Prequel Problems

Today I finished Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, which I’d managed to turn up at the Newberry sale.  This is the prequel to The Blue Sword, which I read a while back and was completely enthralled by.  Here, McKinley revisits Harry’s world to tell the tale of Aerin and how she acquired the blue sword…among other things.

It’s the story of how the world of The Blue Sword came to be, in many respects, and I do regret not rereading the other book before starting this one.  But my mind’s been going so many places, I was too impatient.  The regret is very real.

This wasn’t as fascinating as The Blue Sword though.  I remember that I did not expect to finish the first book in a single day, though the length was within the realm of possibility.  It was simply that, after I started the book, I couldn’t put it down for any length of time except work.  The Hero and the Crown, in contrast, never sucked me in as thoroughly.  It’s odd – Harry’s story felt like a legend coming to life, especially as she was impelled by a power not necessarily her own to take on her destiny.  Aerin’s story though, reads as a more typical coming of age.  Yes, her life is the stuff of legends…but it starts very ordinary and Aerin herself never acts anything but a normal young woman.  So for all this is the story of a woman who became a legend, it doesn’t carry that kind of weight for me.

We begin with a fifteen year old Aerin.  Her father is the King of Damar and her mother was a witchwoman from the North who died in childbirth.  A number of people look askance at her for the latter two factoids, and her…cousin?…Galanna is not averse to putting her down at any chance she gets.  After all, Aerin’s rank as first sol (princess) will always be higher than Galanna’s…unless Galanna can manage to marry the next King.  Unlikely, but there you have it.  The girl is just jealous.

Aerin’s a retreating young woman who is not often seen in public, although she’s a frequent visitor down by the stables.  She has a pony…but she also has a stallion, Talat, who was her father’s before her.  Talat was wounded in battle, one of his hind legs maimed, but King Arlbeth could not bear to put down such a strong spirit.  Aerin found him and won his heart and loyalty even as she fought her own weakness from eating a powerful herb on Galanna’s dare.

It’s a slow story at the start, discussing Aerin’s life and circumstances and how she began to push out of her self-defined boundaries and expand her understanding of the world.  Then she starts slaying dragons.

But that’s not the climax.  The climax only comes long after she slays the last of the massive dragons, Maur, and sets out on a quest that ranks right up there with some of the crazier shit you see in Narnia.  I suppose for me the first portion of the book seems fairly strongly grounded in reality and it makes some of the more fantastical elements of the second part stand out all the more.

I think I prefer The Blue Sword rather strongly.  I guess this feels to me like someone trying to write an epic…and failing.  Events don’t seem to have the right impact, the pacing is irregular, and Aerin just seems too real to be a figure of legend.  It’s not even the same impression I get when contrasting books like The Black Gryphon or The Outstretched Shadow to books in the same universe a thousand and more years later where the heroes of the first tales have grown into demigods as the past and present diverge.  There’s a lot of bits which, even without a refresher on The Blue Sword, were clearly stuck in there to explain how the world got to that point from The Hero and the Crown and the notes are often jarring.  It’s a major problem with prequels that they feel the need to “explain” what will come to be later.

Overall, I’m disappointed with this book, especially because I did read The Blue Sword first and it was truly wonderful.  The Hero and the Crown tries to recreate the magic while breathing life into a woman who became a legend to her people and fails on most counts.

Although now I’m strongly tempted to reread The Blue Crown to get a better feel for those tie-ins and to experience a better overall book.  So we’ll see what happens next and what book I start tomorrow.

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Different Protagonist

Because I’m so picky about my books (though I try, I do, to be more open), I don’t usually get very many even when I go to big book sales.  The same day I went to the Newberry’s annual sale, I also went to Women and Children First’s annual used book sale.  There my only find of the day was Remnant Population, the first novel I’ve read by Elizabeth Moon with no coauthor.

Before I actually began the book, I glanced at the acknowledgements and there found something truly surprising.  Moon attributed part of her inspiration to one of the more random books I’ve read and own: Two Old Women by Velma Wallis.  For those who haven’t read that post, it’s a transcription of an old Native American tale, passed down through generations to Wallis as part of her inheritance.  The nomadic tribe in the story is having a difficult time surviving, and abandons two older women to remove their drain on the community resources.  The two remember an old camping ground that was good to the tribe, and travel their on their own, establishing a good home.  The tribe itself finds no good luck without the two, and some regret abandoning them.  Eventually they track down the women, who finally accept their apologies.  As a moral, the tribe never again abandoned the resources represented by the memories of its elders.

With this as the inspiration, it’s no surprise that Moon’s heroine is seventy years old as the book opens, which makes this a very unusual novel for the genre.  Oh sure, you might have nonhumans with longer lifespans and so seventy is young for them, but in this case seventy means about what it would for us here.

Ofelia Falfurrias lives with her son and daughter-in-law in a small colony on an alien world.  The colony is failing, with a birthrate lower than preferred and two major floods in forty years not helping the problem.  She’s one of the few original colonists remaining, and Bartolomeo and Rosara think she’s going senile, for preferring the great outdoors to artificial environments.  So when the colonists are told by the company they all work for (exporting exotic woods) that the colony is being abandoned, Ofelia makes a secret plan for herself.

She is going to remain behind.

It’s not like the Company really wants her to go – she’s old, retired, and they fully intend on charging Barto and Rosara a fee for transporting her.  But Ofelia would rather stay alone in a place she loves than uproot herself again to live where she’ll have to conform to others’ wishes and standards.

That might have been the end of the story…until the day she heard human voices over the satellite communication systems, preparing to land elsewhere on the planet.  And then heard them die at the hands of the heretofore unknown natives.

It’s a story of first contact, but not in a fashion I’m familiar with.  There was a colony on the planet for forty years before contact was made, the main character is seventy years old, etc.  There’s your standard content, sure, but I’m pleased by how many different concepts Moon introduces.  It’s a good, solid story, that doesn’t even need an endorsement from ane McCaffrey to sell it.  I’d picked it up with the notion that a Remnant Population might be after a plague of some sort, but what I got is far better.

As a sample of Moon’s solo full-length work, it’s more than equal to what I asked, which was reason to continue seeking her out.

