Monday, October 29, 2012

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Wise up!

Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Wise Up!: An Elevating Collection of Quick Facts and Incredible CuriositiesUncle John's Bathroom Reader Wise Up!: An Elevating Collection of Quick Facts and Incredible Curiosities by Bathroom Readers' Institute
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For years, Uncle John's Bathroom Reader has been a tome of seldom heard facts and trivia. While the articles range size from one to ten pages, the best parts are normally the one line facts in the footers of each page. Some wished the entire book was of said one-liners. Until now...

Wise Up! is a collection of those one line facts. For instance, did you know W.C. Fields was the first choic to play the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz? Or that the US divorce rate has dropped every year since 1979? Or that the last astronaut to walk on the moon was Eugene Cernan in 1972?

Ever needed some reading material on those days after long nights of drinking beer and eating diner food? This is just what you need for those days where you can't seem to stay out of the bathroom.

And the Bathroom Reader series isn't just for the bathroom. Its knowledge is so portable that it can be read not only in any room in the house, but by passengers on long car rides!

If obscure bits of knowledge entertain you, look no further than the various volumes of Uncle John's Bathroom Reader!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Indigo Slam

Indigo Slam (Elvis Cole, #7)Indigo Slam by Robert Crais
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a fifteen year old girl hires Elvis Cole to find her missing father, a printer named Clark Haines, Elvis soon finds himself snared in a web of drugs, counterfeit money, and the Russian mob. To top it off, Lucy's ex-husband is trying to sabotage her attempts to find a job and move to LA to be with Elvis. What's the World's Greatest Detective to do?

While I've been dabbling in sf and graphic novels quite a bit the last couple months, sometimes you just need a good mystery. Once again, Robert Crais delivers the goods.

Indigo Slam proved to be a lot more than I originally thought. The Haines family's status in the witness relocation program complicated Clark's missing, as did what originally seemed to be a drug habit. Crais is pretty good at misdirection and he had me going a few times during this.

My favorite part of this book was Elvis and Joe interacting with Clark's kids. I'm hoping Lucy's ex-husband makes further appearances. Actually, I'm hoping the Elvis-Lucy subplot gets resolved in the next book, one way or another. Long distance relationships never work.

As always, Elvis and Joe walk around, asking questions and stirring up trouble until things boil over. The action was great when the tidal wave finally hit the beach. The twists kept coming and though I suspected the final one, it still caught me off guard.

That's about all I can say without spoiling big plot points. Crais gave me the exciting read I was craving. Right on the edge of 3 and 4 out of five.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Scarlet Spider - Life After Death

Scarlet Spider - Volume 1: Life After DeathScarlet Spider - Volume 1: Life After Death by Christopher Yost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the events of Spider-Man: Spider-Island, Kaine leaves New York to start a new life in Mexico. However, he only makes it as far as Houston before life throws complications in his way in the form of a shipping container full of dead illegal aliens, a fire-powered super villain, an assassin guild looking for revenge, a dirty nuke, and a living girl he found along with all the dead illegals who seems to have a psychic link with him. All in a day's work for your not-so-friendly neighborhood Scarlet Spider.

I'll bring everyone up to speed really fast: Kaine is a clone of Spider-Man who was a murderous super villain until the events of Spider-Island. He has most of the same powers plus a couple extras and a suit that lets him turn invisible. Everyone got that?

So I really liked this Scarlet Spider collection. It's both a tale of Kaine's second chance at life and a chance to tell Spider-Man tales that couldn't be told with Peter Parker. Kaine's got all of Spider-Man's powers but has been a criminal and killer in the past and he's struggling with the idea of being a hero but he's working on it. I like that his sense of humor is a lot more negative than Spider-Man's and he handles things with a heavier hand. Ever see Spider-Man crush a gunman's hands or use a pistol or katana on someone?

I have to admit that I wasn't expecting much from the supporting cast but I'm already digging them. There's Wally and Donald, the cop and doctor gay couple, Annabelle, the punky bartenders, and Aracely, the girl Kaine has made it his responsibility to protect. The villains are nothing to write home about but seeds are planted for future stories involving Kraven and the Assassin's guild led by Belladona, Gambit's ex-wife.

Not really anything bad to say about this one. I'll be picking up the next volume and, if rumors are true about Kane being Spider-Man soon, I'll be reading that too.

