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Hawkeye, Vol. 2: Little Hits
Hawkeye, Vol. 2: Little Hits
by Matt Fraction
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.72
92 used & new from $7.68

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Crushing Disappointment, June 2, 2015
Given the extraordinarily promising first volume of the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye, this second volume is a fairly crushing disappointment.

The most immediate problem is the incoherence of the storytelling. It starts with nonlinear storytelling that appears to be nonlinear for no real purpose. Then Fraction begins layering nonlinear storytelling on top of his nonlinear storytelling and it STILL doesn't appear to serve any purpose. Aja's artwork is simultaneously becoming increasingly stylistic (at the expense of clear storytelling). The entire volume then concludes with an incomprehensible issue told entirely with iconography and literally illegible dialogue.

There is a great deal of cleverness to be found here, but it's almost entirely masturbatory in its execution.

And once you make the effort to peel away the clever-for-the-sake-of-clever shenanigans, you realize that the underlying story simply isn't very good: It's shallow, meaningless, and cliched, while featuring poorly motivated characters doing a lot of stupid things.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2015 9:16 PM PDT

Opera Vita Aeterna
Opera Vita Aeterna

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Easily one of the worst pieces of fiction I’ve read ..., July 15, 2014
Easily one of the worst pieces of fiction I’ve read lately. The “world-building” consists of thinly veiling the Catholic Church by inconsistently swapping out the names and terminology and then slapping in some magic-wielding elves. (You might think that magic-wielding elves would have some sort of meaningful impact on the beliefs or teachings of the Church, but they don’t.) The “plot” would be stretched thin on a very short story, but it takes a truly prodigious amount of “talent” to stretch it over the length of a novelette: An elf shows up at a not-Catholic monastery and says, “I killed your missionary. Now I’d like to stay here and study your God.” He decides to stay for several decades while he single-handedly illuminates an entire copy of the not-Bible by himself. This is interrupted by a single scene in which he asks the head of the monastery a question about his religious faith, prompting the head of the monastery to respond by literally cribbing Thomas Aquinas at interminable length. No one in the monastery has their faith or their lives remotely affected by the elf. The elf leaves for a bit and everyone in the monastery is brutally killed by some other elves. Then the elf yells at a statue of not-Jesus Christ.

It’s not so much a story as it is a train wreck of bad writing, bad plotting, bad world-building, and bad characterization.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home 12.0, English (Old Version)
Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home 12.0, English (Old Version)
53 used & new from $33.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Amazon Refuses to Post Substantive Review, January 12, 2014
I've attempted to post a review with an explicit depiction of this program's complete failure to perform, but Amazon refuses to post it because the sample output from its "transcription" is so nonsensical that Amazon doesn't recognize it as English.

'Nuff said, really. Despite going through multiple cycles of "training" with the program, it simply doesn't work.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Mysterious Affair at Styles

64 of 70 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Flawed Kindle Edition, November 2, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review applies only to the Kindle edition.

There are illustrations which are essential to the plot and referenced in the text. They are missing from this edition. I had to find another copy in order to finish the book. Very disappointed in the lack of quality in this release.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 21, 2014 3:50 PM PDT

Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait
Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait
by K. A. Bedford
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.49
35 used & new from $0.01

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Genre Smarmy and Poorly Done, April 13, 2010
Genre savvy characters can be quite delightful, but Bedford's protagonist crosses the line into "genre smarmy".

More inexcusable, however, Bedford never bothers to figure out how time travel is supposed to work. As a result, his novel is essentially unintelligible nonsense. Characters will babble on about how changing the past only results in a new timeline being created (while leaving the old timeline unchanged)... and then mere pages later they'll find their memories rewritten by their own time traveling exploits. And then a couple pages later we'll be back to forking timelines because that's convenient for whatever stream-of-consciousness nonsense Bedford decided to spit out that day at they keyboard.