Local Celebrity

Do you know SUE?  I know SUE.  I remember all the waves SUE made and have seen SUE multiple times.  But, given the countries that often show up on this blog’s stats, it may be that you do not actually know SUE.  For me, SUE is local and everyone knows. But what does that mean for people not in Chicagoland?

If you haven’t figured it out, I’m referring to the most complete tyrannosaurus rex skeleton discovered to date, nicknamed SUE after the woman who discovered it.  It’s owned by the Field Musuem in Chicago and, until fairly recently, was on display in the main atrium.  That would be the center of the museum, where admissions are and everything.  You pretty much need to go through the atrium to go anywhere, so SUE was very prominent.  They moved the skeleton recently to make room for something bigger – the titanosaur.  But we’re not talking about that today.

Now, I’ve always liked dinosaurs.  Not in a “I want to grow up to be a paleontologist” kind of way, more like “that one character in Anne McCaffrey’s Dinosaur Planet who liked them as a hobby and thus was able to recognize them for what they were.”  So when I was browsing the Newberry Library’s sale and saw Hunter for the Past: My Life as an Explorer by Sue Hendrickson, I figured it was more than worth a dollar to indulge my childhood self.  It’s a skinnier book than Jane Goodall’s My Life with the Chimpanzees, so it wouldn’t take long to get through once I finally sat down to read it.

The book really isn’t about SUE the T-Rex but about Sue Hendrickson.  Normally that might be a disappointment, but the woman has led a fascinating life.  She went from a suburban kid in northwest Indiana (still Chicagoland) to living on a boat in the Pacific for two years, to diving for a living in Florida (selling fish) to marine archaeology, to paleontology, and still working today.  It’s just…crazy.  A life so very different from my own and I am just agog at all the amazing opportunities she’s had.

Of course, when you consider the fact that Hendrickson was born in 1940, that the T-Rex discovery was back in 1992…it was a very different world then.  Opportunity really was everywhere, if you were brave enough to grasp it.  Very different from today’s world in many respects where they try harder than ever to shove us through a system that’s designed to make a percentage of us fail…but enough of a soapbox.

It’s a cursory autobiography meant for children, clearly indicated by the short length and large font.  Probably kids who are just getting into chapter books, first and second grade.  That’s not a bad thing and frankly, it still gets across the pertinent information.  Did Hendrickson likely have days or weeks or years when she felt like a failure?  Probably.  But this isn’t about her as a person, it’s about the things she’s done and found.  It’s not a novel but a recitation of facts.  Given the short length, I have no issues with this.

I honestly didn’t think I’d keep this book when I bought it.  I grabbed it because it was just interesting enough to spend a dollar to read it, but I fully expected it to go straight into my “to sell” pile afterwards.  Instead, I’ll hang on to this.  It may not be all about dinosaurs like I thought, but it’s still interesting and worthwhile.  SUE the T-Rex has been a big deal in the area ever since the Field Museum bought it, then again when it was unveiled, and finally when it was moving locations within the museum.  Oh, and SUE has a twitter.  Yes, I’m absolutely serious.  You can find it @SUEtheTrex, though the name is actually [t-rex emoji] Catalog No. FMNH PR 2081 [t-rex emoji].  (Can you tell I don’t do twitter?)  I especially like the description: “Legendary Fossil. Apex Predator. National Treasure. New Suite Getter. All Caps Name Haver. “They/Them” Pronoun User. LARGE M U R D E R B I R D.”  As you can see, I’ve made the effort to suit SUE’s preferences concerning gender pronouns.  Hendrickson had a tendency to project her own opinions and while I can understand that, it’s best to do what the Large Murderbird wants.

What is Love?

Since I’ve been reading so many graphic novels lately, I decided that an anthology would be the way to go to wean myself back into normal books.  For now.  (I have plans, don’t you worry.)  And I opted for something new, out of my Pile.  I’ve had this one for a couple months, but I’ve been reluctant to pick it up.  I know they say not to judge a book by its cover but…well…take a look.

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Looking at that…would you really think it was from 2010?  I certainly didn’t.  I mean, my photo isn’t the best today, but it just…looks old.  Reminds me of things from the seventies and eighties with this design.  And…that title.  Love & Rockets.  I’m not a fan of the romance genre as we all know, and while I do tolerate romance in my books, that’s not really my go-to.  But, Martin H. Greenberg is not a bad editor and I’ve read several of these authors before.

It’s actually a solid book.  The stories tend to be on the longer side, meaning there’s only thirteen in a three hundred page book.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the authors make it clear that they aren’t just forcing two people together to satisfy the reader’s expectation of romance.  We see people falling into love, falling out of love, and continuing on in love.  It’s pretty much entirely heteroromantic, but there’s a couple of nods to other alignments in a story or two.  Hell, there’s at least one story where sex is physically impossible, and yet the love there is just as strong as any other story.

Let’s talk about that tale.  It’s called “Second Shift” by Brenda Cooper.  This is the first story I’ve read from her that wasn’t out of a Valdemar anthology, actually, and it’s not bad at all.  There are men who volunteer to spend their lives in space doing…space things.  And, to help keep them sane and grounded, they are assigned a companion back on Earth.  The two talk every single day, but will never meet.  It’s a romantic relationship for sure, my only complaint is that the only thing keeping it from being sexual is the distance.  For me, as an asexual, it would be nice to see this relationship on asexual terms, where sex is an option but not a necessary one.  Still, it’s a good thought and the portrayal is well done.

I want to detour slightly to say that my problem with this book is that I didn’t really make strong connections between most titles and content.  I don’t know if that means the titles were bad, that I wasn’t paying attention, that they didn’t relate enough to the stories or what.  But the first title that got my attention wasn’t for any normal reason.  Let’s see if you can spot it.

