Friday, November 25, 2016

UPDATE: THE VOIDWALKER NOVELLAS #2 RELEASE DATE


The second entry into the The Voidwalker Novellas series now has an official release date. It's scheduled to come out on December 20, 2016. 

Because of the episodic nature of this series and our current cultural tendency to "binge" consume entertainment, my efforts towards marketing and review elicitation will be pretty low key until the series is a a bit more developed. That said, I would be more than happy to give out free copies of the first two books in this series to anyone interested in reading and possibly rating/reviewing them. Anyone who'd like to take me up on this offer is welcome to reach out to me on Goodreads

Sunday, November 20, 2016

UPDATE: THE VOIDWALKER NOVELLAS #1 RELEASES, DIGITARUM FREE FOR 3 DAYS

November 20th is here which means the first entry into The Voidwalker Novellas is finally out. It's been no small effort to plan out and begin to write this series of episodic novellas so it's with great relief that I have finally put the first entry out to market. That said there's still a lot of work to do since this is an eight-part series so expect more updates to come on future installments.



Additionally, as a way to celebrate, Digitarum, the novel I released in 2015, will be free for the next three days (from November 20th through November 22nd)!


Saturday, November 19, 2016

REVIEW ROUNDUP: CON MAN'S SPECTRUM

UPDATE: It seems this series has been put on pause for a while (the next issue scheduled for 2017). If/when it continues, I will post an update to this roundup, but for now things will be in a bit of a holding pattern.

INTRODUCTION 
A while back, I wrote up a Review Roundup post for comic issues I received from this year's Free Comic Book Day event. One of these was an actual issue which kicked off a brand new series by FIREFLY's Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk. For those that don't know, both men were stars in the cancelled-too-soon show, FIREFLY, directed by Joss Whedon. It seems that the pair have a comedy web series which features them as washed up actors who used to star in a show very similar to FIREFLY. I don't know much about the show, but their show-within-a-show, titled SPECTRUM, now has a comic series based off of it. Now that I've read the first two issues, I know I'd like to follow the series to it's conclusion so I've decided to create an ongoing roundup of my thoughts on each of the issues.

Issue # 0
4/5 A new adventure begins...

As far as opening issues go, this was definitely a good one. There's a lot that's sort of left up in the air as far as explanations go in spite of the fact that there's a large exposition dump before the comic even starts (about a page of text's worth). This is pretty much the only reason I held back from giving it a perfect score as the rest of the issue was fantastic. Readers are introduced to (former) Captain Raaker a man who immediately comes off as a man with a troubled past. He's gruff but not a total jerk and has a rather somber air about him that seems decidedly similar to Mal, his character in FIREFLY. About halfway through, a young woman named Ketheria is introduced. She's also referred to as the Scion and appears to have supernatural abilities of some kind though they are not overly defined as of yet. She's a pretty cool character, a real serene sort, but not much about her personality is revealed other than how she's determined to stop a dark force that looms in the distance.

The story tosses readers right into a futuristic Earth as it is being invaded by large insectoid robots who've sprung forth from monoliths left by an alien civilization. No one knows what they want or exactly how to stop them before they cause irreparable damage. Raaker is roped into becoming captain of a ship called The Spectrum while Ketheria is being hunted by a group of unfriendly aliens on another world. All of this action is accompanied by some really stunning artwork. It's got a charming, stylized look to it that manages to capture an insane amount of detail despite it's cartoony veneer. One of the things I love the most about it is how stunning the lighting effects are. The lettering also looks quite nice which is something I have to say I rarely even make note of.

In addition to big action and gorgeous art, this comic also has a lot of wonderful little nods and winks to beloved works of science fiction which I won't spoil for anyone here. In short, it was just a lot of fun and it's clear that the series has a lot of potential.

Issue # 1
3/5 So many introductions, so little time...

When I swung into a local comic shop, I was thrilled to find that they did in fact have this issue in stock. While I did rate this one a little lower than the opening issue, I certainly do not regret picking it up. Mostly, the reason for this dip in how I felt about it was due to the fact that there is so much going on in this issue and all of it feels a little bit rushed. A new character, Cash is introduced. While Raaker has Nathan Fillion's likeness, Cash is the cartoony stand-in for Alan Tudyk. I did like the character's over-optimism and quirky charm, but I wished the overall tone was a little less on the campy side. The way he meets up with Raaker (who has just met another newly introduced character) felt quite forced even by scifi/comic standards. I'm the type of person that can definitely suspend a good amount of disbelief in favor of a good story, but even I couldn't overlook just how conveniently coincidental things played out.

Then there's Ketheria's quest to do...something. We still don't know exactly what she's up to other than she's got a potentially mesmerized ally and she needs a ship. So she and her follower find another new character who I think I'll find quite likable, but since we don't get much of him, it's hard to say for sure. Then there's a page or two at the end which features two more never-before-seen characters and leaves off at a dramatic twist. Since I had really no idea who either of these people were, the twist didn't have as much impact as I would have liked, in fact it felt rather flat and unearned.

The art is still fantastic and I do still find the story to be compelling. I also think things will be better in the next issue. It just kind of seemed like the writers were trying to get all of the pieces on the board as quickly as they could and for that I think the issue suffered overall. I'm looking forward to Issue #2 and hope to get to know some of these newcomers a little better.

CONCLUSIONS (So far) 
So far, I've really enjoyed SPECTRUM. It's charmingly familiar while also refreshingly different and free of the intimidation factor which comes with trying to start in on most comic series. Things are off to a promising, albeit slightly rocky start and it feels like the best is still to come. From what I understand, this is going to be a rather limited run so some of the rough edges can probably be attributed to scrambling to get everything in place for the story's key moments. I greatly look forward to the series's next installment.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

COVER REVEALS: THE VOIDWALKER NOVELLAS # 1 and 2

Reviews have been rather slow as of late. This year has seen lots of ups and downs and side to sides for me in all aspects of life which has made reading rather tough. In addition to trying to stay on top of the blog through reviewing graphic novels and shorter stories, I have also been working on some new original fiction of my own. While that too has been very slow going, I'm happy to unveil the covers for the first two entries of an eight-part series of novellas:




The first of these, The Manor of My Dreams is scheduled to come out on November 20th of this year with the first following about a month later. I'll have more info on this series as it gets closer to release.