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Spider-Man: Spider-Island

Spider-Man: Spider-IslandSpider-Man: Spider-Island by Dan Slott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When people all over New York starting waking up with Spider powers, including his girlfriend, Spider-Man swings into action. Soon, New York is infested with Spider-Men and the Avengers are called in. But what happens when everyone starts to mutate? And who is the source of the infection? And can Spider-Man stop the epidemic before it leaves Spider-Island?

After my experience with Spider-Man: Big Time Ultimate Collection, I decided to dip my toes into another Spider-Man collection and this one sounded great. Was it?

Eh. The main concept itself was a really cool idea. People are granted Spider-powers and chaos ensues. Spider-Man and company race against impossible odds and fix everything with all the thrills of a summer block buster. What could go wrong?

Well, my main gripe is that it was too long for what it was and hinged too much on too many ancillary Spider-characters, like Venom and Anti-Venom. Coupled with that, Humberto Ramos' art seemed rushed in about half of his pages. Also, it turns out I'm not a big fan of Rick Remender's writing. He's no Dan Slott, that's for sure.

Now that I got the gripes out of the way, here's a ton of stuff that I liked:
- Mary Jane with Spider-powers
- J. Jonah Jameson with Spider-Powers
- The Shocker with six arms
- Kaine and Spidey teaming up to take on the main villain
- Kaine's final fate
- Reed Richards' involvment
- Gravity and Firestar being referred to as Spider-Man's Amazing Friends
- Shang Chi teaching Spidey kung fu
- events from The Other storyline referenced, complete with organic web shooters
- The Parker luck kicking in

With rumors of Kaine stepping into Spider-Man's shoes after Amazing Spider-Man #700, I figured I should see where it all began. While it wasn't as good as Big Time, it was still fun. It's a high three.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Railsea - Here thar be spoilers!

RailseaRailsea by China MiƩville
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Urged on by his guardian cousins, young Sham Yes ap Soorap gets apprenticed to a doctor on a moletrain, riding the Railsea in search of moldywarpe, giant moles hunted for food. Captain Naphi of the Medes, the train Sham sails aboard, is obsessed with Mocker Jack, the biggest moldywarpe of them all, & will do anything to find her prey...

Remember that game you used to play when you were a kid, when the living room floor was either molten lava or shark-infested waters, & you had to leap from chair to couch to coffee table & never touch the floor? That's what the world of Railsea reminds me of, covered in miles & miles of rail, most exposed earth harboring moldywarpes, mole rats, worms, & many other malevolent beasties.

In Railsea, China Mieville tells a tale inspired by Moby Dick, the tale of a young orphan named Sham, a captain obsessed with a mole the size of a small building, & the other denizens of the Railsea, a world of dangerous fauna, megatons of salvage, & untold parsecs of rail.

The sheer inventiveness of Mieville's world is staggering. As in Kraken, China shook the idea tree hard on this one. As outlandish as it is, the setting of Railsea isn't all that hard to imagine.

The story feels like Moby Dick at first, but with tastes of Treasure Island & Robinson Crusoe as well. It also reminds me of a more accessible version of China's Bas-Lag books. Captain Naphi's obsession with Mocker Jack echoes Captain Ahab's, although Ahab never had pirates, angles, & the edge of the world to contend with.

Sham's meeting with the Shroakes is what makes the book veer away from being a take off on Moby Dick and become its own animal. A colossal mole, perhaps. I had my doubts about Caldera and Dero Shroakes at first but things really came together at the end. And what an end it was! I love the final image of Sham, the Shroakes, and Captain Naphi sailing beyond the end of the world.

I don't have anything bad to say about this book. It's the most accessible of China Mieville's books & a damn fine book as well. Don't let the YA label fool you. It's a solid & satisfying read at any age.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

American Vampire, Vol. 4

American Vampire, Vol. 4American Vampire, Vol. 4 by Scott Snyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In order to fight the US soldiers encroaching on their territory, including Jim Book and Skinner Sweet, the Apaches awaken a legendary monster, the Mimteh. Greaser vampire hunter Travis Kidd is on the trail of a vampire that killed his family. Agent Poole is in the south and encounters both racism and another breed of vampire. All this and more in American Vampire Volume 4!

Here we are again, another entry in Scott Snyder's chronicles of vampires in America. At this point in the series, it's getting repetitive to say but Scott Snyder is my favorite active comic writer.

The three stories within this volume take place in different time periods but all serve the same purpose: to showcase the different species of vampires in America and expand the backstory of Skinner Sweet and the rest of the supporting cast.

