Nathan (mastadge) wrote,

Books completed, July 2010

45. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2006-2010) by John Jackson Miller et al. -- This is just a mess. To begin with, it's odd to title a book Knights of the Old Republic and then not actually feature any Knights of the Republic. There's one recurring character who's a knight, but he's in a cabal doing his own thing and not really representing the Republic. That oddity aside, this book is still very off. The basic plot itself is decent, but it's handled so unbelievably ineptly. Almost every plot point is contingent on every character being an idiot always. There's very rarely a situation that couldn't have been nipped in the bud by the characters actually having an adult conversation. Miller's dramatic and narrative sensibilities are on par with a latter-day George Lucas, his tin ear for dialogue the same. Honestly, does he ever read his lines out loud? Does he ever listen to real people having conversations? He likes to develop subplots slowly, but he doesn't know how; instead of dropping hints and clues that we can piece together, he instead throws in cryptic cameos that don't reveal anything and then later spends whole issues doing flashback datadumps that fill us in on situations in a very unsatisfying fashion. He doesn't seem to know how to handle his cast of characters, either -- very frequently two or three of his characters have stuff to do and the others are just waiting on the ship to pick them up. And I don't know whether the length of this book was dictated editorially or chosen by Miller, but it also seems odd to conclude the major story arc on issue 35, have 6 issues of random adventures, and then do another bigger story arc for the next 9 or 10 issues. It seems like the characters-with-nothing-to-do problem could have been resolved quite simply by playing the Jarael arc alongside Zayne's major arc and resolving them both at the end of the series. So, yeah, a big disappointment. A story of intrigue, betrayal, obsession, prophecy and war that could have been outstanding in the hands of a better writer instead just comes across as a bunch of idiots making bad decisions for 50 issues. (**) [Volume 1: Commencement | Volume 2: Flashpoint | Volume 3: Days of Fear, Nights of Anger | Volume 4: Daze of Hate, Knights of Suffering | Volume 5: Vector | Volume 6: Vindication | Volume 7: Dueling Ambitions | Volume 8: Destroyer | Volume 9: Demon]

46. Who Fears Death (2010) by Nnedi Okorafor -- A very very good far future science-fantasy set in Africa. The novel is topical, dealing with issues like weaponized rape, female genital mutilation, genocide and sexism, but never comes across as preachy. It's engaging and intelligent and Okorafor manages to balance and counterpoint the unrelenting grimness with moments of exquisite joy and beauty. Highly recommended. (****½) [Amazon]

46. Leviathan Wept and Other Stories (2010) by Daniel Abraham -- Abraham is a fantastic writer, and this is a very strong collection, without a dud in the bunch. Clean, elegant prose coupled with great ideas and populated with memorable characters make for a delightful reading experience, and the collection is also well balanced, opening and closing with very strong stories, making it easy for those who, like me, read collections front to back to stay engaged. I'm wavering between 4 and 4.5 stars, and think I'm going to give Abraham the benefit of the doubt. (****½) [Amazon]

47. Criminal (2006-2007) by Ed Brubaker (words) and Sean Phillips (pictures) -- The first Criminal series is collected in two volumes, each telling a separate standalone story, although there are some characters in common between them. The comics are well-written, well-plotted and they look great, but I guess based on the hype I was expecting to be blown away, and really I wasn't. There's nothing wrong with these stories and plenty right with them, and, while I don't feel like the series will stick with me, I may continue with the subsequent Criminal series. (***½) [Vol. 1: Coward | Vol. 2: Lawless]

48. "Remember You're a One-Ball!" (2010) by Quentin S. Crisp -- An exquisitely written tale of human cruelty. The novel's greatest success is in Crisp's rendering of a first person who is painfully honest, unpleasantly misanthropic, and yet a pleasure to read. The story, involving the narrator's experience with institutionalized child abuse -- he's a teacher -- makes some important observations, but goes so far over the top in its inhumanity that it can be hard to swallow. Still, worth checking out for those interested in horror that deals with the human condition rather than the supernatural or the shock factor. (****) [Amazon]