Monday, October 31, 2016

REVIEW: BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM

Not as much spooky fun as you might want...

INTRODUCTION 
Rocksteady's BATMAN ARKHAM ASYLUM video game took the world by storm in 2009. It was creepy without being oppressive, and violent without being (too) disgusting. It put players into the role of the dark knight like they'd never experienced before and is ranked as not only one of the best Batman games/franchises of all time, but also one of the best superhero games period. Where Rocksteady studios got it's inspiration for the dark, hazy atmosphere was from a graphic novel of the same name which came out in 1989. The work was as criticized as it was praised for being an a-typical batman story. Fans raved that it was cerebral and told a story they never though possible in the Batman universe while those not fond of the unique take complained that it just didn't feel like a true Batman comic. Being a big fan of the game as well as it's two primary sequels myself, I was wildly intrigued by the material that inspired it and have been saving it as a quick Halloween read.

HOW I RATED IT 
3/5 While not terrible, this is also by no means an especially brilliant work of graphic fiction. It does deserve some praise for daring to go where no Batman comic had gone before, but it ultimately failed to deliver any real satisfaction for me by the time I'd flipped past the final panel.

CHARACTERS
Herein lies a lot of this graphic novel's  problems. Batman has always been known for the legion of psychotic villains that threaten Gotham city and the small army of brave souls who stand with him against the madness. In ARKHAM ASYLUM, this is something that just doesn't really come through. Mainstay villains like Two Face are given lengthy introductions while more obscure villains like Killer Croc and the Mad Hatter just kind of pop up randomly. There are plenty of interesting characters that make an appearance during Batman's odyssey through the madhouse, but they all lack any sense of real meaning or presence. They're creepy in the moment, but have no more affect than a cheap spook inside of a haunted house. Then there's the Joker who's impressively tame and insufferably boring in this iteration of the character. For some reason the writers chose to make him less of a maniacle killer and more of a raving lunatic. Sure he sets the asylum into chaos and threatens the lives of the doctors working there, but during the course of the actual story he doesn't do much at all aside from taunt Batman. He even has the dark knight within arm's reach more than once and all he does is give him a nice slap on the ass?! Yes you read that right....

Jim Gordon appears at the beginning and end of the story, but doesn't really have much to offer aside from his steady demeanor (which is still awesome, just underused). There are also a couple of doctors that remain in the asylum after Batman has entered and while each of them have interesting motives, they don't really add all that much to the narrative other than to further the theme of madness. Robin gets no physical appearance, but the writers were sure to throw in a couple of homoerotic innuendos because it's totally funny to imagine Batman having a thing with his adoptive son...I guess I'll never get why this is such a longstanding joke...

Fortunately there are two shining lights in this list of characters. One is Batman himself who undergoes as much a mental crucible as he does a physical one. The idea that Batman himself might actually be insane is explored in a good deal of depth and it was actually very interesting to have my notions about him challenged. Running parallel to Batman's trip through the asylum is a series of flashbacks to Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the asylum. His is a story of madness and tragedy (mostly tragedy through madness). I never really felt like I got to know him in the same way that I knew Batman, but his bits were still pretty fascinating anyway. It all comes to a head for both characters and there was some amount of reward in seeing how each character dealt with the crescendo of insanity that threatened to overcome them.

WORLD/SETTING 
Easily one of the better aspects of this work, what's most fascinating is that the story really only takes place in one location. This is a rare thing for superhero comics in general and is probably fairly hard to pull off in any medium or genre. The world of ARKHAM ASYLUM is set in the mansion that Batman fans know as the madhouse where all of his villains go after getting bested. But before all that, it was the family home of Amadeus Arkham. Batman's side of the narrative explores the asylum in it's present state as home to the criminally insane while Amadeus's sections show how the building slowly evolved (or devolved) from a childhood house to a grizzly prison. It helps that the mansion itself feels quite large, with lots of dark corridors and gloomy rooms. It's not quite as expansive or diverse a place as it perhaps could be, but there's still plenty of variety to keep the imagery fresh. Ultimately, it's the dark history of this building that makes it feel unnervingly alive.

PLOT/TONE 
If you haven't guessed by now, this is a rather grim story. It deals with madness and loss of not only what one has, but who one is. It's pretty heavy material that asks some fairly deep questions. Sadly, there's never really a satisfying wrap up or answer to any of it. The story leaves readers on a hanging question which was deeply disappointing for me. That's not to say that a story can't end this way, but normally when such an ending is used, it's introducing a new question or idea, not one that's been asked all the way through the course of the story. The result is a rather empty and incomplete feeling. That said, the journey down this dark joyride is quite fun. The moody atmosphere held a menacing grip over me as I poured through the pages of this tale, never knowing exactly where it would take me. Exploring some of the darker parts of Batman's mind was a real treat and getting a bit more backstory behind such an iconic place felt like it was well worth the price of entry.

ART
Alarmingly inconsistent is all I can really say. This is not to say that the art looks bad, in fact in some places it's quite stunning. It's just that I really wish the artist had picked one level of fidelity and stuck with that because from one panel to another, this can look like a totally different comic and that's a pretty great way to break reader immersion. Fortunately the style never strays away from a gloomy, creepy sort of feel which is pretty much the only thing holding the visuals together. It's also a shame that even the lettering is tough to look at at times. For full disclosure's sake, I did read this as an eBook and since this definitely was not designed for that medium, it's possible that it looks a little better in print though I would doubt it given how oddly it's done in some contexts. Overall though, I noticed no real quality issues with this edition of the book.


CONCLUSION 
Not an essential read for Batman fans or even fans of Rocksteady's BATMAN ARKHAM game franchise. ARKHAM ASYLUM is different in some of the right ways but fell short for me in too many places for me to recommend it with too much enthusiasm. It's not really the satisfyingly spooky read I was hoping for this October nor was it particularly fulfilling as a story in general. BATMAN THE LONG HALLOWEEN and even BATMAN VOLUME 1 THE COURT OF OWLS would be better choices for the type of appetite I was trying to oblige, but if you're curious about this one, then it's probably worth seeing what it's all about for yourself.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

REVIEW: INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR TWO VOLUME 1

 A new regime takes over...


