Category Archives: books

If Not For Brent Spiner, I’d Be Illiterate.

Okay, this is not entirely true. But, it’s pretty close.

Here’s the deal: I love to read. I’m always reading something. I can’t walk into a bookstore without walking out with something. As soon as I read the last sentence of one book, I immediately read the first sentence of another. But, when I was a kid, I hated to read. Hated it. Hated. If I had to write a book report in elementary school, I’d read the back cover and skim the first and last chapters to get a vague idea of what the book was about.

What the hell happened? you ask.

This happened:

41kqe2GtBOL._SS500_I was a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I recall seeing a handful of episodes from the original series on Saturday afternoons as a kid, but TNG was what really introduced me to the Trek universe. So, imagine my surprise when I came across this book. A novel. About the crew of the Enterprise. Holy shit, right? I devoured it, followed by several other ST:TNG novels. I was a reader…and it was all thanks to the media tie-in novel. (Okay, I think the Sherlock Holmes stories probably came first…but, otherwise I stand by the previous statements.)

From then on, if someone wrote a book based on a show or movie I liked, I’d usually check it out. I’ve read books based on The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, various iterations of Star Trek, Farscape, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones. I’ve read books based on comic books, too. The medium doesn’t always translate well to straight prose…but, Andrew Vachss’ Batman: The Ultimate Evil stands out as being an excellent example of literature of any genre. On my bookshelves at the moment, I have tie-in novels of Bones and Criminal Minds waiting for me. I’m tempted to check out the novels based on Monk, Psych, and Burn Notice. I’d kill for novels based on the new Abrams-verse Star Trek or Leverage.

Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know…maybe because I can.

“Hi, My Name Is Mary Sue, and I’m a Vampire.”

There’s really no good way for me to ease into this, so I’m just going to come out and say it: Vampires, at least many modern interpretations of vampires, are little more than Mary Sues.

anne-rice-vampiresUntil recently, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of the Mary Sue, even though  it’s fairly common in the world of fanfiction, a corner of fandom that I have never really had any interest in visiting. Anyway, in brief, a Mary Sue is an overly idealized, hackneyed character who functions as a kind of wish-fulfillment for the author or the reader. A Mary Sue can be either male or female and, despite originating in the realm of fanfiction, several canonical characters can be considered Mary Sues (Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Men‘s Kitty Pryde have both been classified as Mary Sues in the past). There’s a pretty good explanation of the Mary Sue phenomenon here.

So, where do I get off calling vampires the Mary Sues of film, TV, and literature? Well, I think the prevailing depiction of vampires in fiction leans heavily on the “overly idealized” and “wish-fulfillment”parts of the definition. When I was growing up, vampires were monsters. They were evil, bad. They hung out in castles and abandoned crypts, killing and feeding on people. Then, somewhere along the line, an author by the name of Anne Rice showed up (perhaps you’ve heard of her?), and vampires experienced a thematic shift. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying Rice was the one who created the new, Mary Sue-ish vampires–in fact, I’m pretty sure she isn’t–but, she’s probably the writer who is most associated with the Sue-pires.) No longer were they monsters to be feared, hunted, and killed in the name of humanity. No. Now, they were to be pitied. And, in most cases, fucked. This is where the Mary Sue bit comes in. These new vampires were bad boys…but, bad boys who felt soooooo tortured by what they’ve done, that all they need is the love of the right mortal woman to put them on the path to righteousness and redemption. In the real world–y’know, the place we all live; the place we keep our stuff–guys who spend their time killing people probably don’t give a shit about redemption. No, they’re more likely to beat the crap out of you or throw you down a flight of stairs.

Now, I’m not knocking the whole “bad boy” thing. I get it. Bad boys can be wicked cool. Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, John Wayne: they all played a variation of the bad boy. Wolverine? Jayne Cobb? Logan Echolls? Yeah…they’re all awesome. I also understand because I suffer from the male version of the Bad Boy Fixation–the Crazy Girl Dilemma. River? Parker? Kara? Faith? Yes, please. I understand the draw, the excitement of never knowing what’s going to happen next. The truth is, in real life, both the bad boy and the crazy girl would fuck your shit up as soon as look at you. However, in the world of Mary Sue-pires, the tortured, immortal bad boy is easily tamed by the mortal woman, thereby providing the reader (and, possibly, the writer) with the best of both worlds: they get their bad boy who is dark, mysterious, and brooding, but all of the danger that would come with a real bad boy has been safely removed: “He may be a vampire, but he’ll never hurt me. He feels bad about all the killing and will never do it again.”