I liked the pre-vampiric history of Skinner Sweet and Jim Book, and the Mimteh. She reminded me of the character Julie Newmar played in the Gregory Peck western, Mackenna's Gold, only with fangs. I'm hoping she makes further appearances in the series.

Travis Kidd, greaser vampire hunter, was another interesting addition to Snyder's vampire mythos. I love the idea of a kid being busted out of a nuthouse to be a vampire hunter, and he's one of the best. The wooden fangs he uses to bite vampires back was a nice touch, and he made a good point about Skinner Sweet near the end of his tale. I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of him.

Agent Poole's sojourn into the south met with expected results. The timeline sure jumped ahead quite a bit in this volume, all the way until the 1960's. How far is Snyder planning on taking us in the life of Skinner Sweet?

While Pearl and Henry made the tiniest of appearances, it was the most powerful scene in the book and planted even more seeds for the next volume.

If I had to complain about something in this volume, it would be that we didn't get all that much Skinner Sweet as a vampire. Still, Snyder continues to keep me entertained with one of the most overused monsters, the vampire. Now I have to wait a few months until the next volume comes out.

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Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams

Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas AdamsDoctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams by Gareth Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Doctor and Romana receive a mysterious distress signal, leading them to Cambridge University, home of The Doctor's old friend and fellow Time Lord, Professor Chronotis. Chronotis inadvertantly lets a Time Lord artifact, a book entitled The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey, pass into the hands of a clueless young student. Unfortunately, an egomanic called Skagra also has designs on the book and will do anything to get it. Can The Doctor find the book, stop Skagra's nefarious scheme, and unearth the secrets of Shada?

I have a confession to make. Before getting hooked on the adventures of the eleventh Doctor and began backtracking, my only exposure to Doctor Who was on Sunday nights, waiting through Pertwee and Baker episodes for Red Dwarf to come on. I've since mended my ways.

I recently read Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles and was disappointed with it despite it having been written by Michael Moorcock. I'm happy to say that this one was loads better.

Crafted from mostly unfilmed Douglas Adams's scripts, Shada is the tale of three Time Lords against a man with a sphere capable of absorbing people's minds. Skagra, the villain, manages to be simultaneously menacing and somewhat ridiculous. From his first appearance at the Think Tank, Skagra presents a capable threat to the Doctor. The subplots involing the unspoken feeling between the grad students, Clare and Chris, as well as Professor Chronotis and his place in the secret history of the Time Lords, kept things from being The Doctor running from enemies on every other page.

The meaning of the title, Shada, is only revealed about 75% of the way through. I don't want to spoil anything but I would love to see Shada depicted in a future Doctor Who episode. I guess I'll have to settle for watching Tom Baker's run as the fourth Doctor.

The writing was very engaging. There were tastes of Adams' style throughout but without as much absurdity as the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The Guide was even mentioned once in the text. References to past and future Doctor Who episodes were littered throughout, even mentioning edible ballbearings. I loved when Roberts had the Doctor poke fun at his supposed reliance on the Sonic Screwdriver. "I'm about to not rely on it for everything again in a moment" or something to that effect.

In conclusion, Shada is everything Coming of the Terraphiles wasn't. There's plenty of the Doctor and the Sonic Screwdriver gets a fair amount of use. While there is a lot of the Doctor and companions running from enemies, there's a good amount of humor and dramatic tension as well. I wouldn't say it's a must read for Doctor Who fans but it's a lot of fun.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012


RedshirtsRedshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The starship Intrepid seeks out new worlds and boldly goes where no man has gone before. However, as Ensign Andrew Dahl soon discovers, low-ranked crew members die more often aboard the Intrepid than brain cells at a Spring Break weekend while the senior officers, besides Lt. Kerensky, always survive without a scratch. As they dig deeper, what will Andy and his friends uncover?

Anyone who's watched more than two or three episodes of Star Trek knows that it's always the extra, or redshirt, that dies when the crew beams down to a planet or any other location that's not on the bridge of the ship. Why is that? That's the question Redshirts poses to the reader.

This is not my favorite book by John Scalzi. It's not even in the top three. I love the Scalz and his brand of wit. Too bad this one was all wit and very little shi... substance. Andy and his friends were an interesting bunch. I liked how they gradually pieced things together. Wait... no they didn't. It was pretty much all handed to them.

The writing actually seemed a little on the lazy side. It was mostly dialogue and very little description. I had no idea how any of the characters looked or even what the interior of the Intrepid was supposed to look like.