INTRODUCTION 
INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR ONE brought forward two of the most compelling volumes of comics I've ever had the pleasure of reading. VOLUME 1 opened with a series of shocking events which would prove to be the catalyst for a DC universe in which things go horribly wrong. Stricken by grief, guilt, and a desire to never let history repeat itself, Superman was slowly pushed over the edge. He murdered the Joker and banded his fellow Justice League members together on a path that there is no turning back from. Heroes who once served diligently to protect the freedom and safety of all now worked to overthrow governments they deemed unjust and replaced them with ... well ... themselves. These once mighty protectors now head down the road of transforming into the world's almighty dictators. It was an absolute treat to see how some of the heroes actually think this shift is a good idea while others are hesitant about it all. Then there's Batman who saw these events unfolding before they came to full fruition and he pulled together a team of his own. In essence, it was Batman vs. Superman done right and once I got past a couple of the duller issues from VOLUME 1, I was treated to a wild emotional roller coaster where the once familiar DC Universe begins to tear itself apart. YEAR ONE ended with a bang so I was very excited to finally jump into YEAR TWO and see what the first half of that had to offer.

HOW I RATED IT 
5/5 Picking up right where YEAR ONE left off, INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR TWO VOLUME 1 delivers another set of five issues which continue to shape this alternate DC Universe into what players saw when they entered into the video-game which this series is a companion to.

CHARACTERS
The Green Arrow, among other DC staples like Martian Manhunter are dead and the first issue of this volume begins with Oliver's funeral. Members of Team Batman are horrified that Superman could really kill one of their own, but this fear has only strengthened their resolve, especially since they now possess Superman's enhancing pills. One of the things that I liked most about this volume was that it actually doesn't really focus on the Superman vs. Batman struggle all that much. After his crippling encounter with Superman, Batman has been whisked away by Zatana and Doctor Fate to a mystical realm in which Superman cannot find him. This doesn't mean Superman's given up on his old friend though. He immediately sends an army of his enhanced soldiers into Gotham who waste no time in brutally assuming control over the city. This makes for an interesting setup where smaller characters like Jim Gordon, Detective Montoya, Harvey, Oracle, Black Canary, and Huntress come together to form a small resistance with the recently unemployed GCPD.

Where the majority of the cast falls though is actually on the side of the Lantern Corps. Much of the story revolves around Hal, John, and Guy as they all deal with Superman's actions in a different way. Lots of other lanterns take on smaller roles in the plot including the little blue men who appear to watch over the entire universe. Ultimately the Green Lanterns decide that they are not in favor of Superman's regime and decide to take action against him. This leaves things open for Sinestro to establish himself as an ally to Superman's cause and it was a great deal of fun to see how his relationship with Superman and company evolves. Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner are two other big standouts as each have drastically different attitudes towards what's going on at earth. I enjoyed seeing Hal advocate for Superman's cause and even though I didn't agree with him, I did like seeing how he stood firm in his beliefs even when the rest of the Lanterns were against him.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world of Injustice gets a lot bigger in this volume. The involvement of the Lanterns opens up the conflict to the greater cosmos which provides a truly epic scale to the narrative being told. It was great to see shots set in faraway places like the Lantern homeworld and Dr. Fate's Tower. There are also plenty of scenes up on the watchtower and down in the dingy streets of Gotham. While I took no issue with the number of different places that YEAR ONE took readers, I also felt like I got a lot more variety this time around. There are so many moving pieces spread across such a wide breadth of the DC world that the stakes just felt that much higher this time around. I loved seeing how Superman's rise to tyranny created issues for people beyond Earth making the conflict interplanetary rather than international. The time spent in Oa, the lantern home world, was particularly interesting for me since I know very little about the lanterns other than the fact that each color represents a different emotion, some good, some evil. Since most of my exposure to them was in the astoundingly dull GREEN LANTERN film, it was refreshing to see the Lanterns represented in a far more exciting context.

At the end of YEAR ONE, Superman unveiled his new army of super soldiers. Now we get to see them in action as they execute a sort of martial law over Gotham. Being a huge Batman fan, I've seen Gotham in all sorts of peril at the hands of one insane super villain or another, but seeing it under military rule - that's something that felt entirely new. Seeing the chaos that stems from absolute order was a real treat and I loved that the stage is set for the conflict to heat up in future volumes.


PLOT/TONE 
This volume is possibly the most intense so far. Superman must face the truth that even he is no match against the entire Green Lantern Corps. This fact coupled with the impending threat of Earth being invaded by his former allies brings Superman to the conclusion that he must ally with the Sinestro Corps. Seeing this leap in logic was really interesting for me since I found it quite weird that the video-game showed Superman with both Hal Jordan and Sinestro on his team. The interactions between these three characters were absolute gold. The best part is that it actually made sense as to why Sinestro would take an interest in joining Superman, why Superman might eventually come to trust Sinestro (to an extent), and why Hal would continue to see things Superman's way. This slow shift in principles for all three men was fascinating and it challenged my understanding of who each of them are. It's fantastic that among all the action, there's still a deeply personal touch that this narrative manages to work in.

In much the same way as YEAR ONE saw the relationship between Batman and Superman disintegrate, this second year seems to be centered around the world of the Lanterns being turned upside down. A whole new rush of brother vs. brother tension culminates into one of the most insane clashes the series has seen so far. It will be very interesting to see where things go from here as there is no turning back from some of the decisions that have been made by these characters.

ARTWORK 
One of the things that makes this series so great is it's stunning visuals. The art style seems to have changed slightly for YEAR TWO, but the good news is that it's every bit as detailed as before, if not a little more intricate. Every strand of hair, every gesture, and every backdrop seems to be rendered with a loving hand which really helps sell both the emotional and physical turmoil that the story tries to portray. There really isn't much more to say other than that I couldn't have asked for better artwork to accompany this epic story. If I had to choose one little thing to nitpick, it's that some of the covers are a little misleading. There's one in particular which features the Birds of Prey doing battle with Superman's soldiers in the streets of Gotham. Not only does the issue this cover is attached to not have anything to do with such a battle, but nowhere in the entire volume does such a scene unfold. It's a small thing, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who would be a little bothered by it.