49. Tough Choices: Structured Paternalism and the Landscape of Choice (2010) by Sigal R. Ben-Porath -- I read this mainly because the author is a professor of mine with a lively intellect, and I'm glad I did. A skillful and well-reasoned defense of paternalism not in the form of coercive policies but rather in terms of structuring choices and creating opportunities to increase, not impinge on, individuals' freedom and liberties. I enjoyed this book a good deal more than I expected to. (****) [Amazon]

50. Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir (2010) by Ander Monson -- A collection of essays that, together, are an interrogation of our culture's ubiquitous I, an inquiry into solipsism, and, individually, are mostly surprising and delightful. Monson is an intelligent, playful writer and I look forward to exploring more of his work. (****) [Amazon]

51. The Sword (2007-2010) by the Luna Brothers -- As expected from the Luna Brothers, this is an engaging comic that won't particularly stimulate your brain cells; it's the comics equivalent of a summer blockbuster, a couple hours' worth of slickly rendered action with a few twists. Enjoyable fluff. (****) [Vol. 1: Fire | Vol. 2: Water | Vol. 3: Earth | Vol. 4: Air]

52. A Handful of Pearls & Other Stories (2010) by Beth Bernobich -- Bernobich is a passionate, sensual fantasy writer, her stories colorful prose paintings that at their best are as ravishing as they are painful. I get the feeling, however, that she hasn't yet honed her craft to the precision that would do her stories justice -- a number of the stories felt that they they were verging on, just a nudge away from, excellence. (Or maybe her craft is just fine and it's a matter of taste that left me feeling oh-so-close to being completely absorbed by those stories without quite getting there.) Though I did enjoy most of the stories, I feel the best of them are weighted toward the front of the collection -- the first three stories are the best -- making for an unbalanced reading experience that ends on a less satisfying note than it started on. Still, Bernobich is a versatile and talented writer worth keeping an eye on; also look out for her debut novel, Passion Play, in a couple months. (***½) [Amazon]

53. A Place of Meadows and Tall Trees (2010) by Clare Dudman -- Fine historical novel based on the true story of the founding of a Welsh colony in Patagonia in 1865. It's a harrowing book, but beautiful, full of humanity, and believably renders the hardships and triumphs of the early colonists, as well as what their arrival meant to the native Tehuelche people. (****) [Amazon]

54. Scott Pilgrim (2004-2010) by Bryan Lee O'Malley -- Bizarre and surprisingly funny and engaging graphic novel displaying an odd mélange of influences -- manga, video games, superhero books, hipster culture -- that really works. Just an odd, precious, pop culture bildungsroman with a huge cast of finely drawn characters almost all of whom are funny, memorable and distinct from one another. (****) [Vol. 1: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life | Vol. 2: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World | Vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness | Vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together | Vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim vs. the Universe | Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour]

55. The Ethics of Memory (2002) by Avishai Margalit -- Interesting book of philosophy about the relationship between ethics and memory. Do we, individually or as a group, have an ethical responsibility to remember certain things? If so, what things? And why? Margalit is well-read and draws on philosophy, history and literature to illustrate his propositions. His prose is clear, his terms always defined, and this book provides a lot of food for thought. That said, the arguments are not always particularly philosophically rigorous, and the book as a whole reads more like the series of lectures it was drawn from than a cohesive, unified text. (***½) [Amazon]

56. Unthinkable (2009) by Mark Sable (words) and Julian Totino Tedesco (pictures) -- This comic has a decent plot that indulges a writerly fantasy/conceit: after 9/11, a novelist who had a thriller that predicted a similar catastrophe is recruited for a top-secret government think tank. Its mission: to come up with other catastrophe scenarios so that the government can prevent them. Soon enough, lacking results, the think tank is disbanded. Then, several years later, the scenarios they came up with start to come to pass, and the novelist tries to bring the think tank back together to stop at least the doomsday situations. Unfortunately, this book ran only five issues, and with about a dozen significant characters running a series of missions around the globe, the whole thing feels like a superior political action thriller set on fast-forward. The characters never feel fully developed, never really have a chance to shine, and the action is rushed forward so quickly as to sometimes be nearly incomprehensible. This is a story that, while silly, could have been fun and exciting, but it's a story that certainly would have needed more than five issues to tell. (**½) [Amazon]

Books completed January through April, May, June
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