October 30

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104 in 2014 : October

We are coming to the end of our reading challenge, but will I make it to the end? With a new baby, I think it may be touch and go…

92: The Adventures of Superhero Girl

This is a web cartoon published in dead tree format. The book has an introduction by Kurt “comic book god” Busiek, and he suggests it as a gateway book for his daughters. Personally, I enjoyed it, but it stops after it does the basic groundwork for establishing the character. After 100 strips, she has her secret identity going on, a sidekick in some sense, a nemesis in some sense…but none of that resolves. Perhaps that’s the point? She covers all of the bases of an origin story. It’s a prequel for the series you’ll never read?  Recommended for people into comic books, and for those trying to hook preteen female readers on graphic novels.

93: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors

This is the free download for backers of the new Chill Kickstarter. I enjoyed it. I liked First Edition Chill, which is a game that is trying to simulate the feel of Hammer or Universal horror movies. The new Chill is meant to be “humanist horror”, which will be an interesting experiment. I think it is actually trying to be scary, and I’d argue that’s not really how the Universal films worked. Vincent Price is rarely actually frightening: he is, instead, someone we agree to accept as scary for the purpose of enjoying the plot. In this sense, he’s like a Dalek: he has the semblance of terror but not its substance.

This is why the comedy horror films, like Theatre of Blood, work so well. You are permitted to acknowledge that there’s some distance between what is being portrayed and what you are accepting as portrayed, and that this is humorous. I don’t think Chill is attempting this, but I think the fan community is going to just roll over the top of the authorial intention here. In first edition Vampire : The Requiem, Vampires were effectively asexual. That lasted about six minutes. I think a no-camp Chill is going to go much the same way, but that might be nostalgia. Recommended for gamers.

94: Mighty Avengers : No Single Hero

Various authors, at various times, have tried to do a street-level Avengers team. These have generally been destroyed by Marvel’s desire to do excessively convoluted crossovers. Now that television series are being created for some Marvel properties, and street-level crime can be depicted with cheaper CG than apocalypses, these characters are getting a lot more interest. Mighty Avengers spawns out of the Infinity crossover event which I feel I can’t criticize because a few months in I decided for the first time in 16 years to not follow Avengers in flimsy and just read the trade.

Luke Cage is back from retirement again. This is getting a little old for him. How many times has he retired for the heroing business now? He sets things up and then hands the leadership of the field time off to Monica Rambeau, who is an interesting choice. The power level of the team is a bit uneven, ranging from Monica, who can be or project any type of radiation, and Blue Marvel who is more powerful and intelligent than Superman, down to a couple of magical martial artists, and Cage, whose power is that you can never break his skin. It’s not clear how they are going to find interesting foes that stretch across that spectrum. I assume that different heroes will take the spotlight in various stories.

She-hulk is in it as the team lawyer, and although I think she’s a really interesting character when written well, I’d have preferred she was left out.  I like that the team is African-American and Hispanic. I didn’t see nearly as much press for this as the all-female team in X-Men a while ago, possibly because the Superior Spider-Man was a member for the first two issues, to draw readers across. I know the writer is a white British guy, so I can’t really say if the black characters sound correct or not. I’m in a distant country, and they are good enough to fool me.

Recommended for patient readers of comics. It’s a good setup, but there’s no real payoff yet. Also, if you are a fan of the Superior Spider-Man concept, and I am, I have to say that the character’s off the rails here.

95: Skin Game by Jim Butcher

A magnificent little bit of urban fantasy here, but really only suitable for fans of the series. It’s a heist story, in which many old foes of the main character re-emerge, and he is forced to co-operate with them. The depth of the world building in the series up to this point pays off here, as does the whimsical way Butcher has been developing his supporting cast. I enjoyed it immensely.

I bought it from Downpour because I wanted the MP3 audio. James Marsters does a brilliant reading. Many audio narrators have one or two cross-gendered voices, but Marsters needs half a dozen for this book, and they all remain distinct. That’s quite an accomplishment, given that some are returning characters. Really marvelous work as a narrator.

96: Becoming Queen by Kate Williams

An excellent book, of broad interest, which I reviewed in its own post.

97: Air Guitar by Dave Hickey

I thought this was excellent, but its appeal is difficult to unpack. Allow me to attempt it.

Dave Hickey writes about art. He is a musician of sorts, lectured, and was an art dealer, so he has been a participant in the artistic community (a term he might not approve of) in various roles, for many decades. Air guitar is a series of essays in which he grapples with the nature of art, the way it is produced, and the way in which is s discussed.

I write a little, as part of my own little genre community. His ideas about the way that pieces gain value by a social process having, of themselves, no intrinsic worth, are valuable to me, in my own practice. I highly recommend this book for people who practice, or critique, art. I read the book after a recommendation on the Art Assignment YouTube channel, which I’ll link.

98: NPR: Laughter Therapy

This is an audiobook, its publishers insist, but when you collect radio interviews and put them in downloadable format, is it really? The interviews with comedians are of most interest to those who knows who Phyllis Diller is without having to look her up. Good as interviews, but not rapid-fire funny.

99: The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

This is the  first novel in one of Christie’s lesser-known series. The BBC plans to make a version of it for television in 2015, and I wish them well, but doubt their expressed desire to rival the ITV versions of Poirot and Marple. The series will be named after the short story collection Partners in Crime. The Library Service already as DVDs of the stories, because they were filmed for television back in 2007. The book, Partners in Crime,  is excellent for people looking for new authors. It contains brief works by Christie where she parodies the style of her contemporaries. I’d watch a series that was like that.

To return to The Secret Adversary it was well-reviewed at the time of its publication, and I know there are people devoted to it, but I thought it too simple. The twists are good, even if the plot requires the investigated people to act in remarkably unlikely ways. I will note that I listened to the book through Overdrive audio, and one of the clues, being textual, is invisible to the listener until explained by the detective in the denouement.

…so two months and five titles. Possible!