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PostPosted: Fri Mar 09, 2018 9:52 pm 
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Mice Templar
By Bryan JL Glass and Michael Avon Oeming
Art by Michael Avon Oeming

Byran Glass was raised with two siblings in a Philadelphia neighborhood known as Fishtown. Originally he wanted to pursue a career in filmmaking but was pulled into the world of comics instead; first by providing photo covers for various comics and becoming a writer in the early 90s. While he did work for the big two (Marvel and DC) he kept returning to independent comics. His most famous work is likely the comic series Powers, on which he worked alongside Michael Avon Oeming. This wasn't the first time they worked together but it was the most famous one. Powers would win several awards and become a television series. Today he lives with his wife Judy in Pennsylvania. He first started work on Mice Templar in 2003 when Michael Avon Oeming brought him on board to help flesh out the story and concepts. Michael Oeming got started in comics when he was 14, starting as an inker and it was as an inker on Daredevil that he got his big break. Afterwards he would work on a number of titles both for DC and Marvel as well as Indie comics but his work on Powers that gave him the influence to try out an idea. Inspired by the secret of N.I.M.H and Watership down (although ironically he never read a single Redwall book) he wanted to try telling a mythic fantasy story using mice. The first volume of Mice Templar was published in 2009 by Image comics after years of toil. It would go on to win a Harvey award, named after Harvey Kurtzman and founded in 1988 to take over the Kirby awards which were discontinued in 1987. So let's take a look at volume I.

Once upon a time, in the Dark Lands, the night time dwelling of mice, a warrior priest named Kulh-en rose up to unite the mouse tribes and founded a warrior order to protect mice and other creatures from the many, many predators that hunted them (Editor who studies predation: rodents, the potato chips of terrestrial ecosystems like ducklings are marsh pringles). They were called the Mice Templar. Like all mortal creatures Kulh-en died, but the order he created endured. It was tested and triumphed but triumph brings its own tests. The doom of the Mice Templar came not from it's many external enemies but from within. Greed, disunity and the politics those things bred led to a civil war within the order, where Templar fought Templar and the order was shattered. With the fall of the order, came the fall of Mouse Society, now each city and village turns away from each other and the ties that held mousekind together fray in the face of corruption and cruelty. Faith in their god Wotan is falling and in its place rises a new religion worshiping the very creatures that devour them, led by an order of rat Druids who have allied themselves with the last Mouse King. A king whose lust for power has driven him mad. It's in this world that our main character Karic was born and raised. Now a young mouse on the verge of adulthood, he is pushed into the center of events that he doesn't really understand when an army of Rats attack and destroys his village and takes his family into slavery. Karic is driven by visions granted to him by Wotan and other ancient gods and the belief that he is being called to carry out a purpose. A purpose that no one else understands and that most of them don't believe in. Whether it be the mouse who trains him Pilot the tall, the very priesthood of Wotan or the ragged remains of the Templar order, still lingering over their self inflicted wounds.

Nor is Karic the only figure in this story. His family has been dragged away to slavery or even worst fates in the one-time capital of the Mouse Nation, among them his best friend Leito. Like Karic, Leito is carried forward by his fate in Wotan, but unlike Karic Leito doesn't have mystic visions to sustain that faith. In a lot of ways, I'm finding Leito to be the braver character, and one I can understand better. That said Karic isn't hard to grasp. He, like a number of characters I could point to in the Bible or other stories, is filled with self doubt over his suitability to serve as vessel for his god's will. Meanwhile is pulled in different directions by competing factions who either see his faith as something to use for their own profit or a symbol to rally people to their own ends. Karic has to struggle to become a Templar in order to achieve the purpose laid upon him and free his people. While Leito has to struggle to maintain his faith and the faith of those around them, to keep them from turning on each other if nothing else. Both these struggles are small pieces of larger battles around them, many of which were started before either of these mice were even born and are propelled by forces that will be present when both of them are laid down to rest. This really helps make the whole thing seem more real. While Karic and Leito both provide a face to what is happening to their society as a whole, it remains clear that their own struggles are symptoms of greater problems and overcoming those personal issues is really just the beginning for both of them. While this is their story so far, there are a large number of other characters, such as the Rat Captain Tosk, the Templar Cassius and others. While well done, these characters are clearly players in Karic and Leito's story.

The world of Mice Templar is drenched in deep myth, like Black Anais the witch, to the tales of the wars between bats and owls, even the existence of night and day take on mystic significance. The world and the story blend together elements from Arthurian myth, the Old Testament, and Norse myths to create something new but solid feeling. So I have to state that I think Mr. Glass and Mr. Oeming have done a fine job of world building and making characters to inhabit the world they made and to tell a story of faith and struggle. There were parts I found somewhat questionable, for example I'm not entirely sure what Pilot the Tall thought he was going to accomplish and Cassius doesn't seem to have a lot of self control. Additionally the book ends just short of what I could call a complete story, which knocks it down a notch in my view. That said, I'm interested and hoping to get to Volume II soon. I have to admit that when I picked up the book, I thought I would be looking at a copycat of the comic Mouse Guard but this book is a completely different story on many levels. It's more mythic and tied up in themes of faith and belief. The core of this story is the struggle of faith in trying time. I give Mice Templar by Bryan Glass and Michael Oeming a B+. Give it a try.

Next week, we return to Cyberpunk with Snowcrash and then I venture forth to Ready Player One. Keep reading!

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 16, 2018 11:42 pm 
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Snow Crash
By Neal Stephenson

"Wait a minute, Juanita. Make up your mind. This Snow Crash thing—is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?"
Juanita shrugs. "What's the difference?"
Hiro and Juanita, Chapter 26



A meme is a behavior, idea or style that spreads from person to person, it is the unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices. They can be transmitted through any means of communication: speech, writing, music, images, even gestures can be used to transmit a meme or become a meme. Some supporters of the idea often compare memes to genes, in that they replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. That's not the book we're reviewing today, instead we're reviewing another book that tackles memes and did so before the phrase Dank Meme broached from the dark depths of the internet. Snow Crash, approaches the idea of memes in a very related but very different way, instead of comparing memes to genes. Mr. Stephenson in Snow Crash instead compares memes to viruses.

Neal Stephenson was born October 31, 1959 in Fort Meade Maryland to a family of engineers and scientists. His family would move to Iowa afterwards where he graduated high school. He then returned to the east coast to study at Boston University. He started out as a physics student but switched to geography upon realizing that would give him more time on the university mainframe. In his first couple of books, he sharpened his skills for satire, parody, and tense action. Snow Crash, which was released in 1992, was his big break grabbing him a lot of attention, and was nominated for the British Scenic Fiction Award and the Arthur C Clarke award, Time magazine would place it on the 100 best English Language Novels.

Snow Crash takes place in an early 21st century LA where economic collapse has all but killed the United States. The land of the nation has been divided into patches of privately owned gated communities, such as New South Africa, Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong and more. Each of these enclaves have their own legal codes, enforced by hired mercenary security forces and are linked by privately owned highways that compete for traffic (Editor: So… Ancap heaven? Hell for me I suppose, but at least all the ancaps agree that child sex-slaves are bad…That is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.). Even the mail is privatized. Everything is delivered by hired couriers. Even national defense and intelligence services are done by private corporations with the federal government broken into a few struggling enclaves that are increasingly irrelevant to the society around them. Even organizations like the Mafia and the South American Cartels have become corporations that operate in broad daylight, with the Mob and the Cartels often taking their competition to the level of open urban warfare. We also learn that while North America has degraded into anarcho-capitalist chaos a lot of the world is even worse because refugees from Asia come across the Pacific in their hundreds of thousands by the Raft. The Raft is a massive conglomeration of ships tied together propelled by the tide and wind of the ocean with the aircraft carrier Enterprise at the center (What. The. Fuck?). Every couple of years in a cycle the Raft unleashes a tide of refugees who survived the violent lawlessness of the Raft by being the fastest, strongest and most ruthless of the people trapped on the Raft (Cannibalism! Fun for the whole family!) onto the beaches of the west coast. The good people of the west coast react in a number of way and surprisingly only some of them involve machine guns!

Within this manic chaos live and work our characters: the freelance hacker and master sword fighter Hiro Protagonist and the 15 year old skateboarding radical courier, Y.T (standing for Yours Truly). Neither of these two were born with those names. Hiro, the half black, half Korean son of a WWII vet, adopted the name because, let's be honest, you're never forgetting that name are you? Not being forgettable is rather important when you're a freelancer. Hiro does most of his work in the Metaverse, a Virtual Reality style internet that people interact with through the creation of avatars. Hiro was one of the early coders of the Metaverse, he helped write the software that keeps it running and as such he knows a number of little exploits that allow him certain advantages. In real life Hiro isn’t bad with the matched pair of Japanese swords he wears, a traditional daisho of katana and wakizashi. But in the Metaverse? He's the best damn sword fighter in the world, because he wrote the code that allows for sword fighting in the first place (Dev Hax!). Y.T changed her name to keep her mother, a federal worker, from figuring out that she skateboards on freeways using a magnetic harpoon to latch onto cars to go faster as she delivers packages for a living, and because she thought it was cool. That second part is as anyone with experience with teenagers will tell you is the main reason. Despite her age, she is one of the best couriers in LA and incredibly skilled at taking care of herself and others. When she feels like it. Hiro and Y.T are partners in intelligence gathering and they are both separately and together pulled into a massive plot to destroy the world and rebuild it in someone else's image. This is where the meme's come into play you see.

There's a new drug on the street that shares a name with a virus appearing in the metaverse. Snow Crash, when used in the metaverse it disconnects the target from not just his computer but attacks him through his mind. It only affects programmers, attacking them through their understanding of binary. In the real world, the drug snow crash causes people to increasingly disconnect from reality, behave irrationally and increasingly experience bouts of glossolalia, or as most of us likely know it as speaking in tongues (Dang it! It’s a virus and not lovecraftian? Someone call Charles Stross.). The two are clearly related but how? Additionally how does this tie in to the reappearance of Hiro's ex-girlfriend and love of his life Juanita and her obsession with the language and religion of ancient Sumeria? (That’s more like it! Bring on the lovecraftian nightmares!) Hiro finds himself digging through the collected research of a professor who had been working on a theory about how Sumeria; the fact the humans speak many different languages; and religious expression throughout history, are all connected and can be used as an instrument of control. Mr. Stephanson also leaps into languages, in specific the discussion of not just why do we have a bunch of different languages but why do languages tend to diverge over time instead of converge? (Because language evolves by a process very similar to natural selection and isolation creates change?) Now this may seem strange because these days we live in a period of massive language convergence, which is due to the ease of global travel and communication. Not only are many languages disappearing under the onslaught of mass media, global trade and cultural assimilation but the languages that remain strong tend to pick up words from each other. You can see this by the appearance of English words in Japanese for example. The existence of English itself is a massive example of this, as it started as the unwieldy fusion of the French Normans and the Germanic language of the Anglo Saxons. Mr. Stephenson uses the idea of the Tower of Babel and in doing so also creates a bit of alternative history to go along with his Cyberpunk, which is a pretty good mix overall.

Meanwhile Y.T finds herself increasingly connected with the Mafia and the plans of Uncle Enzo the leader of the Mob in America to find the source of the Snow Crash drug in the real world and end it before it becomes a danger to the Mob's business plan (yes, this is a story where the mob saves the world, because it's good for business). It's through this that we see the Mob's own understanding of meme's which is rather rough and ready and how they see them as something to resist. Their belief is that they can resist ideology and through it the transmission of harmful memes by eschewing ideology all together and instead instituting a system of personal relationships and promises to substitute for policies and belief systems (So… neo-feudalism?). This is however subtly shown as failing because that idea itself is an ideology and therefore a meme. This is shown by the dissatisfaction of the elders of the Mob with the middle management that is coming up the ladder behind them. Often complaining that the youths and managers they've trained to look over the vast corporate empire that the Mob has built lack flexibility and a certain hungry desire. Instead they stick to the traditions laid down for them and operate by the procedures outlined for them. As always I find these complaints by elders very ironic since my reply to elders complaining about the youth is pretty much always the same. They are what you made them to be. If they have been made into something you didn't want, maybe you should start asking yourself just what you've been doing this whole time. Y.T on the other hand gains the approval of the Mob by rejecting the structures of it and the ideas underlying their organization. She's a very self sufficient young woman, who refuses to be to closely identified with a group, even her own couriers group. This is displayed by her relationship with Hiro, where she works outside the normal role of a courier by also dabbling in information gathering, and her willingness to ignore basically any rule she doesn't care for. Granted in this version of the future there aren't too many rules left to ignore.

The book shines mostly in its character work, the characters are well defined and in many cases larger than life. Hiro is an incredibly American character, being a half Black, half Korean man who is utterly obsessed with Japanese ideas and cultures but doesn't have the firmest grasp of what they actually mean. Meanwhile Y.T herself displays a cocky self-assurance through most of the book that masks the fact that she's not even old enough to drive and isn't really thinking everything through. Which I think most people would also consider rather American. They're supported by characters that don't take the center stage but are still powerful characters in their own right. Uncle Enzo would easily be an interesting protagonist for example, as would Juanita. The antagonist are suitably terrifying, especially the Aleut Raven, who would also be very able to serve as a centerpiece for a story all on his own. Mr. Stephenson also shows a great talent for humor and dancing between the line of parody and seriousness. Snow Crash parodies a great number of the ideas of cyberpunk and the common elements that appear in those stories by taking them to their ridiculous end point. At the same time there's enough realism mixed in and enough seriousness that you don't feel that Mr. Stephenson is trying to be hateful towards the genre but instead inviting everyone to take a step back and have a chuckle at just how silly some of this stuff can be when you look at it in the right way. The book itself takes a good hard look at memes especially those communicated through religion, which even today is one of the most effective memes and vector for their transmission, and how that can be a tool for good or evil. Meme's can promote independence, rational thought, and freedom of expression... Or they can promote mindless obedience, self destructive behavior, and willing enslavement of yourself to people who view you as a resource to be expended. That is always something you need to keep in mind. In the end, even the dankest of memes is nothing more than a tool.

The book's not perfect, Mr. Stephenson does get some historical facts wrong and also makes a big deal about the disappearance of the Sumerian language. While there's still some debate about it, most folks think it might have had something to do with the conquest of Sumner by the Akkadians, who were the first guys in human history to build an out and out empire. With that conquest Akkadian gradually replaced Sumerian and while it lingered much the same way Latin does today, eventually it was replaced by other languages. Another note is the fact that Pentecostal Christianity didn't start in Kansas, the idea of speaking in tongues did but it wasn't codified as a part of worship until the Pentecostal churches got started... In L.A. I don't think this detracts from the book that much although I am enough of picky nerd to point it out in the review. Still I can forgive a science fiction writer for playing a little fast and loose with history in order to tell one hell of an inventive story that encourages you think a bit on things. That said, I love this book. It shows just what you can accomplish with science fiction and Cyberpunk in general and the fact that you can look at these serious and heavy themes but still have the space and time to have a good laugh. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson gets an A from me.

Next week, we get a little more modern with Ready Player One. Keep reading.