In closing, while I may not like the current crop of emo, metrosexual vampires plaguing modern fiction (don’t even get me started on the sparkly ones), that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. In fact, I insist. If you like something, by all means enjoy it…drink from the well of entertainment ’til your thirst is slaked. But, I think you should realize (and accept) that the tortured vampire bad boy is complete and total wish-fulfillment. In reality, this guy would be the abusive boyfriend, the rapist, or the wife beater.

I Scream, You Scream: A Review of MY SOUL TO TAKE

My exploratory expedition into the land of YA urban fantasy continues with Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Take. I was lucky enough to pick up an autographed ARC of the first book in Vincent’s new YA series, Soul Screamers, at Book Expo.

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Something is wrong with Kaylee Cavanaugh

She doesn’t see dead people, but…

She senses when someone near her is about to die. And when that happens, a force beyond her control compels her to scream bloody murder. Literally.

Kaylee just wants to enjoy having caught the attention of the hottest guy in school. But a normal date is hard to come by when Nash seems to know more about her need to scream than she does. And when classmates start dropping dead for no apparent reason, only Kaylee knows who’ll be next…

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I have a confession to make: I don’t like teenagers. I never really cared for them when I was one, and now that I’m slowly making my way through my thirties, I like them even less. For this reason, I tend to avoid stories that are strictly teen-centric. Unless, that is, they are grafted onto something “weird.” You’ll never see me watching The O.C., Gossip Girl, or Beverly Hills 90210, but I never missed an episode of Buffy, Roswell, or Veronica Mars. That’s why I like YA urban fantasy. It’s much easier for me to read a book about teenagers if they happen to be fighting demons, faeries, or grim reapers.

That brings me to Rachel Vincent’s My Soul to Take. From the blurb above, I think it’s safe to assume that you’ve all figured out that Kaylee is, in fact, a banshee–or, to be more accurate, a bean sidhe. A teenage bean sidhe, living in Texas. Yeah…that’s why I love urban fantasy. I love the way authors mix standard fantasy elements–whether it’s vampires, demons, faeries, or wizards–with the “real, modern world.” The worldbuilding aspect is my favorite part of urban fantasy, seeing how the author fits these two pieces–the fantastic and the mundane–together.

Anyway, Vincent’s first Soul Screamers (God, I love that name!) novel is amazing. My Soul to Take is an origin story, introducing us to Kaylee (love that name, too!), her family and friends, and the newly-discovered “hidden world” she inhabits, including the rules regarding bean sidhe and death. Unlike standard folklore, Vincent portrays the bean sidhe as a race that includes both men and women, with each gender having specific powers and abilities. And, since the bean sidhe are closely tied to death, Vincent gives us a glimpse of the delightfully bureaucratic “collection agency” known as Death, complete with interns and regional reapers.

Ideas are all well and good, but if an army marches on its stomach, a novel marches on its characters. I don’t care how interesting a world is or how cool a concept may be, I’m not going to get very far without great characters. Kaylee is a great addition to my list of spunky, smart-mouthed heroines. I love Kaylee’s dad, Aiden, and her Uncle Brendon (I’d love to see a separate series where the two brothers travel around fighting evil…sort of like Supernatural: All Growed Up). Then there’s Sophie Cavanaugh and Nash Hudson, two characters who could have easily been little more than ciphers. Sophie is Kaylee’s cousin–a bubbly, blonde dancer. While she can occasionally be an out-right bitch, Sophie isn’t just another “mean girl.” She isn’t an inherently bad person, she’s just someone who’s used to getting what she wants–from her parents, from her teachers, from boys–making her a perfect foil for Kaylee, who pretty much has to work for everything. Plus, there’s a great running gag about the teachers at their school assuming that Sophie and Kaylee are sisters, which doesn’t sit well with either of them. That leaves Nash Hudson, the “hottest guy in school” mentioned in the blurb above. When Nash is introduced, he’s set-up to be the stereotypical alpha-male high school jock…but, dammit if Vincent didn’t make me like the kid. In the span of about five pages, Nash goes from being the book’s douchebaggy Parker Abrams to being the supportive and trustworthy Riley Finn.

So, yeah, I loved My Soul to Take. If you’re a fan of YA fiction or urban fantasy, you should totally check it out when it’s released in August. As for me, I’ll be patiently awaiting the release of My Soul to Save.

