Sunday Status Update: August 3, 2014

This week, a Guardian of the Galaxy. Because movie.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Groot: I am Groot.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews BillThis has been a great run of books lately. I read The Bone Clocks (a 5), the newest from David Mitchell, one of my favorite contemporary authors; The Widow’s House (4.5), by Daniel Abraham, one of my favorite fantasy authors. And A Plunder of Souls (3), by D.B.Jackson. I’ve also gone through the first 20+ issues of Guardians of the Galaxy (prior to the movie) and have loved the wit, the characters, and the sci-fi elements.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews BradI’ve been continuing to read two older Vertigo series, The Invisibles by Grant Morrison and The Shade by James Robinson, as well as to listen to Grant Morrison’s Supergods on audible. I also read and reviewed this Friday two very different comic books: The must-read horror trade collection The Wrath by Joe Hill and Jamie S. Rich’s futuristic love story with a twist A Boy and A Girl, illustrated by Natalie Nourigat, whose Between the Gears autobiography I reviewed last Sunday.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews KatI tried a couple of new (for me) authors this week. I read Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Marina, a lovely haunting story set in Barcelona. I can’t wait to read more Zafón! Then I tried Kate Wilhelm’s novella In Between which was an interesting revenge story that didn’t quite convince me to suspend disbelief. I’m certainly willing to try more Wilhelm, though. I’m currently reading another Lovecraft collection that Blackstone Audio just put out. It’s called Necronomicon and contains the “definitive” collection of his most important stories. I’ve read a bunch of these before, but there are some I’ve previously missed. When you read them back to back like this, you realize how repetitive Lovecraft was.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews SandyWell, crew, I have just finished reading Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, and it really did impress me; a very heartfelt piece of writing from Phil, on a subject (the horrible effects that drug use can often bring to its users) that was dear to him. I hope to get a review for this one out shortly. In the meantime, I have recently plopped into our hopper a review for the Jack Williamson book The Humanoid Touch, a very belated sequel to his famous Humanoids novel. As the Klingons would say, “K’ploch!”

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews TerryI’ve been spending much too much time watching “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood,” which means I’ve been neglecting my reading. Even so, I’ve made more progress toward catching up on back issue of Nightmare Magazine, and will today probably read the new issue as well, with a review on all of them for Monday. I’m also reading Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb and enjoying it very much — I’m way behind on her novels, and thought this would be a good place to jump back into her mythology without reading all the intervening books, and so far that seems to be holding true. Yesterday I also started Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard, and it looks as if I’m enjoying it more than our own Alix Harrow did — though I’m only in the double digits of the page count, so I suppose that could change. August looks frighteningly busy (aren’t we all supposed to take the entire month of August off? Yeah, good luck with that), but I hope that nonetheless I’ll be able to get more reading done and more reviews written.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: Like Bill, I read a few issues of Guardians of the Galaxy this week (the most recent series), which I found fun and lively enough to be going on with. After that, I went on to All-New X-Men and Fantastic FourI do feel that I may be burning myself out on modern superhero comics a little — I’ve read a lot of them in quick succession now, and while some stand apart, the majority operate according to a very similar frenetic, snarky explosion of plot twists, quips, and winkingly gratuitous violence that’s beginning to weary me a little. In large doses, I find it almost too self-aware. Comic book writers know what their readers know — that this genre began as entertainment for ten-year-olds and has progressed to entertainment for 20-somethings — and sometimes they have to laugh at their own absurdity as they try their best to contort little boys’ adventure stories into adult sci/fi. It’s understandable: imagine if The Baby-sitter’s Club became one of the world’s biggest pop-cultural movements, and you suddenly had to make it work for a sneering phalanx of 25-year-old male Law students without dropping a single plot element from the original version marketed to 11-year-old girls. That doesn’t stop comic books from feeling a little cynical sometimes, though, as what used to be unapologetic moral plays and childlike wonder is replaced by slick, smirking lampshading. Then again, if you read anything for too long, you start to get tired of the tropes, and I still enjoyed the Guardians of the Galaxy film when I watched it yesterday.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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  1. Kat, you’ve got to try the Cemetery of Lost Books series. I’ve only read The Angel’s Game so far, but I thought it exquisite.

  2. Brad Hawley /

    Recent run on GotG is mediocre at best, and you are correct that the conventions get old. But you’ve missed some of the comics that are much better. You’ve been reading ones that knowingly take the conventions and then use them tongue and cheek, but there are ones that do much more than that. I quit reading the recent GotG I found it so boring. Go back and read Invisibles by Grant Morrison. It’s old, and yet far more advanced than most of what’s coming out. Imagine if I read only the SFF that are most popular with teenagers and said they used the conventions well but they got old quickly, you start telling me about all the authors and books that don’t get old for readers immersed in the genre. You’re reading fun stuff, but it’s not necessarily the most representative superhero comics even. Just run of the mill.

  3. Brad Hawley /

    Sorry, I feel defensive b/c such generalization is very dismissive. I’d never say that about SFF or horror.

