Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise, Part Three

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Promise, Part Three
Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru, 2012

Premise: Sequel to Part One, Part Two. The Harmony Restoration movement is in crisis. No one is willing to back down from the disputed city of Yu Dao, and it looks like the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation are headed straight for another war. The gang does what they can to try and convince the sides to talk, but ultimately Aang is going to have to decide what to do. How can he balance what he thinks is right with his loyalty to his friends and his terrible promise?

Yeeeesssss. YES. Oh, this wraps up this plotline in a lovely way, and gives us the hook for the next miniseries. BRING IT ON.

Everyone is just wonderful, although it hurts my heart in the best way to see them at odds. Katara starting to deal with the reality of not just being involved with Aang, but being with the Avatar, and how that’s different. Sokka, Suki and Toph are doing what they can from the sidelines, but it all comes down to Aang and Zuko, of course.

Zuko is struggling with his past, his future, and just trying to figure out whether he can even trust his own judgement. Aang is starting to compare the past he knew to the possible futures he guesses at and doesn’t know what the right thing is either. Meanwhile, the people of Yu Dao aren’t about to give up their way of life peacefully.

Since it’s based on a cartoon, there’s been a bit of dancing around the word “kill” in this whole story, but you know what they mean and the scenes are still incredibly powerful.

Plus the hook. EEEE! I want the next story NOW! I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to trust me what I say it’s awesome.

All three parts together make this by far my favorite comic-book thing I read in 2012.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Stand on Zanzibar

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stand on Zanzibar
John Brunner, 1968

Hugo Winner - 1969

Premise: A fractured look at an overpopulated dystopia. It mostly focuses on how the decisions of two men in New York affect events in two small countries on opposite sides of the world.

I fell asleep. Literally. I literally fell asleep at least three separate times while reading this book, never when it was late at night, or I was particularly tired. So it should come as no surprise that my take on this book can be summed up in three words: Slow, Long, Boring.

This book is written in a “groundbreaking” style that was appropriated from an earlier work of historical fiction. It consists of different types of chapters: some follow the main characters, some follow minor characters who may or may not appear again, and some provide worldbuilding. I guess the latter are supposed to feel like information overload, but really I just read enough to get the idea (i.e. the next four-ten pages are examples of future advertising or examples of people dying stupidly or etc.) and then skipped ahead.

Because frankly, life is too short for this book.

The future postulated proposes a lot of societal and governmental shifts based on the problem of overpopulation, but really they’re either not really fully explored, like legislation on who can have kids, or they are heavily colored by the 60’s/70’s, like uses of “future drugs” and a free-sex culture.

For me, in 2012, this book has the problem that it wasn’t written long enough ago to be “classic” science fiction, but neither is it modern. What I mean by that is the projected dystopia (set in 2010), isn’t charming or intriguing to me, the way some of the early, more ambitious Hugo winners were. Neither is it moving or realistic the way I expect from modern work. The characters are unlikable, the plots vague and hard to follow. It neither seems to be making a point or purposely not making one.

The pace picks up, finally, in about the last third, but at that point I just wanted it to be over. The ending is okay, I guess, but the resolution was weak. I felt as though the author wasn’t sure whether to ‘save’ his future world with some deus ex machina or let them go to hell in a handbasket, and in trying to take a middle road, the whole thing falls flat.

There are some developments that the book predicts that sort of came to pass, although earlier and far differently than is presented, and that doesn’t help me take it seriously. And there’s always the question of whether you can suspend your disbelief so far as the ‘future’ having super-fast trains and supercomputers and magic memory polymer weapons, but not cell phones or the interactive internet. For me, this goes back to the charm factor. In some stories, the idea being addressed or the characters involved are interesting enough for me to laugh off or enjoy the idea of putting punch cards into a future supercomputer (see: Asimov). Some, like this, just don’t come together enough.

The last third did have some interesting ideas and developments, but not enough to save the experience for me.

1 Star - Didn’t Like It.

(For much more interesting near-future worldbuilding, try Facsimile. Yes, I edited it, but I am not being partisan here. It’s So Much Better.)

List of Hugo Winners

Post Captain (Aubrey-Maturin, Book Two)

Monday, January 21, 2013

Post Captain (Aubrey-Maturin, Book Two)
Patrick O’Brian, 1972

Premise: Sequel to Master and Commander. It seems that Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin would be settled into their new routines, except peace breaks out and they’re left on shore without a job. Being on shore holds a new set of complications for them, including the most volatile element of all: women.

I forgot that the women who will be important throughout the series make their appearance so early! The naive, stable Sophie and the emotional, bitter Diana make trouble for the boys’ friendship over most of this book. Everyone’s emotional flaws are on full display as anger, uncertainty, attraction and betrayal war within all four characters.

It can be frustrating seeing the gentlemen lose their senses and the ladies downright encourage it, but there is enough other plot to lighten the story. There is a wonderful scene where they abruptly put aside their differences to escape from Jack’s creditors, and a great deal of affectionate humor follows. (Jack Aubrey’s utter inability to manage any money that isn’t used outfitting a ship for sea is a running plot line through the series.) Jack is eventually given command of a downright terrible ship and unhappy crew, and he struggles to bring them together enough to do their job.