The story is meant to be a takeoff of Star Trek but it felt more like several episodes of Red Dwarf, most recently the Back to Earth movie where the crew arrived on earth and encountered the actors that played them. I wasn't a tremendous fan of that one either.

Still, Redshirts had its humorous moments and the absurd logic was consistent. It just wasn't very substantial and I thought it wore a little thin toward the end. I actually enjoyed Fuzzy Nation. It's a low three and I could have safely missed it. If you're wanting to read John Scalzi, skip this one and pick up Old Man's War.

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Judge Sn Goes Golfing

Judge Sn Goes GolfingJudge Sn Goes Golfing by John Scalzi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Judge Sn, alien jurist posted on Earth, is banned from every golf course around Washington DC except the worst one ever constructed, Dulles Woods. He's having a life-changing golf game when the shooting starts...

I received this novella I've never heard of as part of the 2012 Subterranean Press grab bag. It was good for a chuckle.

With art by Gahan Wilson, Judge Sn Goes Golfing is an odd little book. The judge recounts his life, mostly of how he's been banned from most golf courses east of the Mississippi, while playing a round of golf. That's pretty much it until the assassins show up. I can't really say more without transcribing the entire book since it's only 32 pages.

Scalzi's trademark humor is present and Gahan Wilson's art is as bizarre as always. It's my third favorite book about golf, the other two being P.G. Wodehouse's The Clicking of Cuthbert and The Heart of a Goof.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In Waders From Mars

In Waders From MarsIn Waders From Mars by Keith Lansdale
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What's better than a picture book about an invasion from Mars by ducks wearing silly silver suits and hip waders? A picture book about an invasion from Mars by ducks wearing silly silver suits and hip waders written by champion mojo storyteller Joe Lansdale, that's what!

Apparently Lansdale's son Keith has quite an imagination himself. When he was five, Keith told Joe about invading Martian Ducks in his room. Joe was impressed by the kid's tale and wrote it down with wife Karen providing the finishing touches.

It's a cute story involving Martian ducks coming out of the ground and attempting to use a box of powdered ducks to conquer the Earth. I won't blow the ending but it's pretty good.

It's a cute story for what it is. If you're wondering about the next generation of Lansdales, I'd say they're a chip off the old block.

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Seven Wonders

Seven WondersSeven Wonders by Adam Christopher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

San Ventura is helpless against super villain The Cowl's reign of terror and even its resident superheroes, the Seven Wonders, are powerless to stop him. However, the Cowl's powers begin to wane as a retail wage slave named Tony Prosdocimi finds himself gaining more powers by the day. Will Tony take down the Cowl and join the Seven Wonders?

For months now, I've been looking for a good superhero novel. Now I've found it!

Seven Wonders is a lot deeper than my quick summary indicates. Nothing is black and white. The familiar Spider-Man quote "With great power comes great responsibility" would have made a great title for it.

The characters are an interesting bunch. Tony Prosdocmi is a slacker that sells electronics at a chain store and wakes up with super powers one day. The Cowl is an analogue of both Batman and Superman and is the villain of the piece but is much more than that. He's by far the most interesting character in the first half of the book. The Cowl's sidekick, The Blackbird, is also his lover and tech expert. The members of The Seven Wonders, Aurora's Light, Sand Cat, the Dragon Star, Linnear, Hephasteus, SMART, and Bluebell, are meant to be analogues of the Justice League or The Avengers. I would have liked to see them more developed. Aurora's Light and Linnear are clearly meant to be Superman and The Flash. The others are a little harder to identify. The linchpin characters, however, are Sam Millar and Joe Milano, members of San Ventura's SuperCrime unit.

The story covers a lot of comic book ground in it's 400-something pages. Tony's story initially reminds me of Spider-Man as he learns to use his powers. The Cowl's is the story of decline and redemption. Millar and Milano's story is a lot like Gotham Central at the beginning. As for the Seven Wonders, I can't help but think of works like Watchmen and Garth Ennis's The Boys. Somewhere around the halfway mark, the stakes raise dramatically and it becomes one of those huge mega-crossovers where the world is at stake.

The writing is as you would expect for fiction of this type but Adam Christopher delivers the goods with the tools he has. He has a lot of balls in the air and boggles them a couple times toward the end but all in all does a spectacular job. My favorite parts of the book are Tony's rise and fall and the Cowl's fall and redemption. Great stuff. I like this a lot more than his previous book, Empire State.

Seven Wonders should be a pleasing read for all super hero fans. Four easy stars. I'd like to see what Adam Christopher could do writing the Justice League or the Avengers.

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