Wednesday, March 30, 2016

MINI REVIEW: ATOMIC ROBO THE CRYSTALS ARE INTEGRAL COLLECTION

INTRODUCTION
I guess I just couldn't stay away from this series for too long! ATOMIC ROBO: THE CRYSTALS ARE INTEGRAL COLLECTION picks up where the last collection ended. It groups Volumes 4, 5, and 6 of the ATOMIC ROBO series together and provides at least 15 more issues of zany ridiculousness for readers to enjoy. While this collection was every bit as fantastic as the last, this review will be a "Mini" one because a lot of the things I mentioned in my review of THE EVERYTHING EXPLODES COLLECTION are pretty much the same here.

HOW I RATED IT
4/5 While still hardly a masterpiece in any respect, I did find myself enjoying this set of volumes that much more than I did the last for a couple of key reasons.

CHARACTERS
One area that this collection steps it up in is with the characters. Robo is as great as ever, but we get to see more of Jenkins! I don't know why this badass is so amazing. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he can wear a full samurai warrior getup during a mission briefing, then change into his commando gear for the mission and not have ANYONE make even the slightest remark about it. It could also be that he can massacre a room full of vampires from another dimension without breaking a sweat. Whatever the case, he's the man and he gets a whole lot more love in these volumes.

JENKIIIINNSSS!

There's also a vigilante who wears a mask that makes 0 sense, a woman heartsick for Robo, a descendant of Sparrow, and other wacky allies for readers to enjoy and chuckle over. Even better than these though are the absurd villains that show up. Chief among them is a talking velociraptor who is also a self-proclaimed scientist. The best part about him is that he wields semi-automatics! He's ridiculous in the best kind of way as are villains like a genocidal AI, giant mutant chickens, and more killer robots.

WORLD/SETTING
The setting is probably about what fans of this series would expect by this point. There's a good mix of different types of scenery from urban sprawls, space ships, jungles, and exotic laboratories. As with the previous collection, these also appear in a nice sampling of different points in time.

PLOT/TONE
The story line(s) this time around aren't really any more intelligible than they were before. Somehow,
An explosive action sequence
they're just more lavishly ridiculous. This collection also follows a similar patter as the last with the first two volumes being pretty random for the most part and the third telling a more focused narrative. No one plot point felt like it was overused at all and the fact that the characters were more memorable made their respective story arcs that much more of a joy to read through. One thing to note is that the transition between issues didn't feel as abrupt as it did last time even when they switch from one point in time to another. This may be because each story beat feels a little more wrapped up as opposed to just cut off like they sometimes were in the previous collection. Overall, this is just another very enjoyable series of (mis)adventures.

ARTWORK
This category remains unchanged from my review of the previous collection. The cartoony line art is still charming and the coloring is still vibrant and full of depth.

CONCLUSION
If you haven't liked the series thus-far, then these volumes probably won't do much to sway you. If you are a fan though, then you will not only get more fun with Robo in this collection, but also a set of three volumes that manage to surpass those that came before them. Pleasing visuals, tongue-in-cheek humor, and highly implausible stories are all still the main attractions and they are now complimented with a few extra perks. If you do nothing else, pick up VOLUME 4 at the very least. That's where you get the most Jenkins as well as the glorious debut of Dr. Dino. This series is an absolute blast and I think I will definitely be reading more of Robo's adventures in the future!

ATOMIC ROBO: THE CRYSTALS ARE INTEGRAL COLLECTION is available as a paperback on Amazon.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

REVIEW: DIMORPHIC

INTRODUCTION
Before jumping into the review, I'd like to thank author Cy Wyss for the free digital copy of DIMORPHIC. Cy is the author of "Sinking" a short story starring Inspector Richter. I enjoyed this piece of short fiction so one could probably imagine how excited I was to be gifted a full length novel by the author. I was even more intrigued after reading the book's synopsis because it sounded very different from the type of narrative experience I enjoyed in "Sinking." DIMORPHIC is a story that's less about uncovering the truth about a murder and more about the journey of a superhero. However this hero (or maybe heroes depending on how you look at it) is not of the ordinary flavor. Judith and Ethan are fraternal twins whose lives change forever when Ethan "dies" in a tragic motorsport accident. Immediately after his passing, Judith finds that she takes over his body every time she goes to sleep and wakes up in her own when she goes to sleep in Ethan's.

