Saturday, June 24, 2017

It Came! (Dan Boultwood)

It Came!
(The It Came! series, issues 1 - 4)
Dan Boultwood
Titan Comics
Fiction, Graphic Novel/Humor/Sci-Fi
***** (Great)

DESCRIPTION: SEE the giant robotic alien menace from another world! GASP as England trembles in fear! SCREAM with laughter as pipe-smoking Dr. Boy Brett (of the Space University) and his assistant Doris race to protect the Earth with the wonders of Modern Science! And don't forget to BUY candy, liquor, and cigarettes in the lobby before you leave... Director Dan Boultwood presents "IT CAME!" in thrilling Eyeball-o-Rama-vision, now playing at a theater (or bookstore) near you!

REVIEW: For anyone who has watched Mystery Science Theater 3000, Svengoolie, or other homages to the B-grade cinema of yesteryear, It Came! is a brilliant spoof that's sure to please. The pipe-smoking doctor Boy Brett (yes, his first name is "Boy") is the epitome of Britishness, on top of being highly scientific; he wows Doris with facts gleaned from his years in the Space University, such as how there are hundreds of solar systems in space that all revolve around our sun. Doris is the long-suffering companion, often reduced to mere object status by Brett and everyone else. The army exists mostly to provide extra victims for the alien robot, whose evil scheme is as evil as it is schemey - but don't worry, because Brett and a host of pipe-smoking Space University scientists are on the case! Vague (and not so vague) innuendo and the odd spark of self-awareness add to the hilarity. The graphic novel also has parodies of period ads, an intermission break (encouraging guests to grab drinks in the lobby with the promise that the story will make more sense after a few), and a hilarious "preview." I quite enjoyed it, and look forward to future volumes... hoping they appear. (I had thought there were more, but so far it's just a standalone.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Galaxy Quest (Terry Bisson) - My Review
Young Frankenstein: A Mel Brooks Book: The Story of the Making of the Film (Mel Brooks with Rebecca Keegan) - My Review
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie- Amazon DVD link

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Saber Tooth (Lou Cadle)

Saber Tooth
(The Dawn of Mammals series, Book 1)
Lou Cadle
Cadle-Sparks Books
Fiction, Sci-Fi
*** (Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Park ranger Hannah thought it was going to be an ordinary field trip, leading a group of teenagers into the Badlands to search for fossils with their teacher and a paleontologist. She wouldn't have even been there if her co-worker hadn't tricked her into taking the job. But something unusual happens: a broken ledge reveals a shimmering ripple that pulls Hannah, teacher Bill, paleontologist M.J., and several teens hundreds of thousands of years into the past. Stranded in a world that has never known a human footstep, the group struggles to survive in a world only known from spotty fossil records, a world of strange beasts and strange constellations - and terrible saber-toothed predators.

REVIEW: It was a discount Kindle download that promised action and danger in prehistoric America. That's about what it delivers... but pretty much all it delivers. The characters aren't especially deep or intriguing, most of the teenagers remaining little more than names with only the vaguest of (somewhat stereotypical) traits attached. Then again, the grown-ups aren't much more dynamic, particularly M.J. That leaves the plot to carry the reader forward, which it manages to do, if only just. Much of the book is more about survival than facing down the titular predator. It's not necessarily dull, but it often lacks tension and real interest. The climactic finale plays out in a rush, and the ending feels unresolved as it leads to a cliffhanger, not a conclusion - which felt rather like a cheat, as it was finally picking up to the level of action and danger it promised in the title and blurb. Aside from the vague question of where they go next and what happens now, there's no real plot thread or story arc to compel me to read further. There's no puzzle to solve about the time travel, no greater goal, so without caring much about the fairly flat characters, I have no real incentive to follow this series any further. It's not a terrible read, but it just didn't grab me, nor did I ever feel it was going anywhere I particularly needed to follow.

You Might Also Enjoy:
The Ancient One (T. A. Barron) - My Review
Saturday, the Twelfth of October (Norma Fox Mazer) - My Review
The Transall Saga (Gary Paulsen) - My Review

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Spilling Ink (Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter)

Spilling Ink
Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter
Square Fish
Nonfiction, YA Writing
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: What does it take to write a book? Words and ideas, obviously, but there's more to it than that. There's plotting and character creation and revision and grammar and all sorts of ways to mess up and give up... but if you don't tell your stories, who will? Popular children's book authors Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter team up to offer advice and encouragement to would-be writers of any age. All you need to start is an idea, plus a few words.

REVIEW: Aimed at a middle-grade audience, Spilling Ink doesn't delve into deep outlining or grammar technicalities or the often-daunting statistics on finding an agent or getting published. It's more about the overall process, not to mention the joy of crafting stories, a joy that's all too often squashed by teachers more interested in grading papers than nurturing talent or parents convinced all writers are depressed alcoholics working out of hovels. The journey from a story idea or simple urge to write to a finished manuscript isn't one that can be definitively mapped, so the authors here don't try. Instead, they offer signposts, a few cautions, the odd detour, and more than one friendly rest stop where the weary or discouraged traveler can rest and recharge. Along the way are "dares" challenging the reader/would-be writer with various exercises, such as test driving different writing styles or rewriting a moment from their lives with a different ending. If you're looking for seven-point plot arcs or a rigid outlining method or a compendium of grammar rules, you'll have to do further research. This one's all (or mostly) about the joys and frustrations of storytelling, told in a way most any writer, no matter their age, can relate to.

