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Providence #1 Review

Plot Summary

In Providence #1 by Alan Moore, we meet Robert Black. Robert is a writer for the Herald in New York City. The world is on the edge of Prohibition, which will influence the criminal underworld’s rise to power. Robert wants to desperately write a novel, and when a coworker reminds him of Robert Chamber’s the King in Yellow as well as Sous le Monde, he begins his journey by meeting an ailing Dr. Alvarez.

Alvarez lives in an apartment that is below freezing. This is our first Lovecraftian allusion with “Cool Air.” I’ll not point out all of the allusions as it isn’t critical to the understanding of the story, and it’s unlikely those will be appreciated without reading Lovecraft. Alvarez is the motivator for Robert, who points at the Hidden America and about the Kitab al-Hikimah al-Najmiyya. This book represents Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, the Book of the Law of the Dead. The al-Khitab is the Book of the Wisdom of the Stars.

Darkness Within

Behind all this is Robert’s lover Jonathan Russell’s suicide. Robert pretends to be heterosexual, even in his commonplace book at that end, referring to Jonathan as Lily, which may or may not have been a real prostitute whom Robert used as a beard. I got a bit confused there. Robert shirks Jonathan because homosexuality isn’t accepted, and thus, he kills himself, leaving Robert blaming himself.

This is suicide sets the tone of the series, especially when Dr. Alvarez says:

We must never discard those we are loved by. Lacking them, we are cursed.

By rebuking his lover, Robert has ended the only relationship that provided him with love, and in the end, he is left cursed, despite being unaware.

Assessment

This intro to the series is pretty fantastic. The artwork is brilliant and reminds me of a movie. The storytelling is evocative, alluring, and surreal. Robert is an unreliable narrator from the get-go, which is common in Lovecraftian literature. He is a duplicitous fool, who really afraid of his own desires.

The series’ biggest weak point is its reliance on the commonplace book section at the end of most issues. These instances take up 6 to 10 pages of the ~35 page issue, and it is digitized pictures of text. All the text is designed to look like handwriting, making it quite hard to read. A lot of these entries are summaries of the story as Robert sees it in the privacy of his thoughts. A lot of details will be changed from how we see it, usually Robert talking himself out of the madness he perceives. After a few issues, I began to skim them or read synopses. Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence (https://factsprovidence.wordpress.com/moore-lovecraft-comics-annotation-index/providence-1/)

does annotations on each issue, and I thought they did a great job of explaining the relevance of the commonplace book and anything else we may not have paid much attention to on the first reading.

All in all, this is a great issue to read, and I highly recommend it.

Providence #1: 5 out 5

Revisiting Providence and Neonomicon: A review

As Alan Moore closes the comic chapter of his life, I am compelled to prepare for his final outing by assessing this entire world as one holistic image.

Over the next 15 days, I’ll reread both Providence and Neonomicon and post my thoughts, one teaser on Twitter and Instagram with a longer form on here.

This view will be my summarizing the issues and a quick hit list of pros and cons. Think of it as where the issues do well, where I was a bit removed, and what I’d like to see in the future.

I’ll finish it on April 5th with the review of the final issue of Providence. Let’s begin.

Movie Review: Dr. Strange

Dr. Strange

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A Dip into Psychedelia

Dr. Strange follows Dr. Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who is the best at what he does. Benedict Cumberbatch channels a lot of Tony Stark in his creation and portrayal of Dr. Strange, and a great portion of the movie is him coping with the lost of his hands following a car accident where he lost control of his vehicle.

Strange eventually ends up at a monastery where his belief system is challenged as he’s shown the way to heal using astral projection and other mental abilities.

Here’s where Dr. Strange diverts from all of Marvel. Until now, with the exception of Scarlett Witch, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor, magic has never been a factor in these films. Dr. Strange holds the distinction of being the only film where magic is introduced and explained. What follows is a film that is much more philosophy than action. The film’s main antagonist is Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen, but his role is very limited to showing how powerful Dr. Strange actually is. As a neophyte at the start of the film, Strange quickly becomes so skilled that he is able to totally best this sorcerer who is a master of his craft.