CONCLUSION 
If you enjoyed INJUSTICE GODS AMONG US YEAR ONE, then this volume ought to be at the top of your reading list. The second year of INJUSTICE raises the stakes, delivers on top-notch action, pulls at the hearts of DC fans, and brings this version of the universe that much closer to the way players saw this world when they began the game's campaign mode. The best thing about this series for me continues to be the fact that the story is agnostic of all other DC publications. The world is self-contained and since it's a prequel to the game it's associated with, you don't even have to be a gamer in order to enjoy it. If you're looking for a great series that you don't have to be a hard core comic fan to really get into, then this is definitely the series for you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

UPDATE: NEW PAGE - THE MIDNIGHT LAKE


Every now and then, a weird or wacky idea pops into my head. A lot of these are fun to think about for a little while, but never go anywhere. Others, I actually find a way to bring to life. Such is the case with a short little work of multi-media fiction that I call "The Midnight Lake." If you want to check it out, you can head over to the brand new page that I've made to showcase this project. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

REVIEW: PATIENT DARKNESS

Death has come to Odols...

INTRODUCTION 

Shutt follows up his supernatural mystery novel, BROODING CITY with a sequel set a few months after the events of this series' debut. I thought the original was a fun, interesting story that did a nice job of introducing the world of the Sleepers, people with supernatural gifts whose moral compass seems to be ambiguous. The story followed Arthur Brennan, a police detective and former member of the shady organization of Sleepers run by a mysterious man named Benjamin, as well as the young Jeremy, whose powers were only just beginning to manifest. The story took a long time to tget going which was one of my main criticisms. It wasn't until the last quarter or so of the book that all the pieces came together and I could feel myself getting into things. I also felt like the parts featuring Jeremy came off as being much stronger than those featuring Arthur and the people in his corner of the world. I just didn't really like the characters on this side of the story all that much. The interactions were definitely quirky, but I think there was some layer of sarcasm coating it all that just didn't resonate well with me. In spite of the slow build up and characters I didn't connect super well with, I was definitely pulled into this mysterious world and the shocking events at the novel's end left me wanting more. Needless to say, I was very excited when the author reached out to me with a copy of his second novel leaving only the gentle request for another review in return.

Please Note:
  • While I'm very appreciative of the author giving me a free copy of his work, this gratitude in no way affects the contents of my review. 
  • As with all of my reviews, I tried to keep this spoiler free, but do note that there ARE some heavy spoilers for BROODING CITY's ending which are referenced due to their importance in the plot of PATIENT DARKNESS.
MY RATING 
4/5 Like it's predecessor, I felt that PATIENT DARKNESS struggles a little with establishing it's premise and really pulling readers into the crux of it's narrative. There are notable improvements made since the first outing, but also some areas in which the book flounders.

CHARACTERS
One of the things I was rather skeptical about when starting this story was the fact that Jeremy is now murdered. This meant that I might be reading a whole book from only Arthur Brennan's perspective. This time around, I still felt hard pressed to truly buy into the relationships between Brennan and characters like Sam, Greg, and Bishop. I will say that I actually liked Sam and Brennan quite a bit more than I did previously. Their characters aren't all that drastically different, I think they might just be a bit more developed at this point and their banter felt a little more authentic to me. Greg is clearly meant to serve as the comedic relief, but I didn't find him to be as clever as it seems like he was meant to be and he doesn't really contribute as much to the story as I would have liked given how important he was to saving Bishop at the end of the last book. I wanted to see a little bit more of his powers and how they evolve, but he's instead mostly seen dorking around on Brennan's couch. Bishop I still don't get at all. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to like her or not and I kind of hope that she's not meant to be overly relate-able because she just makes no sense to me at all.

The real standouts here are Benjamin, who readers get to spend a lot more time with, though his true intentions remain a bit of a mystery. Then there's Alex Bruding who really stole the show for me. She serves as that sort of secondary main character in Jeremy's stead. She's not only the daughter of a wealthy medical genius with ties to Leviathan (the main antagonists from the previous book), but also a woman who was born with supernatural gifts. Her powers are by far the most interesting abilities revealed so far. While Brennan's true/false thing, Jeremy's memory absorption, and Greg's non-specific ability to locate people in peril are all cool, there's nothing quite like a good telepath. For Alex, it's really just a sixth sense that  she's always had and uses as naturally as her ability to hear. She's also just way more compelling than Brennan or anyone else. Hers is a world of shady backroom deals and material excess. This makes her a complex and sometimes unpredictable character. The world as she understands it as well as the very nature of her powers changes throughout the course of the story and it was a ton of fun to watch her adapt to those changes.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world continues to be one of the main selling points of this series for me. The seemingly mundane streets of Odals are becoming a lot more interesting as more supernatural characters start to emerge from the woodwork. There aren't any particularly notable locations really. Alex's apartment complex and her father's mansion are certainly distinct and Brennan's cozy apartment is an interesting setting in that it's adjusting to there being two full-time residents living in it now. Most of it is typical mystery-thriller fare with morgues, dormitories, churches, and hospitals thrown in for good measure. Where the real world building takes place is in how the secret underground of the Sleepers is explored in greater detail.


In this installment, the portrayal of the sleepers as monsters of the night is greatly challenged. Lines are blurred with the inclusion of numerous other figures with supernatural powers whom are not affiliated with Benjamin's Sleeper organization. There's a killer on the loose posing a threat to human and superhuman alike. Then there's people who've stayed utterly removed from it all like Alex and her father. If this all sounds a little vague, that's partially because there aren't a ton of concrete revelations delivered to readers about what exactly the Sleepers are and what they want. Instead, there's mostly a lot of doubt thrown in. Small truths like what really happened to Brennan's sister muddle the previously established ideas about how Sleepers are the big bad of this world. There are a lot of little hints dropped about what might actually be going on, but nothing solid as of yet.

PLOT/TONE 
Where this novel ultimately struggles most is in how it makes the deliberate choice not to give too much away. While neither of the entries in this series are particularly lengthy, they're still at full novel length so I did find it slightly off-putting to have no clearer picture of what the actual threat to Odals is than I did at the end of BROODING CITY. While this decision definitely builds up a ton of intrigue for the next book in the series, it also prevents the story from feeling as rewarding as it should. Perhaps if the final conflict was a bit more dragged out or if more was revealed about one of the principal antagonists, then it would have concluded a little stronger. There are still plenty of interesting little twists, but nothing as showstopping as what I was hoping for. This issue is compounded by the fact that I felt like the opening half of the book was very very slow. Shutt spends an awful lot of time reminding us of what happened in the previous book before really allowing his readers to be tossed into the events of this new story.