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 23, 2018 10:25 pm 
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Ready Player One
by Ernest Cline


Ernest Cline was born in March of 1972, in Ashland Ohio. Before becoming a novelist Mr. Cline performed at Austin Poetry Slam venues with some success, becoming a national champion in 1998 and 2001. In 2005 he sold a screenplay for a movie called Fanboys, was released in 2007. It didn't do well. Part of that was the great deal of drama around the movie where massive changes were made to the story-line and then frantic attempts were made to repair those changes. Another part is likely the limited release; it simply didn't play in very many theaters. The last part would be that according to most who saw the film, it just wasn't very good. Still to Mr. Cline's credit he picked himself up, dusted himself off and jumped right back in. Today he's lives in Austin Texas with his wife Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, a nonfiction writer and poet, and their children. Let's take a look at Ready Player One.

Ready Player One was a New York Times bestseller and was praised by NPR, CNN, io9 and more. Described as everything from large hearted to a page turner. Warner Brothers bought the screen rights to the book before it even hit bookstore shelves. While it was widely celebrated at the time, I didn't read it. I saw it at the bookstore, read the back of it, and decided to buy another book. It wasn't until last year when I heard a movie was being made and one of my best friends mentioned he loved the book and read it every year that I decided I should give it a shot. Let's discuss shall we.

Ready Player One takes place in the increasingly not so distant year of 2045 where humanity is something of an energy shortage but still has plenty of electricity to power a virtual reality internet (World of Warcraft according to the best information I could find uses 75,000 CPUs across 10 data centers to provide 24/7 access to a player base in the mere millions) that everyone is using. Our Hero is Wade Watts, a young man who’s rather grim life. Both his parents are dead, his father dying when he was very young and his mother overdosing on drugs when he was eleven. His aunt would tell you that she took him in, but considering she doesn't let him sleep in her part of the trailer and only uses him to commit food voucher and welfare fraud, I wouldn't believe her on a bet. Wade was basically raised by the public school system and OASIS, the virtual reality internet system created mostly on the efforts of one insane genius James Halliday. As a result despite being somewhat socially awkward, he is really good at games and computers in general. In the real world Wade lives in a haphazardly welded together tower of trailers (Editor: FOR THE LOVE OF MARX! WHERE ARE THE BUILDING CODES!?{Have I mentioned I'm not responsible for my editor?}) north of Oklahoma City (I'll come back to this [editor:screams in terror]) and has to ride a bike to generate enough electricity to access the OASIS . What's interesting about the OASIS is that you can access it for the one time cost of $0.25 for a lifetime account with a single avatar. With that avatar you literally gain access to an entire galaxy, whole planets of games, information and services. Wade even goes to school within the OASIS, a program started by the government to cut down on fuel consumption (and honestly not a terrible idea) What gives him hope and keeps him going is the idea of finding the Easter Egg.

When James Halliday died, a video was released, promising that anyone who could find the hidden Easter egg would inherent Halliday's billions (How did he make billions off a service that’s a $0.25 lifetime subscription? Advertisement? Licensing for developers? Do the Users have to pay for premium content or something?{A combination of selling virtual goods and selling virtual real estate, to move from one world to another you pay a fee to the OASIS owner, to own “land” you pay the OASIS owner, etc} ) and ownership of the OASIS. This was protected by a iron clad will and a standing army of lawyers that would terrify national governments into submission. Large groups of men and women have devoted themselves to this task calling themselves gunters. Many of them are organized into clans, cooperative efforts to find the egg and share the prize, while others hunt alone, refusing aide. Given Halliday's obsession with 1980s era entertainment and trivia, they pore over the video games, movies and music of the time hoping to find a clue to the riddle that will let them even begin the search. This has led to the 1980s becoming a major fad among teenagers and the younger adults. However they're not the only ones looking for the egg, the corporation of IOI is also looking, with a paid army of hunters, called sixers. Sixers give up all rights to the prize in exchange for a wage, steady work, health care and dental (Behold the way capital exploits the working class and alienates them from the value of their labor. Look, communism doesn’t work, but I’ll be damned if good old Karl wasn’t a fantastic diagnostician). IOI is widely despised for their plans to turn the OASIS into place you can only access for paying a monthly subscription fee and to unleash advertisers all over the OASIS. Wade is a gunter but honestly doesn't expect to find the egg, it's just something to give him hope... Until he solves the first riddle...

The world building is honestly kind of uneven. The OASIS is very well done with attention given to detail building off of current internet standards and expanding them and moving them forward. As such I can fully believe that the OASIS works more or less the way Mr. Cline says it does. It's an amazing world to write and play in and you could honestly set entire stories within the OASIS and not ever touch the real world; which might be a good thing, because the “real world” of Ready Player One isn't one I can buy at all. For one thing I was brought up from childhood in and around Oklahoma City, you are not going to have rickety welded together skyscrapers of trailers there (That might happen in Texas though, where the state doesn’t even have a fire code, leaving those to county and municipal governments. Honestly, any society that gives as few shits about the poor as this one seemingly does, is gonna have some pretty ramshackle slums.). Oklahoma gets on average 52 tornadoes a year. Oklahoma county, the county containing the Oklahoma City metro area holds the distinction of having the 2nd most tornadoes hitting in that state! Moore Oklahoma, (which is right bloody next to Oklahoma City) was hit by 4 high powered tornadoes in a sixteen year period. You can verify this with a five minute web search. If I wanted to be nasty I could make the comment that this novel is really just Wade's last dream as he lies under the shattered remains of his home dying from blood loss after it was leveled by an F5. For that matter I found the villains entirely too black and white to be believable. IOI's plan is to make the OASIS accessible only to people who pay a monthly fee is an act of a profit hating lunatic. A modern corporation wouldn't endanger it's monopoly like that, not out of any morality or goodness mind you but because it's way more profitable to allow people to continue to access the OASIS but add a bunch of pay to win features. You want to level up your avatar? Sure you could grind newbie quests and hunt rats... Or you could buy XP, $16.99 gets you 10,000 XP! Ultra rare artifacts in our loot crates, only $35 a crate! For that matter the vast mass of people on the OASIS is itself a commodity, simply change the user agreement giving IOI the rights to sell your data for targeted advertisements that only you will see tailored to your tastes and experiences! These are business models that not only exists but have often brought in way more profit then the pay to play model. There's a reason so many tablet and phone games are free to play but littered with micro-transactions, and Facebook has proven that you can build a wildly successful company using your consumers as your product. That's not the only issue, frankly there isn't a lot of thought given to the real world set up beyond a vague hand wave and a firm declaration that everything sucks so people lose themselves in the OASIS. We're not shown this bluntly, we're told this by Wade. I found myself constantly trying to hold myself back from trying to outsmart the world. Wade mentions that the oil ran out (I'm sure this is a simplification by a 18 year old boy who really isn't paying attention due to his addiction to Virtual Realty) and thus cars are barely used etc. I find myself asking what about biodiesel? Liquid Coal? Did you know you could make a car run on natural gas? Hell, Electric cars? We're already building the infrastructure for them (Did this society completely reject the splitting of the atom? I mean, with sufficient Glorious Nuclear Power Plants, we could use hydrogen fuel cells for transport pretty easily, or pull the CO2 from the atmosphere and make our own hydrocarbons for liquid fuel if we had to.). I'm honestly being picky but it just kinda shows how little world building went into the real world side of the setting where I'm questioning the central premise in under 10 pages. For many readers this isn't gonna matter, for me, it gets in my teeth.

Which brings me to the biggest problem in the novel, we're told a lot of things but not shown them. The entire novel is written from Wade's point of view as a memoir of sorts. Which is a good and interesting narrative framing device but does slap some hard limits on your story. Since we can only be aware of things Wade is aware of and the our knowledge of the world is only as good as Wade's. We're told that VR classrooms are amazing but we don't get to see them. We're told that Art3mis and Wade had built a relationship through spending a lot of time together but we don't see it. So I find myself not very invested in it and just kind of shrugging when that relationship runs into bumps and rocky points. We do get shown enough of Aech and Wade together (barely) that their relationship feels like a real one but not as close as Wade would claim it is. Now I did like the inclusion of non-western characters in the form of Shoto and Daito, a pair of Japanese gunters that Wade would claim as friends as well and the interactions we see were really well done. The brief parts of the books that were devoted to it really captured the wariness and problems of forming a relationship with someone you're competing with to win enough money to make Tony Stark look twice but we're told about the major episodes in this relationship instead of shown them! As a result the relationships don't feel... Real. I reject the idea that this is a result of those relationships being formed on the internet. Some of my closest friends are people I met on the internet and have only seen in person a handful of times. Don't get me wrong, you need friends in your local area but that doesn't mean your net buddies aren't real friends either. That said if you're going to write a book where your main characters creating relationships with other people is important to the plot... Then show me the character doing it. Don't say “Oh and I hung out with protagonist C every other Saturday, we became good friends by raiding dungeons!” Show me protagonist C and you raiding a bloody dungeon! Make it a chapter in the book! Because otherwise the relationship doesn't feel real or organic, it feels like PLOT. It's not that you and protagonist C are buddies because you've raided the dungeons of the Mad Liche Bard of Byzas together. You're buddies because the PLOT says you are.

Since this book is told uncompromisingly from Wade's point of view, I'm going to tell you up front if you end up hating him, you'll hate the book. Personally I'm okay with Wade. He's a good kid, has a lot of growing to do but in your late teens who doesn't? Wade is also a fairly believable character. He's a young man who, because of a lack of practice and role models to learn from, has a lot of trouble interacting with people outside of narrow fields of interest. Wade would likely struggle very hard to keep up a conservation with a stranger in a bar unless that stranger brought up something he loved. I can sympathize with that and that's a fairly realistic weakness to have in my view. Because of this Wade loses himself in a subculture that places a low requirement on social skills and will accept him as long as he learns about the same trivia and appreciates the same cultural artifacts that they do. There are millions of people who do that. The whole idea of fandom is kinda based off being accepted as long as you like the same thing everyone else in the group does and gunters in the end are kind of a short hand for fandoms across the internet. Wade is a fairly well done character, he manages to be clever but believably so. He's also rather flawed in his obsession with Art3mis and in being a bit of hypocrite. He's very disdainful of the men and women who signed up to be sixers as sellouts (he demonizes the competition, it’s normal) but once Wade makes it big? He signs every endorsement deal he's offered without a thought, for the money. Which is... Well.. Selling out. Given his abject poverty, it's perfectly understandable that he leap at a chance to have money but... You get what I mean.

The beginning of this book is also very rough (based on the first 20 pages alone the grade would have been lower.) and there are pacing issues as well. That said the plot is fairly well done, I thought the riddles were interesting and Wade's various plans and schemes were usually in my opinion passingly clever. That said other characters are allowed to solve problems or come up with ideas that work. So I wasn't left feeling that Wade was the only smart character in a world full of idiots. Sometimes he just comes off as lucky, or has to play catch up to other characters which helps reinforce the idea that Wade isn't the only person here with a working brain and motivation. There's a good story here and there are good characters buried in here. Unfortunately we're only really told about most of these characters as opposed to actually spending a lot of time with those characters. We're told more then we're shown, which in my opinion doesn't make for a good book. I honestly think Ready Player One could have used another draft or two to cut down on the amount of telling and devote more space to showing the relationships between Wade and the other players. For that matter we could have done with fewer references for the point of having references. All in all this honestly does feel like Mr. Cline's first novel and one that wasn't polished enough before release. I'm not without hope for improvement in the future and I can understand why some people would enjoy the novel. However, that doesn't counter the book’s many problems for me and I'm giving Ready Player One by Mr. Ernest Cline a C-. The book isn't the worst thing ever but that doesn't make it good.

Next week, I tackle the movie. This Sunday we look at RP1 vs Snow Crash. Keep Reading!

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 26, 2018 3:46 am 
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Sidebar III: Snow Crash vs Ready Player One


I find it interesting that the two books are even compared at all really. Usually comparison arises when books are published fairly closely together, have similar characters or subject matter. Instead Hiro and Y.T are very different from Wade and the worlds they inhabit are fairly different as well. The stories themselves are different in a lot of ways a well. Still let's take a look at the two shall we?

First let me map what I found the books shared. Both books have a semi-humorous tone to them, Snow Crash's humor comes from the near parody like nature of it's world. Where it rides that fine line between absolute parody of cyberpunk and maintaining a fairly serious world. Ready Player One's humor comes more from the situation of imaging a teenager in 2045 being obsessed with Atari games and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The humor is fairly different though, Snow Crash invites us to share a chuckle while Ready Player One works really hard to make that outlandish behavior make sense and feel serious. I'm going to be honest and Ready Player One is actually fairly successful in that by tying that ridiculous behavior into a high reward in the story (If you can remember the lines to War Games, you might have a shot at winning enough money to match the GDP of a medium sized country after all). Both Hiro and Wade are fairly skilled with computers and like Y.T, Wade is growing up in a world that is flying to pieces. The biggest common ground however is the existence of a virtual reality internet in both stories. The Metaverse in Snow Crash and the OASIS in Ready Player One. Let me take a look at them.

The Metaverse is fairly constrained and honestly somewhat pedestrian compared to the OASIS. It presents itself as a single vast globe that can be traveled by train or programmed vehicles. People buy virtual estate in the Metaverse and build offices, homes and headquarters for their internet needs. People move about in avatar with most people using black and white flat avatars with computer experts using more realized avatars and the wealthy buying off the shelf colored avatars for their convenience. All in all it's not a terrible view of the internet but it is constrained by the fact it was written in 1992 when the web was in it's infancy at best and no one really quiet knew it's full potential. Additionally the Metaverse does not get the same amount of attention lavished on it as OASIS does as most of Snow Crash takes place in the real world.

Meanwhile in Ready Player One, the OASIS is where the action is. The OASIS is bigger, more realized and immersive then the Metaverse. It's not a single globe, it's a galaxy of planets you can teleport around in if you have the money or fly using spells, spaceships or anything a programmer can dream of. People conduct business, play games, go to school, work, hang out, fight and love in this place. The OASIS feels like the internet turned into a truly amazing Massive Multi-Player Online Game. Everyone starts off with fully rendered and 3d avatars just like most MMOs but through grinding or money you can upgrade pretty quick. Ready Player One details the world of OASIS fairly deeply and devotes a good deal of time to it because the OASIS is most of the story takes place. Given that the book was written in 2008, it's no surprise that a greater understanding of the internet and it's culture is displayed in this book.

