Tag Archives: review

Review: Blink

Blink is a dimension-hopping secret agent story. Agent Smith works for the Utility Company, a top-secret US agency that deals with the sort of issues that can’t get reported in more pedestrian secret agencies…you the know the drill. His latest case is the result of one scientist’s successful effort to breach the barriers within the multiverse and allow travel between two parallel realities. One of them starts messing with the other, and the inevitable complicated conflict arises.

This is a fun read. There’s plenty of action and twists and turns to the plot to keep it fresh. It clocks in at 107,000 words so the length is good value – there’s even two interludes, allowing you to relieve yourself the restroom or buy more popcorn if you wish. The main difference between the realities is reasonably well thought out and surprisingly realistic, although the tone may cause non-Americans to roll their eyes.

On the downside, the novel could have done with a good line editor. Also, while complicated plot twists are an inherent part of this genre, some of the twists in this book – especially towards the end – don’t bear scrutiny, to the point where it can break the suspension of disbelief. If you’re willing to dive back into a fun story after a WTF moment – for example, if you like James Bond movies – you should give this book a try.

Review: If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love

If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky is a second person POV story that works really well. It starts with a tone of wistful reverie – what would the world be like if you were a dinosaur? What would my life, our lives, be like? It flows nicely from this to show nonjudgmental love, and then to accepting that sometimes you have to let people go.

The reverie is illustrated with a poetic tactic, starting each paragraph by musing on the final sentence of the preceding paragraph. For example:

They’d work until they’d built you a mate.

If they built you a mate,

This works as a poetic device to add cadence to the musing, but is also very useful in showing when the musing ends; the sudden abandoning of this trick coincided with considering actual past events, rather than completely imaginary hypothesis.

The story flows on, naturally becoming more melancholy, until the situation that started this wistful reverie is revealed. It is disturbingly mundane, which emphasises that it is the mundane that we should truly fear, not the fantastic.

It is the language that makes this story good, the ideas that crop up in the daydream, the poetic use of words. A couple of favourites:

  • “deceived by the helix-and-fossil trappings of cloned dinosaurs”
  • “decanted their lives”
  • All in all a good read, to the point where I’ll be following the links at the bottom of the story to read her other work.

    Review: Things You Can Buy For A Penny

    Things You Can Buy For A Penny by Will Kaufman has a number of interesting features about it. The point of view is a sort of second person – the voice is one of a storyteller narrating the tales to an audience. The storyteller has a slightly superior tone, as if the tale is meant to be instructional.

    The story has a good rhythm and good foreshadowing, starting by talking about stories that would later appear, working through them backward (with each story influenced by the one that is set at an earlier time) and then forward again through the protagonists. I liked that structure and thought it was effective at maintaining interest, and linking the disparate tales.
    As for prose, it is fairytale lyrical, a very good choice for this type of story (after all, fairytales are exactly odd stories that are meant to be instructional).

    I felt as if there was something lacking from the story, something that stopped it being great, but I can’t figure out what it is. It could be that the story seems very familiar, either because I’ve read it before or because I’ve read something very similar. I knew how each story would go, and how the overall story would end, so maybe it lacked any surprise for me. Also, maybe I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t so tired and stressed when I read it.

    Review: Candy Girl

    Candy Girl by Chikodili Emelumadu is the other story I am to review for my writing course, and I didn’t like it nearly as much as We’ll Be Together Forever. It deals with much the same subject matter in much the same way, and the writing is poetic enough, so it took me a while to work out why I didn’t really like it. After my first reading I could only say that it seemed less believable – which is an odd criticism for stories about functioning magic – but on rereading it I realised the problem was the characters.

    The main man in the story, Paul, the villain, does not seem like a real person. He has a long list of negative qualities – weak, obedient, obsequious, self-serving, tries to force his way into another culture, arrogant, entitled – and absolutely zero positive qualities, except maybe attractive toes. Personality-wise, he is more like a puppy that no-one finds cute than a human. He certainly does things that a puppy would do but no man would do.

    The other characters are also cookie-cutter characters but less fleshed out. What we know of the main character Muna (not really the protagonist, she doesn’t do much) is that she can’t tell the difference between zombies and mummies, even when the name of one of them is in the movie she’s referencing, and is apparently stupid enough to date a man with every type of patheticness and absolutely no redeeming qualities.

