HiLo: The Great Big Boom

June 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

boomHiLo: The Great Big Boom by Judd Winick

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I’m a Judd Winick fanboy. I’ve been one since discovering Frumpy the Clown, which pointed me to Barry Ween and Pedro and Me, and then on to HiLo. It’s hard to be objective, though it doesn’t stop me from being critical when I feel it’s appropriate. The Great Big Boom is the continuation of the story of HiLo (and D.J. and Gina).

At the end of Saving the Whole Wide World, Gina got sucked into a portal, her destination unknown to either D.J. or HiLo. It was a tragic ending, and it reminded me a bit of Sara’s story in Barry Ween. I was hoping that Winick would take the story in a different direction, and while he does (I figure Sara’s end would be a bit too dark for the HiLo story), he still borrows from it. I guess I understand that — Barry Ween is an esoteric title, so few people reading the series would know it — but I wish he had gone with a new story. Saying that, though, I should point out that this isn’t just a re-tread of Barry Ween; it’s its own story, just with a few familiar details.

And what a story it is! HiLo learns more about his past here, and we get to see more of the playful banter between him, D.J., and Gina. We also meet a slew of new characters, since the portal they have to enter to save Gina takes them to a completely new world. I felt like the story strayed from its roots by going to the new world, but that’s not to say the story lacks its trademark charm. It’s impossible not to like the main characters, not just because of the way Winick writes them, but also in the way he draws them. He captures the comic and the serious with equal efficiency, and uses them to their strongest effect.

HiLo is an excellent series for kids, but I would recommend it for adults, too. If your tastes run like I do, where you can appreciate something as heavy as Geek Love and something as light as The Mud Flat Olympics, you’ll love the series. Plus, its main characters are people of color, which is still rare enough to treasure in this genre. Do yourself a favor and read these, if you haven’t already. Heck, if you have, go back and re-read them; they’re good enough to read multiple times!

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Archie: Volume Two

May 15, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

archie2Archie: Volume Two by Mark Waid, et al.

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I had a lot of fun with the first collection of the Archie reboot. It captured the heart of the characters, updated them to life in the modern world, and had decent stories that were reminiscent of the comics I read when I was a kid. I’d say I was surprised, but Mark Waid was at the helm of the reboot, so I kind of expected it to be all of those things. I just wasn’t expecting it to be good enough to capture forty-four-year-old me.

By now, Archie and Veronica are a thing, and Archie and Betty are not. Of course, Archie being Archie, it’s not that simple. Archie has feelings for both of them, for good reasons, and while I remember as a kid just accepting that about them, here we get to see why. We already knew why he and Betty were a thing, but Veronica’s spoiled-girl routine made it a bit of a mystery why Archie was so hung up on her. Here, Waid tells us why. It helps to build the character, and it also helps to start at the very beginning like they’ve done, because when I was a kid, the characters had already been around for thirty years. Maybe the very first comics gave readers some similar reasons why, but by the time I was reading them, it was just a foregone conclusion that this was the love triangle.

Fiona Staples drew the art for the first arc, and I was somewhat hesitant when I saw she wasn’t involved with the second one. My hesitation was for naught, though; the artists here do a great job of capturing the mood of the comic, from the dramatic moments down to Archie’s pratfalls. They blend the comic (that is, funny, and capturing the style of the comics) with the serious so perfectly that you roll from one to the other without noticing.

I’m not sure if it’s the nostalgia affecting how I feel about the series, but I’m impressed. We’re only twelve issues into the new series, and we’ve run the gamut of emotions with the characters, which is the sure sign of a successful story. So long as they keep this momentum up, I expect be a part of this revival.

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Crosstalk

March 7, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

crosstalkCrosstalk by Connie Willis

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With Connie Willis, you get one of two types of stories: either you get the heavy, thoughtful stories that examine bravery and persistence among average people; or you get the comic, thoughtful stories that examine bravery and persistence among average people. You get a crisply-told, precise story either way, but you either get a To Say Nothing of the Dog or a Doomsday Book.

Crosstalk is one of those comic novels, meaning you’re in for quite a ride. Our main character, Briddey, is scheduled to get an EED with her boyfriend, Trent, which is supposed to enhance their emotional connection. Outside of Trent and the gossips at her place of work, no one, including her overbearing Irish family, supports it, much less C.B., the reclusive tech who works in the subbasement. Once she has the procedure, things start to go south for Briddy, and the story becomes a comedy of errors.