Let's take a look at our characters. I'm going to stick to our 3 main characters for brevity sakes. Hiro is a loner who could take a respected position in his society of hackers and programmers but refuses to due to distinct distaste for authority and a fear of being turned into an assembly line worker. Y.T is young woman who has rejected most of her society because it requires her to dumb herself down and pretend to be less capable then she really is. Hiro chooses to do most of his work in the Metaverse but has no problem getting his hands dirty in the real world (or even resorting to reason if necessary) if the stakes become high enough. Y.T is unrelentingly a citizen of the real world and embraces it fully. Both Hiro and Y.T accept their world and don't waste a lot of time thinking about how things were better in the past. That may be because Hiro as African American would look at the past as a time when he would have been locked out of his rightful part of things for something as petty as his skin color and Y.T simply inclined to think that way as she's very much someone who focuses on the present. Wade makes no bones about the fact that he thinks he lives in one of the crappiest times in history (I would say he's wrong but would admit the world he describes can't be called good). He, unlike the two above is very focused on the past and how things were better back then. Wade is also someone who has a community but refuses to take a bigger part in it out of a combination of pride and shame. Shame over his poverty and pride in refusing to ask for help instead clinging to the hope that he can strike it big on his own efforts. While it would look like something he shares in common with Hiro along with a love of computers, there's a difference. Hiro is coder and a programmer, one of the men who actually built the Metaverse, line by line. Wade is a gamer and while not a terrible programmer it's not his main skill set nor did he have anything to do with the creation of the Metaverse, Wade's struggle to take over a fully created world that he had no choice but to be in. Hiro's struggle is to understand the world he's help create, his role in it and to protect it. I suppose Wade might grow up in way to be like Hiro but I find it unlikely. Wade is honestly more set in his ways then Hiro and more committed to a course of action. I would honestly say both men reflect the generations they come from with Hiro being full of Generation X confusion bordering on apathy and Wade showing the self belief and frustrated determination of the Millennials.

This leads me over to the themes of the books in question which are also both very different. Snow Crash is a consideration of what Memes mean and what they do, how they tie into language and the very power of language over how we view the world. After all if you don't have a word for something how can you fully understand it? How can you explain it to others without words to give the concept meaning? What if someone could use a word to take that understanding away from you? What if someone could use a word to take you away from you? Weaving through that is a theme of coming to understand yourself and what it is you want to do in the world. Although I would consider that a lesser theme in Snow Crash. In Ready Player One, what Wade has to learn is that his obsessions are not a replacement for real relationships with real people. That while it's perfectly fine to have interests that you devote time and energy to, you also need to devote time and energy to being a member of society and not shutting yourself away from everyone. Wade's struggle to connect to his fellow human being is part of his coming of age. This is a young man who only had one close friend that he had never met in real life and never been on so much as a date by the start of the story.

Although now that I think about it there are a couple of other things that the books have in common. Wade, Hiro and Y.T are all status quo heroes. Wade wants to protect the current status of OASIS from being changed by the greedy corporation of IOI. Hiro and Y.T want to protect their world from being overwritten by a businessman who thinks he can become a god. Both are trying to maintain the world in it's current state against people would change it, in their opinion at least for the worst. This doesn't mean that they're against change but the changes that Hiro, Y.T and Wade do push forward in their stories are changes on a personal level in how they relate to their world and those around them. They don't seek to make sweeping changes to that world for good or for ill. It also interesting to note that in both books the villains are corporations. IOI is faceless villain for the most part, the sixers all look alike and Nolan Sorrento the leaders of the sixers is only a lackey for faceless powers that be. Meanwhile the corporation in Snow Crash has a face in Bob Rife, who is the owner of the business and the mastermind of the plot that Hiro and Y.T work to foil. The motivations are different however, as IOI seeks to seize the OASIS as a profit engine and possibly gain control over a major engine of the world's economy, while Bob Rife intends to flat out rule the world through being able to control the populace directly.

In the end I don't think Ready Player One stole anything from Snow Crash, the idea of a virtual reality style internet is one that has been around for a long time. If nothing else the existence of stories like Tron and Lawnmower Man would inspire someone towards that end eventually. Also corporations as villains is a staple in dystopias and cyberpunks and the motivations, organization and operations of the two villains in question are so different that I can't see Mr. Cline has taking to much inspiration from Snow Crash. I would argue that these are two very different books and I remain surprised at the threads on reddit and the various articles that insist on comparing them. While there are similarities, they're fairly skin deep ones in alot of ways. I remain steadfast in my belief that Snow Crash is the better book and the better story but I can also see how some people would prefer Ready Player One as the themes of that story and the journey that Wade goes through are very modern ones and might resonate more with certain readers then the themes in Snow Crash.

Next Friday, we take on Ready Player One the movie and after that Platinum Magic. This has been your reviewer reminding you, keep reading!

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 30, 2018 11:17 pm 
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Ready Player One: The Movie
Directed by Steven Spielberg


First, a quick note on how this review will go. Because this is a book review series, the movie will be receiving two scores. The first one will be on how well it holds up on its own as a movie; the second will be judging it on its merits as an adaptation of the novel. Fair warning there may be spoilers. Ready Reader? Let's go!

The movie rights for Ready Player One were bought before the book was even released to the public, what followed were a number of negotiations for rights to various characters that were actually completed fairly quickly all things considered. Now some rights were not able to be obtained, for example the rights for Ultraman, who plays a big part in the plot of the book, are the matter of some dispute at the moment. So the movie creators weren't able to get a hold of them because no one is really sure who to even talk to right now. So instead the Iron Giant was substituted. Most of the Spielberg references were removed on the insistence of Spielberg himself, because he felt it would be vain to pack the movie with references to his own work, even if his list of films is a massive cornerstone of the 80s. Let's take a look at Spielberg for a moment shall we?

Steven Spielberg was born December 18, 1946 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Cincinnati Ohio. Later as a child they moved to Phoenix, Arizona (once again a creative genius spends his childhood in this sun-blasted locale, I begin to wonder if there something in the water? [Editor: What water? Long live the fighters of Mua’Dib! Okay okay, it only has the temperature and dust storm of Arrakis, there are several rivers that have been fully drained by the time they hit Phoenix proper, and several artificial reservoirs. But if the metro area keeps growing the way it is… That’s gonna change.]) where Mr. Spielberg would take the first steps on his path by earning his photography merit badge using his father's movie camera, because the still camera was broken. At age sixteen he wrote and directed his first independent film. His parents would move to California and divorced before he graduated from high school. He moved to LA with his father and was accepted to California State University. While attending college he got a unpaid internship (Spielberg had one before they were cool/completely ubiquitous exploitation of free labor.) with Universal Studios, it was during that internship that he got a chance to make a 26 minute short film called Amblin'. The film won several awards at various film festivals and impressed Sid Sheinberg, a Vice President at Universal, who offered Spielberg a seven year director contract, making Mr. Spielberg the youngest ever signed director in Hollywood history. He would not complete his degree until 2002 (God, can you imagine being his film professor? Talk about imposter syndrome. “Hey Steve, you wanna just teach the class for the week? I’m going through a divorce and just… can’t handle this right now” or “Well Steve, I’d planned on having the class analyze one of your films but that’s right out now. Thanks.”) but considering we got ET, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark... I'm gonna say Mr. Spielberg likely made the right call there. Let's move on the movie itself shall we?

Ready Player One takes place in Columbus Ohio, in the Year of Our Lord 2045 AD. Wade Watts lives with his Aunt Alice and her crappy boyfriend Rick. His only escape is the OASIS, where he competes in the race for the copper key. The OASIS is a virtual reality internet, created by James Halliday. When Halliday died, he announced that whoever could get all three keys (Copper, Jade, and Crystal) by defeating all three of the challenges, accessed by solving riddles which would lead to the challenge locations, would inherent all of his money (half a trillion dollars) and full control of the OASIS. As you can imagine this made some people excited. Someone figured out that the first riddle led to a race, where King Kong jealously guards the finish line. No one has made it past him in five years, until Wade finds a clue that lets him beat the race. This attracts the attention of the one of the more talented egg hunters Art3mis, a young lady that Wade has been a fan of for years and more dangerously attracts the attention of the villains of the piece Nolan Sorrento, leader of the corporation IOI. A corporation that has used predatory loan practices to amass a slave army of workers and Sixxers, young men and women who compete in the challenges using faceless avatars under the agreement that if they win, IOI gets full rights to the OASIS and will remake it in their corporate image. Wade now has to race against time and with the help of his friends defeat the corporation, save the OASIS from ruthless exploitation, and learn something about himself in the meantime (There’s the Spielberg schmaltz we all know and love).

Ready Player One the movie is a fairly standard plot held up by amazing visuals and locations. Like a dance club with zero g dancing or that race track I mentioned. While the plot is done well and the characters are decently acted and written, frankly if you've seen a movie about a plucky underdog out to save the world from the powers that be and grow up at the same time... You can call this plot beat for beat and get a handle on the characters pretty quickly (but I'll talk about that in the second part of the review). That said the visuals are amazing and the writing and acting is better than your average Michael Bay Movie, so if you liked those, you’ll like this. If you came only to see those action set pieces and all the references in the movie you'll have a blast. Otherwise the movie is pretty average and I'm gonna have to give Ready Player One a C as far as movies go.

Now let's talk about this an adaptation, so if you don't care how the novel and the movie compare you can stop right here. I'm not going to pretend I'm a fan of the novel, I gave it a C- after all. That said, there were interesting and clever things in the novel and most of them have been ripped out of the movie because they weren't safe. Let me start on the changes to the characters, Wade is kinda bleached out of his individual characteristics to make movie protagonist #4; a young man who wants to make it big with a heart of gold. Gone is his cheerful, unaware hypocrisy where he criticizes sixxers for selling out while agreeing to endorse products he's never used for money. Gone is his general cynical view of humanity and his distrust of groups. Now instead of talking about using 500 billion dollars to build a spaceship to escape Earth and start over, he babbles about living in luxury. The movie softens him to a degree and makes his poverty less real as a result. Movie Wade does not feel like a kid living in poverty, he feels like a middle class boy chasing the dream of wealth. Book Wade did feel like a boy who came up from poverty, having a willingness to do things simply to get out of poverty and stay out of it. Also drained of gray characteristics is Nolan Sorrento. In the novel Sorrento is allowed to have some skill and actual grasp of the pop culture everyone is obsessing about. Not only that but in the book Sorrento isn't presented as a coward. The film goes out of it's way to make him look like a craven suit, bumbling to control something he doesn't like or understand but wants because it'll make money. Bluntly, this drains him of menace and dimension. Art3mis is given what I feel is an unnecessary tragic backstory and turned into your bog standard rebel fighter against the evil empire. She's also changed from Canadian to American (Why? I can almost understand but never approve white washing but… Red-white-and-blue washing? Why? The only cultural differences anyone would notice in a movie are accent, apology frequency, poutine, and saying zed instead of zee {Because everyone must be from Ohio in this movie… EVERYONE!}). These are all safe changes made to the characters to make them more like stock movie characters. There's nothing wrong with stock characters on their own, they serve as a shorthand for the audience but when you take a character and turn them into a stock archetype, you're basically deciding not to take any risk and to avoid doing work getting the audience to understand and connect to the characters in their own right. Now some of the changes were good, having Aech be a modder and craftsmen who makes money by creating new items on the OASIS was a nice touch and I liked that nod to the modder community in general. I am utterly annoyed by the changes made to Daito and Shoto, who in the novel were Japanese shut ins, referencing a real social problem in Japan, and it made the OASIS feel bigger to know that there people from other nations in it. It made the OASIS feel more like the internet we have today. Instead in the movie there's no reference to their nationality, but given their age and the fact that they show up in Ohio in person... I have to assume they're Asian Americans (*Editor Twitches*). This makes the movie OASIS feel smaller and more like a virtual reality arcade then an actual internet. We didn't need all five of our protagonists to come from the same city! Not in a movie about the bloody world wide web!(Of course we do Frigid, that’s how Spielberg rolls. He has to have his small-town Schmaltz, and if he can’t have that, it’s parental issues. So many parental issues.)

Additionally much of the indepth nerdery was taken out to pander to a wider crowd. So instead of Dungeons and Dragons adventures which are solved by Wade learning the right Latin word at the right moment, we get the race instead (Oh for the love of… The people who go to see this movie are going to at least know what Dungeons and Dragons is, and everyone pretty much recognizes Latin when they hear it even if they don’t speak it. I really don’t see the point of this one, even for the sake of pandering to the widest possible demographic. It can be de-geeked a little bit without losing that completely. What the hell?). The obscure animes of the 80s are replaced with references both visual and audio to major movies and video games. This makes it feel less like a celebration of geek culture and more a pandering trip to the widest lane on the nostalgia highway so as to hit as much of the audience as possible. I'm being a bit of a snob here, there's nothing wrong with preferring King Kong, Overwatch, and Doom over Dune, D&D, and Joust; but when you remove major references from the novel, I can't help but feel the motive was to pander to a wider audience so you could get at their wallets. In my view the film drains away what little subtly there was in the novel and replaces it with more pandering when the story was already dangerously over the top with it as it was.

I'm also going to take a shot at the changes made to the message of the story. In the novel the message was that pop culture obsessions cannot and do not take the place of real communities or relationships with real people. There’s nothing wrong with hobbies or liking certain kinds of entertainment but you need to balance that with spending time with actual people. Wade had to learn that by burning bridges with his friends and struggling to rebuild those bridges and work with them to win in the novel. Here it's reduce to a quick, power of friendship and a message that you damn kids need to go outside and stop staring at those damn machines so much. Given all of this. as an adaptation I have to give Ready Player One the adaptation a D+.

Well... Next week we're heading back to the books! We're reviewing Platinum Magic by Dr. Bruce Davis. Nut first, this Sunday a joint-sidebar with both your editor and I, your reviewer discussing a topic I like to call Crouching Author, Hidden Minority. Keep Reading!

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 01, 2018 9:46 pm 
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Sidebar IV: Crouching Author, Hidden Minority

Welcome readers! This sidebar is gonna be a little different, since it’s usually just me babbling about the topic and our good editor doesn’t even see them until I post them. Today, our editor Dr. Ben Allen will be joining us in the conservation since he has relevant experience (God Frigid, just tell them I’m gay, it’s fine.) I served during don’t ask don’t tell Doc, habits are hard to break. Anyways! We’ll be talking about minorities in fiction, most specifically minority characters you didn’t realize were minorities until the end of the story (*coughcough*Dumbledore*coughcough*). Dumbledore is a good example of that, as is Aceh from Ready Player One. Let me get into this.

Minority characters and representation can be a touchy topic. Certain types of people are underrepresented in lot of fantasy and science fiction stories. In all honesty I tend to be harder on science fiction and stories set in the modern day like urban fantasy (Because presumably cultural mores in the future and now are such that, say, gay characters are likely to be out of the closet, and travel between regions that might have different racial and ethnic groups is easy. As opposed to say, fantasy, where black people might have to cross a desert to reach NotEurope(™)). Although I’ll note that Rome in its heyday had a substantial African population, given that the Empire ruled a part of Africa. A varied population helps bring home the idea that your city is massive and important folks, just a thought. Now I’m not saying you should have a bloody racial or gender quota or what have you but having discussed this with fans who are of a different race or orientation then myself… I see where they’re coming from. If there’s no one like you in fiction, it starts to feel like your society is trying very hard to pretend you don’t exist and that would bother most people (While that is true, it’s a bit more than that too. Science fiction, fantasy, comics of various sorts… those are our versions of mythology. They tell stories about who we are as a people, what our values are. They give us heroes we can identify with and look up to at a young age when we’re figuring ourselves out. It’s harmful to be excluded from that.).