    Her cousin, Ginika, is only slightly better. We know she’s hyper-violent, visits Nigeria a lot, and is smart enough to get a scholarship to a posh school. Then there’s the magic-user Ozulu, who is a generic magic-user who despises those who don’t understand the forces they’re playing with.

    Bearing all this in mind, particularly that the most fleshed-out character was Paul, the story reads as nothing more than an attack on the kinds of men the author doesn’t like, all wrapped up into a single character. I suspect it was published because the setting is exotic; the descriptions of the Nigerian town are beautiful and evocative.

    To be fair, it’s possible I may have found the plot more interesting if I hadn’t just read another story with basically the same plot. If I’d read Candy Girl first I may have been less interested in We’ll Be Together Forever, but it wouldn’t change the fact that I find the characters in the latter far more believable than the characters here.

    Review: Homeworld Blues

    This debut novel by A.J. McMillan is a cracking good read. The writing style is fast and fresh, the characters mostly well-written and the world-building brilliant. It’s a good length, too.

    Homeworld Blues is in the science fantasy genre, which combines technology and magic-as-science-we-don’t-understand…like the Force in Star Wars. In this universe, Earth as we know it shares an interdimensional axis with two other planets in two other worlds (or dimensions, or branes, or planes, or however you want to think of them) and certain people know how to leap between the worlds, which ability they use to transport refugees from Earth to the paradisiacal Breorl, via the hellscape of Darsa. All the locations are richly detailed and realistic, and I often paused my reading and spent a while imagining what I would do in each place. The books starts off in a claustrophobic colony ship, jumps quickly to a desert world, then to a magic jungle tree with dizzying rapidity that often made me wish McMillan had spent longer in each setting.

    Still, this is the first book in a trilogy (the second one is planned for 2015 some time) so I’m sure the plot will return to each place over the course of the series. The characters are fleshed out and likeable – and you’ll find some annoying and some pretentious and so on based on your personal preferences, which is a sign of diverse characters. McMillan follows the lead of George R.R. Martin in being perfectly willing to kill off characters that the reader has become attached to and which appeared as if they would have a major role to play throughout the series.

    Apart from a few minor scientific errors, the few things which jolted me while reading concerned a couple of characters. Zepp is a great character, but a touch inconsistent. At one point he looks at a woman “in a whole new light” because she was wearing a sexy and revealing dress; but he had the hots for her the moment he met her and his increase only increased throughout the novel, so I’m not sure what the “whole new light” would have been. At another point he admitted to himself that he deserved to be distrusted because of his actions, but he’d never been anything except completely open and honest throughout the novel – to the point where some other characters chastised him on his openness. At one point I got the impression that Zepp had originally been two characters that had been merged in editing.

    Trayia, the protagonist, is awesome. She’s a strong character – not just a strong personality, but a character with good depth and believable motives and beliefs. Still, she gets accepted as the leader/saviour pretty easily by everyone else despite her extreme inexperience and lack of broader knowledge. One guy got told by the Goddess that she’s “the one”, so that’s fair enough, but a lot of other experienced and highly capable people give her undying loyalty based on not very much. I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve it, just that her actions in this book didn’t really warrant it.

    All in all, they’re minor issues in a well-written book, and I think we can expect McMillan to get better as the series progresses. So if this is a genre you like, buy the book.

    A.J. McMillan’s blog is here.

    Review: Girl Vs Monster

    Girl Vs Monster is the tacky steampunk lovechild of Ghostbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer that you never wanted. It’s basically a series of one-liners interspersed with cack-handed moral messages about over-coming fear, with a few pop songs thrown in for spice. It’s not a good movie to take seriously, but it is a great movie to laugh at, and I don’t regret the hour and a half I spent watching it.
    Girl Vs. Monster (2012) TV Movie Directed by Stuart Gillard Shown: poster art
    Yes, that is the word “Monstober” on the poster.

    Review: Tinkers of the Wasteland

    Nómadas del Yermo (nomads of the wilderness, although it is translated it as tinkers of the wasteland) is a fast-paced manga-style comic by Raúl Treviño, from Monterrey. I’m a fan of his art, which is a little rough around the edges but works well with the theme, and goes into pretty decent detail when warranted. I read the comic in Spanish paperback, but it is available online, and also in English.