I Think I Still Prefer Robert Hays

This past month, the Fantastic Fangirls challenged themselves and their readers to try something new.  I decided to give DC’s Starman a go.  I was only familiar with Starman as a guest-star in numerous DC comics that I’ve read over the years (the team-up Starman had with Batman is the one that sticks out in my mind the most), but I’ve heard some good things from various people about the book.  People with fairly varied taste in comics all seem to like Starman…so, what the hell was I waiting for?

I tracked down a copy of Sins of the Father, a trade that collects the first six issues (#s 0-5) of Starman, written by James Robinson, with art by Tony Harris.  Now, while I didn’t really dislike the book, I can honestly say: I just don’t think Starman is for me.

SINS

In theory, I should have loved Starman.  Starman is one of DC’s legacy heroes, and I love DC’s legacy heroes.  Whether it’s the Flash family, the Green Lanterns, the Arrow clan…I love ’em all.  But, something about the Knight family just rubs me the wrong way.  Ted Knight was the Golden Age Starman, protector of Opal City.  After he retires, his oldest son David inherits the mantle.  Then there’s Jack, the youngest of the Knight boys.  Jack is a stereotypical ’90s disaffected youth.  He runs a junk shop and doesn’t understand why his older brother runs around in long underwear.  Since this first trade is the origin of Jack as Starman, it doesn’t take long for David to be offed and Jack and his dad to get into that whole “I don’t wanna follow in your footsteps, I want to live my own life!” cliche.  Skip ahead, skip ahead, skip ahead.  Jack accepts his place as his father and brother’s successor and even realizes that when he was a little kid he really idolized his dad and wanted to be Starman.

I think one of the problems I had with Starman is that–at least for the first few issues–none of the Knights were the least bit likable.  In the beginning, Jack was kind of an obnoxious little prick who, whether he did it intentionally or not, never missed a chance to take a dig at his brother’s choice of vocation and, by extension, the work his father did back in the day.  David wasn’t around that long, but he came off as the type to rub his father’s love and attention in Jack’s nose every chance he gets.  And Ted?  Holy Jesus, Ted Knight makes Bruce Wayne look like Father of the Fucking Year.  After David gets killed, someone attacks both Ted and Jack.  Ted ends up in the hospital and, when his surviving son visits him, he basically yells at the kid for boring him with the story of his own survival while poor, poor, Plot Devi–err–I mean, David is dead.  That’s some good parenting right there, kids.

I did, however, really dig The Shade, an immortal shadow-manipulator who’s tangled with both the Silver and Golden Age Flashes before retiring to Opal City.  He’s in Opal because it’s “quiet.”  This is true, in essence.  Several characters mention that Opal City has almost no crime, especially nowhere near as much crime–regular or super–as either Metropolis or Gotham City.  Why, then, does it even need a costumed hero?  Anyway, the Shade just kind of wants to be left alone.  But, if something’s going down that may disturb the peace and quiet of his city, he’ll grab his top hat and walking stick (no shit, he has those) and get his hands dirty, which is how he ends up helping Jack track down the people responsible for his brother’s murder.

Then we have the O’Dares, a family of Irish cops.  The O’Dare brothers–and sister, Hope–have sworn to protect Starman, after Ted saved their father’s life back in the day.  In theory, I dig this kind of honor.  There’s a certain Old World nobility to it…or, maybe it just reminds me of a Wookiee Life Debt.  So, after all is said and done, the characters I like most in Starman are a family of Irish cops and a semi-reformed super-villain.

Maybe, at some point in the future, I’ll revisit Jack Knight and the Starman series.  But, until then, this is the only Starman for me:

What the Hell Am I Waiting For?

As part of another Mega-Blog Crossover Event, the Fantastic Fangirls have asked us to pick something we’ve been resisting to read over the years and give it a shot.  Sounds like a good idea to me.

I’ve decided to give Starman a shot.  A lot of people really like this series…but, for some reason, I’ve never felt the urge to pick it up.  Until now.

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Forward…ever forward!

I Don’t Care What You Say, I’m Excited

I really liked The Da Vinci Code.  I also liked Angels & Demons.  (Actually, I think Angels & Demons is the better of the two.)  So, I was pretty excited when I heard that Dan Brown’s third Robert Langdon book, The Lost Symbol, is going to be published in September.

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I’ll be the first to admit that neither of these books are well-written.  But, they’re fun and sometimes that’s all I want.  Brown’s two Langdon books are also way better than his other novels, which read like they were pulled, half-finished, out of Michael Crichton’s garbage.