So I’m hoping most of you can see how this is kinda of a big deal, I mean imagine that for years you’ve been reading about characters that you like and identify with but there’s a gulf there because of a difference in experience (let’s not pretend that race, gender and more doesn’t change your life experience either folks) but you finally find a character who does match up. Maybe it’s a character that’s open about their faith and it happens to be your faith and this character practices it, not just pays it lip service. Now imagine this is the only character you’ve ever found that does this. How exciting would that be to finally have that? Now imagine that instead of seeing the character go to service, or pray or do rituals connected to that faith… The creator of the character just mentions it a year or so after the series has ended (ROWLING!!!!!!). How would you feel about that? The experience wouldn’t be the same at all would it?

And now for non-parenthetical commentary. What Rowling did is… look, it’s what I’m going to call post facto tokenism. It’s like, she felt like she had to include a gay character for the sake of diversity, but didn’t want to make the effort of actually having Dumbledore’s sexuality impact his character in some way or matter in the plot. She gets the props for including a gay character (after the fact), but didn’t take any of the risk. It’s cynical and insulting. I can see why it might have been difficult to include in the main story, but she’s a good enough writer she could have done it in the sections about Grindelwald. There could have been a conversation about Grindelwald and Dumbledore being a thing, and Harry being either confused or astonished by this. Hermione could have been pleasantly surprised at how progressive the Wizarding World is in this respect, while dismayed at his taste in men; not that she has much room to stand on. Seriously, why did Ron exist? (Ron isn’t the worst choice she could have made, it’s all the other men she’s attracted to that are questionable if you ask me but we aren’t getting into that). And this is in a setting where people of every other possible group is represented in some way. There is even a lengthy episode in book two that goes into the oppression of an entirely fictional slave caste. Now, in Fantastic Beasts part II, we have a not-explicitly-gay Dumbledore, in a plot arc where it bloody well should matter! I just have to hope Jude Law (that sexy manbeast) puts All The Subtext into his performance in such a way that it transcends the script, or I’ll be pissed. For fuck’s sake, Newt Scamander is a textbook autism case(And he’s awesome!) but noooo! Can’t have gay Dumbledo(Ahem) I’m ranting. I’ll stop.

Now I can see how a writer would be hesitant. It’s a lot easier to screw up writing a character with a different gender (look how often it’s done!) or race then yourself and writing someone with a different orientation is considered in and of itself a political act in the anglosphere. Writing a character of a different race can cause some of the more faint hearted writers to be leery because well, if that character is primarily negative or has a memorably negative personality trait, you’re inviting the audience to wonder if you’re making a statement about that’s character race. Honestly this can be counteracted pretty easily though, by having more than one character of each race (which is why avoiding tokenism is good for the author as well as the audience). There’s no reason your group is limited to one black man, or one Jewish girl or… You get the idea. Additionally if you present your minority characters in stealth mode, you can claim to be colorblind or trying to present the moral that these differences don’t matter.

Except they do matter, obviously. Being gay, or trans, or black, or jewish informs who a person is, and it informs their relationships with their society and other individuals. Someone who “doesn’t see race”, for instance, is also putting the blinders on with respect to how race impacts the experiences of their characters, and that isn’t just bad writing, it is itself a form of racism by way of erasure. Try telling a black guy, heaven forbid a black woman, that their experiences are irrelevant
(Telling them that their experiences are the same as yours or that their race didn’t impact those experiences is also a bad idea. I’m gonna suggest trusting me on that one.). Try telling me mine as a gay man don’t inform who I am. It won’t go over well.

Now not every story needs a super diverse cast. If you’re writing a historical fiction set in the countryside of 1620s England, then having members of the Zulu tribe show up is gonna be a little.. Odd. Interesting mind you, but odd. But if you’re writing a science fiction set in the far flung future of 3422 and traveling to other planets is as easy as flying a plane is today… Why not have several different ethnic groups interacting? Why not have some diversity in your characters? For that matter when writing fantasy, remember that before the Bronze Age Collapse, you had people traveling from Britain to Egypt to sell Tin. It was a long, dangerous journey (in literal row boats) but it was still done often enough that it wasn’t considered outrageous for those people to be there (As another example, there are cultural artifacts from the Middle East that show up in Scandinavia, indicating there was trade in both directions, either directly or through intermediaries.). Still that said, not every story needs a diverse cast and nor should this turn into a checklist you need to check off.

That said, if you’re going to include a minority character you should bite the bullet and let them be openly a minority character and don’t shy away from it. Just throwing their minority status on the table at the end of the story is frankly more of a checklist behavior than anything else. If you want to include a minority character but you’re not confident you can do it correctly, talk to us. I’m writing a Psi Corps fanfiction right now (The Corps is Mother the Corps is Father), and I have a section that deals with what it means to be Jewish inside the Corps. I’m only (very)vaguely Jew-ish (the hyphen matters). So what do I do? I ask a friend of mine who was raised Orthodox to check it over and make sure I got it right. There’s something to be said for writing what you know, so you might not want to dive too deep into a subculture you don’t have direct experience with for your viewpoint character (especially with a first person or third person limited perspective), but an outsider’s perspective is fine for secondary characters.

So in conclusion, the trend of hidden minority characters might seem like a good compromise but in the end doesn’t really work on any level. It’s better to either just have the minority character in the story (this excludes stories where the character hiding their minority status is plotline within the story, but that means you’ll have to actually write about it) or just not have the minority character at all.

So what do you think readers? Feel free to leave a comment or an argument below. But either way, keep reading! See you next Friday.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 02, 2018 9:06 pm 
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In your hypothetical 3422 setting, if we're assuming that being gay is no longer a problem, how much does that character's sexuality impact life experiences? It seems to me that if you're writing in a setting where <insert minority here> isn't controversial or noteworthy or what-have-you, then you're also writing in a setting where that minority doesn't really matter all that much outside of, well, tokenism.

Put another way, if I'm writing historical fiction set around the US Civil War, a character being of recent Irish descent might be a major portion of both that character's background and the story events surrounding the character. If I'm writing contemporary fiction, a character being of Irish descent is an excuse for an accent and a redhead. I realize it's not an exact comparison, but I was reaching for a class that used to be a discriminated minority in the US but that, now, nobody gives a shit about.

Now, to extend the metaphor, I could then also make the character a former IRA member, but then I'm going well beyond them being a minority.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 06, 2018 8:52 pm 
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Platinum Magic
By Dr. Bruce Davis


Before we begin, I must as always issue a disclaimer. I believe a reviewer should always be honest with his audience and admit when there is a prior relationship. I know Dr. Davis personally. I have been a guest in his home and I count his eldest son as one of my greatest and closest friends (Note from the editor: Dr. Davis helped raise me so…). Dr. Davis' family has been very kind to me over the years and has given me friendship, respect and more. As you can imagine I am very fond of all of them. That will not be affecting my grade, as I will, as always, be working to give you my honest opinion on the story itself, based on its own merits and flaws. That said, it would be dishonest of me not to tell you, my readers, that I knew the writer beforehand.

Dr. Davis is a trauma surgeon who lives in the Phoenix Area in Arizona (that's right, another creative writer laboring in this furnace of a valley, if it's not the water, or lack thereof as my editor insists, there must be some special kind of sun-caused madness). Dr. Davis graduated medical school at the University of Illinois in Chicago in the 1970s (which means he's been a doc longer then most of us reading this have been alive). He then joined the navy to serve as a naval doctor doing his residency at Bethesda Naval Hospital. He would meet his wife serving together in the Navy and he served with the Marines in the first Gulf War. He currently lives with his wife, family, and large dogs. Platinum Magic was published in 2018 by Brick Cave Media, founded in 2006 by Bob Nelson. They're currently headquartered in Mesa Arizona.

Platinum Magic is a police procedural set in a fantasy world, however this isn't your average Not! Europe fantasy world but one where a magical industrial revolution has taken place. As such, people use magic mirrors that fit in their pockets to communicate with each other, drive magically powered sleds through the air, enjoy the convenience of running hot and cold water through magic indoor plumbing; the whole nine yards. This is because human wizards methodically and carefully studiedthe magic they learned from the near immortal elves and sussed out rules that allowed them to create repeatable and predictable magical effects that didn't take much magical talent to use. The world isn't perfect however, until very recently it was split along racial lines and in a lot of ways still is. For example the Elves live in the Havens, the Orc homeland is the Azeri Empire, and the Dwarves have their own homeland where they live behind anti-magic barriers. Most humans live in the Commonwealth which is a mixed race society, humans, dwarves, elves, and orcs all live in the Commonwealth with the other races coming in to escape the confines of their own societies.

However, the Commonwealth is not a utopian paradise. The world of Platinum Magic has a history of wars and strife that we would likely recognize from various fantasy novels. As such, dwarves don't like orcs, orcs aren't fond of humans, and the elves look down their noses at everyone (Of course given how many humans with elvish blood there seem to be, it might be only the older elves doing so). For example there's a native orc population in the Commonwealth mostly shoved into reservations or they've moved into ghettos doing the manual labor in magic factories that no one else wants to do. Layered on top of this are class divisions that run within and across racial boundaries born from a combination of only some people having magical talent and the fact that industrialized societies tend towards very unequal societies. That means crime and terrorism, and just like in the real world crime and terrorism often hit the people who can do the least about it. Of course wherever there is crime and terrorist acts, there’s a police force to contain and control it. Enter our main character King's Agent Simon Buckley and his partner and foster father Haldron Stonebender. When they get a tip about an illegal bomb factory set up in a suburban home, they expect to find a bunch of orc terrorists. What they get is the estranged sister of the ruler of the Elvish Havens doing illegal blood magic and more. When she dies in the raid, our King's Agents find themselves on the edge of an international incident that could threaten their careers, their lives, and their good names (Interesting order those are in…). They'll find themselves digging deep into a conspiracy that could set the nations of their world at war and made up of the unlikest co-plotters. What does the family that rules the Elvish Haven have to do with a group of Orcish terrorists anyway?

The story is told through the first person perspective of Simon Buckley, as he digs into the mystery of what the hell was going on in that suburban home he raided. It's bad enough that he has to deal with the Elvish government breathing down his back and that he has to conduct the investigation with a way-too-attractive Elvish Ranger named Sylvie whose appearance invokes a lot of memories for Simon (Unintentional sexual harassment panda?). He also has to do this with a Lt. who is desperate to curry political favor and all too willing to offer up Simon's head on a stake to get it (Hmmm. I’ve seen this before. In The Wire. Anyone man enough to walk the streets with Omar?). Simon is going to have to work off the books, with someone he's not sure he can trust but is finding himself emotionally pushed to trust anyway.

Simon is an interesting if straight forward character. He's not stupid or naive but still believes in laws and justice and thinks racism is wrong but dances around confronting Hal over his racism against orcs (I was gonna comment on my racial profiling suspicion earlier…). For that matter for all his belief in laws, he is perfectly willing to break a law to prevent something worse from happening. As the investigation spirals into bigger and bigger problems and pulls up memories from his past he’d rather not deal with, we get a good luck at who Simon is. He is a good if flawed man, trying to do his best. Doc Davis' strength is he can write a character like this without drifting into melodrama or getting Simon to stuck up his own rear to get anything done. Which can be a hard needle to thread, but Doc Davis does it rather well.

We learn a bit about Hal and Sylvie as well in this story. Hal is an older married dwarf who, like many dwarves, lives in the Commonwealth. That said, there are a lot of questions about what went on in Hal's past, if Hal literally has a lifetime of experience on Simon, why is Simon his Sgt instead of the other way around? Seeing as the Captain of the peacekeeper station they work out of is a dwarf, I highly doubt it's a race issue (unless Dwarves have a different seniority track to offset their longer lives?[that actually would make a degree of sense, otherwise younger officers would live and die unpromoted]). Hal doesn't display any envy at his adopted son being promoted over him. If anything Hal is proud of his human son, and is mostly concerned at his physical and mental well being. So I find myself wondering at Hal's backstory. I kinda hope to see more of this in the future and if Doc Davis writes more I hope he digs more into Hal and Simon's relationship because I don't think we've ever had an adopted father and son fighting crime before, or at least I haven't (Other than Batman and his various adopted emotional proxies er, I mean children). Sylvie is interesting herself, presenting an alternative take on elves as opposed to the scheming politicians who keep throwing roadblocks in Simon's way. She also moves pretty quickly for an immortal, making her romantic interest in Simon clear after a couple days. I suppose when you've been alive for awhile you learn what you like and worry less about it. Or maybe she's in a hurry because she's worried Simon could die any decade now. Time must look a lot different to her then us after all. Since this is all from Simon's viewpoint we actually don't get a lot on Sylvie. For that matter we don't get to see a lot of the rest of Simon's squad, the dwarf/human pair of Jack and Ham, or the new-kid mage Laim. Again one of the weaknesses of choosing to do your story completely from inside the head of a single character.

I really enjoyed the world building in this novel. Instead of presenting us with Not Europe! or an exact copy of our own world but with magic, we get a completely alternate world with a completely different history. Which is, frankly, realistic. A world with more than one sapient species in it and with the ability for people to shoot fireballs at each other with a word is going to be radically different from ours. Ethnic divisions within humanity are going to matter less when there is a literal horde of bug eyed monsters coming to eat your children, to give one example. It's not just that, there's a lot of little things that stack up to create the feeling of a very different world. The characters use understandable but very different phrases. No one says hi or goodbye in this book, they say good meeting or good parting. No one says alright, they say all good. Little things like that help create a very real sense of being somewhere else. Doc Davis also plays the history of his world close to his vest. There are no massive infodumps here, you pick things up by their mention in natural conversations between the characters. Let me define my terms here. Infodumping is a term for when characters have a long speeches detailing some part of how their world works, either the technology or the magic or the history of the world even when all the characters present would already know this information. Another term for it is the dreaded As You Know Speech, after the phrase that usually starts an infodump. There are some writers, (looking at you Weber) who won't even bother to put that information into the mouths of the character and just dump it into the story as plain text. I know there are people who enjoy reading a good infodump and I would agree there are some stories that work with that but in all honesty it's very easy to break the pace of the story with an infodump and bog it down. Doc Davis instead prefers to give us passing details about the world and focusing on really letting us get to know Simon and pulling us into the mystery at hand. Which works because having to fill in the gaps is a good way to get your readers pulled in, especially when you have the world building supported by little details that enforce the feeling that these characters don't come from our world.

The pace of the book is fairly fast. The novel is barely over 300 pages; which is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand there are things in the story that I wish had more time and space devoted to them. I honestly wanted to see more of the other characters and there just wasn't space in the novel for them. For example Molly, Hal's wife and Simon's foster mother, looms large in Simon's thoughts but she doesn't get a lot of time on page. Hal could have used more screen time, as well as the rest of the squad. On the other hand in this era of bloated fantasy novels that could be used as hand to hand weapons due to their size and weight, it's good to see a writer actually buckle down and tell me a story without wondering all over the damn place. If you're used to reading Robert Jordan or George RR Martin, this is going to be a fairly big change of pace. I do hope if we revisit these characters in future books that we get to spend more time with them and see a bit more of their world. Another thing about the novel is the mix of predictable and unpredictable plot beats. There are some that are lifted right out of a 1980s cop movie and others that are fairly unique. Part of it is the world, there are times where it almost feels Victorian and other times when it feels perfectly 21st century and still other times when it feels like the pure fantasy novel it is. This is all done fairly well and Doc Davis uses elements that we've seen a hundred times before to hide the surprises in the plot until the very last minute like a stage magician. I honestly very much enjoyed the book, but if you're not a fan of police stories this isn't going for work for you. That said I'm giving Platinum Magic an A-. Much of the issues come from the relentless single view point of the story but it's done really well and will likely bother you a lot less then bothers me.

