Category: Reviews

Review – Steve Rogers: Super Soldier

Posted January 24, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Ed Brubaker's Steve Rogers: Super SoldierSteve Rogers: Super Soldier, Ed Brubaker, Dale Eaglesham

I have a soft spot approximately two miles wide for MCU Steve, before he gets the serum. It’s probably something vaguely maternal about wanting to protect him, but either way, I think he’s precious. There’s a bit of that here, but not that much. It’s a fun little story, even disconnected from the other stuff going on around it (like the issues of Steve’s death/resurrection, Bucky as Cap), but it isn’t very substantial. There were some bits of Cap canon that I wasn’t aware of — Anita Glass, mostly, but also the villain, Machinesmith.

It is fun to see Steve without his powers, to see that he’s more than his powers, that what made Steve happened before he was ever injected with the serum. I love the “phantom” shield that they’ve drawn in, so it’s clear he’s using the same tactics he learnt as Cap. It just seems right.

This title definitely isn’t a must, though.

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Review – Emilie & the Sky World

Posted January 23, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Emilie and the Sky World by Martha WellsEmilie & The Sky World, Martha Wells

I was pretty excited for Emilie & The Sky World, so I moved it up the reading queue when I got the ARC, along with the previous book which I only recently finished. It really is a great girl’s own adventure story, with plenty of strong, capable women and some intriguing other races — in the previous book, Rani and Kenar, in this book, Hyacinth. I love that while Wells has a fertile imagination, she doesn’t tell all she knows — Hyacinth leaves at the end of the book, with so many questions still hovering around it.

The Emilie books are very fast-paced, and I agree with people who say they feel quite slight. Definitely not the same audience as City of Bones (my other read by Wells), but it’s not the book’s fault if it doesn’t work with an audience it’s not meant for. I mean, it’s on the Strange Chemistry imprint, not Angry Robot: I’m expecting YA, and that’s what you get here — perfectly pitched, to my mind.

There are a couple of nitpicks, maybe. Emilie vacillates a bit between being a total kid and a capable person, but… that happens, with teenagers, so it isn’t so strange. I enjoyed the realism of her relationship with Efrain, her younger brother, and the bit at the end where she resolves things with her uncle. It isn’t perfect — it’s awkward as heck — but it feels genuine.

Also loved the casual inclusion of an LGBT relationship. It just feels so… normal. Martha Wells isn’t making that dumb mistake of just taking the mores of our (past) societies just to borrow the steampunk motifs that work for her. I like that a lot.

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Review – Ultimate Hawkeye

Posted January 21, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Marvel's Ultimate HawkeyeUltimate Hawkeye, Jonathan Hickman, Rafa Sandoval

Ultimate Hawkeye seems to be the jumping off point for a larger plot about “the People”, who are like mutants and are staging a revolution. It isn’t really about Hawkeye being a badass, but nor is it like Matt Fraction’s take on Hawkeye where he’s more like an ordinary guy. Hickman’s Hawkeye is… kinda badass, kinda snarky, definitely Fury’s right hand man.

It’s okay, but I’m not that interested in reading more. I was most interested by the part Bruce Banner/Hulk played in this, I think, the way he was just brought in as a weapon of brute force. I think I might’ve appreciated it more if this was a story about Bruce and how he’s used by Fury.

As others have noted, it’s kind of annoying that Hawkeye has powers here. Not very impressive ones — modifications to his eyes — but still. He’s not an ordinary person who is preternaturally good with a bow, here. I think what makes Clint interesting to me — and I come at it from the MCU angle, I didn’t read comics much before I saw Avengers — is that he is an ordinary guy, a soldier, a spy, caught up in a world of gods and heroes. I want to see this guy who seems destined for a supporting role having to step up to the plate. This is not that. Fingers crossed for Jeremy Renner’s portrayal in the next Avengers film.

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Review – The Atrocity Exhibition

Posted January 19, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Atrocity Exhibition by JG BallardThe Atrocity Exhibition, J.G. Ballard

I didn’t expect to like or understand this book much. The concept, the experimental nature, drew me to it, but I know it isn’t the kind of thing I enjoy. Find interesting, maybe, but not enjoy. The Atrocity Exhibition is so bizarre to me, so lacking in coherent narrative, that it’s doubly hard to read.