Instead, Dr. Strange focuses on the concepts of willpower, manifesting intentions, and doing so with a lot of psychedelic imagery. At one point, Stan Lee makes a cameo while reading Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception. The movie holds nothing back in how its philosophy and imagery are heavily influenced by Aleister Crowley, Thelma, and DMT trips. That also seems to be the vehicle to get their messages across: if you assume you know everything on a topic, then the door is already closed; why bother trying to learn. As Dr. Strange, in his quest for healing, opens up, he is recruited into a war that he wasn’t prepared for.

The movie does one fascinating and excellent thing that should have happened way earlier, possibly after The Avengers. In it, Dr. Strange is told while the Avengers protect the world from physical attacks, the Order at Kamar-Taj is the defense for Earth against the metaphysical. This creates an explanation of why attacks on Earth are growing increasingly destructive; entities need new approaches to break through.

With a focus on philosophy, and pushing to create a character that is substantially different from the rest of the MCU, Dr. Strange stands out as a movie on its own. However, thanks to the marketing machine at Disney, it is part of a bigger machine.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

By 2016, we have had a lot of superhero movies. This is thanks to the fact that Disney, owner of Marvel Comics, decided to invest in a movie franchise that would create movies BASED on other movies without necessarily being direct sequels. The best example of this Avengers: Age of Ultron, which references the Winter Soldier, a character introduced in Captain America’s sequel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

This sort of storytelling device is a neat one because rather than having several long Avenger films to build each character, they can have movies that focus on just the group dynamic, with the solo films building everything else up. This creates a massive dependency on the viewers to watch everything in order to understand some off-hand reference. I believe with Dr. Strange is the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means in order to understand the fullness of this film, viewers have to commit at least 26 hours (13 movies at ~2 hours a piece) just for one universe. These films are all building towards the grand conclusion – Avengers Infinity Wars, which may expand across two movies.

This is all well and good, however, as more characters need to be added to the Infinity Wars film, there will be many more origins to add. Eventually, viewers will want a break.

Yet Another Superhero Origin Story

Origin movies are usually the best a series has to offer because it takes no assumptions with individual characters and walks the viewer through the process. Since 2014, the following origin movies have come out.

  1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (reboot)
  2. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  3. X-Men: Days of Future Past*
  4. Ant-Man (MCU film)
  5. Deadpool
  6. Dr. Strange

These are just origins movies, or points in a series where (like with X-Men) the series changes. With X-Men: First Class, it was a reboot of a new series, going back to the when Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr form the X-Men. However, other than a Hugh Jackman cameo, it wasn’t considered to be directly related to the original 2000s trilogy. Days of Future Past changed that by making it all the same universe.

Another Player Has Arrived

DC has really only succeeded in delivering one trilogy of good comic adaptions with Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Though the final film was a bit up for debate in how good it was, The Dark Knight is objectively a great film. Man of Steel attempted to deliver in a similar way, a darker film with more grounded implications. It did all right by most accounts, and the sequel was retooled. Instead of a stand alone film, the direct sequel was Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie also marked the pivot in Warner Brothers to build to the Justice League, DC’s Avengers, though the Justice League existed for three years longer.

The problem is Christian Bale isn’t Batman in this universe, and there is no connection to the Nolan movies at all. Also, every hero needs to be introduced. Marvel took five movies over four years to build to the Avengers. When that movie finally arrived, they had introduced Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Captain America in their own films. Hawkeye and Loki are also introduced in Thor. By the time Avengers actually comes out, we know all these characters and actors (save for the recasting of Hulk with the vastly superior Mark Ruffalo). This means the team up movie is all ready to get into the core of the meshing of attitudes and personalities.

Not so with DCU. In Batman vs. Superman, we had a new Bruce Wayne and a new Alfred. Wonder Woman was introduced, Lex Luthor was introduced, and we see cameos of Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Setting up all this story for future movies, made the very long movie miss a lot of plot development, and we had no real emotional connection to Superman when he dies in the finale. Suicide Squad, a terrible, terrible film, takes place after Batman vs. Superman with Superman still dead, and adding in The Flash as one of the heroes to stop members of the Suicide Squad. As seen in the trailer, Wonder Woman and Batman will recruit everyone, none of whom get a solo movie other than Wonder Woman, and do whatever it is they have to do as a team. It feels like the same set up that crippled Suicide Squad.