HOW I RATED IT
 4/5 In the same way that "Sinking" offered a uniquely edgy twist on the classic detective formula, DIMORPHIC is delightfully twisted spin on superpowered heroes. I should point out though that this is a VERY strange book and is therefore a bit of an acquired taste. This weirdness at the onset may be enough to turn some away, but if you bear with it, you will be treated to one of the most interesting and genuinely unique stories you have read in a long time.

CHARACTERS
The bizarre-ness begins with the characters. I know I have used the term "motley crew" before to describe odd casts of heroic misfits, but after reading this, I feel as though I've been using it as a descriptor rather liberally. A Chinese assassin whose behavior is heavily influenced by his time in Japan, a gay, black, midget, a pyromaniac who loves vampires, and a not-gypsy woman are just a smattering of what types of characters readers get to meet during the course of the story. To delve too deeply into what any of these characters' roles are would be quite a spoiler indeed. Even so much as mentioning them borders into spoiler territory because a lot of what makes this story great is that there is no possible way to anticipate who or what is around the next corner.

What can be discussed in this category though, is the main character, or maybe main characters. It's kind of complicated really since it's somewhat unclear as to whether Ethan is really 100% dead or not. Essentially, his motorsport accident leaves him brain-dead. His twin sister, Judith can't come to terms with pulling the plug on him, but she also has no way to afford his life support. It's a pretty dark scenario, but depressing soon gives way to weird when she goes to sleep and wakes up in his body. She's still her, but she also has to deal with now kind of being a man. She's able to waltz Ethan right  on out of the hospital, but then she really gets herself into a pickle since she's hiding a man who's supposed to be dead. While she should be finding a way to sort that mess out, she gets herself into a deeper one when she starts trying to use Ethan's body like some kind of human supersuit. See, Judith's got a thing for superheroes. She wants to be one - just like Batman, her favorite. Aside from getting her brain-dead brother into all kinds of precarious situations, she also involves herself in an underbelly of criminal intrigue that will change the course of her life forever.

The characters here are certainly larger than  life, but they are also all so strange that they feel like real people. That said, I know for a fact I have never met anyone quite like the characters in this book, but each of them has quirks that are so unique that I feel as though they COULD be real and that's a pretty nice quality to have in a cast as large and widespread as this one. .

WORLD/SETTING
The setting itself is fairly contemporary. There are a lot of really interesting locations that readers are taken to, but I'm not sure if mentioning them would be considered a spoiler or not since some are as strange as the characters they belong to. Maybe it will suffice to say that there is a nice range of places here. Some are serene, some are dingy, others seedy, and a bunch have this modern urban Asian feel to them. All have a dark sort of pallet to them though that's hard to describe. I think a lot of this has to do with the characters who inhabit these spaces and the bizarre gravity that they bring with them. Ultimately it's just important to know that the locations are fun and there's a lot of destruction that is done to them which can turn even the dingiest building into a vibrant stage for the action.

PLOT/TONE
I think I've mentioned a thousand times already that this is a VERY strange novel. The tone is quirky, gritty, brutal, sexual, and ultimately there's just a lot of strange odd stuff that gets thrown into the mix. One example is that Judith wants to have gay sex when she's in Ethan's body, which maybe wouldn't be actually gay? There's also a seen where she has heterosexual sex in Ethan's body, but doesn't really know how to use the male anatomy. There's a lot of sexually-charged swears that get thrown around which I can honestly say I would never even dream of someone saying. There's actually a lot of swearing in general which some may want to know. Most of the time it does make sense in context, but there were some occasional spots where it felt out of place like when they randomly get dropped in a more casual conversation.

So far as the plot is concerned, I dare not reveal too much. Some generally safe things to mention would be that there is a ton of violent action that keeps things interesting and that the plot in general can't really be compared to anything I am familiar with. Part super-hero story, part crime drama, and part gritty action adventure, I ultimately found that I never really knew what direction the author was taking with this story. Normally, that would annoy me to no end, but a lot of the fun came from never knowing what I should expect. At any point, I could meet some weird new character, witness an unnervingly bizarre exchange, or run into a tense fight scene. The surprises are pretty much endless and it's nice that it's not just pure shock value - there is some substance here as well.