The story here is good, but it’s not as strong as her other comedies of error. Part of it is because I knew early on who was going to end up with whom. I don’t know if it’s a familiarity with Willis’ stories, or just that it’s too obvious, but even before the hints were dropped in the narrative, I had that moment of knowing where those two were going. Plus, the ending here was a bit too pat, a bit too happily-ever-after based on how the story developed. If Willis had provided more of an explanation as to how things wrapped up so easily, I could have accepted it, but here it was just a short explanation thrown in to make it the happiest of all possible endings. Don’t get me wrong: if it hadn’t wound up the way it did, I would have been angry, but I would have preferred a better explanation for it all.

The characters, though, are expertly drawn, and the plot is engaging and compelling. It’s always hard for me to be objective with authors I really, really like — even here, in a story where I see some issues, I still rate it four stars — but this story was simply fun to read. Anyone who hasn’t read Connie Willis should still start with Bellwether and work their way up to Crosstalk, but anyone who’s already a fan should read this book.

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Robert Asprin’s Myth-fits

January 23, 2017 at 11:38 am (Reads) (, , )

fitsRobert Asprin’s Myth-fits by Jody Lynn Nye

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If Myth-quoted gave me hope for the new Myth Adventure books written solely by Nye, Myth-fits cemented that hope. Like its predecessor, the book has a better focus, shows more character progression, and feels more like the books published during the series’ heyday in the 1980s than the books that were co-written by the two authors. It definitely helps that the gang is all together again, and that they’re all written from Skeeve’s perspective.

With Myth-fits, the gang is hired to help find the Loving Cup, a magical cup that makes people agree and come to peace with each other. Aahz is hired by an ambassador who needs it for peace talks in his dimension, and their quest takes them to a resort dimension where, for only three gold pieces a day, they can have anything they want. Early on, they realize they can just ask customer assistance for the Loving Cup, but of course it can’t be that easy.

Though the book is an improvement, it’s still not perfect. There’s a lengthy dimensional aside near the beginning of the book that’s significant, but not revisited except in passing near the end of the book. It could be that this dimension will be significant in future books (hints dropped in Myth-quoted are realized in Myth-fits, so there’s a precedent), but it felt a little out of place. It fits the part of the story at first, but given how important it felt to the characters and story, I kept expecting it to play into the larger plot.

Overall, though, these last two books have convinced me to keep reading this series as new books are published. This didn’t feel like a final book, so I’m assuming there are more to come, but it may be a while before we see the next one. Myth-fits was published just this year, and four years passed between Myth-quoted and this book.

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Myth-gotten Gains

January 9, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

gainsMyth-gotten Gains by Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye

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So, the first thing I noticed when I started reading this book is that it’s lacking the fake quotes at the start of each chapter. I remember reading years ago that Asprin took as much time coming up with those quotes as he did writing the novels, so I suppose I knew it was coming. It’s a further sign that the later books aren’t really in the same class as the early books, and another sign that artists can’t go back and recapture what made their early works unique.

In this novel, we go back to Aahz as our first-person narrator, and as in Myth-taken Identity, it doesn’t feel right. This time, he buys a talking sword that leads him to other talking treasures, all of which make up the legendary Golden Hoard. Aahz’s motivation here is the promise that one of them will be able to restore his magikal powers. Of course, nothing goes strictly as planned, and that’s how the caper is run.

I was disappointed in the title, since it’s not quite a pun; the phrase is “misbegotten gains”. I suppose that looked a little weird on the cover, though, and doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. It was a sticking point for me, though. The whole book was rather boring, too. It didn’t have the kind of charm of the other books, and even though Tananda also features in the story with Aahz, it felt like this was just Aahz doing his thing.

That speaks to a larger issue I have with these co-authored books, which is that Tananda just takes on the role of the sex kitten. Whatever personality she had in the original books has been excised, which is weird, since Nye is now co-authoring the books. I felt like her influence made Massha a better character, but if that were the case, then why didn’t it roll over to Tananda, as well?

The number of typos in this book is embarrassing, not just because they’re there, but also because credit is given on the verso page to the company that copyedited and proofread the book. I’d think that if my company’s name were attached to a project, I would make more of an effort than this, but at least they were consistent; instead of semicolons, they put an apostrophe instead.

I only have a few more books to go in the series, and they appear to be pretty short, so I’ll persevere, but these aren’t nearly as interesting as the earlier books. Maybe the nostalgia carried more weight with those books than I realized.

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Myth-taken Identity

January 4, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

identityMyth-taken Identity by Robert Asprin and Jody Lynn Nye

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Like Myth Alliances, this novel veers from the usual Myth Adventures formula by including first-person and third-person narration. In addition, it tells the first-person part of the story from Aahz’s point of view, but it doesn’t feel like the Aahz from Asprin’s solo novels. I guess it makes sense — we only see Aahz how Skeeve sees him, but now we get to see what’s going on with him without seeing him through someone else’s perspective.