    • I’m very sorry, Brad: I didn’t intend to anger you. I did mean “modern” to imply “very recent” superhero comics, and I guess it was more or less just a ramble about what I perceived as a troubling fashion trend in the big superhero books during the last few years. But you’re right, it was a generalization. An accurate look into my frustrations, perhaps, but I should have foreseen someone taking offense.

      And of course, as you imply, I am certainly no expert. I’ve generally only read that which is easily available through friends or the library. However, I believe I did read at least a bit of The Invisibles on loan from a friend once. I remember it, like most Morrison works (for me), as equal parts engrossing and bizarre. But that’s an older one, and not part of the recent movement in comics that I was clumsily trying to address.

      Honestly, it was the contrast between Walter Simonson’s run on Thor last wek and the All-New X-Men this week that really got me thinking that I was seeing signs of something distasteful.

  4. I saw GotG today! I wasn’t familiar with the comic at all but had a blast.

    • We saw it today and I also loved it while mu wife and son really enjoyed it. As usual, I wished for less gleeful slaughter, either by the characters or visual glee. But otherwise loved the humor, the heart, the visuals, the characters. Lots of fun!

  5. Brad Hawley /

    Tim, I owe you an apology: That came off far meaner than I meant it to. I think the tone of my post says more about my mood at home yesterday than about about what you wrote. I really am sorry.

    I should have clarified instead of attacked. And I appreciate your own clarification and kind reply.

    Basically, I DO agree with you. I guess I took issue with “modern” superhero comics still being too general. I’d go for “over-promoted commercial superhero comics put out by the big two” (DC and Marvel), and I get really sick of those as well. Some of those comics are good, but a little goes a long way. They dominate the market and make it seem as if there is nothing else out there, which is why I write columns on a wide variety of comic books: Marvel and DC do not dominate the Comic Book Reviews here. And when I do write about them, I often like to feature older Vertigo titles or blasts from the past.

    I’ve recently been getting DC titles from Netgalley and felt obligated to review some of the New 52 titles, but I’ve stopped downloading most of those already in favor of the comics I’m reading that you and others would never hear about. I still have a few in the cue that are really good titles, but if I read it and it stinks, I’m not going to write a review.

    There are so many comics and there is so little time that I write about only the best comics I can find, and that why most of my reviews are 4-5 stars. I don’t like wasting my time writing reviews about books I don’t like.

    Finally, Tim, I really appreciate your branching out in reading all the comics you have read. I’ve been reading comics for less than a decade, and I reached a quick saturation point over these predictable comics (whatever we call them) just as you have. That made me, and continues to make me, seek out more interesting superhero comics as well as comics that aren’t in the superhero genre at all.

    I saw GotG yesterday, too, and I really enjoyed it. I have some nitpicky, nerdy things to say about it, but it’s still a 9/10 easily, if not a 9.5/10. It’s certainly close to perfect, and I’m a huge fan of the that particular misfit team-up.

    BY THE WAY, the really good run on GotG involves the story lines Annihilation and Annihilation Conquest that crossed into Realm of Kings and War of Kings (I might have those last two reversed). There were two titles than ran along at this period that were good, too: Nova and GotG. The new Nova and GotG are not very good compared to these older titles which comprise my favorite all-time long-running series of cross-over events in either Marvel or DC. And if you read these, you’ll find out who the that dog was near the collector.

    There’s so much more I could write about GotG, but I’ll stop for now. Maybe I’ll generate a reading list for a column of what I’m talking about should you want to order trades OR find the issues on Comixology.

  6. Brad Hawley /

    A good New 52 title to read is Batman and Robin: Born to Kill. It’s a wonderful coming-of-age story about a son’s desire for respect, love, approval, and freedom and a controlling father’s difficulty in finding the right way to give the appropriate balance of these things to his son.

    I guess the problem with generalizations is that it prevents one from seeing how certain titles really do rise above the conventions. And to be honest, I still have a tendency to see SF, F, and horror as a group of tiresome generalizations, but I’ve felt that way in the past about Crime Fiction and Comics, both of which I’ve now studied enough to see beyond those generalizations. So I assume that is true of SFF and horror even though I have read enough to know that personally about these genres.

    If you compare most mainstream DC and Marvel titles in the 90s to today, the ones today are superior and less predictable, actually. From what I understand, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns had many people imitating the mere violence in superficial ways than understanding their true value. I think only now are Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns having more positive than negative effect. That’s Grant Morrison’s generalization as I understand it in Supergods. I was not reading comics at this time, so I don’t know personally. I tend to read good titles from the 90s, and many of those Vertigo, so I don’t know what the majority of monthly titles were like. But that’s what I’ve been told.

    Still, there are always great writers and artists rising above the obvious conventions, and not just in an ironic way. There are those who use the superhero genre to thematically explore ideas that all great literature explores. Just as SFF and horror does, or so I am led to believe by you all . . .

  7. Brad Hawley /

    correction: “So I assume that is true of SFF and horror even though I have NOT read enough to know that personally about these genres.”

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