Studio Greed

2016 saw 4 movies of a similar background, which is the protagonists fighting among themselves. Batman vs. Superman beat Captain America: Civil War by two months in March. The movie was critically panned and made people really uneasy for the other two films that would follow. Captain America: Civil War hit in early May with glowing reviews. It’s box office topped BVS, despite having the same budget. May ended with the panned X-Men: Apocalypse which didn’t even beat the box office of BVS. Some believed that Batman vs. Superman, coming out so close to two other movies with the same general concept, caused a lower box office for Civil War, and mad people far more critical of Apocalypse.

To make matters worse, the most panned film of the four was Suicide Squad, coming out in August with nothing really to show for it at all. However, by releasing these two movies in the same year, WB is able to show a profit between the two films somewhere north of a billion, which will guarantee they can keep the series going. X-Men seems less certain, despite Deadpool being a runaway hit and Logan looking to be exactly what that character needed. Bryan Singer has left the series, Hugh Jackman is retiring as Wolverine, and Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and James McAvoy all seem to be looking to leave. This changeover creates the climate for rebooting the series. And that’s where the studios have brought these beloved franchises: either boring audiences with mediocre or shitty attempts, overwhelming them with just sheer volume, or forcing them to suffer through reboots.

Dr. Strange Final Score: 4/5

Ultimately, this is less about the culture of comic book movies, and more about how did Dr. Strange do as a film. On its own, Dr. Strange was fantastic. The visuals will likely win an award or two, and Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addiction to the MCU. However, this movie doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is plenty of content around it to full grasp everything here. Because of that, it has a lot of work to make itself fit in with a larger universe.

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

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A Journey into Madness

When considering Hunter S. Thompson, one always considers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The novel is a powerhouse of hilarity, absurdity, and political observations. Thompson holds no punches, deftly sewing in a story of rape, smuggling a ridiculous amount of drugs across state lines, and crafting a story that is both captivating and humorous.

A Trip in Itself

Thompson’s prose is mind-bogglingly hard to follow. This style does well to match Raoul Duke’s drugged-up state. Duke, Thompson’s character in the book, is rarely sober, and the implication is that the world around him is too awful to enjoy sober. To this end, he consumes ridiculous amounts of mescaline, marijuana, amyl nitrates, and acid without going totally insane. While describing his drug use, Thompson makes some hilarious observations, such as:

I tend to sweat heavily in warm climates. My blood is too thick. My clothes are soaking wet from dawn to dusk. This worried me at first, but when I went to a doctor and described my normal daily intake of booze, drugs and poison he told me to come back when the sweating stopped.

He also uses moments of clarity to tell the reason he is allegedly in Las Vegas: to find the American Dream.
What Thompson sets up is that if the American Dream can only be found in Las Vegas, at the bottom of a well of more drugs than any human can consume, is that the American Dream has become so vague and blurry it is now unattainable.

A Summary of Insanity

Duke and his attorney then go on another trip to Vegas where police, prosecutors, and other legal folks are meeting to discuss the drug scene. In this moment, Duke gives a candid review of anti-drug propaganda, hilariously poorly done and ill-informed. Duke shows that the people in charge of maintaining the laws have no understanding of the real world culture, and thus, they cannot completely be able to police the drug culture.

A Method to Madness

Fear and Loathing, released decades ago in another world, is a timeless piece that is humorous, raw, shocking, and gritty. Thompson, as a great writer, has created a story that applies to generations regardless of when they pick up the book. The story is one that gives a glimpse, albeit exaggerated, into the periphery of human society. It is easy to get immersed into the story and feel like you are in the back seat of the Great Red Shark or White Whale, praying for safety.

Final Score: 5 out of 5

After finishing Fear and Loathing, I can finally feel a sense of relief. The ride has ended.
FearandLoathing

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Life of the Party – Stories of a Perpetual Man Child

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I Am The Machine

Bert Kreischer is a stand-up comedian and television host who proves living vicariously through someone else can be really damn entertaining. For example, here’s a story of how he robbed a Russian train. It was part of the book, but I think hearing it helps a lot because it is the exact tone I imagined when I read the book.

As becomes apparent in this book, Bert Kreischer is a guy who developed success, solely because he is a put-together train wreck. He is the basis of Van Wilder after Rolling Stone called him the biggest party animal in the US, and he used this bump in status to climb the entertainment industry.