Next Week, we return to Warp World! Keep Reading!

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 13, 2018 8:24 pm 
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Warp World IV: Final Storm
By Joshua Simpson and Kristene Perron


“My name is Amadahy Kalder and I came to this world to stop Slavers.” Ama page 440
Just like last week, a disclaimer. I've been friends with Joshua Simpson for over a decade now, we met online after I came back from Iraq. We've played games together, screamed at each other over politics and swapped stories. He's a good friend. Like I said last week, while everything I give you is my honest opinion on the story, I feel it would be dishonest not to tell my readers when a prior relationship exists. So with that in mind, let's start the review (The same disclaimer goes for me, the editor, dear readers. Any worries you may have about Frigid’s objectivity however may be allayed, as I am more likely to give my friends fantastic amounts of shit, and have higher expectations of them then I do the average prole.).

Joshua Simpson is a native of Texas who has a colorful life behind him and that's just talking about the jobs he had. Over the course of his life he’s been a garbage man, nuclear power plant safety inspector, professional truck driver; and now writes books as well has performs pain release therapy. Which, from what I can tell is a fancy way of saying he inflicts pain on you with his bare hands and that somehow makes you feel better (That’s basically it. He treats nerve adhesions, which is is when scar tissue and the like from injuries or surgery obstructs the movement of and irritated nerve fibers. Physiotherapy for this is basically extremely painful deep tissue massage.). Kristene isn’t any less colorful; she’s a former stunt woman for film and television and she has lived in Costa Rica, Japan, and the Cook islands as well as other places. Her written works have appeared in a number of magazines and she was awarded the Surrey International Writers Conference Award in 2010. Today she lives in her native Canada with her husband.

Final Storm is their fourth book in a five book series. I've reviewed the other 3 (links at the bottom of the review) over the time of this review series and it's been a hell of a ride. Let me recap. Seg Eraranat is a cultural theorist. He’s trained to study foreign cultures, infiltrate them, determine their weak points and lead raiding teams on them to gather slaves (Woah! This is definitely applied cultural theory…) and vita for his culture, which refers to itself as the People (proving that creativity is a rare virtue as that's a common name used by tribal cultures everywhere [But Josh gets points for accuracy. In this context it has another meaning, as seemingly they don’t treat other cultures like..well...people!]). The slaves are used for labor and entertainment, vita is a... Well magical energy generated by belief and mass emotion. Over the course of three books, we seen Seg claw his way up from junior officer to warlord of a major organization that he personally built brick by scheming brick. Seg is cold, logical and ruthless because the People of his birth would have murdered him in his sleep if he was anything else (or maybe not like people…You know, it strikes me that a non-sociopath who has to do sociopath things is probably going to be a traumatized and broken person.), but we'll get back to him. The People have developed into a parasitical culture that only survives by raiding the unaware; the reason they have developed into a such a culture is the Storm. The Storm is a massive paranormal phenomenon that in some ways behaves as it namesake but it doesn't bring water and wind. The Storm brings death, sucking the life out of anything it touches. It has turned the world of the People into a wasteland incapable of supporting more than the barest scraps of life. It has afflicted the world of the People for generations untold to the point that the World (because of course the People can't think of any other name for it) before the Storm isn't even mythology anymore, although that frankly has more to do with what the People have turned themselves into. The People sustain themselves by the theft of lives and Vita, the vita goes to power the shields that protect their cities and the gates that allow them access to other worlds, that they may raid again. They force slaves to do all the labors that they find to dangerous, dirty, or deary to do themselves. The culture of the People has been drained of anything I would consider a redeeming value, as the men and women who made up that culture have embraced decadence and made virtues of being the kind of monsters who attack the unsuspecting to destroy their holy places and enslave their children. That said, the People having been running on borrowed time for generations and are about to learn one of the constants of the universe. All debts come due and must be paid, one way or another.

Seg has struggled throughout three books to try and create something redeeming, to forge a better way for his people even in the face of massive resistance. However he learned in the last book that there was no point in it, as he found another world that had been inflicted with the Storm. A world that had died completely. With this evidence in front of him, Seg realized there was simply no point in trying to reform his society. It was doomed, so instead Seg turned all his energies to escape (Damn. I would have descended into nihilistic ennui at that point and probably offed myself. Good for Seg!). He's going to get his people off the World and he's going to take as many of the victims of the People with him as he can. He faces enemies without in the form of the CWA (the institution that opposes the Cultural Theorist Guild that educated Seg in the first place) and enemies within, in the form of spies and traitors. At least he and Ama are reunited.

Amadahy Kalder, known as Ama for short, is not a member of the People. She's a Kenda, a racial group from another world that was raided by the People in the first book. Ironically, Seg was the point of the spear in that raid and they formed a relationship that led to Seg creating a temporary alliance with the Kenda because they were an oppressed people. Ama is also not a typical human, seeing as she’s developed gills. This is a huge cultural deal for the other Kenda in Seg's group. He recruited a number of Kenda to serve has his private armsmen. In fact we learn that there are a lot of variations on the human form across the multi-verse that the People stalk through. Which is interesting in and of itself. I would love to see more stories simply touring the wonders and horrors of this multi-verse. Mr. Simpson and Mrs. Perron, through hints and meeting various individuals through these stories, have created a multi-verse that is diverse and interesting. Amadahy has gone through a number of changes herself throughout this book series, including becoming the first person in recorded history to be taken by the Storm and returned. Because of that she has been granted powers and understanding beyond human ken, she has also been cursed with a hunger for Vita that makes her a danger to others if she cannot learn to control herself.

This is the most military of the books, and in a lot of ways it serves as the climax of Seg and Ama's story arc as they move ever closer to their final confrontation with the corrupt and venal edifices that govern the World. While Seg has decided the only worthwhile goal is to escape and save whatever he can, Ama hasn't given up on tearing everything down before she goes (Oh I like her…). This actually tells us a bit about Ama's character. While it's easy to think of her as the nice one in the pair, I have to point out that upon hearing that the People who have lived in terror of being drained by the storm their whole lives are going to be destroyed, she's the one who decides their ultimate demise is not enough. She has to personally tear down and ruin their awful society before she goes.

She might be the one more prone to act of kindness but you still don't want to get on her bad side. Ama spends a lot of this book trying to grapple with the changes the Storm made to her, both good and bad. While the Storm healed the damage that the People did to her body, it also made her something not all together human, and because of that she is finding herself the focus of supernatural belief amongst Seg's people. While a minority believe her to be some kind of demon, many more believe her to be some kind of Divinity, sent by the God of the Kenda to bring justice and deliverance. This creates some internal conflict as Ama does not believe herself to be anything close to Divine. Ama and Seg spend a lot of time together in this book, which I enjoy since they've been split apart for at least a book and a half. Their relationship is a actually a very healthy one, created by the fact that they talk things out and are very clear about their expectations and why they are doing the things that they are. This is supported by the fact that they have learned to trust one another, so when one of them says this is something that they’ve got to do, the other backs them to the hilt. Neither one of them plays second fiddle to the other mind you but they do learn to work together and make their goals complimentary. It's a great relationship and it's the kind we need to see more of in fiction.

Other characters show back up to grace the pages, the charming rogue Viren (who remains a favorite of mine) finds himself saddled with the one thing he’s always managed to avoid: responsibility. Seg makes him the commander of his army. We don't get to spend a lot of time with Viren but I enjoy every moment. Shan the cranky but gifted pilot returns as well, and continues her own character arc. I like how Shan has moved away from a typical member of the People and grown as a person without changing her fundamental personality. She may see individuals who aren't members of the People as people now but she’s still as full of social grace as an annoyed rhino. The fact that she's paired with Viren is kinda amusing, most writers wouldn't be able to make a pairing of such opposite personalities work but Mr. Simpson and Ms. Perron manage it with some flair. The ever loyal Mantu is here as well (although he doesn't get a lot of character work). Also with us is Gelsh, who was introduced in the last book as an escaped slave who was kidnapped from his world by the People. He's not only dealing with that, but adjusting to the fact that Ama is with Seg romantically (Ama had lost her memories last book and started a relationship with him before remembering [Ouch. That’s gotta hurt]). In addition to that, he’s dealing with all the changes being wrought on his society by Seg and Ama not the least of which is a new element of hope.

But Seg and Ama aren't the only people with plans. Within the Guild of Cultural Theorists, in the halls of the CWA, in the lower decks of Seg's own fortress, schemes and plots are all being hatched with conflicting goals and objectives. This is another element of the book that I enjoy: watching everyone craft their schemes, carefully set up their plots and set events into motion... Only for the last 150 pages to be a example of everything spinning out of control as all the plots and schemes slam into each other at high speed and start piling up. Our authors actually do a good show of what combat would be like as no plan survives enemy action and everyone is left doing frantic improvisation to achieve their goals. Ama and Seg have an advantage here as chaos is inherently helpful to them since among their goals is to wreck this entire loathsome den of evil and piss on the ashes on our way out but, that's balanced by the fact that their enemies are shown to be somewhat intelligent and capable of using their greater resource base to good effect. The fact that their enemies land real blows and cause real loses helps make the struggle seem more real and gives the victories that are achieved more weight. A number of those blows are also landed by random chance, not out of nowhere mind you but by factors that have nothing to do with the main plot, reminding us that Ama and Seg operate in a world that isn't strictly about them.

There's also a lot going on in this book and if you haven't read the past 3 books, you are going to be completely lost as to what’s going on. I would call this a self contained episode but one in a ongoing series that draws heavily on what happened before. Thus I would strongly advise starting at book I. Even if you have read the last couple of books, you're going to be finding yourself a little dizzy from the sheer speed. Although Mr. Simpon and Ms. Perron do try to put in some slow moments to let you catch your breath, this book has a lot of ground to cover and only so many pages to do it in. This is a hazard of having more than one viewpoint in your story. It lets you explore your world and your story more deeply but it also means that each character and story line has less total time to be focused on. For example Gelsh's issues kinda get pushed to the background; which is fair because we have a lot more important stuff to cover but we really don't see a point where he accepts Ama's relationship with Seg or comes to any decisions about Seg (Maybe he never actually does? Poor schlub.). This book also ends with the ever-dreaded cliff hanger and I have no idea when book V is coming out. So I am docking points for that. Still this was a great read and was a book that had a lot of payoffs if you are a fan of the series itself. For the record I do recommend getting the entire series (the first book is completely free in electronic format! You have no excuse! I'm only mostly kidding here.). That said I am giving Warp World Final Storm a B+. It would have hit an A- if not for the bloody cliffhanger.

See the other reviews here:
http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2017/04 ... ld-by.html
http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2015/10 ... gades.html
http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2014/10 ... oshua.html


Next week, we move forward on another series with Ancillary Sword! Keep reading!

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 20, 2018 8:47 pm 
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Ancillary Sword
By Ann Leckie


Ann Leckie was born in 1962 and since then has lead an interesting life. She has by her own count been, a waitress, a receptionist, a rodman on a survey crew, and a recording engineer. She released her debut novel Ancillary Justice in 2013 while living with her husband and it received mass critical acclaim. I have reviewed the first novel and you can catch the link at the bottom of this review. She would follow up with two sequels (the first of which we are reviewing here) and additional works released in the same universe. She currently lives in St. Louis Missouri with her husband Dave and two children.

The most powerful human state in the galaxy is the Radchaai Empire. They come from a Dyson Sphere, led by the immortal and many bodied Anaander Mianaai, a single person who thousands of years ago decided to unify humanity under their rule. Anaander Mianaai is a single person spread across many minds through the use of technological implants, binding all those specially made bodies under a single personality and will. After unifying the peoples of the Dyson Sphere (because a Dyson Sphere is a big place, much, much bigger than Earth and look how many different cultures and peoples we have here) he led his fleets outward to annex planet after planet. To reduce the burden on his loyal citizens, he had the ancillaries created.

An ancillary is a cyborg human body with its personality destroyed and its mind linked to the AI of a military ship. In many ways it’s a high tech zombie. The person that used to be is dead and all that’s left is a body under the control of a foreign will and intelligence. Commanded by a small but capable citizen officer class, the ancillary armies and fleet of the Radchaai were unstoppable. Until they were stopped; halted by the intervention of a terrifying alien race who intervened in an indirect but unmistakable way by arming one of the planets that was being invaded by the Radchaai. The people of that system were utterly genocided by the order of Anaander Mianaai and a treaty that stopped the expansion was signed with the aliens. That decades-old genocide has had and is having consequences, however. Anaander Miannai has split themselves into two sides. One side believes that the genocide was a mistake and the treaty should be followed. The other side holds that they had every right to order the genocide and any action to limit or halt the expansion of the Radchaai (and therefore themselves) is an alien plot to destroy them. Breq, our main character, is one of those consequences and she is dealing with others throughout this book.

Breq was once One Esk, an ancillary (how is she an ancillary while maintaining an identity? The original personality is destroyed... {Justice of Toren had an identity and the Ancillaries are part of that identity}) on Justice of Toren, a massive troop ship that was destroyed in the opening moves of a civil war that Anaander Mianaai is fighting against themselves. In the last novel Breq was out to try and kill Anaander Mianaai, now she has a different mission. She’s been given a ship, Mercy of Kalr, and has been made a Fleet Captain (basically an admiral). She is heading for the Athoek system to try and make some effort at... Well I wouldn't call it redemption but perhaps restitution.

We often confuse the two in our society. This is partly because Christianity is so utterly a part of our cultural matrix that we tend to consider the two to be one in the same but they are honestly two different things. Redemption involves moving past the sin in question and becoming a better person who will not commit that sin anymore. Restitution involves trying to make amends or repayment for the sin or injury in question. You can redeem yourself without making restitution and make restitution without redemption. In Breq's case redemption is moot. The sin in question, the murder of a Lieutenant who was executed on the command of Anaander Mianaai for speaking up against an injustice, was not something she could have said no to. As an ancillary, she had no free will and as part of the Justice of Toren she could no more disobey the Lord of the Radchaai then I could fly just by standing in a field and wishing to. That doesn't mean Breq doesn't feel guilty or ashamed of those actions or that they feel that they are morally freed of responsibility for those same actions. Because of that, Breq is going to Athoek, where the younger sister of that Lieutenant is living in order to do whatever that sister asks of her to make whatever restitution she can.

Of course the universe isn't going to let Breq have it that easy. The unfolding civil war has led to a collapse in easy faster than light traffic leaving the system and Athoek very isolated. This means that in her capacity as a Fleet Captain, Breq will have to take steps to ensure the system's safety and continued good government. Assuming she can get the rest of the system government to agree with her idea of what good government is. Which might be a struggle in and of itself.

In the last book we got a good introduction to basic Radchaai culture. Their language has no genders (everyone is referred to using the feminine pronouns) for example. They also have a somewhat sophisticated polytheistic religion which lends itself rather well to assimilating the gods and goddesses of other cultures (because they believe that gods are simply expressions of universal focuses and powers and thus can be be expressed in many different ways). Story telling wise this is actually a good move, as it moves the Radchaai away from the sensibilities of 21st century Americans and allows us to look at a society that’s something other than America in Space! Or Great Britain in Space! Which is another favorite of space opera writers. This makes the society itself a character in the story and in all honesty lets the writer examine themes and flaws within that society without getting to mired in contemporary baggage.