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Do you see it?  I can’t help but notice it because it’s one of those things I hate to see while I’m working.  If you’re still having trouble, the title is “An Offer You Couldn’t Refuse” (by Sylvia Kelso and Lillian Stewart Carl).  And this fancy font they’re using for the titles doesn’t have an apostrophe symbol.  It’s something you run into with a lot of free fonts, where they focus on the letters only, then sometimes the numbers, not usually the symbols, and very rarely the glyphs.  In the programs I use, like Adobe Illustrator, missing symbols that were typed may show up as boxes instead, as seen above.  If it was me designing this, I’d start with the first key question: do I have to use this font, or can I use something else with a similar feel?  Second question: if I have to use this font for the text, do I have a font where the apostrophe looks like it could belong with this one?  Third one: is it just going to be easier to draw my own apostrophe to fit with this font?  And then I’d put in whatever I went with.  So I just have to wonder who does the blame for this fall on?  Because that should be a pretty obvious mistake and the fixes can be incredibly easy.  It’s not even the only title with this problem in the book, which is probably the worst part.  But I may have been inured by the time I got to the other.

I like the story this photo goes with though.  The protagonist is a divorced man who just kind of gets dumped on by his family and ex, working a low-end job for an independent business owner.  He cares about his employer, but not necessarily in a romantic way until some strange things start happening, at which point he makes himself her self-appointed bodyguard.  And like I said, that’s when things start getting strange.

There’s a few stories like that in here.  Stories that are about a potential relationship, with no guarantees that everything’s going to end happily ever after.  In those it’s not so much finding the perfect mate as it is opening oneself up to the possibility.  The characters are often so absorbed in their own lives that they’ve never left any room for the possibility of love.  I just warn authors to be careful of stories along those lines because, again, not everyone needs or wants a romantic relationship.  Do not discount the value of a platonic relationship!

There’s a sort of prank story in here too.  Funny in the end…but not the most comfortable thing to read, especially for a female.  I’ve read worse though.

One of the most touching tales in the book comes from an unexpected source.  Jody Lynn Nye’s “Dance of Life” may just be my favorite story here.  Now, she’s been an author for decades and I’ve talked about how much I like (most) of her work before, but her forte has always been with comedy.  So the real surprise is that this story is as earnest as ever a romance was.  There are comedic moments, sure, but it’s still a love story and one that sent tingles down mine spine when I finished it.

Overall, it’s a fairly good anthology.  I wouldn’t even say mediocre with a few good stories, but perhaps that’s the nature of romance.  There’s just something feel-good about about these kinds of tales that helps raise my impression of them.  Plus, as I said earlier, a lot of these pieces are longer than many other short stories I’ve read, allowing for more development and opportunity to invest a reader.

I will never, ever, like this cover though.

This Exists!?

Guys, I have found something truly obscure to read through today.  The sort of thing that, if you weren’t there, you would never suspect it existed.  For me, it was reading the DAW 30th Anniversary collection that turned me onto it.  One of the editors was remarking that she hadn’t realized Jane Fancher could write, for Fancher was best known to the editor for her graphic novel adaptation of Gate of Ivrel.  That’s right, C.J. Cherryh’s first book in the Morgaine cycle, her first book ever, was translated into graphic novel.  Two actually.  Gate of Ivrel: Claiming Rights and Gate of Ivrel: Fever Dreams.

Cherryh herself writes the introduction of Claiming Rights and mentions how she never would have thought this book could transcend mediums.  And yet…she’s wholly on board with Fancher’s adaptation, to the point where she helped adapt and even offered some drawings.  I am so floored by the very fact these books exist…it’s unreal.  And wonderful.

Nhi Vanye is our main character.  A young man of mixed blood, he’s cast out of his father’s home and lands, marked as an outlaw for the death of one half-brother and the maiming of the other.  Nevermind that they attacked him first.  Because of this, he must become ilin.  If he is taken by a lord and serves one year to the lord, his crimes will be expunged.  But there is no war in the land, so it is not easy for an ilin to find a master.  After two years, he’s hoping his distant kin on his mother’s side may help, when he ends up in a strange and forboding valley.

The deer he had hoped for his supper darts away between a pair of stones, resulting in an eerie glow.  Then, out from the stones rides a woman with white hair, which Vanye recognizes as belonging to a myth.  Morgaine, who rode these lands a century previous.

As a blizzard descends on the pair, Morgaine takes out a strange weapon and kills a deer for the two of them, as well as finds them a cave to shelter in.  And, having sheltered and fed him, takes Vanye as her ilin, which is her right as she was adopted into his very Clan years ago.

From there, Vanye travels with Morgaine towards the Gate in Ivrel, but they are detained in Leth.  Vanye was kind to a pair of urchins and one struck him with a poisoned blade, requiring the two to stop in Leth.  But things in Leth are uneasy and uncomfortable.  Yet they cannot afford to tarry…

The art here is very eighties.  It reminds me of ElfQuest (which I haven’t read but I’ve a friend who owns all of it) and it’s not my personal preference, but it’s not bad at all.  In fact, the detail is rather stunning and every page is rendered in full color.  This must have been a monumental task to produce and I have nothing but respect for Jane Fancher.

In fact, my only complaint is that the graphic novels are unfinished.  Claiming Rites had an ad for Fever Dreams in the back and Fever Dreams one for Blood Ties…which was never published.  Glancing at my mass market paperback, it looks like Gate of Ivrel might have been intended as four or more graphic novels.  Which is a damned shame.  As I said, these two volumes are lovely, and a tribute to Cherryh’s skill as an author and Fancher’s skills in adaptation, art, lettering, and pretty much everything else.  I’ll wager that it wasn’t practical or cost-effective to continue producing these…or possibly the publisher went under.  It’s not really important to know the exact details thirty years later, just that I’m quite certain no one’s going to go back and revisit this project.

It does make me wonder, since I wasn’t there and aware, just how popular the Morgaine books were back in the day.  After all, there’s also the Crossroads Adventure The Witchfires of Leth by Dan Greenberg, where the reader gets to play as Vanye in a choose your own adventure book.  (It’s not one of the best CYOA I’ve ever read, as long as you think like Vanye you’ll get through it without dying.  Others I’ve read had a lot more branching and a lot more things you wouldn’t have easily guessed.)  I grant you, that Gate of Ivrel is the first of four books, the last being published more than a decade after the first, but I just have no real understanding of if it was really that popular.  Of course, it wasn’t the first Cherryh book I read, not by a long shot.  So if I wasn’t raving about it, there’s multiple reasons.  But the series is good and solid, and the graphic novels are a fitting tribute.  They’re also a bit fragile, so instead of putting them with the majority of my graphic novels, I’m going to stick them somewhere else, where they’ll be disturbed far less often.