In short, this is a truly atrocious book. It's a madlib of genre conventions spewed haphazardly across the page.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 1, 2010 11:29 PM PDT

The Big Time
The Big Time
by Fritz Leiber
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.99
53 used & new from $3.59

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fact Correction, July 26, 2006
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: The Big Time (Paperback)
To correct a previous review: THE BIG TIME was originally published in 1961. CABARET was first produced in 1966. While the book may be about time travel, it's unlikely that Leiber actually ENGAGED in time travel in order to rip off the plot of a musical in order to write it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 11, 2007 1:03 PM PDT

Gods in Darkness: The Complete Novels of Kane
Gods in Darkness: The Complete Novels of Kane
by Karl Edward Wagner
Edition: Hardcover
31 used & new from $45.13

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Dark Fantasy, October 16, 2004
What I'm Reading: GODS IN DARKNESS - Karl Edward Wagner

When Karl Edward Wagner began writing his Kane stories in 1970 he inherited the legacy of the barbarian hero from Robert E. Howard. Howard had almost single-handedly created sword-and-sorcery with his works, but Wagner - in creating his character of Kane - not only went back to the roots which had been planted by Conan and Kull (as so many other pale imitators had done), but also infused those roots with the rich traditions of fantasy and horror which had blossomed in the forty years since Howard had died.

Kane is one part Elric, one part Conan, but a creation all his own. His tales inherit the purity of Howard's barbarism, but also reach back into Howard's own influences to crank up the elements of Lovecraftian horror. You can feel the influences of Moorcock, Leiber, Moore, and Tolkien bubbling beneath the surface.

To this rich tradition, Wagner brought his own natural talent for the fantastical and the horrific, telling his stories with a brutal, beautiful prose.

GODS IN DARKNESS, from Night Shade Books, is a collection of all three of Karl Edward Wagner's Kane novels: BLOODSTONE, DARK CRUSADE, and DARKNESS WEAVES. It has a sister volume, THE MIDNIGHT SUN, which collects all of the Kane short stories.


Unfortunately, the first novel in this collection is almost certainly the weakest. Perhaps the most persistent and grating problem here is Wagner's infatuation with the thesaurus, coupled with an inordinate amount of obvious pleasure taken in finding the most obscure terms possible. The intention appears to an evocation of Lovecraftian prose, but the effect which Lovecraft so expertly crafts is rendered impotent through the sheer tenacity with which Wagner pursues it.

The plot, while strong in many regards, is conveyed in an episodic fashion - with many events relegated off-stage with description or narration. The effect, in later works, is to keep the action focused on the primary cast of characters - seeing their place and their reactions within a large world. In BLOODSTONE, however, the effect is disjointed and further weakened by the fact that most of the characters (with the exception of Kane himself) have strong taints of the cliché about them.

Coming to BLOODSTONE I had heard that Wagner was something of a hidden gem in the sword-and-sorcery genre: A writer whose talents compared favorably to Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock - but whose career had been cut tragically short by an early death. Reading BLOODSTONE, I was disappointed to discover an author of only mediocre skill.


Fortunately, the second novel in the collection is DARK CRUSADE, which should be on the reading list for any fan of sword-and-sorcery.

I don't know if BLOODSTONE was just an early work which took its time getting into print, if Wagner was simply rushed or off his rhythm while writing it, or if Wagner had a major breakthrough between '75 and '76: Whatever the case may be, everything which was only nascent mediocrity in BLOODSTONE comes together in DARK CRUSADE to craft a top notch novel.

One of the interesting things to note about Kane is that, unlike his fellow heroes-in-arms, Kane frequently finds himself on the wrong side of a conflict. Conan finds a crown when he joins a just rebellion against a tyrannical king. Kane seeks empire, and frequently allies himself with any power which becomes convenient or available. He believes that he can overcome whatever flaws or corruption exist within the power base he takes advantage of, but finds - time and time again - that the flaws and corruption are inherent to the power. As a result, Kane often finds himself in a role which would be villainous if it were not for his own nature as an anti-hero: Often he destroys his own dreams in an attempt to purify them of a tarnish which cannot be removed.