CONCLUSION
It you are in the mood for something a bit different from what's offered in the mainstream market, then I  would highly recommend that you give this indie author a look. Having an open mind is definitely a prerequisite to fully enjoying everything that this book has to offer, which by the back half is actually quite a lot more than most will expect. It's just one of those rare kinds of treats that can't really be compared to anything else. There's also a sort-of-open ending that has potential for the story to go on, not a cliffhanger mind you, just an ending that invites the possibility for more to come. And hopefully the author does do more within this space because I think this is a fictional world that has even more to offer.

DIMORPHIC is available in eBook and Paperback editions on Amazon.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

UPDATE: BOOKTUBE SFF READALONGS 2016


A new year means a new set of BookTube SFF Awards Readalongs to enjoy. I did not quite finish all of the books I meant to read last year for this event, but did pick up some great reads like THE MARTIAN, RAT QUEENS VOLUME 1: SASS AND SORCERY, and SIXTH OF THE DUSK. I find myself a bit busier for the time being, but still want to participate in the readalongs, so I have condensed my goal down to 3 pieces of fiction, one from each of the three categories: Novel, Graphic Novel, and Short Fiction/Novella. The titles I will be reading along with the dates the readalongs are scheduled for are: 

DESCENDER VOLUME 1: TIN STARS (Graphic Novel)
by Jeff Lemire, Dustin Nguyen, and Steve Wands
March 16-31 (happenning now)
ILLUMINAE (Novel)
by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
March 22 - April 11
PERFECT STATE (Short Fiction)
by Brandon Sanderson
April 12-30

There's still plenty of time if you too would like to join in on the fun. It's a great group moderated by some fantastic BookTubers and you can access it all on their Goodreads group page if you would like to take part in the reading and discussing of these fantastic books from the previous year.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

REVIEW: SUNG IN BLOOD

INTRODUCTION 
Sometimes, you do all the right things at the bookstore. You look through a section that has your favorite type of book, you grab one that looks like it's a good length, it has a decent or even spectacular cover, the synopsis is good, the Goodreads score is pretty good, and what little you read of it seems like it's something that will love. You're excited to read it, but when you finally do, it's just a bundle of disappointments stacked on top of each other. I use the second person in this scenario because I'd like to think I'm not the only person that this has happened to. Unfortunately this is pretty much the experience I had with Glen Cook's SUNG IN BLOOD, a fantasy book that seemed like it would be a quick little hit for me yet somehow managed to feel like it took forever to get through in spite of it being less than two hundred pages long. Now this might be a harsh way to open a review and it's important to set the precedent that there were SOME things that the novel handled well, but there were just so many annoyances along the way that I find myself hard pressed to say that I liked this.

HOW I RATED IT 

2/5 Cook constructs an intricately compelling setting that I am absolutely a fan of. It's just too bad that I found the characters and story-line to be every bit as dull as the world was vibrant.

CHARACTERS 
There really isn't all that much to say in this category. Are there just as many characters as one might expect in a fantasy novel? Yes. Is the cast diverse and colorful? Yes. But are any of the characters at all compelling? No, not one bit. For starters, they have really dumb names. There's Soup and Spud who I constantly got confused, probably because both their names have to do with food and both their personalities are equally indistinct. Then there is Preacher who likes to spout verses, though we are rarely ever treated to what those verses are which feels like a huge cop out when it comes to his character as well as the station he occupies. There's a stereotypical-ly grouchy barbarian named Chaz and probably one or two others that I'm forgetting about in the supporting cast, but all of them a pretty forgettable. The main protagonist here is a man known as Rider. He's the strong, handsome hero with all the power and none of the personality. Yeah he has emotions and such, but there's no real depth to his character. There's never a sense that he's doing what he does for any particular reason  and I never really knew what makes him tick. Rider's got a little demon minion named Su-Cha and if anyone is the life of the party, it's him. He's no less one dimensional than the rest of the crew, but he's a welcome source of comic relief in a story that takes itself rather seriously. The villains are a mix of just okay. The big bad is maniacal, but the only thing that really makes him scary is the obscene amount of power he wields. He's got a general named Emerald who's crafty, but otherwise inconsequential and then there's Caracene, who's supposed to be a witch, but she's more of a wallflower in most cases.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world in this book is by far one of the best fantasy settings I have EVER seen in a book. This is the one (and only) area in which the book shined and frankly, it's what kept me reading. I think many would probably describe this as a steampunk setting, though I'd argue it's more of a high fantasy world. There are airships and all other sorts of crazy medieval-ish contraptions and a TON of magical elements to be found as well. The way magic works in this world is very cool. There's this mystical construct known as "The Web" which Rider seems to derive some of his abilities from. Then there's also heavy use of totems, demon summoning, and the good old fashioned practice of shooting powers out from your hands. Even the airships themselves are much more magic-based (hence partly why I wouldn't call this steampunk).