    NomadasPortada-baja-400x593The setting is post-apocalypse México, after civilization has been destroyed by a meteor shower. The meteor shower is still underway, which I suppose makes the setting intra-apocalyptic. The survivors band together to get food, protect themselves and attack other people. The plot of the first comic – Los pollos chidos del Apocalipsis – revolves around the three heroes/protagonists and their quest to liberate however many chickens they can from Rey Kuir, local crime boss and chicken hoarder. There is a lot of surreal absurdism, with the inclusion of aliens and mutants and chickens, a hallmark of Méxican stories, although the stories aren’t usually in this sort of setting.

    The comic is constructed well; Treviño has worked as a colorist for Marvel, DC and Dark Horse amongst others, so he knows how a comic should be structured to make the reading path natural. The action is hectic; the comic is strongly reminiscent of Mad Max in its long sequences of people battling in souped-up cars with strange attachments and weapons. It’s very easy to keep reading the comic until the end.

    My main complaint is of the character of Milla, the female in the group of three protagonists. She is portrayed as a harridan, forever complaining, insulting and scolding without offering any useful comments, suggestions or plans. I suspect this might be an attempt to create a “strong woman” character, but it falls flat if the character isn’t actually useful. The only other female in the comic is seen in one panel, a woman kept prisoner as a sex-slave. Since this comic is the first part of a three part series (and the only one I’ve read) it’s possible that the character gets further developed in the next couple of comics, and other females are introduced. I’m hoping.
    Final Verdict: I liked it. It’s a good comic if you favor action over moody exposition, and I’ll be reading the rest of the series.

    Review: Dark Side Space Oatmeal Stout

    Dark Side Space Oatmeal Stout    My favourite street clowns perform in a little pedestrian area a block from the zócalo in Puebla. Whenever I am in that fine city I make it a point to visit this group, not only for their physical feats (which are pretty impressive) but for their comedic stylings – my favourite part of the act is a couple of clowns miming to “A Esa” by Pimpinela. So if you ever visit Puebla, head to the Plaza de la Democracia off Avenida Juan de Palafox y Mendoza and watch them. And give them money.
        Then, take a good long hard look around for the Xochipilli Brewery, since right now I’m drinking their Dark Side Space Oatmeal Stout. This is a thick, dark stout. Poured into a glass it gives Guiness levels of foamy head, so be careful with that. The flavour is very sharp and tangy, almost acrid, but the head forms in your mouth as you drink it giving the beer a creamy texture. It’s not one of my favourites, but if you find sharp tastes to be refreshing, this would be a good beer to pour into a glass and then wait for it to settle while exchanging frippery and frivolity. While drinking this beer I couldn’t stop thinking of Darkseid, but only because of the name.

    Review: Criolla Pilsen

    cOSPLAY-Meow-Jessica-Nigri-catwomanI’ve been to Veracruz, some years ago, driving up and down a sweaty coastal road so my kids would fall asleep in the back seat. That’s not why I went, of course, it’s just what I spent a lot of my time doing while I was there. Anyway, being the jolly sort of fellow I am, while I was there I tried some of the local beer, and I remember being distinctly unimpressed.
        Nevertheless, being nothing if not a give-’em-another-chance sort of bloke, when I found the Veracruz Brewing Company stand at the First Morelos Beer Festival I was disposed to give them another shot. Thus, my first review is of Criolla Pilsen, from quite near the city founded by Hernan Cortes, I believe.

    Shoddy picture of a Criolla Pilsen bottle held in a handThe beer is refreshingly tart and sassy on the tip of the tongue, yet sweet and creamy as it slides down your throat. In the same way that Catwoman impresses you with her sassiness on the first encounter and then beguiles you with her smooth sweetness as you come to know her, this light and creamy beer rewards a respectful approach. The bottle does warn you to “remove attachments to your palate”, assumedly to give space to Catwoman’s whip.
        At 4.5% alcohol it’s not going to push you too swiftly into inebriation, and one or two of these artisanal beers before switching to the cheaper mass-market stuff once your tastebuds go numb is a good move on a hot, dry Mexican day. It’s the rainy season right now, nevertheless I enjoyed the Pilsen.