Egotistical Humility

What’s fascinating is that Bert manages to brag about his success, throw it in the face of a real writer (a teacher from school who was pissed Bert got a book contract based on the fact he couldn’t adult at all while the professor had worked for years to get the same), and still comes out as an endearing character. Bert, despite all his massive flaws, ends the book as a likable sweet person. While telling your life in the form of stories, you are essentially creating a detached caricature of yourself with a lot of exaggerations and bombastic qualities that may not be there.

Growing While Partying

The book ends on a really redeeming high note: Bert talking about a surgery with his daughter. It was the most real look into him as a person and father, where he was forced to put his daughter under anesthesia to have her undergo painful jaw surgery. In recovery, he meets a celebrity, casually and emphatically dropping their name, as Bert likes to do, but the story itself was more important. It shows him, despite the mountains of self-deprecating humor, as a person who has grown up and realized he has responsibilities outside of his fun, and he embraces both personas like they are nothing.

Final Rating: 5 out of 5

And that’s where the book of a stand-up party animal ends: as a journey from attention-starved childhood to the balanced responsibility of adulthood. It’s a fascinating and humorous read that flies by.
LifeoftheParty

Movie Review: Suicide Squad, or an exercise in masochism.

Suicide Squad debuted this weekend, and I, despite all logic, went see it.

Suicide Squad is the least enjoyable time I’ve had in a movie in a while. Movies like Warcraft left me bored, and sleeping, but Suicide Squad was like a constant state of pulling me along with the hope that something important and interesting will happen.
Sadly, that never happened.

The “Plot”

The movie starts off with this government type who suggests creating a group of bad people to do good things. Literally a line from the movie. Her need for this is that since Superman is dead, we need a replacement group to prevent the next super man from holding the world hostage. This decision seems super odd since we do live in a world where Batman still exists, and Wonder Woman is now a known thing.
Oddly enough, she picks random villains in prison to do this. The two stars are Deadshot, played by Will Smith, and Harley Quinn, played by Margot Robbie. The two characters get the most attention, and characterization, of the entire film. The film’s main villain the Enchantress is given a short, stilted introduction and used to show the power this group has by stealing weapons plans from Iran. The issue is she’s the only one who has close to the power to do this. Literally no one in the Suicide Squad other the El Diablo is special in the same way she is. It’s never actually made clear what this group of villains would do against another, evil Superman.
Predictably, shit goes awry when Enchantress decides to bolt.

What Characters?

Therein lines the first problem. Everyone in the Suicide Squad is special in terms of comparison to other people, except Harley Quinn. She’s just crazy and in love with the Joker.
We see her transform from Dr. Harleen Quinzel into the Joker’s love interest in the form of flashbacks, which is the majority of the movies exposition: they just show the characters past lives before Batman or someone else arrested them.
The movie is getting renowned criticism, and it definitely isn’t unjustified. I couldn’t not hear it. So, I went in with low expectations, and somehow, the movie still broke them.
The pacing is atrocious, the characterization is a joke other than Harley and Deadshot, and the actual plot is just needless.

Why So Serious?

Jared Leto’s Joker was a crime against art. It felt like he, an Oscar winner, was playing a gangster who admired The Joker instead of the Clown Prince of Crime. He has none of the humor of The Joker, none of the character, and none of the weight of the Joker. He was just a silly looking person with nothing scary or crazy. Worst still, they make him totally separate from the rest of the Squad, only sharing screen time with Harley ever, and he does some really non-Joker stuff. He dives into acid, which bleaches Harley’s skin and hair while doing nothing to him, because he’s utterly in love with her, which isn’t the Joker. The Joker was incapable of emotions like love. He used Harley’s attraction and love to get his ends, and if it bored him, he’d throw her aside.
It was little changes like this, and his shitty laughing face tattoo that he uses often to appear like he is smiling. It dawned on me the Joker actually rarely smiled in this film. He does this really odd, stilted laugh that is totally mirthless, which again, isn’t the Joker. There’s a cameo in the film wherein Batman appears, says nothing, and he feels more Batman than the Joker did despite the fact he was a major driver. The only weird Batman spot was when Bruce Wayne, during the end credits, tells Amanda Waller, played embarrassingly by Viola Davis, to “shut it down,” and his “friends will take care of it.” Ben Affleck could not have been a worse actor if he tried. It was a bizarrely poor scene overall, ending a mess of  a movie in a disappointing way.