It should be noted that within moments of reading about this yesterday, I received emails from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble asking me if I would like to pre-order Brown’s forthcoming novel.  Oh Internet, you know me so well.

Rorschach’s Journ–Ah, Screw It: My Thoughts on Watchmen

Yes, the rumors are true: I have finally seen Watchmen.  In brief, I liked it.  I liked it quite a bit–maybe more than I thought I would.

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For the purposes of this review, I think I should first let you all know about my relationship to Watchmen.  I have read Alan Moore’s opus.  While I enjoyed the book, and acknowledge the influence it had on the comic book industry, I do not consider it to be Holy Scripture.  In fact, given the choice, I’d probably choose to re-read Chris Claremont’s Dark Phoenix Saga before I’d choose Watchmen.  That’s actually one of the reasons I waited so long to see the movie.  If it sucked, I did not need to get trampled in a stampede of rabid Alan Moore fans as they charged out of the theater to set cars on fire.

Turns out I really didn’t have much to worry about.

What worked?  Well, for starters, the cast.  I’m pretty willing to accept other rorschach2people’s opinions about things–especially since I expect the same in return–but, if you’ve read Watchmen and do not think that Jackie Earle Haley totally nailed Rorschach, then you obviously hate puppies, candy, and America.  Sure, Haley’s “I’m the Goddamn Batman” growl isn’t exactly how I imagined the character would sound, but all other things being equal, it worked pretty well.  Haley might have walked away with the movie, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Patrick Wilson were also quite good as The Comedian and Nite Owl, respectively.  I’m willing to admit that I might be the only person on the planet who was excited to see Matt Frewer playing Moloch and Rob LaBelle as Wally Weaver–possibly the first time since Taken that these two fine character actors have appeared in the same production–but, I did “squee” internally when I saw them both for the first time.

Now, what can I say about Malin Akerman?  Correction: What can I say about Malin Akerman that won’t get me smacked by every woman I know?  Yes, Akerman’s Silk Spectre was pretty easy on the eyes.*  She also kind of looks like an adult version of Violet Parr, which is not a bad thing:

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If I have one negative thing to say about Akerman’s performance it’s this: she comes off as too young.  Unless my math is off, Jupiter was about 27 when the Keene Act was passed, which would make her 35 in 1985.  Akerman, god bless her, looks at least a decade younger.  Not a deal breaker, just an observation.

For the most part, I think Billy Crudup did a pretty good job as Doctor Manhattan, although there were times when he came off as childlike, as opposed to disconnected.  I think the real weak link in the cast was Matthew Goode.  For someone who’s supposed to be the perfect human, Goode’s Ozymandias comes off as excruciatingly bland.  Maybe I’ve misread him in the book, but I would have expected him to be much more charismatic and a lot less…dull.

From a storytelling standpoint, both David Hayter and Zach Snyder did a good job of cutting down the massive text of Moore’s original, without losing too much of the core story.  The decision to use the opening credit sequence to tell a large chunk of the Minutemen backstory was a brilliant one, as were the decisions made regarding which aspects of the main characters’ backstories to include, and which to cut.  I was blown away by the adaptation of “The Abyss Gazes Also” and “Old Ghosts”–my favorite chapters–although I must agree with the overwhelming sentiment that the bathroom scene between Rorschach and Big Figure came off as a bit odd.

Personally, I didn’t miss the squid.  Again, this could go back to my whole “I don’t worship at the altar of Watchmen” thing, but I think the change works.  From a storytelling point of view, there wasn’t nearly enough time to fully explain Ozy’s giant mutant brain-squid.  However, we were shown the destructive nature of Doctor Manhattan’s powers throughout the entire film.  (It just struck me this morning that the Watchmen film basically used the “exploding man” story that Heroes did at the end of its first season, a storyline that was attacked for “stealing” the idea of destroying New York to create world peace from Moore’s Watchmen…and I found the whole thing pretty funny.)

Oh, and was it me or was Archie’s flamethrower the greatest ejaculatory metaphor ever caught on film?

What didn’t work?  The slo-mo.  Stop with the slow motion action scenes already, will ya!  Enough.  Once or twice, maybe, to prove a point or show something particularly awesome, but you don’t have to do it every time someone throws a punch.  I fear that the “Superhero Slo-Mo” may soon ruin films just like Bullet Time did.

Overall, I’d give Watchmen a 9 out of 10, with most of that last point going in the “Not bad, but not what I would have done” column.

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*: Seriously, have you seen Malin Akerman?!?