29 May 2012

Review: Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon
Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't think of a book that has left me as torn and divided as Throne of the Crescent Moon has.

The book is largely a high fantasy using Middle eastern tropes and concepts, weaving some different settings and ideas into a decently-formed, short (for a fantasy) story. The book excels at creating a great setting that feels familiar while being different than most general fantasy locales.

The problem with the book is more that it almost drowns in its concepts as it attempts to break free of them to be a good story. The characters are interesting on the surface but didn't resonate with me at all. The setting was great, and almost felt like a character in itself, but it ended up feeling like I was more of a visitor or observer rather than something that was a more immersive experience.

The book moves at a solid pace, which masks a lot of these issues, but I suppose my expectations were much higher for a book I desperately wanted to love. Much of my criticism might be based more around this not being the book I wanted it to be, but I would like to see something a little more engaging next time.

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27 May 2012

Review: 172 Hours on the Moon

172 Hours on the Moon
172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One thing I've never been able to sign onto is the relationship between sci-fi and horror. I personally never saw the similarities, but there's a long history of sci-fi and horror that exists well before I existed on this planet, and I suppose it's too late to stop that train. 172 Hours on the Moon is a sci-fi horror novel that mostly gets it right, thankfully.

The premise is as absurd as it is simple - in 2019, a worldwide lottery is initiated to send 3 teenagers along with actual astronauts back to the Moon. There's no way this would ever fly in the real world, but just work with it. The teenagers are chosen, weird things begin happening, and, once they arrive on the Moon, things are happening that no one prepared them for, and we finally learn the real reason why we've never went back.

This book has won a number of awards already, and is finally translated into English, so it's clearly doing something right. There's a lot of the film Moon in it, it handles the horror in a less gory, more suspenseful way (which is not to say there's no gore, mind you), and the book goes out of its way to shoehorn in some actual science (the famous SETI "Wow!" Signal is key to the plot), so there's a lot to like. The characters aren't the most fleshed out things in the world, but the science and setting are ultimately more important.

I'm glad this one appears to be getting a wide audience. It's a solid sci-fi, non-dystopian young adult book, which is something I feel like I haven't seen come around in a while. Definitely worth your time if you're looking for something a little different.

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26 May 2012

Review: The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery

The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery
The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery by Noam Scheiber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While this book pegs itself as "how Obama's team fumbled the recovery," the book is primarily concerned with quick biographies of the economic team that was put together during and following Obama's election. Thus, the actual how takes a backseat to the who.

This is not to say that the who is unimportant, as there's a lot of detail in place as to how such an illustrious team was able to get so much so wrong. The book misses the mark in a way because it simply accepts the Obama team's arguments regarding how to deal with the crisis uncritically, never thinking for a moment that they may have been wrong from the start with the how. Instead, we get a sympathetic viewpoint of the team, the Republican opposition is almost always a bit of a caricature, and the end result is one that misses what may have been a more informative book in favor of one that promotes a certain ideological viewpoint.

There are flashes of good journalism in this book, for sure - the discussions of Christina Romer and Tim Geithner were both top notch, and the debt ceiling recap did show some surprising fidelity to what's known, but the rest felt lacking.

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23 May 2012

The New 52: Animal Man

At 31, I came to comics relatively late. Yeah, I read some kiddie comics like Richie Rich and Lil' Devil when I was a kid, but real comics, with superheroes and bad language and what have you? That didn't come about until my mid-20s. My introduction to comics came from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 run, as I had just finished plowing through Buffy on DVD and wanted, nay needed, more. Then my friend told me to read Ultimate Spider-Man, and then I discovered Runaways, and then Watchmen, and then it was all over for me. I was hooked and I had another money pit hobby.

I've come of age with comics mostly with Marvel stuff, and almost exclusively in the Ultimate universe (Marvel's attempt at rebooting from 10 years ago). I've tried a few times to do DC titles, but Superman bores me and I find Batman to be completely unlikable (and yes, I've read the Frank Miller stuff, thanks). Yeah, I tried some of the Infinite Crisis stuff in an attempt to get on board with some of the DC heroes, but no dice. Only one DC title caught me (and I'll be talking about that in detail once the first trade for the New 52 comes out for it), and I had largely put it aside. The New 52, however, works perfectly for a reader like me - I have a bit of an idea as to who the characters are (for the most part), and I can go in with very few preconceptions or biases. I know why there's frustration with reboots (which is why I prefer Marvel's version, even if they've redone the Ultimate universe three times), but this is a Good Thing.

This brings us to Jeff Lemire's take on Animal Man. Lemire is arguably best known for his brilliant, creator-owned Sweet Tooth, and when I heard he was going to be taking on one of the reboots, I looked it up right away. The problem? I had never heard of Animal Man before. He's certainly not a top-tier DC hero, he's unlikely to get his own movie anytime soon, and looking him up, well...he's a superhero that can temporarily use the powers of animals. Great. What have I gotten myself into?