Like I said when I read the DAW anthology, I do really appreciate the eductation I get through my books.  If not for that book, I never would’ve known these graphic novels existed, nor would I have been compelled to hop on amazon and snag them for myself.  And at the end of the day, that’s what I love about books.  I’ve talked about Mercedes Lackey being a gateway author multiple times, how her books have led me to so many other books, series, and authors.  It works better for me than the ads some publishers stick in the back of books, suggesting that if you liked the book you just read, maybe you should buy some of our other products.  I suppose they can work, but that’s not where I look for recommendations.

I think I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m done rereading the Red Lanterns books, so I’ll take some time tonight or tomorrow morning to actually pick out a real book for tomorrow.  What that’ll be…I have no idea.

Still Rereading the Reds

Yes, as I told you last night, I’ve been reread Red Lanterns again.  Finishing volumes 5 and 6.  You know, the longer Guy Gardner’s a Red Lantern, the longer his hair grows?  He looks increasingly disheveled, which is probably a visual clue for his own deteriorating mental state.  Sure, he’s got high values and wants to do some good in his life, but he falls into a classic superhero’s trap, that of taking too much on himself, to the point where he’s so myopic that he can’t see the forest for the trees.

This isn’t helped by the insanely disjointed storytelling in volume six in particular.  That new gods crossover thing that takes up the first portion of the trade and then is resolved in a totally different book completely destroys the continuity between volume five and the bulk of volume six.  Five, as you recall, sees the internal conflict of the Red Lanterns between Guy and Atrocitus, each with their own loyal group.  And Atrocitus is willing to go to deeper lengths than Guy to hurt his enemy.  Not to mention the fact that Atrocitus is ridiculously old, very intelligent, and has a world of experience that no one can fully understand.  I mean, the guy performs blood magic with the weirdass blood in the lake around the power battery.  I’m not even touching that one.

But like I said, most of volume six, the last of the series to my knowledge, is focused on Guy alone and his growing obsession.  Apparently Atrocitus’ attack on Earth from volume five is having lasting effects.  Kind of like Guy’s experienced before.  Remember, in one of those Blackest Night books I haven’t read, Guy wore a red ring for the first time.  And then later, in Emerald Warriors, he’s still got lingering issues because of it, such as being more susceptible to rage and coughing up napalm-blood at irregular intervals.  So it’s no surprise that there would be ongoing side effects for the planet as well.

In this case, it’s kind of like a zombie apocalypse, but with anger.  People become irrationally angry.  It’s contagious, you can get it just by touching them.  And Guy’s taking it upon himself to go all over the world and do what he can for these poor souls, taking their anger into himself.  It’s very mental and very meta and not actually that great a read for the most part.  He’s retreated so far into himself that he’s barely even thinking about the other Red Lanterns that still remain, so focused on trying to save his world and failing miserably.  And, of course, he can’t ask for help.

Though he can ask his sister for a coffee.  I’d kind of like to read more comics where we get glimpses into the Gardner family.  They were there in the epilogue section of Wrath of the First Lantern, and it was a cute story.  Not to mention that they’re in some of Guy’s memories that the First Lantern rather brutally explored when he was having fun tormenting people.  But it’s clear that Guy’s family knows full well what he is and has some understanding of what’s out there, and I’d like to see more of how that came to be.  It’s a total contrast to Hal Jordan whose love interest Carol Ferris is a Star Sapphire – IE she does as much space travel as he does, if not more.  Guy’s family are utterly ordinary, but they clearly love and support him.

That final section of the book is still super weird for me.  I mean, I guess it goes with the character arc, but I said before that I really like Guy as a Red Lantern, that it makes so much more sense to me than him as a Green Lantern.  That last bit though…not quite falling into my view of the character.

There’s a couple instances in these books where Guy briefly talks to Batman.  I find that fitting because the problems he’s dealing with are very similar to ones we see Batman struggling with in multiple mediums.  It’s easy to find these things for the caped crusader if only because he’s everywhere as one of the big three.  We often see Batman struggling with the balance between his mask and his cover, whether he should give up on his identity as Bruce Wayne in favor of Batman, etc.  And in many cases, the mask wins.  In Batman Beyond, the supervillain Shriek tries to convince Bruce that he’s insane, hearing voices, and tries to get him to commit suicide.  Bruce is absolutely convinced that he’s not insane.  Why?  Because the voice doesn’t call him “Batman.”  That’s right, Bruce Wayne self-identifies as Batman even when he’s not in the suit.

Guy, on the other hand, doesn’t wear a mask.  Ever.  His face is out in the open, as is what he stands for.  He wears his identity on his sleeve, whether it’s Green, Red, or something else.  And just like we see Bruce struggle with the weight of the mask, we see Guy struggle with the weight of the rage that makes him a Red Lantern.  He’s taken this on as his identity, and only later does he begin to realize how the rage is consuming him utterly.  He’s able to act and react like a rational person, but you’ve got to remember that he’s angry absolutely all the time.  If not, he wouldn’t still be wearing that red ring.

Supergirl wore that ring for a time, but she tells Guy near the end of volume five that she was able to let go.  He tries it, wearing the ring on a necklace for a while.  But soon enough at the beginning of volume six, he gives in to the temptation and puts it back on, leading into that damned new gods shit.  I think the story would be much stronger if those issues had been devoted to discovering and learning about the taint left by Atrocitus as well as wrestling with the decision to wear the ring or not.  Help the reader understand what’s been going on instead of trying to interest them in a pointless crossover.

But I guess that’s just a personal opinion.

