiable and relatable. The layouts and angles and settings are beautiful. Some of the alien creatures and machines are amazing and alien. Many of them aren't. They're muddles that seem like random collections of pieces and parts that barely make functional, much less anatomical, sense. This may have been intentional, in fact a couple of creatures seem to be capable of trading limbs and at least one machine appears to be made up of somewhat independent parts. And they are supposed to be alien and mysterious.

The characters are serviceable, if not entirely relatable or rounded out. Chadwick attempts to make them distinct and three dimensional through conflict and flashbacks, but with so much else happening on each page and the constant tug to move on to the next situation, much of this seems tacked on and easy to ignore. As he admits in the Intro, the first couple of issues are a bit short on exposition and this is exactly a few more bits of background might have created a firmer foundation for the cast.

I had a fine time reading this book. I enjoyed Concrete immensely and had looked forward to this title since I first heard about it. If it weren't for the problems with subterranean geology and biology (and some clunky writing), I'd probably give this four stars. As it is, I give it a solid three.

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