Decisions: Do Not See in Theaters

It’s a movie that will likely be forgotten in years. It was boring, pointless, and insulting to the audience. There isn’t anything rewarding for the audience in any way, and it isn’t even so bad it’s good. It’s just bad. Maybe at home the movie would be a lot more fun, where you can walk around and get a break from the nearly constant mediocrity, but it’s an experience I have no interest in testing. Fans of the characters and people who already wanted to like this movie will. The reactions show that there is a small group who love it. Power to them. I am not in that group. I was just disappointed.

1/5

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Graveyard of Empires

Graveyard of Empires by Lincoln Cole

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As an indie writer, it would be really selfish of me to not check out my peers’ work. I was gifted this book in exchange for an honest review.

To preface, indie ranges across many concepts. One thing that is just not easy is editing. I’ll address this super briefly because my book is as guilty of it. This book has a lot of editing issues. Missing commas, misspelled names (Jayson as Jason), misused words, etc. are pretty common. Those don’t bother me too much because I understand the cost to get an editor, and the likelihood of a return on that value is very small. For some readers, this needs to be noted because there are some rough sentences every now and then. The most glaring instance of this is actually in the epilogue, where Jayson, a character that appears in a few chapters is mysteriously renamed Jason. Also, in the final chapter, a few dialogue tags are off, so the wrong character says thing. Minor but jarring.

Other issues do exist. Some plots are very half-baked, either in terms of plotting or characterization or details. So, you’ll read a lot of action without much anchoring to the world. I think it’s the nature of the genre of space opera that requires many story lines to come up and connect. As such, the action is very fast, the characters are very shallow, and the dialogue is very terse.

My final issue is the jumping around. First person is used randomly, to indicate thoughts, with no typography changes. It’d be nice to see italics or something like that. Also, I think rather than having each chapter for a story line, the story lines should be lumped together and resolved separately, like a collection of novellas. If there is any cross over, that’s fine, but don’t make it so jarring in jumps. Jayson’s story line, for example, is only about 3 or 4 chapters, but they are meaty ones with a lot of space between. The result? You lose details between the breaks. Same with Darius’ story line. Had all these been collated, with a solid beginning, middle, and end, I think it would have read a lot easier.

The biggest issue that knocked my score down was the ending. While I understand this is setting up for a series, as a writer of a series, I know that no matter what, each episode must be self-contained experiences. In the end of this book… not much happens overall: the civil war is still, mostly a cold war, a pawn of the empire has been used, and soldiers are starting to be positioned for the maximum gain, but none of that feels really worthy of telling. I think this is where a short story anthology approach would have been more worth while. Giving vignettes instead of a novel of ideas would have let ideas breathe and try their own thing.

All that negativity aside, the world built here is fun and exciting. Lincoln does an excellent job giving life to planets, space stations, and characters. His characters are, when fully baked, very fun and unique. Abdullah and Vivian in particular are really solid, real feeling characters. Maven, not so much, appearing like a shade of Darth Vader rather than some sort of homage. The action is fascinating, especially when students are brought to the academy, and I think Lincoln could do a full-fledged battle scene with a lot of deftness.

For a story with so many story lines that are developing separately, I think Lincoln has a great grasp of trying to say something of value. Too often writers get stuck with the neat story or something like that, forgetting that a story should be the transmission of a message.

Graveyard of Empires is a really fun read overall. The beginning is slow, but once you meet the real cast of characters it starts to speed up a lot. For its value, I’d recommend it as a good weekend read.

3/5 – Graveyard of Empires is a fun space opera that has a lot of clever ideas. I think the approach was a bit too much of a wide net to deliver perfectly, but what is there is pretty solid overall. At $4, you’ll get more than your entertainment’s worth.

Graveyard

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Ghost Story

 

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

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This book review may be a bit of a softball. Amazon lists the book at 608 pages, which is just over the requirement for my Pop Sugar Reading Challenge for 2016. This worked out super well because I left Changes, book 12 of The Dresden Files, craving the next part.

Here we go; there will be spoilers.