After the foreboding words delivered by Benjamin during BROODING CITY's Epilogue, I was expecting to get tossed into something far more exciting. I felt like the story kind of gets the reset button hit on it. Between the constant restating/overstating and the fact that there's a brand new mystery for Brennan to solve in somewhat typical contemporary noir fashion, it felt like this just didn't do enough to outdo it's predecessor. There are little things like how Brennan is trying to find love again (and using a sketchy dating site to do it), moments with Benjamin, and just about every chapter with Alex that do standout in my mind as points where the novel felt worthwhile. I ultimately just wanted things to pick up a little sooner than they did and provide me with a little more satisfaction by the end.

CONCLUSION 
PATIENT DARKNESS is a worthy continuation of the story that BROODING CITY began. It greatly deepens the intrigue surrounding the dark Sleeper underbelly and gives readers cause to doubt their previously established ideas about it. A couple of the characters come off a little better than they did previously and those featured in Alex's chapters are all top notch. Most of the interpersonal interactions still didn't resonate with me on Brennan's side of things so I hope to see more from Alex's corner of the world in the next book. With all the hinting and posturing going on, the third book in this series has a very high bar to live up to indeed. If you read and enjoyed BROODING CITY, then this is definitely a book you'll want to pick up. I have a feeling that there are some really awesome things to come with this series and while I was mildly disappointed with the rate at which the narrative has progressed, it seems like Shutt has set all the pieces in place for a tremendous third book.

You can check out more reviews on PATIENT DARKNESS at Goodreads. Kindle and paperback editions of this book can be found on Amazon.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

REVIEW: ENDER'S GAME

Heroes robbed from the cradle...

INTRODUCTION 

Few books are as widely revered as Orson Scott Card's ENDER'S GAME. It's widely referenced and I always had an idea of what the basic plot points were but never actually experienced the cultural phenomenon for myself. I went in with some pretty lofty expectations, hoping this piece of classic science fiction would live up to it's sterling reputation.

MY RATING 
5/5 ENDER'S GAME is not only a brilliant scifi ensemble, but also a deep and occasionally harrowing examination of what it means to be both a part of and apart from humanity.

CHARACTERS
One of the toughest aspects of this story is that nearly all of the key characters are young children. Ender, Petra, Bean, Alai, Valentine, and Peter are some of the more notable members of the cast, but there are a host of others who play an important part in Ender's journey towards saving humanity. All of them are children who never really get to have a childhood. They're picked as the best and brightest that humanity has to offer and are asked to be brilliant for the rest of us. It's a big burden to bear and Card paints a stark picture of how this pressure molds them into pseudo-adults. All too early, these characters learn the meaning of evil and are exposed to injustice much sooner than they should be. But in spite of their early maturity, it's also evident at times that they really are just kids trying to play the role of something more.


Ender's character is one of the most compelling I think I've ever seen in a piece of fiction and I found myself relating to certain aspects of his character throughout the story. In spite of being extraordinary in every physical and mental way imaginable, he's also flawed in just enough ways to make him someone my heart ached for. I don't know if I've ever routed for a character more than I did for Ender Wiggen and there was this bizarre sense of responsibility I felt for his pain by simply reading through the story. What's most interesting about him though is how dangerous he is. The idea of having a boy his age be as deadly as some of the most powerful action heroes is definitely a disturbing one. It also messed with me a little since there's still an innocence about Ender that can only come with a character of such youth.

WORLD/SETTING 
The Ender Universe is one that is both glittering and shrouded in darkness. There's a certain timelessness to a lot of the science fiction technology that shows up. From the spacecraft, to the "desks" that the kids use for their schoolwork, there was just enough description to give me an idea of what these things were capable of, but never so much that I didn't find myself using my own imagination to decide what exactly they looked like. It was really interesting to read a piece of science fiction with such and open-ended set of visuals since most novels in this genre painstakingly describe each technology employed or reference common science fiction fare which most readers will instantly be able to see in their mind's eye. It's a rather bold choice to build up a world in this way, but I liked it quite a bit. It gives the book a lot of flexibility in that I would have no idea what year it was written in by simply reading through it. This may be one reason why the story continues to resonate so well with audiences so many years after it's publication.

There are three main areas in which the story takes place: earth, the battle school, and a third, more secluded locale where the finale is set. Each is crafted with a loving hand and without spoiling too much, I will say that a lot more time is spent on Earth than I expected. This is a good thing too because the political intrigue it holds is quite entertaining and learning about things happening there helped bring some clarity to events taking place in space. It's not quite a dystopia, but rather a world that is eerily as dysfunctional as the one that exists today. The battle school is a whole world unto itself. The rules are different there and so are the people. This is  a place that's entirely meant to raise up a generation of soldiers by nearly any means necessary. This is also the most interesting setting in the book, largely because of the battle room where gravity doesn't really exist. It's in this room that Ender grows into the warrior that his teachers want him to be. It's where he discovers himself, defines his values, and develops his strategic capabilities. This may not be The Hunger Games, but  some of the mock battles held in this room are definitely not gentle either. In the interest of having no spoilers, I'll just say that the end of the book brings readers to a couple of wonderfully exotic locations where the story's climax and resolution take place. There's also a very interesting virtual space referred to only as the "fantasy game" where some intriguing, albeit trippy, moments take place. All in all, there's plenty of science fiction goodness going on in this world and I found every inch of it to be worthwhile. 