I do actually know what I’m reading tomorrow, since I got a package today.  I don’t know when I’ll get back to my more normal habits of novels and anthologies, but I think I may be reaching saturation on Red Lanterns.  And yes, if you haven’t guessed, I am one of those people who might listen to a newly-discovered song on repeat for days or weeks at a time.  And I’ll still love it as much the last time as I did the first.  It doesn’t usually show this strongly in my reading, but that doesn’t mean this hasn’t happened before.  In this case, it helps that these are graphic novels and not especially lengthy.  What hurts, and leads me to actually count this as reading the books, is that there’s very little, especially in volumes four and five, that doesn’t contribute to the overall story I’m following.  That is to say, there’s not much that doesn’t relate directly to Guy Gardner’s personal story.

Bah, now I’m rambling.  Enough of this post.  Time to get some sleep.

More Graphic Novels

When I was at a used bookstore downtown not too long ago, I picked up the first couple volumes of Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi.  It’s for kids, sure, but visually it reminded me of the Explorer books I’d been gifted, and those were decent.  Since they had 1-2 (but not 3), I figured I’d give it a shot.

I was right about the author being the editor for Explorer.  And, like those books, these definitely radiate “intended for children.”  Which was…unfortunate.  So let’s talk content.

The prologue shows Emily and her parents on their way to pick up her younger brother Navin.  It’s a winter night, and there’s a freak accident while driving.  Her father is stuck in the car as it plummets over a cliff while Em and her mother can only watch in horror.  Fast forward two years, and Em’s mother is finally admitting that she can’t afford the life they’ve had without their father’s additional income, and the family is moving to the country.  There’s an old house which belonged to Em and Navin’s great-grandfather before he disappeared, and it’s still in the family.  Yay rent-free.

That’s when everything gets strange.  Em finds a weird stone in her great-grandfather’s study and puts the necklace on.  Then her mother is kidnapped by a creature in the basement.  Turns out, the basement leads to the bizarre world of Alledia, where Em is a stonekeeper, the Chosen One, yadda yadda yadda.

It could be a lot worse.  It really could.  But while there’s some elements that I’ve never seen combined this way before…I feel like I’ve seen all of this before.  The art is good, but it’s nothing spectacular.  It’s just…average.  Mediocre.  Something that you shove at a kid to shut them up for a while.  The kid might be utterly enamored, but that’s not me.  Not with Amulet.

I appreciate that Navin isn’t left in the cold and I like that the mom is fairly accepting of this unexpected twist in her life.  But small elements like that aren’t enough to make up for what is (so far) a pretty standard Chosen Hero’s Journey.

If I had a young cousin who liked to read, I might toss these their way as an easy way to get rid of them.  Unfortunately, my nuclear family are the only real readers in the lot.  Damned shame, but I guess they really don’t know what they’re missing out on.

As for me, I’m still unsure as to what I should actually read next.

Well, okay, I know exactly what I want to read.  I’ve still got red on my mind.  So I went and pulled the Red Lanterns books again.  I haven’t been to the library yet, so I’ve still got one and two here.  And I made it through four as well.  Like I said last time, four is definitely my favorite of the lot.  Something about Guy Gardner giving up on the Green Lanterns and embracing his rage just resonates with me right now.

They say that fantasy is the lens through which we examine our world.  Our current world, even though fantasy is largely set in a land reminsicent of the past.  Frankly, I don’t consider superhero comics to be science fiction.  Not only is there actual magic in a lot of them (including these), but the elements themselves are so fantastical.

Fantasy lets us bring out the best and the worst in ourselves, to see it play out in situations that may be fictional, but are based on the real world.  Real people, and the real choices they make.  What makes volume four so much more interesting than volume one?  Aside from the fact that I don’t need a refresher on what a Red Lantern is, it’s the difference between Atrocitus’ and Guy’s philosophies.

Atrocitus is one of the survivors of the attack which made 666 into the Lost Sector.  He’s damn pissed for what it took from him – his family, his people, his very planet.  That rage has festered for eons and now he’s got the Red Lanterns to serve as his weapons.  Rather literally – the red ring takes a person’s higher faculties away, makes their rage too overwhelming to think straight.  Their sanity can be restored with a dip in the blood lake in front of the red power battery, but it was a long time before Atrocitus even considered granting any of his slaves independent thought.

He may not think of them as slaves, but is there any word that applies better when you’ve turned rational, sentient beings into rage monsters who only know how to attack and kill?

Guy, on the other hand, sees them for the people they are, and treats them accordingly.  He’s every bit as much in charge as Atrocitus ever was, but because he makes sure his people are content, even happy, and lets them have opinions, even listens to those opinions, everyone is better for it.  Yeah, sure, he started by asking why the Red Lanterns even need a leader and made things democratic, but even at that point he was in charge, speaking for the group, making bargains on their behalf, coming up with ideas that everyone agreed were good, you get the idea.  But everyone else followed because not only were the ideas good, not only did he listen to them, but he saw them.  Guy realizes that anger is a tool, every bit as much as will, and the Red Lanterns don’t have to be an evil destructive mob.  Roosevelt said to “walk quietly and carry a big stick.”  Well, the Reds are a pretty big stick, and their reputation precedes them.

What Guy says to the reader is that…it’s okay to be angry.  It’s a natural part of life, and some people are just angrier than others because they’ve been hurt.  The important thing is that you don’t let the anger rule you, because then you either turn into a mindless rage monster, or you end up like Atrocitus, who can’t conceive of anyone else as having a say in his universe.  Nothing matters to Atrocitus but his own pain, his own power, his own goals.  Guy and the rest of the Lanterns show that even if you’re in a terrible place, you can still have friends and be a good person.  Atrocitus says you don’t have a choice, you’re doomed, so you might as well be a rage monster.

Maybe I’m digging too deeply into these comics.  It’s hard to say what themes are intentional and what aren’t when you’re looking at someone else’s art.  What did the author want to convey with this dichotomy?  Atrocitus has been a big bad in the Green Lantern mythos for a while, though he’s not a world-ending bad guy.  Kind of a constant boogeyman who shows up every once in a while to remind you that he’s still a threat.  He’s not as compelling and charismatic as Sinestro, but he can be reasoned with on occasion.  In fact, the number of times he’s actually worked with the Green Lanterns is rather impressive for someone who seems to despise them.  Sinestro, at least, feels some loyalty to the Corps even as a Yellow Lantern.  He’s always wanted to see the Green Lanterns be the best they can be, and if his being a villain is what they need, then he’ll be the best villain he can to achieve that goal.