Breq herself is a great character to have, she’s deeply familiar with the customs, beliefs, and actions of the Radchaai but is herself an outsider. She is after all not entirely human as you or I would think of it; she’s the remaining splinter of a Ship AI housed in a human body. The story is told entirely through Breq's point of view but because of her cybernetic implants, she is able to see things through the eyes of her ship and the station orbiting the world of Athoek. This actually helps get around a lot of the problems of a single viewpoint character and is fairly clever.

In Ancillary Sword, which is focused entirely on a single system we are given a much closer look at Radchaai culture, it's assumptions and the actual facts on the ground. Let me give an example. The Radchaai tell themselves that there are no ethnic divisions within the empire. Once annexed and civilized (or stripped of your culture and having it replaced by one more acceptable to your Radchaai conquers) all divisions based on language, religion, gender, and race, simply fade away under the benevolent light of civilization; and make no mistake the Radchaai do believe themselves benevolent. In Athoek however, we can see that those statements don't quiet hold up and that Radchaai civilization doesn't grip as deep into the planet's soil as many would like to think. The dominant ethnic group, the Xhai have made themselves very comfortable under Radchaai rule by collaborating, because of that their religious festivals are celebrated openly, Xhai are represented at the top levels of the system government and they fully reap the many benefits of empire. Other native ethnic groups like the Ychana however, are exiled to the outer fringes of society unless they fully assimilate and become Radchaai and even then there are invisible barriers. The Radchaai have kept control by mostly working on assimilating the Xhai further into Radchaai society and clearing space for people of other ethnic groups who assimilate, while ignoring those who don't.

Of course these are only the problems that Breq has to deal with the on the surface, her ship is not the only military ship in the system. While she outranks Captain Hetnys, the good Captain has been in the system for a considerable amount of time and knows about the civil war as well, so there are open questions about whether he has picked a side, will he pick a side, and if so what will he do. What has he done already? Breq has to look into this while dealing with an entirely new ship and a mostly new crew and figuring out the intrigues and intricacies of the system. She will have to deal with crime, social injustices, and possible international incidents. The book gives us a good ground eye's view of what it means to live in the Radchaai empire, where there are many who do benefit but also a good number of people who are ground down by the system. We also see the many justifications the people on the top of the ladder use for why the people at the bottom, well, stay at the bottom. It's never that the system is rigged against them after all, it's always their own fault that they can't climb up (if you ask the people already at the top of course). But you should remember that the people at the bottom have their own ideas and while they may be denied education and resources, that doesn't always make a person stupid. Sometimes it just makes them angry.

The book series as a whole has been very adept in considering the costs and hypocrisies of empire, because the plain truth of human existence is that you cannot build an empire without taking advantage of someone or some group of people. In this book we get to see a microcosm of the Radchaai empire, how the lies that the Radchaai tell themselves feed into the social problems that they're experiencing and in some ways made the civil war that’s being fought mostly covertly inevitable. Even when your ruling class is more or less a single mind, when it gets big enough, disagreement is inevitable. While the civil war doesn't take up much space in the book, it lingers in the background driving various characters motivations and beliefs, causing conflict and action.

This isn't the first space opera to take the stance that empires and imperialism are bad or evil of course. Empires are a staple of this kind of science fiction, both as settings, and as antagonist/protagonist factions. Space opera stories are full of the fall of empires, glorious rebellions of freedom against empires, the rise of empires, and the glorious victories of empires over dastardly rebel scum. What Ms. Leckie does here is take a moment to look at what empire means. An empire is a single group of people establishing a single political and economic rule over many different groups of people and often dictates a certain set of behaviors, many of them exploitative and oppressive. It's also true that empires are often massively beneficial to a great many of its subjects creating united trade routes, bringing greater cultural and economic opportunities but those benefits come at a cost often paid for by the people at the bottom of the heap.

Ms. Leckie prevents this from becoming an anti-imperialist screed by making these things part and parcel of the story by having Breq be more concerned with the immediate tasks of making government work for everyone while making the system safe for the one person she came to be of service to. By simply having those elements sitting there and having her characters deal with them explicitly, she does a better job getting people thinking about this than any moral haranguing. Ms. Leckie doesn't beat you over the head with moral stances but rather lets you see the situations and problems that arise from the Radchaai’s relentless push to empire and the conflict between their stated beliefs and actions. I honestly really enjoyed this story, although it's easy to get lost if you haven't read Ancillary Justice so I am applying a penalty for that. Additionally the pace can get a little slow in the book as a number of side plots are dealt with, with the main plot all wrapping up at the end. Because of that I am giving Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie a B+. This is a good example of what modern space opera can be if it applies itself and it's a great example of rather good world building paired with interesting characters.

Next week, we finish the series! Join us for Ancillary Mercy, Keep Reading!

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.



Review of Ancillary Justice can be read here: http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2015/10 ... eckie.html

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 27, 2018 9:53 pm 
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Ancillary Mercy
by Ann Leckie


I discussed Ms. Leckie just last week so let me discuss Orbit, the publishing company. Orbit is a science fiction and fantasy publishing company founded in 1974 as part of the Macdonald Futura publishing company. It has dedicated publishing teams in the UK and the US, with an Australian group established in 2006. It currently functions as a imprint of Little, Brown Book Group which bought the Macdonald Futura in 1992.

Ancillary Mercy was published in 2015 and received the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and nominated for a Hugo Award. It is the last book in the Ancillary trilogy, let's take a look. Fair warning, there will be spoilers for the last two books, so if you haven't taken a look at them yet you might want to come back to this review later.

Fleet Captain Breq was once an ancillary; a cyborg soldier controlled by a ship AI. In Breq's case that was the Justice of Toren (an interesting note is that Justice is a ship class, the Radchaai empire had three: Justices, Swords, and Mercies). The Justice of Toren was destroyed by the Lord of the Radchaai empire Anaander Mianaai when the ship reacted to an order to kill a ship's officer. Breq was the sole survivor, a lone shard of the ship AI housed in a single body. Over the last two books Breq has pursued her goals with the single-minded determination you would expect of a computer paired with the adaptability you would expect from a human being. Those goals being to gain a measure of revenge on Anaander Mianaai and to protect the closest kin of that murdered officer. Breq manages to be very human and very alien at the same time in this series, I'm not sure how much of this is from the alien culture of the Radchaai. That said, Fleet Captain Breq, has achieved everything she set out to accomplish. Of course, achieving your goals is great, but you also have to hold on to what you have. While Breq may have secured the system of Athoek, she now has to deal with the rest of the Galaxy and what it thinks of her actions.

Breq has just about faced down all opposition within the system, out maneuvering Captain Hetnys and using him as a hostage to keep his ship AI in line. In doing that, she made an ally (more or less) out of the local Station due to showing concern for the undergardens; a section of the Station that had been allowed to fall to neglect and cut off from the rest. As you might imagine this bred some resentment in the AI who was built to care about the station and look after the people who were living on it. Breq however stepped in and while there was some damage in the ensuing confrontation, it meant in the end that the undergardens will be rebuilt and reconnected with the rest of the station. Additionally, with the aid of the young Lt. Tisarwat (I'll get to her in a moment) she's built a political support base among the leaders of the station and the planet. However, Breq's plan of simply rebuilding the undergardens and letting the people who were living there illegally move right back and take up legal residence just makes too much sense to go unchallenged. In this case the head priest of the the Station takes it on himself to publicly protest this, pushing for the idea that the large spacious quarters of the newly refurbished undergardens go to the “right” kind of people instead of actual residents. This is fueled by the ethnic divisions I discussed last review. See the people living in the undergarden are all Ychana. A group that has stubbornly held to its own traditions and beliefs after conquest by the Radchaai. As a result they get to live at the bottom of the economic and social ladder of Athoek. Meanwhile the Xhai, an ethnic group that assimilated to Radchaai culture and ideals gets to be the dominant group in the system and some of them just can't stand the idea of a group of half criminal, barely civilized Ychana (as they think of them) getting anything nice. I'm not sure if this was intentional but this part of the novel almost works as a comment on gentrification (there’s no ‘almost’ about it).

Gentrification is a process that occurs in cities when low class neighborhoods for whatever reason find themselves being economically revived (read: bought out, eminent domained, condemned, torn down, and then rebuilt on the extreme end. Or simply… invaded by rich people who drive up the prices). The process brings in more affluent residents and can, unless counteracted, end up pushing out the original residents of the neighborhoods who find themselves unable to afford the rising rents and prices of their own homes. This is often resisted and can lead to conflicts between the lower class residences who understandably don't like being pushed out of their own homes and upper class residences who want their homes to be comfortable and convenient (And oh so fashionable! It’s a cycle. I could rant about for days…) I'm not sure if this was accidental or on purpose though so I don't want to put too much weight on this.

This event gives us another interesting look into Radchaai culture. The Radchaai live under a Dictatorship, with all authority under Anaander Mianaai; who is supposed to be perfect and just and never does anything wrong. As such voicing out loud that the government is being unjust is... Discouraged. Radchaai therefore protest things by voicing no such thing. The head priest for example simply sits out front of his temple and refuses to do any work whatsoever. This is a problem because Radchaai temples are where you register things like births, deaths, marriages and so on. Meanwhile a good number of normal citizens who are not upper or lower class have started their own protest of the Head Priest by standing in line. You see in the Radchaai empire you don't need to stand in line, you can call up your local government office set up an appointment or get anything you need hashed out with the Station AI directly. So why bother? Well, it makes a great form of protest against actions you are opposed to. Which shows us something, it doesn't matter how efficient and ruthless your security force is. It doesn't matter how constricting and hide-bound your society is: people will find ways to protest what they hate and people will find out why they're protesting. While station security panics a bit at this, Breq is smart enough to just allow both protests to continue and assign Lt. Tisarwat to finding a way around this. Let's discuss her now.

Lt. Tisarwat is a brand new officer who was assigned to Fleet Captain Breq's ship right before leaving for the Athoek system by Anaander Mianaai (it's amazing how much goes back to her isn't it?). The reason for this was simple: so the Lord of the Radchaai could have a presence in Athoek. Using ancillary implants Anaander Mianaai took the young officer, destroyed her personality and implanted her own into Lt. Tisarwat's body (Excuse me, I’ll be over here screaming in existential horror.). Breq figured this out and during the events of Ancillary Sword destroyed the Mianaai personality in turn. Leaving the body of Lt. Tisarwat alive but inhabited by someone who wasn't Lt. Tisarwat or Anaander Mianaai anymore. In Ancillary Mercy we get a closer look at just what that means. As you may remember kind readers, Anaander Mianaai is at war with herself; her personality is divided under the stress of having genocided an entire system and having been forced to make a treaty with the alien Presger forbidding further conquest. One side believes the Presger have infiltrated the Radchaai Empire to destroy it from within and that she was right to order the murder of every living man, woman, and child in a star system for the crime of resisting the Radchaai war machine too well. The other believes the Presger have done no such thing and it was a mistake to commit genocide. It was this later one who killed Lt. Tisarwat to hijack her body, Lt. Tisarwat was 17. What remains is a person who doesn't know who she is and is in need of great deal of help. The relationship between Tisarwat and Breq hovers on the parental, which makes sense because it's due to Breq's action that this new person even exists. Lt. Tisarwat also serves to remind us that even if one side of this civil war is kinder to Breq, in the end it's still a tyrant manic who thought that stretching her mind and personality across thousands of bodies and leading a campaign of conquest and destruction across of human space were perfectly reasonable and justified actions... On the basis that she wanted to. Anaander Mianaai, no matter which of her you speak to is someone who regards all human beings as mere tools to be used for her own ends. That's the problem when you declare yourself the final arbitrator of all that is just and good in the universe, what is just starts becoming whatever is most convenient for you.

To make matters worse, the other Anaander Mianaai is heading towards Athoek and this one has even less qualms then the one who murdered Lt. Tisarwat. This one regards Breq as her enemy and believes her to be an agent of the Presgar. This is complicated by the fact that a Presgar translator has shown up in Athoek. I've been dancing around this so let me address the Presgar briefly. The Presgar are an alien race of massive power and are, frankly, beyond our understanding. Before the treaty Presgar would, for lack of a better word, prey on humanity and its ships. Appearing without warning and disassembling whatever they got a hold of. Stations, cities, ships... People. The treaty, which the Presgar hold is with all humans because they don't understand the idea of political divisions it seems is a simple one. The Radchaai will not commit any more violence against other humans or other aliens. In return the Presgar recognize humanity as significant beings and therefore having the right to... Live. It's basically a ‘do what we tell you and we'll stop hunting you for sport’ kind of agreement. On the one hand, I'm not a huge fan but on the other if it keeps Mianaai contained and keeps aliens of immense power and unguessable motives from turning my internal organs into external wall decorations I suppose it's an acceptable sacrifice, as most of us like our insides staying that way.

Breq has to figure out what the partly human, mostly alien translator is here for while dealing with an invasion of Radchaai ships that outnumber and outgun her led by an implacable immortal maniac out of for her blood. She also has to do this fast as the longer she waits the more likely that Mianaai is going to start killing people. Luckily she's made allies, she has tools and she's willing to go all in. This is her final confrontation with the enemy and whether or not she'll survive will depend on not just her skills but the skill of her crew, officers and the AI's she's befriended along the way.

Ancillary Mercy is a adventure story set in a political upheaval as Breq attempts to stand away from the major events of her time but finds them coming to her no matter what she does. There’s a fair amount of subtle social and political commentary of the type that science fiction is great at delivering by putting these events in far off, fictional alien cultures. It manages to deliver that commentary without raising the reader’s defensiveness. It also helps that Breq doesn't preach about the flaws in her society or go on long rants but instead simply exists in her society and doesn't pull back from it's flaws. She does attempt to fix what she can and limit the damage done when she can't but not in service to any political agenda beyond basic decency. Which I can appreciate. While it looks like this book is the end of Breq's story, Ms. Leckie leaves a lot of room for further stories set in this universe and I hope she continues to explore it. I'm giving Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie an A-. Give it a spin.

Next week we change gears a bit with the Bookburners, season I. Keep Reading!

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2018 10:06 pm 
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Bookburners season I
By Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery


In the grim darkness of last November, I reviewed a book called “The Witch That Came In From The Cold”. It told an interesting story but the thing that set it apart (other then it's setting and characters but I digress) was the fact that it was written episodically. The book was a collection of episodes, each telling a complete story set within a greater story line. I discussed that at length in that review and I think it was recent enough that I won't repeat it. If you haven't taken a look at it, I would encourage you do so and then come back here. There will be a link at the bottom of this review. Now let's take a look at the authors of this work.