On the side, Maturin starts actively getting information from Spain for the British government, and his very quiet second career as a spy begins here.

Despite being on the long side, this novel flies along, and the parts that brought me down were certainly balanced by parts that were utterly delightful.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Broken (Extrahumans, Book One)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Broken (Extrahumans, Book One)
Sarah Jane Bigelow, 2011

Premise: Broken used to be a superhero. Now she’s alone, living on the street, hiding from the authorities and her former friends. Michael Forward has a power as well: he can see possible futures, and he knows he needs Broken’s help if there’s a chance to save the child who could transform their world.

Hey, an indie novel about superheroes that’s pretty awesome! Sign me up for that. The dystopian setting felt plausible without needing to know all the details, but the highlight was really the characters.

Broken, Michael, and the other Extrahumans we encounter, like Sky Ranger and Lucky Jane, feel like true superheroes without ever feeling like copies of existing comic-book characters. Think Astro City-style, but a darker world. The description of Michael’s ability to see the possible futures is eerie and morbidly fascinating. Broken (formerly Silverwing) is a suicidal healer, angry and hopeless by turns, but capable of so much.

I was a little lost during an interlude when the fugitives are hiding out with a family who are also persecuted by the current government for their nontraditional family structure, which is based on an alien race humans have allied with. Some of the exposition about that was handled clumsily, and Michael’s relationship with Janeane was somewhat incomprehensible to me, the feelings and descriptions were just very vague.

However, I still really loved reading this book overall. The action is well handled, and my frustrations mostly came from when I could see the characters doing something foolish when I was invested enough to worry about them. So I can’t criticize too much for that.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

See more about Broken (Extrahumans) at Amazon.com

Lord of Light

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lord of Light
Roger Zelazny, 1967

Hugo Winner - 1968

Premise: Sam, also known as Mahasamatman, also called Buddha, among other things, plans a war on Heaven. The people are not allowed technology, and those who speak against the gods often do not come out of the reincarnation machines. Sam will have to use all the allies at his disposal if he hopes to break the rule of the gods. In case you haven't guessed yet, this is not Earth.

I liked Lord of Light, although not quite as much as I liked This Immortal. The books have a lot in common, with quasi-immortals, mythic themes, and purposeful anachronisms. The most interesting part of this one was trying to piece together what the people calling themselves gods actually are. Of course, we don't get a clear answer, but it's interesting all the same. Sam's quest, and the personal stories of those who help him, were intriguing, but it wasn't quite as satisfying for me as the earlier book.

Many characters have multiple names, either because they are emphasizing godly attributes, hiding from the gods, or just accumulating identities. This mostly works - it certainly keeps the theme of identity present - but occasionally I became mixed up, and some sections confused me until I backtracked to double check who everyone was.

Some aspects of the ending felt rushed and disjointed, in contrast with the very strong beginning. However, I kept having to put the book down because of life interrupting, so that might explain my experience.

I would tell you more about it, but I think the pleasure of discovery is the meat of this book. I wouldn't even read the back, if I were you. I enjoyed Lord of Light, particularly the beginning, as more and more of the world was revealed. I will add, though, that in the middle of reading this book I went to a museum, and looking at Hindu and Buddhist statues was very surreal because I had these characters on my mind.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

List of Hugo Winners

2012 in Review(s)

Friday, January 4, 2013

I was going to write this big long post about the best of the year, but I’m getting over a cold and the holidays, and now I’m thinking I’m just going to link you to reviews you might have missed.

Most books I read this year and absolutely loved were either classics or graphic novels. There were a few books that were new in 2012 that got 5 stars from me, though. Without further ado...

My Favorite Books published in 2012!

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is the most recent, and it was a heck of a lot of fun.

The Wise Man’s Fear is the sequel to The Name of the Wind, and both are magnificent.

Code Name: Verity This is on EVERYONE’S Best of the Year Lists for a reason, people. If you haven’t read this, you are missing out.


DUNE Yeah, DUNE. Dune is awesome on so many levels, and only one of two Hugo Winners to get five stars from me so far. (And the other one is Downbelow Station, which I read before starting the Read-all-the-Hugos Project.)

Master and Commander Another re-read that held up beautifully.

The Gods of Mars Classic Science-Fantasy, or whatever you want to call it.

A Morbid Taste For Bones This was a big year for starting or re-starting series around here.

Graphic Novels
It was really the year of graphic novels for me. I've been tapering off my posts about single issues, and might drop them entirely. But Graphic Novels are currently my favorite thing.

Catwoman Volume 1
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Journey Into Mystery
Iron Man: The Five Nightmares and World’s Most Wanted (That one’s in queue, but I read them in 2012!)

Other Publishers!
Peter Panzerfaust!
Avatar! Avatar again! (and there’s another in the review queue)
Blacksad was one of the big hits for me this year. Just a gorgeous book.

May 2013 for you be full of high adventure!