There’s a number of times throughout these books when people pick on Atrocitus for whining about his problems, his personal pain, his personal difficulties, etc.  And…it’s really true.  The only other creature he shows a positive attachment to is Dex-Starr, the Red Lantern cat.  And yes, the thing is literally a cat.  From Earth.  Whose owner was killed and the cat was so mad it attracted a ring.  That story was in the back of Agent Orange and it was kind of adorable but the more I reread Red Lanterns the more I just…don’t like the cat.  Even Dex-Starr gets fed up with whiny Atrocitus at times, which says something.

The Red Lanterns, as they’ve been up until this point, are anti-heroes.  Bad people doing bad things.  But under Guy’s leadership, they’re given a chance to become real heroes.  And that, I think, is probably the most hopeful message of all.  To say that yeah, you might be a horrible person who’s suffered, but you don’t have to stay that person.  You can make your life better…you just have to make the choice.

That seems like as good a place as any to end this rambling.

More Superheroes

It’s been a long time since I was on any kind of binge quite like this.  So many superheroes this month, between the comic books and the Secret World Chronicles.  That’s right, I’ve been reading Avalanche, the fifth and final(!) installment in the roleplay series written by Lackey and her friends Cody Martin, Dennis Lee, and Veronica Giguere.  I remember musing earlier this month on how it didn’t seem like series was quite ready to wrap up.  Then I got my hands on the library book and saw the phrase “final stand” right there on the cover.

And hoo boy what a stand it was.  This book did not want to hold anything back at all.  There were deaths.  There were seeming resurrections.  There were disapperances.  There were reappearances.  There were aliens that we’d only gotten the vaguest hints about before, as well as ones we couldn’t possibly have seen coming.  There were alliances.  There were betrayals.  And, above all else, there was love.

If anything, it’s the last that surprised me not at all.  I’ve read Lackey for years and I’ve seen her at her soppiest.  This isn’t that, but it was pretty easy to read into all the potential couples.  True, there were some twists I didn’t foresee, but that’s what makes reading a book for the first time truly exciting, no?  You can’t ever know what’s going to happen ahead of time if the author is (or authors are) good enough.  And, honestly, I think the various couples were projected in part because this began as roleplays and people love to pair up their characters, the weirder the better.

There was some definite beyond weird shit in Avalanche though.  We’re talking some deus ex machina, jumping the shark, series always get weird in the third or higher book kind of weird shit.  I’ll smile and nod and read the book, but I’m still going to seriously question a lot of it.  And no, I am not going to put in a spoiler section to discuss it because there’s just far too much going on and I should already be in bed and my brain is far too overfull of everything I’ve read lately.

Needless to say, as soon as this thing is available in mass market paperback, I’m adding it to my collection.

I also have absolutely no idea what to read next after this.  It’s been a nutty weekend for me, considering how many times I’ve actually revisited some of my favorite parts of the Green and Red Lantern comics.  I even finally managed to get to my local comic shop on a day that wasn’t Free Comic Book Day, and while they didn’t have what I wanted in stock, it is definitely on order and I am looking forward to that arrival, be it this month or next.  Like I told the man, I can wait.  If I waited twelve years for Bard’s Oath, a week or three is nothing.  Hell, I’ve got a book on preorder already for January.

Some books are damn well worth waiting for.  Avalanche may not be at the top of that list, but it’s still on the list.  I think that if the team had been able to produce the book sooner, with less of a time gap (because I think these books are meant to be realtime equivalents with this one actually happening close to 2018) it would’ve been a stronger ending.  And while giant battles do have a tendency to get confusing, I think that this finale could’ve been less so.  I guess I’m saying that Avalanche isn’t the best book in the series, which seriously reduces its overall impact as the last book.

Of course, part of the lessened reaction could be that my mind is still on those Lanterns.  Sorry, but sometimes things just stick in your mind longer than you might’ve reckoned on.  Which, again, means I have absolutely no idea what my best choice will be for reading tomorrow.

So I’ll have to sleep on it, and consider that selection in the morning.

They’re Red, Someone’s Dead

I’m starting to think I should just straight up add Geoff Johns to the list of authors I keep an eye out for.  My head’s still in comic books and so instead of starting an actual novel, I opted to get caught up on Doomsday Clock, reading issues 5-6.  I’ve only been sitting on 6 for a couple of weeks now, and this morning felt like the right time for it.  Imagine my surprise to realize that Geoff Johns is once again the writer.  I’m pretty sure the world is trying to tell me something loud and clear right here.  And I’m inclined to listen.

Batman’s gotten himself into some trouble, Marionette and the Mime have been having fun, and we even got a peek into their backstory, which was intriguing.  However, I feel like the main plot of the comic has stalled slightly as we wait for more elements to be revealed.  One hopes that issue 6 is just a breather before diving deeper into the action and intrigue in issue 7.  We still have no signs of Dr. Manhattan, but the Comedian has popped up again, as he’s done throughout.

I don’t know if it’s my mood, but I found some of the panels difficult to read.  The habit of switching between past and present makes it difficult to determine what’s current and what’s a memory sometimes, especially without dialogue or narration to clue you in.  It’s something I do recall from Watchmen, but like I said, it just might be me this morning, and not the books.  Still, we’re halfway through the series at this point, with only six more issues to go (dear gods on a bimonthly schedule that’s another year before it’s complete).  I, at least, am in it for the long haul.  And if I get impatient, I just remind myself that I have waited far longer for several books.  Witness that book I plan to start sometime today.  It’s been what…four years?  But that’s not important.  Not yet at least.

In terms of Doomsday Clock, I am still feeling the lack on the political ramifications of metahumans.  It seems that this is kind of a big deal in the DC universe at present, but since this is the only series I’m reading I don’t really have a good feel from it outside of what’s in the story and supplemental pages.  It seems to me that someone has created the “supermen theory” to sow distrust and discredit the United States in particular, which has the highest percentage of metahumans on the planet.  And all of the story is reflecting off this political background that I’m only getting about half of at best.  Not to mention the weird Nathanial Dark films and their mystery playing in the background.  There’s a lot of moving parts here given a lot of pages and text boxes, so one assumes they’re relatively important.