Book 13 in The Dresden Files proves something I assumed since the very beginning – Jim Butcher HATES Harry Dresden. Like a lot. Like he fucking kills him at the end of Book 12 a lot.

Book 12, once again named Changes, is filled with a lot of twists. It opens with Harry learning he has a daughter. His ex/half-vampire was hiding his eight-year-old daughter from him. She’s kidnapped by other vampires as a revenge plot. Harry, through story stuff, takes a deal that utterly screws him in with the ever-present Sidhe. Those are big changes.

But the book ends with Harry getting sniped and dying.

Ghost Story picks up right after all that. Dresden is dead, and he is now a shade of his former self without magic to help him out. Knowing what we know of Dresden, he thinks he needs magic a lot, though this book seems to work hard to show he is more than that.

Other than some well-bread crumbed Deus Ex Machina, the book is a solid romp in a magicless world of ghosts. Because he’s a ghost, we get to see more of Dresden’s past under his psychotic tutor, and because he’s been dead for a few months, we get to see a world that has to deal without a Harry Dresden.

This book seems like a long asked question: Was Harry special or were all his enemies just really weak? In his flashback battle with He Who Walks Behind as well as his ability to resurrect, we learn very quickly that Dresden is a special mold with a lot of innate power. In his absence, several new players have entered Chicago with the sole goal of destroying as much as possible and seizing as much power as they can.

We see one instance of this in microcosm when Dresden finds a gang of teenagers, crippled under the power of a cult leader. The homeless leader isn’t that powerful overall, but when someone has ANY power and abuses it, he can make the weak, especially children, tools of his machinations.

Dresden, with his mortal friends, beat the cult leader, and together, they begin to learn of the greater plots at play here. Throughout the developing story, Harry, normally a headstrong charging bull, is a shown to mature significantly. Because he cannot help his friends with anything but his brain, a tool shown often as more powerful than any of his magic, we see a far more clever and visceral approach to problems.

The end though, we get a painful revelation: Harry, paralyzed in Changes, makes a deal with Queen Mab of the Sidhe Court to become her Winter Knight. She heals him to fight the Red Court. However, before he does that, Harry hires a hitman to kill him, knowing that Mab would use his daughter to control him.  This self-assassination is orchestrated with the aid of his protégé, Molly. After he dies (and she removes all memory of the plot), Molly spirals into self-guilt.

This is where Jim Butcher’s plotting and characterization shine. Harry has been on a long trek towards oblivion. Starting around Book 4, Harry began playing with powers far greater than he understood in the name of defending people he cared about. While honorable, he was quite literally burning himself out. Whether it was the use of the Shade of a Fallen Angel or the gift of soulfire, which was burning away his own life, Dresden did it without much thought. He had to save the people he cared about first, and he’d fix himself afterwards.

Dying was the only thing left for Dresden to do, especially after becoming Mab’s servant. His entire persona is defined by his desire to help others even at his own expense. In this book, Dresden manifests himself, using his own waning power to do so at great personal risk, just so he can save the people he said he would.

Herein lies my love of Harry Dresden and the Dresden Files: In 13 books, the character has changed drastically. The most important thing though is his change towards something organic. As he pushes himself to kill these insurmountable enemies, learning new things along the way, he does it in ways that make sense and don’t feel like we are being cheated as readers.

The closest we came to that in this book was in the final chapter where Harry agrees to finally die and move on. However, he is quickly resurrected. It turns out Queen Mab and Demonsreach, a entity introduced in Book 10, Simple Favor, have combined their needs to resurrect Harry, needing him to let go of his spirit so they could summon it.

The book ends with Harry totally at Mab’s mercy, which is going to create a heavy, compelling ride.

If you are curious about reading this book that means you’ve read the last 12. That’s a lot of time to give up now, and if you are still reading, you know what you like. This book pushes the Dresden story even further, and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks to the work of Jim Butcher, he made this book review nothing too complicated.

5/5 – The mark of a good series is when each book adds more to the overall story while satisfying long term readers. This book does that in spades.

GhostStory

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Transcendental Studies ( + HOWL)

Poetry is one of those pretentious things we like to pretend we enjoy until we actually engage in it. Some is very good. Some… we pretend it is. I present two poetry books, which incidentally fit into two categories on my reading list. Let’s knock these bitches out.