This book, the central character (such as he is, with his constantly fluctuating name/identity), is just — it’s a very fine portrayal of someone who is completely disturbed. I find myself wondering if my mother (a psychiatrist) has read it, and what she’d think.

(Knowing our shared taste in literature, I would venture to guess that she doesn’t think much of Ballard, but I meant in a psychiatric sense.)

End result: I’m convinced of Ballard’s skill, no doubt — he writes with a cold clear edge — and glad I tried this book, but I’m not keeping it, and I think Ballard’s imagination is a bizarre and unpleasant place (science as pornography?!). One image that will stay with me is his repeated image of the landscape as the contours of anatomy, or vice versa: “these cliff-towers revealed the first spinal landscapes”…

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Review – Emilie & The Hollow World

Posted January 18, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Emilie & The Hollow World by Martha WellsEmilie & the Hollow World, Martha Wells

I’ve only read one of Martha Wells’ books before, but that was enough to make me a fan. Compared to that one, City of Bones, Emilie & the Hollow World is a much more simplistic story, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Someone described it as a “girl’s own adventure” story, which I think is pretty accurate. The main character Emilie is resourceful: I don’t understand people who are criticising it saying she spends the first half of the book just following people around. She runs away from home, stows on board a ship, saves someone’s life with impulsive action, and immediately starts making sensible suggestions to the crew of said ship.

Now, if you were to say she’s a bit wish-fulfillmenty, well yeah, maybe. But heck, I loved Emilie’s adventures and her resourcefulness; I don’t see why it should be odder for a girl to be plucky and resourceful than for a boy. There’s also people complaining that she doesn’t act like a Victorian girl, but… this isn’t meant to be set in the Victorian period? It’s plainly another world entirely, for all that the vaguely steampunkish trappings might make you think it’s just alternate Victoriana, and there’s a hint of Victorian-ish morals around Emilie’s family. Still, those’re parallels; that doesn’t mean Wells has to stick with it.

Which brings me to another point I really liked — the world-building. I expected that, from the standard City of Bones set, and while this is lighter, that imagination is still there. I loved, for example, the half-underwater city. I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything quite like that before. There’s other stuff to appreciate, too, like the casual flipping of gender roles where Rani talks about Kenar pining for her, and when they reunite, she spins him around in her arms!

Overall, very much looking forward to my ARC of Emilie & The Sky World.

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Review – Red Sonja

Posted January 16, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Red Sonja by Gail SimoneRed Sonja, Gail Simone, Walter Geovani

I’ve heard of Red Sonja before, though only as a really sexist comic character that didn’t sound at all appealing or interesting. I remember the arguments and debates around the SFWA Bulletin cover that was a tribute to Red Sonja in all her chain mail bikini glory: looking at it now, the cover itself seems less offensive, but the defence of it by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg remains completely offensive. Gah. Need to get that bad taste out of my mouth.

So I’ll talk some more about Gail Simone! I’d heard of her work on other comics, but I hadn’t read anything she’d worked on yet, so I was very curious about this. I love that she’s taken this sexist character and surrounded her with other women, peopled the world with strong women who in various different ways support each other and make the world a better place. There are some good male characters, too, but the focus is definitely on women — and women as protectors, as fighters, as able to fight for themselves.

Sonja herself isn’t the most likeable character in some ways: if she chooses to wear that chain mail bikini, for one thing, her taste has got to be terrible. She’s uncouth and she drinks a lot and she glories in violence. But… she’s also honourable, brave, capable of love. Her origin story isn’t anything particularly special, and maybe I wouldn’t find this book so good if I wasn’t so well aware of the sexist past behind it, but I did really enjoy it, and enjoyed seeing the range of female talent that went into making it.

Received from Netgalley!

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Review – Silhouette of a Sparrow

Posted January 16, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth GriffinSilhouette of a Sparrow, Molly Beth Griffin

Silhouette of a Sparrow is a quiet little LGBT coming of age story, set in… the 1920s or so? Garnet, the main character, has a passion for birds, a vague hope of going to college, and a summer to spend away from her family. She falls in love with a flapper, decides not to marry the boy who’s waiting for her back home, and sets her sights on going to college.

While there is drama in the story — Hannah’s outburst at her mother, thunder and hail storms, even a fire in the hotel where Garnet is staying — none of it really did much for me. It’s an introspective story, and that kind of thing didn’t seem to fit; I was much more interested in the quiet parts, Garnet cutting out bird silhouettes and thinking of her father, trips out on the lake, the quiet triumphs in Garnet’s life like getting a summer job and convincing her employer not to sell feathered hats anymore, etc.