I was poking around the internet last night, looking up things like the omnibi of Geoff John’s run of Green Lantern and I discovered that there was a spinoff series of Red Lanterns.  I’d found them somewhat interesting, so I poked further and discovered that halfway through this run, Guy Gardner goes back to the red ring.  And that’s when I realized.

I do like Guy Gardner.  But only as a Red Lantern.

I guess it’s the same part of me that enjoys a crossover.  Taking something that is normally one way, and turning it on its side, seeing what happens in the new situation.  But also Guy as a Red Lantern just makes way too much sense.  These are some of the parts I liked most about Emerald Warriors and War of the Green Lantnerns.  So when I was at the library returning the large pile of Green Lantern books, I also checked out what they had of Red Lanterns, that being Blood and Rage and Death of the Red Lanterns, volumes one and two respectively.  And when I was in a comic shop I don’t normally frequent (but always has a buy two get one free on graphic novels, which my preferred shop doesn’t), I picked up Blood BrothersAtrocities, and Forged in Blood.  Which are volumes 4, 5, and 6.  I really did want to read the Guy Gardner stuff.  And I wasn’t going to get an extra volume beyond the deal.  I might pick up my own copies of 1-3 at some point (and, you know, actually read volume 3), but I’ll probably wait until I get them used.  Or have a gift card.

You may recall my vague interest in Rankorr, the human Red Lantern seen briefly in War of the Green Lanterns.  Thankfully, I got the whole of his backstory in the library’s books and, well, he’s not terrible.  Not great though.  The second volume was kind of awful since a big chunk in the middle was dedicated to a crossover with Stormwatch.  Not sure what they are, but I really don’t care.

Volume 4, Blood Brothers, where Guy makes his entrance, is pretty damned strong and the best of the lot I read today.  Five was a fairly continuous story and it was perfectly acceptable.  Six starts with this New Gods crossover and then that kind of just…ends offscreen [in another book] and we go into something that is I guess a remnant from volume five.  And then the series ends.  And I have some very mixed and unresolved feelings about that ending.

Also dislike Guy with facial hair.  But then I’m not big on facial hair.

Overall, the Red Lanterns series, done by writers Peter Milligan and Charles Soule, is nowhere near as strong as Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern.  There are some very good points…but there’s a lot of…I don’t even know if I would call it filler.  I guess I’d just say there’s a lot of things that are brought in and then dropped fairly quickly.  And because a lot of the resolution of those points and events clearly takes place in other comic books for other characters, it’s more annoying than anything else.  I don’t appreciate having to read multiple series just to get the whole story.

This is opposed to different viewpoints of the same event.  I actually love when I see that in different books.  A couple instances include the scene in Ruatha Hold where F’lar kills Fax – that’s been shown from three different angles over the years – and when Jewel first meets Avandar in the Terafin’s office.  The same scene is in multiple books, but the main character of each book is different and so experiences the scene from a different viewpoint.  The whole scene is present every time though.  Except for the part where Avandar’s attention wanders and he’s not paying attention to what is said…but that’s just how he experiences the scene.

So I guess that means my opinion on Red Lanterns is mixed to positive.  There’s some good stuff in there.  And I’ve read so much worse.

And now that that’s settled, I can finally move my focus to that book I’ve been waiting for.  Since I’ve had comics on my mind so much of late, I really wanted to give myself some closure on them before moving to a different series and universe.

Enough Green Yet?

I said last night that I wanted to move forward with the Green Lantern graphic novel that looked like another epic story, instead of a curated anthology of older works.  At this point in time, I’m not yet certain if I’m going to read that one at all before I return it – a glance through makes me wonder if this is silver or bronze age stuff.  Regardless, it’s not what I was craving after the excitement of War of the Green Lanterns yesterday.

When I first picked up Green Lantern: The Wrath of the First Lantern, I knew a moment of misgivings.  Right there on the front cover, in the upper right hand corner, is an ominious bit of text.  “The New 52!” it says, meaning that this is part of that DC universe reboot.  Which is…not what I wanted.  I wanted to see a continuation of the story I’d been reading.  Although, I know they only used the New 52 branding for so long…so I decided to check publication dates.  Sure enough, Wrath of the First Lantern was released after War of the Green Lanterns.  But, most telling of all, the opening pages call this “the end of Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern”.  Since he’s been a writer on almost everything I’ve read lately, that gave me hope that this wouldn’t be the start of a brand new story.

And oh…was that hope justified.  Let’s be honest – I don’t give two shits about the so-called First Lantern.  I care that this book brings a triumphant conclusion to the story I’ve been following throughout this comic book binge.  Even to the “happily ever afters” of several characters after the story itself closes.  It’s everything I could have wanted.  Sure, it introduces a couple new characters, at least one of whom I wouldn’t mind reading more of, but isn’t that part of the point of comics like this?  It’s a universe because these people can turn up unexpectedly in any other comic published by the company.  They can even get spinoff series, if there’s enough interest.

The First Lantern appears to be a psychotic time-traveler who managed to be present when the mad rogue guardian Krona brought up the origins of the universe on some monitor.  Somehow this…made him into the First Lantern?  It wasn’t clearly explained and I really don’t care about the backstory of a madman who went around to all my favorite characters and others I tolerate to make them relive the best and worst moments of their lives, changing them to suit his need to feed off others’ despair like an emotional vampire.

Once again, Oa becomes an epic battlefield in a conflict that equals that of the last time, and surpasses it in several ways.  And, once more, I am trying to avoid too many details because I was so caught up in the action that I wouldn’t want to spoil that experience for anyone.  Hell, I was mostly done with the epilogues when I got home from work…but I decided to reread and skim the entire book again because it was just that good…and I wanted to get back into that mindset for when I finished reading the story endings.