Transcendental Studies by Keith Waldrop

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Keith Waldrop is considered a brilliant avant-garde poet of the modern era. Reading his stuff and understanding how he writes, it’s easy to see he has skills with words and imagery. Unfortunately, the book Transcendental Studies is a complete waste of time.

Finishing the first part, I. Shipwreck in Haven, I had no clue what was going on. It was just words to me, and it didn’t really make sense. I studied poetry in school, I’ve written some that has received some good response. So, to a degree, I get poetry. But, I just didn’t get this. Why?

I took to Google, and I learned why: Because there is absolutely no God damn point. In his own words, Keith Waldrop says:

What I write down is a kind of script for something that sounds. I find people often don’t read it that way. They have a hard time translating from lines on a page to. . .part of this is the way poetry is taught in schools and such. You get a poem and you’re supposed to figure out what it means. Once you know what it means, you throw the poem away because you have the meaning. That is the destruction of poetry. I want the words to remain and if people don’t know the meaning of them I don’t think that’s as bad as losing the sound.

– Keith Waldrop, March 2010

Okay… so the words don’t mean anything per se, but their sounds are what matters. Creating a tapestry of linguistics. Sure. I buy that. It is a bit annoying, I guess, but it is experimental poetry. Let’s roll with that.

Then, in that same article, Keith Waldrop proves he really doesn’t give a shit about art; he just wants to make things, no matter their value.

I put three books in front of me, all prose, a novel, then something psychological, then whatever I happened to have around. I would take phrases from these three books and make some stanzas, four, five six lines. Once I had that I’d make more stanzas of the same number of lines, and when that gave out, after a page or two, I’d say alright I have this poem now and I would take it to the typewriter and type it up and in doing so I would rearrange the stanzas alphabetically.

This is where I lost any semblance of respect for Waldrop as an author. Later in the article, he notes that he instructs translators to do the same thing. If you know a thing or two about other languages, you can understand and appreciate how much this fucks up the concept of a poem. “With” in English is “Avec” in French, “Con” in Spanish, and “Mit” in German. In all three translations, the placing of a stanza starting with “With” moves dramatically across the poem.

This is where I become extremely bothered by the non-art movement. I may come off as a classicist, but I respect contributions that move art beyond the old contrivances. I think ABAB poetry has probably been fully explored and realized, and I find value in free verse, but this – this is spray painting random dots on a wall and calling it art. Quite literally, anyone can do this. Computers do this now. When I was unemployed, I had to write articles that were clearly defined paragraphs, all self-contained. I was paid to write these articles, generic as can be, and then, they went into a machine where they paragraphs were re-arranged as many times as possible. A 5-paragraph article I wrote would generate dozens of articles with the same content, re-arranged. Look around the web, and you will see these.

What irks me about this style of poetry is it takes out the effort of creation and art. Today, there is so much content that can entertain us. Like to read? Check out Kindle Unlimited, Smashwords, your local library, and a myriad of other smaller sites. You’ll have more cheap or free books than you can understand. Like music? TONS of services exist to stream them to you for cheap. Same with movies. Same with TV.

We are no longer at a drought of content; we are in a massive surplus. But that shouldn’t ever stop new writers, painters, musicians, speakers, and animators from creating more. If anything it should inspire you to find new avenues. My novel, for example, isn’t a new concept or anything. I’ve even seen books come out that are far successful than my own that are scary close to my own ideas. And that doesn’t matter. Every voice will be different. It used to be that we hoped for a book that would answer everything for us; like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Since Douglas Adams and Terry Prachett have died, we have been longing to fill those gaps. Now, there are tons of people like those in other genres and examples.

Transcendental Studies takes all the pride artists should have. By making something so utterly devoid of artist merit, by his own words at least, Waldrop has devalued the power and value of poetry. This is not how to contribute to the culture; this is how you retain the old system of publishers saying what has merit rather than letting the consumers enjoy everything and filter things out themselves.

Maybe it just isn’t my thing.

0/5 – This book has no merit and nothing was really gained from this experience.

Transcend

Fortunately, I had another poetry book that worked out a lot better for me.