It is this dark depth of contradiction and tragic flaw - a wisdom and strength coupled with folly and weakness - which makes the character of Kane so infinitely fascinating. Like all of the great sword-and-sorcery tales, it is not the plot of pulp adventure which makes the stories of Kane a compelling read: It is the careful drawing of their larger-than-life protagonist.


The third novel in GODS IN DARKNESS is on the same playing field as the second. If anything, DARKNESS WEAVES represents an improvement over the craft and skill which went into the telling of DARK CRUSADE. Notably, a more complex cast of characters is invested with more detail, drawn in more depth, and (as a result) given greater significance.

Ultimately, none of these novels impressed me with the quality of Howard's THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON or Leiber's "Lean Times in Lankhmar". But DARK CRUSADE and DARKNESS WEAVES are both classics - and if I want to see more of the war in DARK CRUSADE and more of the twin romances in DARKNESS WEAVES, that's only a testament to the strength of what's already on the page.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 2, 2011 6:53 PM PDT

Ethan of Athos
Ethan of Athos
by Lois McMaster Bujold
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
116 used & new from $0.01

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Depths Make for a Rare Treat, January 24, 2004
One of the things I like best about Bujold is her uncanny ability to create and evoke alien cultures. (The fact that those cultures don't actually involve aliens is inconsequential.) The real trick of it, I've decided, is that Bujold doesn't make a big deal out of it. With most authors, every single difference is emphasized and analyzed and justified. The result feels inherently unnatural - partly because the author is making an elaborate production out of it, partly because the author is showing their hand at work, and often because the characters end up being far too self-aware. (Neither I, nor anyone I know, pauses to give elaborate, pseudo-science lectures on why 21st century Americans behave the way they do.)
Bujold, by contrast, simply allows her characters to live in the cultures she creates. Perhaps even more importantly, she lets us see the universe of her story through the unfiltered eyes of her characters, without apology or explanation.
On this level, ETHAN OF ATHOS delivers in a big way. The colony of Athos was founded by patriarchs who believed, primarily, that women were a corrupting influence. Using uterine replicators, they successfully created an all-male society way out in the boondocks of civilized space. Now, however, problems have begun to appear: Their original ovarian cultures are dying out, and problems of limited diversity were rearing their head even before the most recent genetic crisis came to a head. Somebody needs to be sent out into the wider galactic community to purchase new genetic material for the colony, and that's where Ethan comes in: He leaves on the annual galactic census ship on a secret, if somewhat unexciting, mission to save his world.
At which point he promptly falls into the middle of an espionage mission involving Elli Quinn (a delightful character familiar to those who have read Bujold's other Vorkosigan books).
Coincidentally, this discussion of culture-building brings up something which consistently puzzles me: A lot of people seem to have the belief that Bujold's work is light on the science fiction. Or, in other words, that her work only has a thin layer of science fiction thrown in to make them genre works. The only explanation I have for this belief is that Bujold is simply too subtle a writer for these people.
At first glance, ETHAN OF ATHOS is a simple adventure story starring a protagonist from an unusual culture. But take a closer look: That unusual culture is, in fact, a very sophisticated extrapolation of how technology will affect human society. And Bujold works in a complete analysis of the consequences and mindset of that culture, even while you're busy turning the pages for the exciting payoffs of the adventure story - she just refuses to Emphasize It With Capital Letters and Long Speeches Explaining the Point.
And against all of this, Bujold weaves yet another theme: A softly-played, emotionally-packed character drama.
Which brings me to another thing that I like about Bujold: Her humor. It's believable and real and rib-achingly funny. It's the humor of actual people living in an actual world, and it demonstrates the vividness with which Bujold evokes her stories. And, like most living humor, its all about context. (You'll see what I mean when you understand the line: "Apparently they had committees on Kline Station, too...")
So, we've got great prose, keen foresights, a fully-realized world, compelling characters, and an exciting plot.
And this is one of Bujold's weaker novels? There's little doubt in my mind that she's the best science fiction author writing today.