The entire story takes place around one city, but the landscape of it is still quite varied. There is Rider's father's workshop, the castle, and lively streets that the characters explore along with some lush islands which surround the city of Shasesserre. The space never once felt confining and I truly did long to explore more of it even in the face of how little I liked the rest of the novel's components. I also loved that the broader world was mentioned in conversation in ways that felt meaningful to the world building. All in all, it was just a breathtakingly different place to visit and I'm glad to have had a book take me there.

PLOT/TONE 
I really don't know what to say in this category. The plot starts off very strong with the assassination of Rider's father, Jerkhe who's long served as the city's "protector." His death was undoubtedly organized by one of his enemies and has deep implications for the safety of the city. It's up to Rider and his ragtag band to find the mastermind behind the assassination and prove to everyone that they can keep the city safe from harm even without Jerkhe. If all of that sounds interesting enough, that's because it certainly  is on a superficial level. But the stale delivery of each and every line of dialogue and the constant lack of tension or suspense of any kind really just made this "adventure" feel like a chore to get through. It's possible that I was just so dispassionate towards all of the characters that I wasn't feeling the full effect of the more action-packed sequences, but either way there was a certain impact that I simply did not feel even though I appreciated the creativity and careful choreographing of the action. On the note of action though, I should point out that while Rider, Su-Cha, and some of the bad guys are all very proficient fighters, the rest of Rider's crew is almost useless. It is staggering how many times they are captured after putting up a pitiful fight during the course of this short work. I REALLY don't know what the deal is with that.

Another major issue I had was with the perspective switching. It's third person and Cook kind of uses a narrative voice that is similar to how a camera might follow characters in a movie.The trouble is that he is so stingy with providing visual descriptions that I often got lost as to who or what I was reading about at. And its weird because in spots, the imagery is top notch, then it's nonexistent in others. It's just a wildly inconsistent mix that really bugged me almost more than the weak characterizations.

CONCLUSION 
If you're the type of reader that really just loves a compelling world, then I think I might actually recommend this to you. The trouble is, if you're like me and characters and plot are actually the main draws when reading a piece of fiction, then this story will leave A LOT to be desired. It's certainly got it's charming moments and at it's best, it reminded me of one of those fantasy cartoons from the 90s (except in a much more adult flavor). Ultimately though, this should have been a much quicker read for me than it was and I found myself largely finishing it simply because it's short and I'm a bit behind where I want to be with my 2016 reading goals. I am also quite upset by the fact that this seems to be a standalone work, yet it had a ridiculously open-ended conclusion. At the end of the day, I'm sad to report that it wasn't to my tastes which is really too bad because Cook has an unbelievable knack for sucking readers into a living, breathing world of magic and mystery.

SUNG IN BLOOD is available in eBook, Paperback, and Hard Cover editions on Amazon.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

REVIEW: ATOMIC ROBO: THE EVERYTHING EXPLODES COLLECTION

INTRODUCTION
Every now and then, it's fun for me to read something a bit whimsical. It can be nice to delve into something that doesn't take itself all that seriously and doesn't really grip me in the way that something darker and more serious would. ATOMIC ROBO: THE EVERYTHING EXPLODES COLLECTION is one of those works that is really only meant to entertain. And that is just what this comic series does. Normally when I read and review comics, I do so by volume, but this work actually collects volumes 1-3 in the series. I'm not quite sure how many individual issues that comes out to exactly (I didn't count), but I think it's probably at least 15. I'm very glad my friend introduced me to this series and I had great fun with it the whole way through.