HOWL – Allen Ginsberg and Eric Drooker

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Howl is a ground-breaking poem by American Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. I am not using the term ground-breaking lightly; the guy straight up changed how obscenity laws work in terms of art. Ginsberg was ballsy as Hell. He wrote a poem that covered sexual acts, many of which were illegal due to sodomy laws, and ousted himself as a homosexual in a time when that was grounds to blacklist him.

He didn’t care; he proved through his experiences and life that he was just really into pushing away the concept of censorship in favor of artistic freedom. That’s a rare act for a literary figure, and he stuck to his guns despite threats of losing his job and livelihood and possibly freedom.

Howl shows what true art can do: it contributes to the cultural vocabulary and arms us all with the ability to combat attacks on our freedom, thoughts, and beliefs. I am a strong advocate doing whatever you want as long as you don’t trod on someone else’s freedom. Language is just a vocalization of thoughts. As George Carlin said, there’s no bad words. We need to not fear the concepts that other people enjoy. A late trend is people posting endless memes of “I wish everyone would stop being offended all the time.” These vapid repostings are as insipid as censorship because they simply mean they wish you wouldn’t talk about something that they happen to value, or are neutral too, but I guarantee that if they have any spine or conviction on any topic, you could offend them.

As you should, offending someone is butting against a core tenet of their lives. I am an advocate for mental health awareness and treating people openly, and I take a lot of offense to the handwaving and eye rolling towards mental illness because it is a very important topic. If I lack these, then I am just a husk that parrots whatever the drivers of my beliefs tell me to.

Howl, way back in the 50s, fought that. And here we are.

The actual book I read was fantastic. Eric Drooker illustrated Howl, which contains 4 parts – Who, Moloch, Rockland, and a Footnote to Howl. The overarching theme of the poems is the lament of the lost youth, who are disaffected by the crushing drudgery of life, industrialization, pharmacology (or medicine in general), and their attempts to break free, though not without scars. Despite being completed in 1957, the series creates a perfect summary of the world today and tomorrow, and every generation.

This book is phenomenal in art and the words are still fascinating and shocking. It’s a great book that needs to be read by everyone at least once.

5/5 – It was a game-changer in the 50s, and now, it resonates with no signs of aging.

Howl

References

  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-lundberg/a-big-win-for-experimenta_b_365671.html
  2. http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/%E2%80%98howl%E2%80%99-obscenity-prosecution-still-echoes-50-years-later
  3. http://www.wired.com/2015/03/future-news-robots-writing-audiences-one/

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Darker Shade of Magic

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As a writer, I know story ideas are hard. So much of literature has already been covered by other writers, that it is hard to pave new arenas. Enter: A Darker Shade of Magic.

The concept of the novel is very fascinating: There are 4 worlds: Red, White, Grey, and Black, though Black is dead now. A magician named Kell is a powerful sorcerer capable of traversing these three worlds. Because of his unique ability, he likes to smuggle things between worlds, which creates the premise of this story when he accidentally smuggles more than he intended.

Right out the gate, the world building is excellent. The first few sections kept me hooked with how detailed the world was and how the operate like little separate machines.

The problem with this book is the characters. None of them really feel alive, and most of the time, their fortune seems rushed rather than based on character and plot considerations. The climax of the story has Kell basically rushing through the motions as if they author knew where she wanted to start, and sorta how she wanted to end, but had no idea or concern of the middle stuff. It took me a LONG time to read this, simply because it never found its rhythm until section 10 of 14. By then, I was finally engaged enough to keep pushing through, but the story always felt like it was in second gear.

Worst of all, the book takes very few risks in building a cogent universe. Kell and Lila basically lose very little throughout the story, and it gives them little motivation to act other than not to die. Also, Kell’s masters feel like cardboard cut-outs whereas his prince, Rhy, feels like a real character.

Overall, the book isn’t really bad. It has a lot of potential with world building, and I hope the inevitable sequel takes more risks. While I hate to compare books, I think someone like Jim Butcher with his Dresden Files, a series I feel like he thoroughly hates because of how much turmoil he puts Dresden under, would have done far better at making this book stick. In the end, nothing felt of much consequence despite the far-reaching story line built up.

Give it a read, but don’t expect to be wowed.

3/5 – Good but not great or groundbreaking. Don’t rush or break the bank to read this book.

I started this book before 2016, but since it all takes place inside of many London’s, it fits my “A Book on an Island” challenge.

Darker

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