The Misenchanted Sword
The Misenchanted Sword
by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.95
39 used & new from $5.80

9 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Mediocre, January 18, 2004
This review is from: The Misenchanted Sword (Paperback)
THE MISENCHANTED SWORD is the first of Lawrence Watt-Evans' Ethshar novels. The world is soaked in magic - one of those mid-`80s creations of heavily D&D-influenced fantasy. The attitude can, perhaps, best be summed up by a quote from the book itself: "They wanted to believe in heroes, not ordinary, everyday magic." (Think about it.)
The concept of the plot is a fairly clever twist on familiar themes: The main character, trapped in the middle of a generational religious war between the followers of the gods and the northern demon-worshippers, is gifted with a magic sword. Unfortunately, as the character rapidly learns, the sword's enchantments include some rather annoying side-effects - among them the fact that the main character can't get rid of it. (One might even say it was cursed.)
The back cover blurb on my copy of the book gives the impression that this will all result in something of a farce - like Asprin or Anthony in their prime. In reality, there's nothing particularly funny about the book at all, and it's rather clear that Watt-Evans never meant it to be. The story would better be described as something of a melancholic character drama.
The prose (or, perhaps more appropriately, the storytelling) can be awkward at times: There seems to be no trust that the reader will hold on to certain concepts (like the emerging nature of the sword's enchantment), and thus the same information will be repeated incessantly.
In fact, there is a general lack of authorial confidence: Even the smallest details are given awkward justifications (as if the author were constantly fearful that someone were going to shout "gotcha!"). Every fact is repeated, and the main character goes round in circle after circle as he considers every possibility two or three times before finally taking action.
The setting also poses some problems. Ethshar is formed on the foundation of some rather intriguing and unique ideas, but the details seem to vary randomly between cleverly suggestive and puzzlingly vague.
Ultimately, the biggest problem is that the story seems to simply meander without much of a point. On the one hand, the most interesting sequences are simply glossed over - probably because the book is meant to be a character drama, not an adventure book. On the other hand, the main character never seems to achieve that vivid depth which would make his story interesting in-and-of itself. And, on the gripping hand, the flaws in the storytelling cause the entire book to wander with wild abandon.
All in all, I found this to be a solidly mediocre book - neither exceptional nor horrendously flawed. It would be a better book if it had been ruthlessly trimmed of its repetitive elements, with the freed-up space being used to move several incidents banished to exposition into the active narrative. As it is, this isn't a book I'll caution you against - but it's not a book I'd recommend, either.
I'm glad that this wasn't my first Watt-Evans, because otherwise I might draw very different conclusions about his quality as an author. (Instead my first was NIGHTSIDE CITY, and that's an excellent book.) As it is, I'll almost certainly check out the second Ethshar book at some point to see how the intriguing and cleverly suggestive elements of the setting develop in the hands of a more mature author.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 4, 2008 3:56 AM PST

A Phule and His Money (Phule's Company)
A Phule and His Money (Phule's Company)
by Robert Asprin
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
74 used & new from $0.01

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Absolute Garbage, November 18, 2003
I enjoyed the first two books in this series enough to read them a second time, but this collaboration was absolutely atrocious.
Every indication seems to be that Asprin wrote an outline which Peter J. Heck attempted to flesh out into a book: Unfortunately, Peter J. Heck has no sense of character or comedy. I only got a few dozen pages into the book before throwing it against the wall in total disgust, but time and time again I saw scenes which -- if the old Robert Asprin had been executing them -- would have been hilarious. Here, however, they fell flat and lifeless to the pavement.
There are no laughs here. The characters and the scenes are forced. All sense of a point is missing.
No matter how much you loved the first two books, avoid this installment at all costs. Indeed, the closer the first two books are to your heart, the deeper this book will thrust the knife.

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