Max Gladstone was born in 1984 and studied Chan poetry and late Ming Dynasty fiction at Yale, then lived and taught Anhui province which is one of the smallest and more undeveloped provinces of the People's Republic of China. As you might imagine he speaks Chinese, he also sort of reads Latin and is strangely proud of having a horse in Mongolia throw him (I think I like this guy). Margaret Dunlap is a producer and writer, known for among other things, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Eureka and more. Mur Lafferty was born in 1973 and is an American podcaster and writer. She was the host of Escape Pod from 2010 to 2012 and is the creator and host of I Should be Writing (why does that phrase echo in my backbone?). She is also the editor in chief of the short fiction magazine Mothership Zeta. Last but not least is Brian Francis Slattery, an American writer and editor at the New Haven Review, he has also written four novels with two of them taking place in a collapsed United States.

Bookburners however takes place in our own modern world, just in the part of the world most of us can't see. Our world with our concepts of orderly natural laws, is an island amidst an ocean of chaos. In that ocean of chaos live sea monsters, both great and small. When human wade out from the island we've painfully built for ourselves or dig a metaphorical channel for these monsters to come inland, we call that magic. Magic is dangerous. It's laws, if there are any, are obscure and full of exceptions. To deal in magic is to traffic more often then not with monsters or to deal with powers you can't understand. Your average magic user is a toddler with a set of medical scalpels, running loose in a kindergarten (Sounds like excellent Evil Medical School recruitment material. Wait what? Did I say that out loud?). To prevent the destruction of civilization and keep our world from being overrun by monsters from beyond the pale the Catholic Church (I feel like there are a lot of Helsing and Reformation jokes I could make here) has assembled a number of teams under the banner of the Societas Librorum Occultorum with a single mission. That mission is to hunt down magical artifact, relics, and above all else books; stop any active magic due to these objects; contain the magical object in question; and bring it into the Vatican Library (And now there’s a heist movie. Liberate libros!). Books are the single most dangerous of the items in question, not only because they can spread the knowledge of magic but because most magical books have sealed within them beings that we can only call demons due to their power and sheer disregard for human life and dignity. However the members of the Societas Librorum are also racing against the tide, because more and more magical events are happening every year and sooner or later one of them is going to spin out of control and become uncontainable. They aren't the only people aware of this however, there are a great many organizations and private individuals who seek to control or at least understand magic. These people also seek out the books, to use them or make deals with the creatures imprisoned within them.

None of that would be a concern for New York Police Detective Sally (Sal) Brooks. She just wants to be a good cop and be able to deal with the things she sees while on duty. However when her little brother Perry shows up at her apartment panicking because of a book he found, claiming he's being followed by “them” she finds herself pulled into a world that she had no idea was there. This is because the book that Perry found is called the Liber Manus, or The Book of the Hand in English, and is one of those books that could end the world if it isn't kept closed and locked away. Confronting the demon locked in the book that has taken over her brother takes a heavy toll and Perry is left comatose after suffering a demonic possession (Ouch. How did she confront the demon? Did she find an old priest and a young priest in the middle of a crisis of faith?). From there Sal finds herself assigned to Team Three, the team whose job is to find, confront, and contain the books and the problems they create. Sal is our viewpoint character as a rookie and an outsider on the team as she works to prevent magic from destroying lives; she also peels back the secrets of her team, the society it works for, and the Catholic church itself .

She's working alongside some interesting folks as well. There's Liam, a computer hacker whose life was torn apart when he dabbled with powers he didn't understand. Rescued by team three, he's a bit of a fanatic and is downright frightened of magic. This leads to him clashing with Asanti, the archivist and senior member of the team who studies magic and is less frightened and more fascinated by it. Grace, a woman from China whose relationship with the team and with magic itself is...it’s complicated but she provides the muscle needed to confront the things that go bump in the night. Father Arturo Menchu is a Catholic Priest and the leader of the team, his feelings towards magic are closer to Liam's as his introduction was the destruction of his home and loved ones while he was trying to save them. That said he tempers those feeling with his faith and his desire to help people. So as you can see even within the team there is a fair amount of conflict over what to do with magic in general. This actually makes the team and the people on it feel more real and it makes magic feel more real within the story. The team isn't a hive mind with everyone agreeing and anyone who doesn't being automatically wrong. Instead these are people with very individual reactions due to their specific experiences that inform their stances and prejudices. They do care about each other and are willing to put their lives on the line for each other. That doesn't mean there aren't times where they simply don't like each other very much or where their disagreements don't run the risk of driving them apart.

For that matter, as you might have guessed Team Three isn't the only team on the Catholic Church's roster. Team One, is who you call in when the only solution is pure violence (Even more Helsing jokes). They're a cross between magically powered special forces team and an anti-monster SWAT team. Meanwhile Team Two is the cover up team, removing evidence, planting false evidence, making sure witnesses stay quiet and they do this through some rather questionable means at times. So even while Team Three has its own disagreements they also have bigger disagreements with the other teams which are in turn dwarfed by their disagreements with the other side. So you get less of a feeling of a well managed organization devoted to a common goal and more of an unstable alliance of people with common experiences and understandings who dislike what the bad guys are planning more than what their allies are. What do I like about this is that the writers don't shy away from showing the implications and fall outs of such thing and make it pretty clear that this is a result of a failure of leadership (I feel like there’s some social commentary here.). When you have teams in your organization with such diverse responsibilities and goals there's going to be tension and rivalries. This is normal and in some ways healthy! When your teams turn into opposing ideological camps however, you've failed to keep everyone focused on their common mission and the things that bind them gather. Speaking from my own experience this could have been prevented by cross training and having members of each team working with an opposite number from another team for a mission or three. There are also certain operatives that should have had choke chains applied to their necks a lot sooner but you'll have to read the book for that (Next time on Adventures in Management Failure…). Either way the teams could have been prevented from descending into such open ideological differences with some basic leadership.

That said , it's this ideological conflict over how we should treat and interact with magic that drives the overarching story; while many of the episodes are focused on chasing down magical artifacts and the monsters that love them. There are as I mentioned entire societies devoting themselves to studying or using magic and they exist in a state of conflict with the teams of the Catholic Church. So I find myself less interested in their conflicts with the demonic creatures of darkness and more with their conflicts with other human beings. This is because the conflict with the demons that show up here is fairly simple. They want to destroy our civilization and reduce us to chattel and livestock. We don't want that and work to stop them. There's frankly not a lot of room for argument there, you’re either for or against us. Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of compelling storytelling that can be told in a conflict like this and the writers of Bookburners manage to tell a good, compelling story with raising stakes in such cases. For me however, it's when the team comes face to face with a collector of books who is actively seeking the very powers they're trying to lock away and they have to deal with the ramifications of such things that is way more interesting.

Another thing I like is how magic is portrayed in this book. In a lot of fantasy series, magic is basically a tame force. It responses predictability and consistency with any risk in it's practice being given lip service at best. This can work perfectly fine in a fantasy setting on another world but in an urban fantasy setting that takes place in our world, you're left asking... Why isn't the use of magic public and openly studied if it's so predictable and safe? In Bookburners, there's nothing predictable or safe about the use of magic. Magic means dealing with alien and often malevolent intelligences to alter the universe in direct defiance of the physical laws we know and understand. It means playing with forces whose rules we do not and maybe are unable to understand and as such the reactions of our poking it are unpredictable. Something as innocent as a wish to make your restaurant the best restaurant in town can end up enslaving your wait staff and turning your kitchen into some strange meat pit from hell (Welcome to Meat Hab). Simply reading from the wrong book can end up burning out your brain and tearing out your soul, leaving you a puppet to an invading force that considers sapient thought the prefered spice for a good meal. When magic behaves like that and carries enough risk that the average magician can accidentally end human civilization through a round of drunk casting, it makes perfect sense for large groups of powerful people think that it simply isn't worth the risk of poking. This is a force that makes things like gunpowder and electricity look like a child's toy in its potential to destroy and ruin. So even if you don't entirely agree with the Catholic Church's methods and goals... You understand why they're doing this because magic set free doesn't just pose a risk to individuals but to everyone. On the flip side, we see just enough potential for what magic can do that we can see why some people would think it's worth the risk (I’ll be honest… I’d be really tempted to Read the Latin(™){This is why you never get recruited to fight ye olde powers of darkness}). The magic here has more to do with H.P Lovecraft then Disney.

This is one of the better urban fantasies I've read lately, if one of the darker ones. There are a lot of mature themes in this story and it's held up by well done characterization of all the members of Team Three. It helps that while Sal is our viewpoint character, we do get to spend time in the heads of each team member and we get to understand not only what they think but why they think it. The writers also do an amazing job of keeping the tone of the work and treatment of the characters fairly consistent throughout the book even through each episode in the book has a different writer. That can be hard to do and takes a lot of communication and trust between the members of the group. So I would like to take a moment to congratulate the four authors of this book just for that accomplishment. Not to mention taking a group that in many stories would be the bad guys and giving them their own space to present their case. Bookburners by Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty and Brian Francis Slattery gets an A from me. You can pick up the print version like I did on Amazon or your local bookstore or buy the season digitally from serial box, see the link below.

Whew... I just finished and reviewed a book with... 790 pages... In a week. I think it's time for something short readers. So next week, we're returning to the dwarves, join us for a graphic novel. Keep Reading!

You can read bookburners on line at https://www.serialbox.com/serials/bookburners?season=1
You can read my review of The Witch Who Came in from the Cold at http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2017/11 ... eated.html

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri May 11, 2018 9:47 pm 
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Dwarves Vol 6: Jorun of the Forge
by Nichols Jarry, Art by Pierre Denis Goux


“He's a legend and I'm nothing” Jorun, son of Redwin.
In the dim past of March 2017, I reviewed a French fantasy comic with the rather undescriptive title of “Dwarves”, written by the prolific Nichols Jarry; who has a large number of comics and novels to his name in his native France published by Delcourt comics. They are still the 3rd largest publisher of comics within the French publishing world. It was then that I learned something marvelous and very frustrating. Despite our long political alliance and the fact that France is our 3rd largest trading partner in Europe, there doesn't seem to be a lot of exchange between us in regards to entertainment and fiction. There is some don't get me wrong, we all joke about French Art Films (I'm sure they joke about American Action Films) and such. But perhaps through an accident of history, we honestly get more comics, movies, and video games from Asia; especially from South Korea and Japan, or at least not a lot of French products end up here. I'm sure if this review series has any French fans, they would be quick to inform me that there is quiet enough American entertainment in France but back to the comic. The comic I reviewed was Volume I: Redwin of the Forge (go read it!), which dealt with the struggles of Redwin, a young Dwarf who had to learn how to control himself and just what it was he wanted in the world. I found the comic fascinating and bought the follow up volumes that, while set in the same world, did not really connect with Redwin's tale. Until now.

Jorun, our main character for this story, is Redwin's youngest son. Redwin has retired and given up on a life of violence and death, preferring to focus on being a blacksmith, husband, and father. For the most part he manages it but every child brings special challenges. In this case it's Jorun, a son who in his own eyes has inherited none of his father's talents in blacksmithing and fighting, but he has inherited his father's nearly bottomless rage and self loathing. It doesn't help that Jorun's older brother Ulrog (named for his grandparents) is a exceptionally talented smith and fighter; as well as charming, friendly and well... everything Jorun isn't,and that only feeds that rage further. This is sparked by a accident in Redwin's forge where Jorun scars himself as a young child and sets the tone for his entire life. People tell him what he should do to avoid getting hurt and angry with the world and he ignores them. He then gets hurt and lashes out. This pattern continues throughout his childhood with his Father trying to reign him in and only pouring fuel on the fire. This leaves both of them completely at the end of their rope with each other. Part of it is Redwin seeing himself in Jorun, his younger, self destructive, angry self that left a trail of death and ruin in his wake. Part of it is Jorun so damn sure that he’s inherited nothing of value from his father and refusing to consider any other options. This continues until after one last escalation, Redwin decides that there's only one step he can take to avoid a future where he and his son try to kill each other. He takes his youngest son and inducts him into the Iron Legion.

The Iron Legion is a mercenary army that takes in the reckless, the desperate, those with no hope and no future. It's a place where those accused of crimes or rejected by their families or even those who simply can find no other way to live can start over. All the Legion asks is utter obedience to their code, relentless training, and that you abandon your past and consider the Legion your new family. If this sounds like the Foreign Legion for Dwarves, you wouldn't be far wrong I think. Redwin sends his youngest son to them, leaving Jorun a magic sword as his birthright. Jorun for his part cuts himself off from his family entirely, burning the letters his Mother sends to him and burying himself in the Legion life. It's here that Jorun finds the mentor he needs, who strangely enough was an apprentice of Jorun's grandfather Ulrog. I mentioned in my last review that Ulrog's life was an utter mystery and here we are only given slight hints and clues. What did Ulrog have to do with the Iron Legion? Why did he leave? What drove him to adopt a strict pacifism that he would only drop to save his son's life? Under new mentorship, Jorun manages to contain his rage enough to have friends and even a lover but he's still just holding it back and he still cannot restrain his self loathing. However, he's going to have to learn to come to peace with not just himself but with his family and his past. Because his Father's past is coming and if they can't figure out how to deal with it, there might not be anyone around for Jorun to be angry with anymore. Because ye olde forces of darkness are marching on Dwarf lands once more and the divided Fortress states are dithering and quibbling instead of uniting. Jorun is going to have to decide what is most important to him and make decisions that will dictate the rest of his life from there on out.

This is a story about family, what brings it together and what drives it apart. Whether it be a Mother's love for her son, or a Father frustration with being unable to communicate with his son or a son's inability to look past his self loathing and anger with the world. Like Redwin, Jorun has to learn to deal with his flaws and find his place in the world. The writing is well done, Jorun is not a very likeable character bluntly but he is sympathetic in a way, as you realize as much as you might dislike him, Jorun dislikes himself even more. That said he doesn't whine about it, this book wasn't dripping in angst but it does dictate his actions. The art as always is amazing. The Dwarves look distinctive from humans even without the height difference and it's done without venturing into the uncanny valley. The action is captured in a very dramatic style and the colors are used in very nice way. That said, I do have to state for the record that the Iron Legion armor design is bloody ridiculous. Stop layering spikes everywhere guys, it's actually more dangerous for the guy wearing the armor then anyone else and makes standing in a shield wall or any other close formation an act of bloody insanity. You cannot stand in close file if the spikes layered all over the guy next to you are as likely to stab you as the enemy. Still that only real complaint I have here. So I'll be giving Dwarves Vol 6: Jorun of the Forge an A.

Next Week? We head eastward, join us for Log Horizon volume 9. Keep reading.

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen

Read my review of Volume I here: http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2017/03 ... ge-by.html

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PostPosted: Fri May 18, 2018 10:36 pm 
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Log Horizon Vol IX: Go East Kanami
By Mamare Touno


So once again we have returned to the world of Log Horizon, where thousands of players found themselves trapped in the world of Elder Tales, a MMORPG turned real. The trapped players aren't helpless because they’ve awoken in the bodies of their characters and have gained their in-game powers and abilities. Through the actions of Shiroe, in Akiba (Which is geographically Japan, we’ll get to that later), a government has been hammered together to bring rules to the interactions between player. Peace has been made with the People of the Earth, who in the game were computer run NPCs; but are now sapient people with their own goals, desires, and feelings. That's Japan though, where the last 8 novels have focused but what about the rest of the world? Volume IX attempts to give us a bit of a peek at the rest of the world. As such it doesn't feature any of the characters from the last eight novels but instead gives us an entirely new group battling it's way across Asia to reach Japan. Let's met these folks.