The relationship between Garnet and Isabella is almost unnecessary, when you view it that way: a friendship between them would be enough. But then of course you remember how little there is in the way of LGBT fiction and especially teen LGBT fiction — I at least felt much less inclined to go bleh at the inclusion of an “unnecessary” romance when I thought about that.

The ending fits the story well — a mixture of the bitter and the sweet, some hope and some disappointment, maybe even some fear. It leaves a lot open, but that’s alright.

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Review – The Female Man

Posted January 15, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Female Man by Joanna RussThe Female Man, Joanna Russ

I think people are wrong when they say this book is out of date. Many of the feminist issues Russ engaged with are still with us today, the double-standards women are held to and the things men expect of them. That part of the book seemed perfectly reasonable to me: a little out-dated, perhaps, as all of this sort of thing will become in just a few decades, but not irrelevant.

The story, however… I found it incomprehensible, buried under the weight of the feminist concerns and issues raised. I would rather have read the story and the examination of the role of women separately, I think. For me, I came to this book expecting a classic of science fiction, and to be honest, it doesn’t seem like there’s much. It’s a thought experiment, which can be done in literary fiction just as well (better?).

I’m a little uncomfortable with it being relegated to the class of science fiction, in a way, instead of being read as a classic in general. So often that’s used as a way to minimise the importance of a work: oh, quaint old genre fiction, rather than oh, social commentary. Those of us in the genre know how powerful a tool it is when used to examine society (and if you don’t, may I introduce you to the works of Ursula Le Guin?), but in academic circles… we’re starting to see more work on genre fiction — part of my MA was on Tolkien, and mainly on his fiction — and there’s been some good work on fantasy and SF, but it’s not as if any of that is even approaching “the canon”.

I almost feel like rereading this in an annotated version, or a Norton Critical Edition, would help me appreciate it more. But just on the merits of it as a story… no, I can’t say it did much for me.

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Review – Mystery Mile

Posted January 12, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Mystery Mile, by Margery AllinghamMystery Mile, Margery Allingham

Didn’t expect to read this book so soon or all in one go, but I was having trouble sleeping, so I figured, why not? It’s very obviously a cousin of Sayers’ Lord Peter (Campion could, in fact, be Peter’s cousin), although in a more satirical vein. Albert Campion is a pretty close analogue of Peter Wimsey, complete with a number of idiosyncrasies, and Lugg (although of a decidedly more criminal bent than Bunter) shares some characteristics with Lord Peter’s man.

It’s still fun, even though it’s more or less mocking one of my favourite series in many ways — it manages to be a story on its own, too. It didn’t involve me emotionally, but I did read it straight through, in one go, so there’s that going for it. I did find the mystery a little bit disjointed/incoherent: it helped that I’d read a summary somewhere before, but some of the events seemed pretty random.

Overall, I enjoyed it enough that I might pick up more, but not enough that I’m going to be in a hurry. Allingham was a capable writer, but Campion’s not interesting enough to me to follow him compulsively.

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Review – Why Evolution is True

Posted January 10, 2014 by Nikki in Reviews / 18 Comments

Cover of Why is Evolution True by Jerry CoyneWhy Evolution is True, Jerry A. Coyne

This is a suggested book related to one of my current classes on Coursera, so I decided to pick it up. I already believe in evolution, so I can’t judge on whether it’s convincing — I already know that evolution by natural selection is mathematically inevitable, and I know of a lot of the supporting evidence.

Still, this is the kind of book that produces all sorts of titbits that you didn’t know before, and which lays things out so clearly it helps you understand how to explain it to other people (which, to my mind, means a deeper understanding of the theory — if you can explain it, there are fewer grey areas).

Overall, it’s clearly written, with lots of supporting diagrams and so on where it’s useful, and a good set of footnotes and suggestions for further reading. I found it interesting, too; perhaps not for a person with a science background to begin with, but for me (humanities background, science interest) it was easy but not boringly so.

Interestingly, he also touches a little on why people find it hard to accept evolution, and answers some of those objections, too — for example, why our behaviour isn’t fully dictated by our genes, why morality and ethics aren’t dismantled in any way by evolution.

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