I don’t buy a huge number of graphic novels, just because they are fairly pricey.  You don’t usually see them new under $20…and if it’s $20, it’s probably fifty pages or less.  But Geoff John’s work here, and his fellows of Peter J. Tomasi, Tony Bedard, and Peter Milligan, touches so many chords inside that I really think I should acquire the lot of these.  Oh sure, I can go back to the library and check them out again and again, but I don’t go as often as I should.  And there’s just something so satisfying about owning books you love.

On reflection, I’m really not sure what impelled me to wander over to the library’s graphic novel section in search of Green Lantern.  I mean, I know why Green Lantern instead of Batman, Superman, or any Marvel characters – I’m less familiar with his stories, his highs and lows.  I saw the animated series in the nineties and two thousands – Batman: The Animated Series, (parts of) Superman: The Animated SeriesBatman and SupermanSpider-ManX-Men, X-Men EvolutionBatman BeyondStatic Shock, Justice LeagueJustice League Unlimited, even some parts of Iron ManThe Fantastic Four, and The Incredible Hulk.  Green Lantern as a character – usually John Stewart – shows up in some of these, but nothing’s about him.  Because of that, a lot of the mythos was brand new to me when I first read Blackest Night back in college.  But it was a compelling and fascinating mythos that did what it should: get me to read more.  It just so happens that my “reading more” goes in bits and spurts as I have the opportunity and actually remember I was interested in this.

These comics I read by Geoff Johns are probably my favorite incarnation of Hal Jordan.  Likely because outside of cameos, that live action movie, and a couple comics not strongly connected to anything else when I first read them, Blackest Night was my first exposure to him.  I did say that John Stewart was the Green Lantern seen in Justice LeagueJustice League Unlimited, and Static Shock for good reason.  Which is probably part of why I didn’t like his portrayal in these comics as much – I’ve seen him elsewhere and that first exposure is what I like most.  That’s not so say that I would never change my mind later…but I doubt I’d pick John Stewart in these specific comics over any other.

You know, that’s probably part of why nostalgia is such a big seller right now, and why people are so ready to nitpick anything and everything you produce that’s meant to play off that memory.  Whatever changes they make…are changes.  And that’s not what you fell in love with the first time.  Oh sure, you might eventually admit that the new version has some good points, but it’s very rarely better in all ways and it will never be what you grew up with.

I guess it also goes back to that old question of if you have the opportunity to rewrite your first novels…should you?  After all, comic books do it all the time, redoing, rebooting, and reinterpreting the same old characters.  Sometimes with a new twist, sometimes just with a different person at the helm wanting to do it their way.  When the First Lantern starts dissecting people’s lives, he begins with Guy Gardner, and the reader is treated to a fascinating look at all the Guy Gardners there have been.  From the present back to his childhood…but also with variants that I think represent Gardner as he’s been in older comics.  In front but barely visible due to the First Lantern’s energy is Guy as we know him.  Just behind that is Guy as a Red Lantern, which has been seen before in this storyline.  Behind that is Guy in a jacket and jeans, then shirtless with weird markings on him and weapons for hands, then a couple older designs for his Green Lantern costume (seriously, every single Earth Lantern has a variant costume), then Guy in his police uniform, and finally some younger versions of him as teen, kid, etc.  I guess it’s a visual nod to all the versions of Guy Gardner that have existed since the character was first created, which is pretty neat, all things considered.

And then I decided that since I finished Wrath of the First Lantern so early in the day I would give in and read the last Green Lantern book I checked out.  This one is Green Lantern in Brightest Day: Tales of the Green Lantern Corps.  As I mentioned before, this is a collection of  older works, I think mostly Silver Age stuff though I’m no expert.  Essentially, this is Geoff Johns curating a collection of stories that helped lay the foundation for what he would write for the Green Lantern mythos.  And yes, I can see a lot of the elements, characters, and plots that have recently gripped my imagination.  This includes the first appearances of Sinestro, Guy Gardner, Kyle Rayner, and Mogo.  Not to mention John Stewart and a crossover between Hal Jordan and Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern character.

The physical book is interesting too, because the pages aren’t glossy like modern comics, reflecting the materials that would have been used when these stories were originally published.  It likely helps maintain the feel and means the colors are softer and less harsh.  As far as the stories themselves go…they’re mostly fine.  I’m not a huge fan of “hero speak”, where people go over the top and don’t actually talk like real people anymore.  But I do understand that this his how comics were for a very long time, so I can’t hold it against the writers.  It’s just not my preference.

Hell, anyone reading this blog knows that, as I tend to write mostly stream-of-consciousness in these posts.  I very rarely go back and edit anything more than typos.  But that’s because this is a blog, not an essay.  I’m not getting graded on it, it’s not being published anywhere else, it’s just my thoughts and opinions on whatever it is I’ve read.  Yes, I do think as I read about points I want to bring up, but if I forget while I’m actually typing…oh well.  Either I’ll remember the point next time I reread that book and mention it then, or I won’t.  It’s not a big deal.

Still, today’s made me think that I should probably look into acquiring the omnibi of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run.  There’s three of them and they’re not cheap, but I’m not without options.  The one thing working in my favor is that I might be able to find them used for less than cover price.  If I’m lucky.  There could even be copies in that comic shop near me whose hours are “call and ask.”  (You have no idea how annoying this is.  But this is why my preferred comic shop is three towns over.)  Of course, I’d need to make sure I have a good coupon or something to take advantage of if I’m going to buy new.  Still, there’s no telling what I’ll find where.  The last time I stopped in a comic shop downtown I found the third novel in a trilogy I’d started…and I think the cashier threw it in for free.  I haven’t read that book yet, but that’s because I haven’t found book two.  And I am not willing to pay much for it, so I’m not wasting any money ordering it online.

I did get a package the other day, and it did have a book inside.  There’s a second that goes with it though, and that’s not here yet.  Those look…gloriously old school.  So I’ll go into more detail once I’ve got both and a chance to read them.  It’s been a while since I touched on that series.

In the meantime, I have two library books left now.  Both were actual holds, but one is getting read before the other.  Frankly, one I checked out purely for the title, and I don’t have high hopes for it.  It’d be nice if it was good, but I expect mediocrity.  Still, there’s no telling what I’ll find within the pages.

I’m still going to read the other one first.