PLOT/TONE 
It has been a very long time since I've read something as emotionally draining as this piece of fiction. I just wanted to see the suffering end for these children, but Card gives short enough respites from the darkness which helped keep things from getting heavy enough where I wanted to put the book down. It's an elegant mix of pain and relief that kept me rushing through the pages with a desperate need to know how it would all end. That said, this story is certainly not for the faint of heart. It's unapologetic abuse of it's young characters is really quite difficult to bear and what's more disturbing still are the implications it has on what it means to be human. It's actually sort of hard to imagine this as a piece of Young Adult literature. I know YA being a genre or sub-genre is more of a recent development in how people categorize books, but there are some distinct indications in Card's writing that this is supposed to appeal to younger readers.In my opinion, this isn't really who I would recommend the book to since I feel like it's about as much of a kid's book as LORD OF THE FLIES is. I suppose on some level the story does appeal to anyone who's felt like they're different for one reason or another and it does do a good job of trying to reconcile that type of pain. That said, it just felt a lot more like a look at the adult world through a child's perspective.

This idea is reinforced by the brief moments that feature dialogue between the adult characters who run the school as well as with two key members of Ender's family. In these moments, readers get a break from the excitement of Ender's life and are offered some deeper insight into the finer points of how this world works and what it takes to be an important part of it. The socio-psychological depth that is explored is partially what makes me think this is almost more of an adult book. There are a lot of insightful statements made about the topics of politics and war which, while not totally inappropriate for kids, probably wouldn't really be fully appreciated by them either. In his prelude to the book, Card argues the point that children are often very adult-like in their thoughts and actions. As someone who's still fairly young himself, I definitely don't disagree with this statement, but I think there's also a number of things that a child shouldn't have to worry about or experience until they are older. The kids in this story are definitely not shielded from very much and in some cases are even manipulated into maturing way earlier than they would if given a normal childhood. It's the way that they're robbed of their innocence that I found to be the most disturbing and the shocking twist at the end definitely lands the final blow. Fortunately though, there's also a lot of childish charm scattered throughout which helps lighten the mood. Sometimes it's a funny quip and in other's its an inventive way of dealing with bullying, but in all cases, it definitely reminded me that these really are just kids trying to find their way like any other person their age.

As a completely unrelated side, one thing that made me genuinely uncomfortable about this story is how frequently the characters are described as being naked. It's never in a sexual way, but I still found the nudity to be confusing and unnecessary. Maybe it's just a generational thing, but I don't think it's too much to ask for the kids to have been wearing underwear at the very least during scenes where they're hanging out in their bunks.  

CONCLUSION 
I'm definitely glad to have finally read this classic piece of science fiction. It exceeded all of my wildest expectations and I can easily see why this is such a cherished story. A part of me is glad that I waited till adulthood to read it though. I think, like many YA titles, I got more out of it coming in with a more mature point of view than I ever would have as a high school or middle school reader.
There's a lot of very deep thought that went into crafting this narrative and I love how much it made me pause to think about what was really going on. I felt very deeply for each of the characters and became invested in their world very quickly. There's not much to say other than that if you haven't read ENDER'S GAME already, you should definitely pick it up. 


More information and reviews on ENDER'S GAME can be found at Goodreads.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

UPDATE: CELEBRATING MY 50TH REVIEW

I've had a lot of fun since starting the blog. While I don't read as much as some, I've been pretty pleased with the number of books, stories, and graphic novels that I've read through since I began. As of today, I've written forty-nine reviews on this blog, accounting for over fifty different pieces of fiction (this includes my review roundup posts). As I approach the arrival of my fiftieth review, I wanted to look back on those that I have done so far and link to them here.
  1. An Unexpected Bonding
  2. The Stonegate Sword
  3. Klubbe the Turkle and the Golden Star Coracle
  4. Bypass Gemini (Big Sigma Book 1)
  5. Your First 1000 Copies
  6. Napism.info
  7. The Devil's Playthings
  8. Injustice Gods Among Us Vol. 1
  9. Hollow Towns
  10. Fade to Black
  11. Everyone Dies at the End
  12. The Devil's Child
  13. Injustice Gods Among Us Vol. 2
  14. Stormdancer (The Lotus War Book 1)
  15. Mini Review: Sinking
  16. Whispers of the World that Was
  17. The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games Book 1)
  18. Catching Fire (The Hunger Games Book 2)
  19. Rat Queens Volume 1: Sass and Sorcery
  20. Brooding City
  21. The Strange Library
  22. Mini Review: The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye
  23. The Martian
  24. Unstable Prototypes (Big Sigma Book 2)
  25. Batman the Long Halloween
  26. Day of the Fish Zombies
  27. White Wind Rising (Gunpowder and Alchemy Book 1)
  28. Sixth of the Dusk
  29. Review Roundup: New 52 November!!!
  30. The Buried Giant
  31. Review Roundup: The Immortal Iron Fist
  32. Mockingjay (The Hunger Games Book 3)
  33. The Immortal Weapons
  34. Somewhere In Between
  35. Atomic Robo The Everything Explodes Collection
  36. Sung in Blood
  37. Dimorphic
  38. Atomic Robo The Crystals Are Integral Collection
  39. Descender Volume 1: Tin Stars
  40. Illuminae (Illuminae Files 01)
  41. Perfect State
  42. The Goblin Emperor
  43. Rat Queens Volume 2: The Far Reaching Tentacles of N'rygoth 
  44. Review Roundup: Free Comic Book Day
  45. Stardust
  46. Review Roundup: Days of FCBD Past
  47. Rat Queens Volume 3: Demons
  48. Mini Review: Pandemonium
  49. Marvel 1602

Four the fiftieth post to be marked with the "REVIEW" tag, I'll be trying out a slightly different format which gives the reviews on my blog a little more pzazz than the versions I post on Goodreads. I'll also be trying to make the first couple of these reviews books that I either loved or really enjoyed in order to celebrate fully celebrate this shift.

To start things off, I'll be reviewing a beloved science fiction classic, ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card!

Review to be posted tomorrow!