An exciting opening action scene
HOW I RATED IT
3/5 It's a charming piece of graphic fiction and I really did like it, but I didn't REALLY like it, so that's why it's getting a 3/5.  I think this is one of those works where there really isn't a whole lot to analyze or critique. It just is what it is and if the absurd humor and cartoony artwork resonate with you, then you will undoubtedly like this as I did.

CHARACTERS
There are honestly so many different characters that pop up that I can't really mention them all within the span of a review.  Most of them are indeed a bit flat (which makes sense given the amount of face time they get), but all depicted in an outlandish enough way to make them entertaining presences. There are even characters from history. Thomas Edison, Nikolai Tesla, and even H.P. Lovecraft all make appearances in the story, though their portrayals are by no means historically "accurate." There are some other non-historical standouts as well. Robo himself is a witty enough hero who's bravery borders on cocky quite often. He's a humorously plucky leading man (or bot) and a great deal of fun to follow. Then there's Jenkins who doesn't say much, he just kills monsters dead and he does it with style. He's easily my favorite recurring character and I only wish that there was a little more of him. The list of wacky people goes on, but suffice it to say that there are more than a few standouts in this crowd, even if they only have one-off appearances.

WORLD/SETTING
In true comic book fashion, there are almost as many exotic places that readers are brought to as there are colorful characters. Hidden Nazi strongholds, Egyptian deserts, governmental facilities, expensive mansions, and dusty tombs are just a smattering of what you can expect from this universe. What's more is that the setting spans as wide a breadth when it comes to time as it does space. One volume is largely based on WWII, while another is more set in the present day, and another spans a variety of decades. It's all extremely varied and I never once found myself getting tired of one place (or point in time).

One of the gloriously drawn covers
PLOT/TONE
One of this work's greatest selling points is also what I'd consider to be it's most significant drawback which is that the writers really like to jump around a lot. On the plus side, this lets readers dive right into each issue unhindered. There's definitely a sense of continuity, but in terms of a narrative pull, it all tends to feel a bit random. There are a lot of different villains and although one is recurring, the others are never around long enough to really pose any serious threat. All of this said, there IS a theme that each volume runs with. The first is centered around the Action Scientists who are essentially Robo's modern day strike force. The second is all about Robo's exploits in WWII, and the third is perhaps the best of the collection. It is focused around an interdimmensional enemy that Robo encounters throughout time and must eventually stop. It was still hilariously random, but it also had a bit more appeal to me in that there was sort of this central conflict tying things together. All in all, this isn't a story one read's for the plot, it's rather a work that is read for the outlandish story beats and tongue-in-cheek humor.

ARTWORK
Simple, yet vibrant is how I would describe the work's visuals. There's nothing special going on when it comes to the inking/line art. For the most part, it's on par with a relatively well-made cartoon which is certainly fine, but not a style that contains much detail. Where the pages really come to life is in the coloring and lighting of each panel. The pallet is striking and the way light is rendered gives everything this sense of volume and drama that it would not otherwise have. It's certainly not the nicest looking piece of graphic fiction out there, but it's quite lovely in it's own right and I think most will find it to be quite easy on the eyes. It's just not the sort of work that I found myself stopping on each panel to admire like I often do - though given the silly plot, it's probably best that I felt more compelled to simply breeze through the pages.

The most bizarre creature to face off against Robo yet

CONCLUSION
This isn't something that really moved me in any way. It didn't make me ponder the meaning of life and it didn't really make me feel anything in particular while I was reading. But it did make me chuckle a few times and I think this is a series that kind of captures the original magic of comics as an entertainment medium. It's kind of like a brilliant love letter to the comics of old while still bringing new things to the table. It's marvelously unique, pleasantly witty, and graced with well-crafted albeit simple imagery. I can't promise that it will knock anyone's socks off, but I know a couple of people who are all about this series, and I can say that I am quite enamored with it myself. I look forward to reading more of Robo's adventures in the future and am happy to have experienced what this collection has to offer.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE EVERYTHING EXPLODES COLLECTION is available as a paperback on Amazon.