You Might Also Enjoy:
No Plot? No Problem! (Chris Baty) - My Review
Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly (Gail Carson Levine) - My Review
Wonderbook (Jeff Vandermeer) - My Review

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Haunted Mesa (Louis L'Amour)

The Haunted Mesa
Louis L'Amour
Fiction, Sci-Fi/Western
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Mike Raglan has made a life traveling the world, seeking lost legends and "haunted" places, but he came to the American Southwest desert on a personal matter. An eccentric acquaintance, Eric, wrote him a cryptic letter, requesting help - but he seems to have vanished without a trace. His notebook tells of strange experiences on a desert mesa, such as the uncovering of a buried kiva, or Native American worshipping place, and odd visitors. The more Mike investigates, the more he suspects he may have at last run up against a mystery even he can't debunk, mysteries tied to the legendary "Third World" spoken of in native legends… a world their ancestors reportedly abandoned due to an unnamed evil, and one that may be reaching out again.

REVIEW: I was looking for a Western title for a reading challenge, and the author looked to be one of the prominent names in the genre, so I gave this book - with its promise of an otherworldly twist - a try. It starts with some decent potential, even if the characters aren't especially original or memorable, but that potential's soon wasted.
Mike's a fairly generic hero, a self-made adventurer who can take care of himself, but who has resisted settling down and building bonds. He encounters various stock figures, including the local sheriff, a handful of shady thugs, a beautiful Native American woman (who pushes into stereotype territory, with her stilted English and limited knowledge of the white man's ways - but, then, there's a certain white male slant to the whole story, so I suppose that's to be expected), and so forth. But things become wobbly as the possibility of other worlds comes into play. Mike spends an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the same core set of ideas: what is known of the Anasazi culture (rather little), whether other worlds are real or if it's all an exceptionally elaborate kidnapping hoax, and a smattering of personal history and speculation on the nature of reality around the sides. This wouldn't be much of an issue if some manner of progress was made during these speculations, or if new information prompted them, but the vast majority of this thought process just eats pages while repeating itself, sometimes almost verbatim, and with little to no external prompt for the speculation or subject shift. He'll be driving down a highway, then suddenly thinking about how the Anasazi built in cliffs despite the energy required to haul in water and food, followed by disbelief (or belief, sometimes in the same scene and with no notable reason for the flip-flop) about the "third world" portals. Even an encounter with clearly otherworldly creatures leaves him with doubts, and yet more circular speculation. At some point, I wanted to smack him to get him to do something other than drive around and speculate, already. (Well, to be fair, he also experiences plenty of eerie feelings, more than half of which turn out to be nothing.) Around and around and around Mike goes, in the desert and in his head, only rarely making tangible progress. The climax feels a little rushed and flat as a result of all this wasted time, and the conclusion too neat.
The sense that I wasted so much time on what amounted to plot filibuster, plus an overall feel that the story didn't live up to its potential, ultimately dropped it a half-star below the bland Okay rating. Something about that waste just plain irritated me more than usual, possibly exacerbated by a sense that L'Amour, likely unintentionally, was white mansplaining native mythos.

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Flight (Sherman Alexie) - My Review
The Untamed (Max Brand) - My Review
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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Jim Henson's Storyteller: Dragons (Daniel Bayliss)

Jim Henson's Storyteller: Dragons
(The Jim Henson's Storyteller series)
Daniel Bayliss, et al.
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: An old storyteller relates four tales, inspired by legends and folklore from around the world, all featuring dragons.
Son of the Serpent: A Native American boy and his father have a fateful encounter with a horned sea serpent and its enemies, the thunderbirds.
The Worm of Lambton: The spoiled son of an English lord unleashes an evil upon the land, which he must confront many years later.
Albina: In Medieval Eastern Europe, a warrior woman and her reluctant companion confront a shape-shifting beast.
Samurai's Sacrifice: The daughter of an exiled samurai seeks vengeance, only to find a monstrous foe and a terrible truth.

REVIEW: The Storyteller was an interesting series, a showcase of Henson's groundbreaking puppetry and effects, though the stories told sometimes felt a little thin or incomplete, bearing fragments of cultures and mythologies that didn't quite translate. This compilation, part of a graphic novel tribute to the show, seeks to emulate the style of the original in new stories. It succeeds, with some great artwork in culturally-influenced styles, though it also retains some of that sense of incompleteness, of bits and pieces that haven't quite translated or don't quite make sense without the cultural touchstones of the original. My favorite, for art and storyline, is the first tale, with its stunning horned serpent and thunderbirds created in the Northwest Coast style, followed by The Worm of Lambton. Albina changes the genders of the heroes, but seems to be missing something. The Japanese story, feels jumbled and a touch confusing, as though it didn't start quite in the right place; there's an awful lot of backstory that must be crammed in via confused flashbacks, and the wrap-up felt a touch too neat and forced. Overall, I found it interesting, with some great artwork and intriguing world myths given new life. It certainly succeeded in capturing a mythic sense of wonder - and dragons rarely hurt a rating.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Tales of Great Dragons (J. K. Anderson) - My Review
Dragons - Truth, Myth, and Legend (David Passes) - My Review
Jim Henson's The Storyteller ~ The Complete Collection - Amazon DVD link