TWINS TO THE THRONE: AN EPISODE OF BIRTH


*.* Twins to the Throne *.*

=================
| An episode of birth |
=================

The emperor trails his slave girl through the dim corridors of his palace. She makes haste, shuffling her sandaled feet as quick as she can while remaining ladylike. This is a situation that would surely justify running, but his majesty has not given her permission to do so. The emperor takes long, deliberate strides behind her. He too feels this is an occasion for more than just hasty walking, but he will not suffer to be seen doing so in front of his barbarian captive. A maroon cape falls over his right shoulder and sways with each step. His breastplate glitters in the muted light and a wreath sits securely over his curly hair. This is the way an emperor ought to look, with a dignified swing of his shoulders and a chin held high.
 At last, they come upon the bedchamber where the girl opens door and steps aside. The emperor shoots her a coy grin as he passes. Better for her to think this is but a trivial matter to him. The emperor cannot appear worried, even in his own household. But the way his empress screams on the bed does worry him. Her ladies in waiting scurry around, holding her hands, dabbing her forehead with cool water, and fanning her writhing figure. The midwife crouches between her legs, waiting to see the babe emerge. She pops up over the skirts of the empress’s dress from time to time to issue commands or soothing words, but the emperor knows this is not going well.
Gods, let this child be a son,” the emperor prays, though his words are inaudible.
The screaming and the twisting and the hustling about goes on until the emperor feels exhausted just standing here.
“Keep fighting, my love,” he says.
This time his voice rings out rich and deep for all to hear. It’s the most he can offer his empress right now. Were he a normal man, he would be by his woman’s side, holding her hand, whispering sweet things to her, and sweating under the stress of the moment. But he knows he mustn’t do that. He understands that to rule also means he must live life imprisoned by his own power. He stands there, frozen in place like a cool, magnificent sculpture. He studies her olive skin, her wetted, dark hair, and the determined glint in her eyes. He admires the way she pushes through the pain.
At last, a wailing infant is withdrawn. A slave comes over with a knife and chops the cord that tethers the babe to its mother. Then another comes and wraps it up in a swaddling cloth. But something is wrong. The midwife should be taking it over to the empress. Instead she crouches back down in front of her as if the job is not yet done. A slave brings the child over to her emperor. Shock and confusion rack his mind, but all he can do is remain stone-faced as he accepts the infant.
“A boy, my lord,” the slave informs him.
He returns with a nod before turning his gaze down to the baby boy. The sight of his warm brown eyes calms the emperor. He might be whining and stinky and covered in blood and slime, but he’s the most beautiful thing the emperor has seen.
He’ll make a good prince,” the emperor decides.
Then a second small voice echoes through the chamber. The emperor looks up to see another baby in the midwife’s arms. The empress lets out a loud sigh and collapses against the bed, no longer conscious. The midwife brings the second child over to its father.
“Another boy, your honor,” she tells him.
“Thank you,” he replies, though his heart sinks with the news. “You’ve served us well.” The emperor’s voice is steady although his heart races.
The weary old midwife departs from the chamber, escorted by several slave girls. The rush of joy that came from the emperor’s firstborn son is now dashed by the presence of the boy who came but minutes after his brother. The empire cannot have dual emperors. Yet do not these boys have an equal claim to the throne? They’ll grow up being the same age with the same face, same hair, and same voice. They will, for all purposes, be the same man, but there can only be one of them. The handmaids fuss about the sleeping empress while their emperor wanders to the bedchamber’s balcony. He steps out onto it through the open door and breathes in the warm air.
“Is this not also my child?” he says looking out at the tall buildings with steeple roofs.
All the emperor can see is a vision of the chaos that these twin princes will bring to the empire. He sees them fighting over their claim to the throne. And why shouldn’t they? Is one supposed to accept a role as the second son? No, these would be proud boys. These would be brothers destined to turn on one another.
“Tygren,” the emperor says, feeling his general’s presence behind him.
“I got the news, my lord,” the soldier replies.
“What would you do to protect this empire?”
 “Anything.”
A silence hangs in the air before the emperor concludes, “I need you to take one of them away.”
“Where?”
“Somewhere close, someplace safe, a farm maybe. If anything happens to his brother, I’ll need him to be within arm’s reach and I –”
“It would be unbefitting to sentence the boy to any crueler a fate.”
“Indeed,” the emperor groans.
“What of the empress.”
“She’s not to know of this arrangement. We’ll craft a fiction that she bore only one.”
“It will be done. Which one am I to take?”
The emperor looks at the younger twin. He should kiss the boy on the forehead or at least say he’s sorry. But he’s not sorry, he’s the emperor. So he hands the babe over to Tygren who departs with a bow. 


Sunday, July 31, 2016

REVIEW: MARVEL 1602

INTRODUCTION 
I mentioned in a post a while back that I wanted to try to read a bit of Neil Gaiman's work. Since I knew him as being quite accomplished both in the world of literature and of comics, I figured I should try one of each. For a novel, I read and reviewed STARDUST which I really liked. In the comic category, I know he's mostly famous for the SANDMAN series, but there are quite a lot of volumes in it and I wanted something a little shorter. So I landed on MARVEL 1602 , a sort of alternate reality where an astounding number of Marvel's most beloved heroes and villains all find themselves existing in a time period centuries before the one they are traditionally seen in. I was drawn to this work partly because of the unique art-style, but also because I love the idea of taking characters that normally exist in a contemporary time period and transplanting them into one from the past. I hoped to see brilliant re-imaginings of these characters, some fun action-packed sequences, and an epic story worthy of this concept.


HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 I would say that this is a fairly strong work overall though a general lack of quality action and a rather weak final act left me feeling a bit sour about it all by the time I'd finished it.

CHARACTERS
The sheer number of Marvel icons who make appearances in this graphic novel is genuinely mind-blowing. I hoped to see a fair number of them running around, but never expected the lineup to be so massive. 1602 versions of classics like Daredevil, Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, and Victor Von Doom offer strong presences right out of the gate, but they're really just the tip of the iceberg. It's honestly sort of intimidating to even mention them all because part of the fun of this work is when a new character from the Marvel Universe gets pulled into the action. Some, like select members of the X-men, Black Widow, and a powerless version of Spiderman, are pulled in during the first couple issues, but with others, there's quite a bit more build-up that surrounds their big reveal which I don't want to spoil here. Suffice it to say that there are a lot of quality characters in this story and anyone who grew up with them is probably going to be jumping for joy every-time a new one gets re-introduced.
X-men reimagined and looking pretty good

Fortunately, these characters can still be enjoyed, even by those who aren't terribly familiar with them. This is naturally due to the fact that the story doesn't really build upon existing Marvel lore all that much given that none of it has actually happened yet. The flip-side of this is that not everyone is going to be in love with these alternate takes on the characters. Magneto as a leading member of the Spanish Inquisition who's trying to kill off witch-breed (mutants) will probably seem counter-intuitive to his typically pro-mutant agenda. A particular choice that Black Widow makes might make sense for this version of the character but could also upset fans of her. Then there's even just little things like how one or two characters have different sexual preferences from their original variations. Personally, I liked most of these changes, particularly how some of them get names that are a little less modern like Peter Parquah instead of Peter Parker. I think it's cool that Gaiman changed things up a little, but I was definitely disappointed with one character in particular. I can't really spoil who without giving away the end, but I will say that their acting out of character felt very off to me and kind of shattered my suspension of disbelief in a big way. Additionally, I was not all that impressed with the ladies in this world. They came off in a rather week way and did't really contribute nearly enough to the story for my liking. This is especially shameful given how important Marvel's heroines are to its world and is one shortcoming that I found myself unable to overlook.