17 May 2012

Review: The Shadow Rising

The Shadow Rising
The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We may as well start with the good:

* Rand's scene where he speaks to the crowd about the war and finishes by putting the sword back in the stone? Possibly my favorite scene in the series so far.

* Perrin at the Two Rivers was easily the most interesting plotline of this story.

This, however, speaks volumes to the problems inherent in The Wheel of Time at this point. So much of the story feels diversionary that it's becoming increasingly difficult to figure out what is truly important and what is worldbuilding flavor. I love epic fantasy, and there's plenty of good, if not great, worldbuilding out there. The best worldbuilding, to me, ends up being organic and feels significant and weighty.

Compare this to the Wheel of Time books up to now. In theory, up to this point, you have three significant storylines of note - Rand as the Dragon Reborn, the Aes Sedai, and the mess with the Whitecloaks/Trollocs/White Tower. There is, of course, plenty of overlap as we'd expect, but, at the same time, we see a lot of issues. Rand doesn't arrive in this story until well into the book (and this being the longest book of the series, it means it's a long time before Rand gets any screen time), and then he's gone again for a significant number of pages. This would be more of an issue, of course, if Rand's story was at all compelling at this point. Instead, Rand is the Dragon and he's kind of unlikable. Still. That's...it. There's not significant growth, there's not significant happenings, and we're forced to follow his friends around instead.

In The Shadow Rising, the Aes Sedai issues feel more like a mystery being unveiled slowly than an issue of significance. This means it feels like it meanders along, and while I assume the payoff will be worth it, I can never be sure with this. Who knows where that payoff will be? This leaves Perrin and his situation at the Two Rivers as the only other piece of significance at that point, and even this story took forever to get moving.

This book is pretty much the single-volume example of everything that's wrong with The Wheel of Time for me up to this point. There isn't enough that's compelling regarding many of the main characters, and the books feel like they're padded with a lot of irrelevance along its way to get to the good parts - good parts that are great once they're happening, but require pain and suffering through the journey to arrive.

I'm not really ready to give up on it just yet. I feel like I've invested...something in this that I should keep rolling for the time being. I just hope that we get to the point where the quality of the whole meets the sum of many of its parts.

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07 May 2012

Review: The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas

The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas
The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas by Jonah Goldberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Liberal Fascism is an essential book for me. While Jonah Goldberg is probably viewed by most as a humorous ideological columnist, it showed a lot of academic chops and resulted in a book that was more necessary than I think a lot of people expected. The Tyranny of Cliches is a follow-up that, while having no chance of coming close to the heights or relevance of Liberal Fascism, has enough quality moments to warrant space on my bookshelf.

Goldberg is truly at his best when he's working with information as opposed to working with ideology. With a book like The Tyranny of Cliches, however, the battle is over ideology, so a good portion of the book ends up being bogged down in the type of ideological stuff that I've been hesitant to read in book form as of late. When it comes to discussions of history and information, however, this is where Goldberg truly shines, as he's able to dissect the argument he's fighting against with a lot of skill and nuance.

The book does feel overlong, in part because the overarching theme of the book doesn't lend itself to an extended narrative or chronology. That's not a bad thing in some cases, but it can result in some tiring passages, especially if the topic of the moment is less interesting than other. This is, in part, a complaint about not liking what the book is as opposed to how the book executes it, but it should be noted nonetheless.

No one else is doing it quite like Jonah Goldberg right now, and it's to be commended for it. I still recommend Liberal Fascism first, but this is also worth your time for some conservative rebuttals to the arguments that too often make it into the public sphere.

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02 May 2012

Review: Forbidden Era

Forbidden Era
Forbidden Era by Amanda Mondoux

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's always the worry when it comes to independent publishing that you're losing out on quality, or that the editing is going to be poor, or any number of problems. With the glut of it with Kindles and Nooks and what have you, the barrier to entry is even lower.

Forbidden Era is not one of those books. The book takes place in a land where magic is banned, and our heroine, Myraza, is in the middle of a fairly complex battle between people and ideas. It's a straightforward plot that's complicated enough to keep you guessing.

The book is incredibly nuanced, with interesting characters and a slow burn as the story is unveiled. The characters are fun, the storyline itself an interesting take on fantasy ideas across the board. IT's a rock solid book with a fully-formed universe that knows where it's going. Something you don't get a lot of in many books period.

I definitely recommend this one. It's going to surprise you for a lot of reasons, but I'm really looking forward to whatever it is that comes next. I'm glad I got a chance to read this one, and I think you should take a shot at it as well.

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