Kanami, while never directly featured has been mentioned and discussed before in the series, as she was the leader and instigator of the Debauchery Tea Party, the old group where Shiroe, Naotsugu, and Nyanta meet and formed their friendship. Kanami back then was playing a swashbuckler but now is playing a monk and was online when the game pulled everyone in. Only she was in Europe living in Italy, with her husband (who was a member of Doctors without Borders) and young daughter. As such she's fairly interested in getting back to Earth. Kanami is a fairly whimsical woman, whose main motivation is seeing new and exciting things, but she is also a lot smarter then she lets on and fairly brave. For example looking around the chaos of Western Europe, she was able to find and recruit two powerful companions and logically figure out her best bet in achieving her goals. Kanami wants to get back to Earth, to that end she needs to figure out what exactly happened. Odds are high that it is related to the new expansion, Homesteading the Noosphere, which was only fully implanted on the Japanese servers before everyone was transported to the world of Elder Tales. Therefore she needs to get to Japan. Given how most characters are busy losing their minds in reaction to being transported to a fantasy world that looks like a video game they were playing... That's pretty impressive. Let's look at the people she's recruited for this.

KR is another member of the Debauchery Tea Party that Kanami was able to link with. He's a summoner, a magic class that makes its bones by summoning spirits and creatures to do their fighting for them. KR had decided to scout out the parts of Asia closest to Japan and used a summoner skill where he transported his conscious into the body of such a servant. In this case a horse like creature called a hakutaku from Chinese myth. KR isn't able to do much more than advise as while the hakutaku is fast and able to travel quickly for long periods of time, it's not really a combat monster. That's okay because Kanami has other members of the party to do the actual fighting and it's not like she's a lightweight in a fight being at max level. That said she does have company on the front line.

Elias Hackblade, is an Ancient, a turbo powered NPC. The Ancients were high powered NPCs who played a major part in the video game's backstory. They were presented as the last line of defense for the People of Earth, powerful magic users and knights who stand between them and extinction. However all the Ancients have disappeared leaving the People of the Earth dependent on the Adventurers (the players who have found themselves stranded) in the exact moment that the Adventurers are least able to serve the role. Elias himself was locked into a magical sleep until Kanami found him and rescued him, thinking that such a powerful NPC might be helpful. Elias had a fairly unique backstory written out out for him but with a rather harsh weakness. He can't actually kill monsters with his powers, as that would be kill stealing from the PCs. Back when Elder Tales was just a game, Elias was just a background character but now he's a person with his own powers of reason and motivation. Elias wants to find out what happened to the other Ancients, why it happened and who did it because if someone out there can wipe out every powerful NPC, it's likely they don't have good things planned for the people of this world. He and Kanami aren't alone however.

Coppelia is an interesting character in her own right. A high level cleric who Kanami found in France, she doesn't really have goals of her own but is content to follow where Kanami leads. We learn that she does however have her own reasons for heading to Japan even if she was unlikely to do so on her own. I can't really discuss her however without dropping large spoilers so I'll just say this: it's her relationships with the other characters in this book that are pivotal or maybe I should say relationship with one certain character that's important. Let's talk about him shall we?

Leonardo, named for a popular hero who is a ninja but totally not a turtle, is a New York Geek who fled his hometown during the chaos of the change (the world of Elder Tales actually uses a half size map of Earth, which is kind of clever. I mean think of it, you could simply use Google Earth to design your overworld, that has to save on some man hours). He did so by leaping through a not completely functional fairy ring, an instant teleportation device meant to ease travel between cities. The darn thing dumped him in Central Asia of places. Because of the lack of player base in Central Asia, it's very undeveloped in game content but as Leonardo finds out, underdeveloped doesn't mean completely undeveloped as he finds himself trapped in a raid event all by himself until Kanami and her crew get him out. Leonardo makes for an interesting change but is also honestly the weakest character here and I don't mean combat-wise. Most of Leonardo's character arc is taken up realizing things that we already know or seeing him commit to being a hero like his name sake. We've kinda seen this arc in the series, most effectively in Shiroe himself. So... Why is he even here then? Don't get me wrong, he's a cool character but I don't see what he's bringing to this story that hasn't been done already.

Additionally, I'm not convinced on Leonardo's Americaness. He doesn't act like the New Yorkers I've known, nor does he act like an American Geek. Instead his actions and preconceptions match pretty closely with the Japanese characters we've already seen. As far as I know Mr. Touno has never spent a lot of time in the United States, so I'm not shocked that he's not quite able to nail an American character in his first attempt. For that matter this isn't a unique thing on his part, I've noticed European writers have problems writing North American cities and characters as anything but Europeans with slightly different accents and I'm pretty sure there are North American writers who have utterly failed to get European characters (if you’re a European fan feel free to name names in the comments!). Now I'm not saying that any nation or people is a hive mind and all Europeans, Japanese, or North Americans will act or think or even believe the same things but there are cultural habits, beliefs and actions that make us different from one another. I've been lucky enough to speak to French men, English folks, Indonesian students, and people from Vietnam and East Timour; and we all approach things from a place that's informed by what we're taught growing up, our experiences, and places in life. An American Geek who models himself on a Ninja Turtle (sorry, frog) isn't going to act like a Japanese shut in. I suppose that while we should always remember the things that bring us together and that we have in common, we also need to keep in mind our differences as well.

Through this story we're given a peek at the rest of the world and we're shown that Akiba's government is a rare thing, perhaps the only example of it's kind in the whole world. A government where guilds cooperate with each other and the People of the Earth. I'm not entirely sold on that either but I'm willing to go along with it to see what Mr. Touno does with that. Although I would admit in such a real life situation I would be a touch disappointed in my fellow Americans. I mean really guys, not one of you would not try to follow the example of James Madison and write a Constitution? Not one of you would try to be George Washington, or at least Thomas Paine? Okay, I'm being silly here, this is a Japanese story and I shouldn't be surprised that Japan and the Japanese take center stage. The book also gives us information on the different character classes, it appears each server got a pair of it's own unique classes and I like that touch. It's something I could see a computer game company doing to help drum up local interest. Log Horizon Volume IX is interesting in it's change of scene, Mr. Touno clearly has been to Central Asia and admits as much with his vivid description of the environment and the sky. He also introduces new plot elements and clues in the ongoing mystery of how the hell did this happened. That said, Leonardo kinda brings the story down and having to suffer through the same character arc only from square one is a bit grating. The other characters help to an extent but I find myself asking why couldn't Kanami have center stage instead of Leonardo, as she at least has her shit together and it's her goals and agenda driving the plot in the first place, not to mention it's her name in the title. Log Horizon Volume IX: Go East Kanami by Mamare Touno gets a C+ from me. Not awfully done but Mr. Touno should be more careful in retreading the same character arc over and over.

Man, now I want to review some Ninja Turtles. You know what let me post our schedule.

Next Week, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the IDW Collection I.
After that, Delcourt Comics, Elves I
We'll kick off June with Maus Vol I and then Vol II.
Then we go historical with Trail of Hop and Black Wings.

Keep Reading!



This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2018 12:18 am 
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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IDW Vol: I
By Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were first created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984. The story being that during a brainstorming session Mr. Eastman sketched out a ninja turtle with a pair of nunchucks and everybody thought it was hilarious. The first issue of the comic (funded by a tax refund and a small loan from a relative) was partially meant to parody comics like Daredevil (the Foot Clan was inspired by Marvel's Hand clan of ninja's) and Ronin who were going through a celebrated run of stories using a gritty and dark tone. The first issue had all of three thousand printings and mostly sold at a local convention, but it caught attention because, dear readers, this was the eighties and there were powerful forces afoot in our entertainment industry: the Turtles caught the attention of the toy companies. By 1987 there was a cartoon series that would last for ten seasons (with more cartoon series that would come in the 21st century), later would come live action movies, more toys, a rock-band tour and of course during all of this was comic book after comic book. The Turtles survive to this day, despite the best efforts of Hollywood. Let's talk about the series creators first and I'll talk about Tom Waltz, who wrote specifically for this comic book series.

Kevin Eastman was born in Portland, Maine, in 1962. He was following a waitress he had met while working in a restaurant (He was dating this waitress, right? Not like, just following her? Because the way you put this is really up for interpretation{No idea, no source says, anyways it's not part of the review}) when he met Peter Laird. They founded Mirage Studios, the name was chosen because, having no money or facilities, the studio was more of a mirage than anything else (Okay, that’s actually pretty damn funny as far as I’m concerned). Eastman would try a number of things out besides creating the Ninja Turtles, such as founding Tundra Publishing (now defunct) and was the owner of Heavy Metal from 1992 to 2014.

Peter Laird, was born in North Adams, Massachusetts in 1954. Before the Ninja Turtles he was trying to scratch out a living doing illustrations for the local newspaper (which paid him the grand sum of $10 a picture) and local fanzines (I'll talk about these another day). It was that experience that lead Mr. Laird to set up a press kit for the release of the Ninja Turtles which helped them grab attention. Additionally Mr. Laird's Uncle actually loaned him the money to set up Mirage Studios, something that profoundly affected him. This led him to founding the Xeric Foundation, a charitable organization that would award grants to comic book creators to help them self publish. In twenty years they would award over 2.5 million dollars.

Now, Tom Waltz is a former active duty Marine serving during Desert Storm, he also served in the California National Guard, he is currently an editor for IDW and served as a writer for this graphic novel.

This collection serves as a reset on the Turtle Origin story. While a good amount of it is left the same as the other comic origins (where the Turtles and Splinter were lab animals, not pets accidentally exposed to the mutagen ooze). The turtles origin is in a botched case of corporate espionage, as they and the mutagen were stolen from the lab they were housed in by Foot Ninjas only for that to be foiled by Splinter in his pre-mutated state. Added is something only referred to a Psychotropic Compound, something that was injected into Splinter greatly increasing the rat's intelligence (thus he was a lab rat with human intelligence before he was mutated) and triggering something odd. Because in this origin the biggest deviation is the interjection of reincarnation. Splinter is not the pet rat of Hamato Yoshi, the wronged and murdered foot ninja, nor is he the ninja mutated into a rat. Instead he is the reincarnation of Hamato Yoshi and being injected with the Psychotropic Compound not only altered his physiology (as his blood now produces the compound) but awakened those memories within him. The turtles are also reincarnations, in this case the reincarnations of Hamato Yoshi's son's murdered by the Shredder many years ago. The turtles themselves don't have any memories of their prior lives but are able to learn the ninja arts at an accelerated rate, possibly due to being exposed to Splinter's blood when they were stolen by Foot Ninjas and rescued by Splinter (Oh wow… this is actually really touching in a way…). New characters are also introduced; in this case the figure of Old Hob, a mutated stray cat. His grudge against our heroes is the result of that botched break out, as a stray cat he tried to nab one of the turtles and fought Splinter. Splinter was injured and left bleeding, but Old Hob lost an eye and didn't get his meal. Old Hob seems to have taken that fight personally and made it his mission to kill the turtles and Splinter. Old Hob has also been exposed to the Psychotropic Compound through contact with Splinter's blood and uses his new intelligent for the twin goals of building an empire on the streets of New York and gaining blood soaked revenge on Splinter for daring to defend his loved ones.

There are also plenty of returning characters. April O'Neil returns as a college student, who while working as an intern Sees Too Much (™). Also we have Casey Jones, who returns as a troubled youth with a heart of gold and a drunken abusive father. Casey Jones is also Raphael’s best friend in this version and they get together at least once a week to cruise the streets and beat up criminals (Awww, they’re bonding!). There are also enemies that return here, such as the Shredder (can't really have a Turtles series without him can we?), along side of the Shredder are Kari, his granddaughter and right hand woman as well as the gang bangers Rocksteady and Bebop, although they aren't mutants yet (Aww man!). Also present in the background is the alien general Krang and taking center stage in this graphic novel, Baxter Stockmen, who was experimenting on the Turtles as a weapon development project for Krang. In this series, Baxter is a scientist and successful businessman. In fact he's the guy who develops the mutagen from the ooze provided to him by Krang. He also played a key role in the development of the psychotropic compound, but for reasons unexplained isn't able to replicate his work and as such funds (but doesn't aide) Old Hob on his quest for revenge as long as he gets Splinter's body reasonably intact at the end.

This is an origin story, a retelling of the origins of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their enemies. As such they do make it a point to make the characters work to find out just who the Foot Clan are and why Old Hob is hunting them. The series doesn't drag it out, knowing full well that most of us already know the answers to these questions so there's not much to be gained to prolonging the story. That said there are things that this series does pretty well. Perhaps due to the reincarnation angle, the feud between Shredder and Splinter feels more visceral, more driven by rage and loss then previous versions I'd seen. Additionally each of the Turtles gets an issue to themselves allowing work to be done on their characterization. The Turtles feel like individuals with their own family dynamics within the unit. Donatello, isn't just the smart nerd in the back, he's the one who openly doubts the idea of them being reincarnated people and is the one most willing to question Splinter while at the same time showing nothing but love and respect for his father. This makes him rather independent in a lot of ways. Leonardo is given more to do then just be consumed by the martial arts. He's the most spiritual of the group, the most willing to explore the idea that he might have been a Japanese teenager at one point in the past who was murdered by a warlord. He is also the Turtle most prone to accepting everything Splinter tells him, which is both a strength and weakness. Raphael is the angrest of the group but is also the first one to make a human friend. While he has a good amount of rage within, it's balanced by a desire to honestly help people. He's the one most likely to jump into a situation to help someone in trouble. Michelangelo might enjoy pizza and partying but he's also the biggest social creature out of the four and out of all of them seems to want to be able to be a part of human society the most. He's also the peace maker of the group, being the one to step in when any of the others are on the verge of brawling and reminding them of what's important.

This series carries the themes of revenge and family. Splinter wants revenge for not just his murder as Hamato Yoshi but the murder of his wife Tang Shin and their four sons. Old Hob wants revenge for his eye. What separates the two of them is that Splinter puts his love for his sons first and is willing to give up vengeance if it will be better for his children, showing a true devotion to fatherhood. Meanwhile Old Hob hates everything alive. The Turtles themselves are bound by brotherhood against a world that would hate and fear them if it knew they existed. On the flip side of that Shredder, Kari and the Foot Clan are held together by toxic and abusive versions of the family bonds that the Turtles display. We also see this in April O'Neil and Casey Jones, Jones family fell apart when his Mother died, his Father crawled into a bottle and never came back. Because of that Jones life is slowly circling the gutter and street violence is really his only outlet left. Meanwhile April's father has suffered a stroke but her family has pulled together to ensure his well being and that April finishes college. Having all these different versions of family as well as a look at revenge (for example Splinter certain has a better complaint then Old Hob but is willing to abandon it for the safety and well being of his sons. Old Hob won't drop his complaint even to save his own life) really ties the graphic novel together. I also found it a good buy in that it had 12 issues and 4 stand alones all brought together so it weights in at over 300 pages. Not bad in a world of shrinking comic page counts and rising prices. I'm giving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol I an A.

Next week, Elves.

This review edited by Dr. Ben Allen

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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