WORLD/SETTING 
The setting for 1602 is charming, it's rustic, and overall, just everything I wanted it to be. The first half mostly takes place in England and Spain which are two locations that I don't think the Marvel Universe spends much time in. I wouldn't say that this is at all historically accurate, but there are a couple of historical figures thrown in along with some actual historical events such as the Spanish Inquisition which really sell the whole 1602 thing. I loved seeing the old architecture and beautifully rendered ships. It was also great fun to have the story transition over to the new world where a little bit of colonial America gets its time to shine. What's most interesting to me though is how the presence of Marvel characters changes the world into something brand new. Then there's also how the world changes these characters. The story has this fantastic give and take going on that is brilliantly handled and offers something that I don't think can be found anywhere else.
Fury as an agent to Her Majesty

One area where I felt the world was a bit disappointing is in how it is not as separate from the main Marvel Universe as I wanted it to be. For some reason, it was decided that this reality needed to be linked with the rest of Marvel cannon and that was really quite a shame. I won't spoil how or why this is present, but as a reader I was definitely expecting to enjoy an alternate version of Marvel that could stand on it's own rather than be hampered by what came before it. 1602 is at it's best when it sticks to how these characters exist during this time frame and suffers greatly as it starts to veer away from that theme near the end. While this is certainly more of a problem with the plot than it is the setting, it did pull me out of the world that is built up here and that's really quite the opposite of what I wanted to see happen.

PLOT/TONE 
Oh Peter! What a goof!
As you might have guessed by now, the plot starts of very strong. A plethora of characters in their 1602 forms are introduced, an ominous tone is set, and the world begins to be shaped. The first half of this eight-part work is where I found things to be the most fun. All of the characters are handled well and given ample time to establish themselves and there is a building intrigue that Gaiman masterfully sows. With so many players on the stage, there is a lot going on for readers to enjoy. I'm not even sure I could count all the different subplots that spin off of the main thread, but can assure you that nearly all of them are wonderful. Each is so thoroughly explored that I actually felt like I was getting to enjoy a bunch of different little stories within a much larger one. The problems start when these stray arcs begin to weave into the tale's climax. While it was fun to see all hands on deck for the final couple of issues, there was not nearly as epic a conclusion as I wanted there to be. A lot of this just comes from the plot point which connects this world with the traditional Marvel Universe. With so much hype up to this point, I expected a far more interesting twist than the one I got and was very surprised at this given Gaiman's reputation. A part of me suspects that some Marvel exec demanded to have some of this stuff present, but even with that possibility, I still felt like this was a rather weak effort to surprise readers. The conclusion is also disappointingly inconclusive. I felt like there were a lot more stories that could happen in this space, all of which being far more interesting than the note that this story ends on. It's really just too bad, because I was hooked nearly all the way through with the expectation of this really awesome ending that honestly just never came. I think this story is still pretty good and definitely has a lot of entertainment value even with the ending's failure to impress, but I was left with the bitter feeling that this story could have been so much better had it been given a superior ending.

ARTWORK
Archangel's in quite the bind
This is truly one of the most unique art styles I have ever seen. It definitely uses modern techniques, but also has this archaic look to it at the same time. And I mean that in the best possible way given that it gives the pages a look that befits the time period it's trying to portray. There's also a lovely range of pallets that are used from bright and colorful to dark and moody. At any given point, I always felt like the panels looked just right and gave off the appropriate mood. One area that this artist definitely does struggle in though is the action. This is kind of a big deal given that the world of superheroes is known for high-flying leaps and hard-hitting punches, not to mention excessive use of zany powers. Sadly, not a ton of that is particularly well rendered here. Yeah there are fight scenes and of course the characters use their powers, but there wasn't any real sense of drama that I felt when looking at those shots. They're staged in a way that definitely has artistic merit, but fails to convey any sense of excitement, perhaps because the shots are framed in a way that's too picturesque. It's a problem that does persist throughout the entirety of this work, I suppose I just foolishly hoped that these images would start looking a little more expensive the closer I got to the story's finale.

CONCLUSION 
While disappointing in a number of crucial ways, I'd still recommend this graphic novel because of it's unique concept and sumptuous visuals. There's a lot to enjoy, especially in the earlier chapters and I think it can probably appeal to a much wider audience than most of Marvel's flagship series in that it is (mostly) removed from the confusing world that is comic book lore. At it's worst, MARVEL 1602 can be chalked up to a collection of pretty images and a story space in which Marvel's cast is re-imagined as Victorian-esque versions of themselves, which is certainly nothing to scoff at. I do wish I could recommend this with a little more gusto, but ultimately, I'm glad I didn't miss out on reading this book and I think others would be glad that they picked it up as well.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

UPDATE: SETTLED IN AND GETTING BACK TO IT

It's been a decently long time since I made a proper post here. Like I mentioned in a previous entry, I moved recently and it's been taking me a while to get back into a routine. But now that I'm settled in and have my life back in order, I will be trying to get back into the swing of things with this blog.

To start things off, I thought it might be fun to show off the new home for my book collection:



My roomate has quite the book collection of his own so these shelves were filled pretty quickly. With a combined collection this big, I'm going to have to pick up my reading speed! I'll also have to pick up a few more little decorations to really bring this shelf to life. For now, at least these little guys have a place to hangout:


Looking forward, I'm working on preparing a variety of new posts for the blog. Here's a list of what's to come: 

              • One New Review
                • Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman
              • One New Piece of Flash Fiction
              • One Update That I'm Very Excited About