Myth-taken Identity feels less pointless than Myth Alliances, but it doesn’t make the story any more exciting. Much of the book is about Aahz, Massha, and the rest of their team looking for the people who are using Skeeve’s credit card to stop them ruining his reputation. There’s a lot of running around and going in circles, without much plot development happening. I felt like a lot of the story could have been cut without interfering with the plot, but by and large, the story is a big improvement over Myth Alliances, even if it’s not as much fun as the original books.

Aahz doesn’t feel like Aahz here. I think the authors are trying to give us insight into how he feels about Skeeve, but it feels insincere. It’s not that I don’t think Aahz cares, but the authors seem to work too hard to show us how much he cares, ignoring the fact that Aahz covers up his emotion with a lot of blister. Maybe it’s unavoidable, given that he’s telling the story, but it fails to feel like a Myth Adventures novel because Aahz doesn’t feel right.

On the other hand, we get more insight into Massha, which is a relief. Massha was a developed character in the solo Asprin novels, but I always felt like her appearance and her weight were what Asprin wanted to focus most on. Here, we get someone who’s more body-positive, and I can’t help but feel like that’s Nye’s input into the story. Asprin always made Massha smart, but he seemed to have a hard time overlooking her physical appearance; I think a woman’s input into the character is valuable, and helps make the story and the character better.

Even though this is an improvement over Myth Alliances, I still don’t see this half of the series as necessary reading. It still lacks the charm, fun, and wit of the original books, but since I’ve committed this far to them, I’m going to see them through to the end. I’ll let you know if anything changes.

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Myth Alliances

December 30, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

alliancesMyth Alliances by Robert Asprin

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I resisted going this far into the Myth Adventures series. Even when I was younger, I felt like the books became less and less charming as they went along, and after so many years had passed and Asprin returned to the series with a co-writer, I felt like the magic would be gone. But I’m a sucker for an unfinished series, and someone did tell me these books were better than I would think. What I should have done was reflect on how bad I thought they would be and ask if they could be worse.

Well, it turns out my initial thoughts were correct. This book doesn’t even feel like Myth Adventures book. I expect that Nye wrote the bulk of the book based off of Asprin’s notes, because nothing about the book feels anything like the older ones. The last two books in the solo Asprin books were a let-down, but they still read and felt like Myth Adventures books. Myth Alliances feels like someone trying to pick up someone else’s series and hoping for the best. Which, I guess, is exactly what it is.

How could this book go so wrong? Well, Skeeve makes a gross assumption about the antagonists who aren’t really antagonists, the plot and jokes feel forced, and the dialogue falls flat. It doesn’t help that the illustrations don’t have the whimsical nature of Phil Foglio’s, partly because they’re computer generated, but mostly because they look remarkable lifelike (well, the humans do, at least; you can see how bizarre the Pervects on the cover look). The story is boring, since the entire thing hinges on the fact that the conflict is a big misunderstanding on Skeeve’s part. It’s one thing when it’s not quite clear from the get-go, but the story meanders from Skeeve as the narrator to a third-person omniscient narrator to get the Pervects’ points of view, so we know from about the third chapter what’s going on. The entire thing feels frustrating, and worse, pointless.

The authors manage to pull everything together for the ending, but maybe I was just so happy to see the end of the story that I mixed up the source of my emotions. It’s definitely the worst of the bunch so far, and it’s an inauspicious start to reading the second half of the series. I’m still planning on finishing out the series (I already bought the dang books), but so far my feeling is that fans should just stick with books one through twelve (omitting the eleventh one).

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Myth-Told Tales

December 28, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

toldMyth-Told Tales by Robert Asprin & Jody Lynn Nye

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Take a look at that cover over there. It’s horrible, isn’t it? It takes several seconds to figure out what’s going on there, since it’s muddy and washed out. You might think that the resolution is due to it being a poor image, but no, the cover actually looks like that. For a series that has been graced with colorful, vivid, humorous illustrations, this introduction to the new books, with a cover like this, is questionable.

The foreword to this book explains how Asprin and Nye, facing the prospect of writing additional books in his series, opted to start out slowly, writing a few short stories to test their styles together. The book contains three short stories, one narrated by Skeeve and featuring him helping Bunny in a beauty pageant, one narrated by Chumley and featuring him, Tananda, and Guido running a beauty parlor, and one narrated by Aahz, featuring him and Massha helping locate the source of some strange goings-on surrounding a dragon-princess hunt.

The writing is reminiscent of “M.Y.T.H. Inc. Instructions”, the bonus story included at the end of Something M.Y.T.H. Inc. that was written by Nye. They manage to maintain a similar style, though they’re definitely different. Having read all of Asprin’s solo books back-to-back like I did, it’s easy to see the difference in style, though it still feels familiar. I’m not sure it would have been as noticeable had I not read the others so closely to the time that I read this one, but it’s definitely different. How could it not be, though? It’s including a whole new writer!

I hadn’t planned on reading any of the Myth Adventure books beyond Asprin’s original twelve books, but after talking about the series with a friend, and him telling me that these co-written books “aren’t as bad as you think”, I decided to give them a read, too. This is an auspicious start, but then again, I disliked the short-story nature of M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link, too, and this book is also comprised of stories. Maybe they’ll pick up with the actual novels that follow.

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Sweet Myth-tery of Life

December 8, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

sweetSweet Myth-tery of Life by Robert Asprin

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The One About the Women

So, Skeeve can sometimes be full of himself. Being the narrator, and being the heart that holds M.Y.T.H. Inc. together, can do that to a person. He can also be a bit clueless, which is part of his charm, but all those aspects of his character come together in this book, where he finds himself trying to solve the mystery of women. Seeing as he’s inept with them up to and including this book, it makes for an interesting plot, except that the book doesn’t really have one.

Its premise is that he has to decide whether to marry Queen Hemlock, who has given him the choice of marrying her to help rule the kingdom, or not marry her, at which point she will abdicate the throne and leave him to rule the kingdom anyway. Over the course of the book, he has to think about Hemlock, Tananda, Luanne, Bunny, and Massha, along with Kalvin, the djinn from Myth-nomers and Im-pervections, and his wife and what they mean to him. It’s a bit troublesome for me, as Asprin takes these characters who are all fulfilled and reduces them to objects for Skeeve to consider.

Hemlock and Luanne aren’t developed enough to be more than just objects, and Tananda, Bunny, and Massha keep the characteristics that make them more than objects, but they’re still evaluated that way over the course of the story. Skeeve even admits that he doesn’t even think of Massha as a woman, due to her size. He reduces these women to their attractiveness. This isn’t a new thing in the series (Tananda is often described physically before anything else, as if that is her most important attribute), but it became more noticeable in this book, where everything is about these women and their attractiveness.

Aside from all that, the book isn’t as engaging because nothing really happens. Skeeve has to decide what to do about Queen Hemlock, and he does (with about as much of an anticlimax as there was in M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link), but otherwise it’s just about Skeeve moping and mooning about his decision. In addition, this book is peppered with typos (including a bunch of “it’s” for “its”), which get distracting after a while. Then there’s that cliffhanger ending that leads into the final book in the series, which wasn’t published until six years after this one. Remember, I was reading these as they were released back in high school.

I can’t deny that I had fun reading the book, since it maintained the same style and feel as the previous books, but I also can’t deny that I saw a lot of problems with it. I didn’t notice them when I was younger, as I didn’t notice Piers Anthony’s problems with women in all of his books, so maybe that was still the nostalgia talking. Now, though, it’s hard to evaluate the book as a story when I find myself cringing at how Asprin portrays the female characters.

 

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Myth-nomers and Im-pervections

December 5, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , , )

nomersMyth-nomers and Im-pervections by Robert Asprin

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The One About Perv

When I decided I wanted to re-read these books, I tracked most of them down through used bookstores. In my haste, I grabbed what I could find, not paying attention to whether or not they were the editions with the Phil Foglio illustrations. The first time I read this book, I read that edition, and I found myself missing them during my re-read.

With this book, we go back to Skeeve’s point of view, as he travels alone to Perv to ask Aahz to come back to the company. Perv is based on New York City, or Chicago, or any other large metropolitan area around the world, and it gives Asprin a chance to explore the modern world while still staying entrenched in his Myth Adventure style. I thought it was well done, especially in how he handled some of the themes in the novel.

All of the books have had some passages where Asprin focuses on one theme or another, and they help make the books be more than just funny fantasy books. Myth-nomers takes that a step further, looking at the culture of big cities and how they affect individuals. From examining the police force to addressing the divide between the wealthy and the poor, the book has a lot to say, more than the other books in the series. As such, I think this is my favorite of the books in the series. That it comes so much later in the series is surprising to me, since I expected them to start falling off by this point.

This was the first book in the series that stood apart from my nostalgia and was able to stand on its own merits. Here’s hoping that the rest of the books in the series are able to do the same (though I have two more M.Y.T.H. Inc. books to finish, so I’m not holding my breath).

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