Month: January 2018

“Ain’t Got Time to Bleed” by Andrew Shaffer, Illustrated by Steven Lefcourt Review

Ain't Got Time to Bleed

Ain’t Got Time To Bleed

Writer:  Andrew Shaffer

Illustrator:  Steven Lefcourt

Published:  2017

The premise of “Ain’t Got Time to Bleed” is 29 action movie characters are examined by medical professionals to determine what effect the various injuries they sustain throughout the movie would have on them, and if they would survive or not. The characters include several individuals who are in more than one movie (Luke Skywalker, James Bond, John McClane etc.), however the author just selected one film for those characters to review (The Emperor Strikes Back, Skyfall, Die Hard). Along with each page recapping the injuries sustained during the movie, there are also “additional observations” which often include psychological diagnoses, and a prognosis section for recovery time (or permanent or fatal injuries). Finally, there are pictures by Steven Lefcourt of each character with the injured areas highlighted.

This book delivered fairly well on what was promised. It’s definitely a book you can finish in one sitting, coming in at less than 70 pages with half of those being illustrations. The best portions were the less obvious injuries I’d never considered before. My favorite was Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer from Predator (also the film the book takes its title from) whose additional observations section stated”Patient covered himself with mud to avoid detection… however, this could have caused his open wounds to become infected. Teanus, anthrax and necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) are just a few of the main soil-related bacterial, fungal and viral infection possible.”

On the negative side, the idea can get a bit redundant, especially regarding the multiple fist fights (“Multiple fistfights. Superficial lacerations on face. Bruised knuckles possible.”), many of which are generalized. I think by stopping at one movie per character, the author missed a fun opportunity to see how some characters would survive over multiple films (Rambo, John McClane, James Bond, Bryan Mills, Ethan Hunt and others would lend themselves well for this). Still, for a 30 minute read this is good for several chuckles.

3-star

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“The Angel Chronicles: Vol. 2” by Richie Tankersly Cusick Review

Angle 2

The Angel Chronicles: Vol. 2

Author:  Richie Tankersly Cusick

Published:  1998

My preface from The Angel Chronicles: Vol. 1 stated:

There are a set of Buffy novelizations that are coming up in my reading order that focus on one of the supporting characters in the Scooby gang. Each book selects a few episodes that feature the chosen character prominently and do a novelization of those episodes. The Angel Chronicles is obviously about Angel and featured a two paragraph framing device to the first episode and another one after the final one that didn’t add anything to the story but served to remind the reader that they had indeed just a read of stories about Angel.

Everything above still holds true for this volume about Angel, with the only change being the episodes being revisted. Here there are the episodes “Halloween,” and “What’s My Line” (Parts 1 and 2). Overall this volume was a little bit better than Volume 1 due just to the quality of episodes. “Halloween” is a fun episode where characters turn into whatever they are dressed up as for Halloween, with Xander becoming an experienced soldier, Willow a ghost and Buffy a lady of status from the 1700’s. This episode succeeds as both being a memorable standalone episode and also as an important building piece for the series as a whole. Xander’s military experience gets referred to off and on for the rest of the series, bad guy Ethan Rayne reappears later on (and provides some great depth for Giles past), and of course fan favorite character Oz is introduced.

Likewise, “What’s My Line” is important at pushing the plot forward for the series, but was a little less memorable as standalone episodes. Here, Spike is seeking a way to restore Drucilla’s strength, and comes across a means that involves a new moon, a church and Drucilla’s sire. In order to distract Buffy, he calls for the Order of Taraka to put a hit on her which leads to a variety of assassins who are feared for their relentlessness and anonymity. These episodes are also important to greater Buffy lore as they introduce Kendra the Vampire Slayer, propel Xander and Cordelia’s relationship into its most interesting phase, and swaps the power dynamic from Spike to Drucilla. While reading the novelization, I couldn’t recall where part 1 ended and part 2 began, which is a nice compliment to the seamlessness of the adaptation.

I only rate this slightly better than Vol. 1 however, because I just summed up all three episodes and didn’t need to mention Angel once (ok, that’s a cheat because I said that Drucilla’s sire was needed for the ritual, and her sire is Angel). So basically, his involvement in these two episodes is him being unimpressed by Buffy’s desire to be a noble woman and then getting kidnapped and stabbed by Spike and Drucilla. Those coming for some awesome Angel-centric stories will likely be disappointed. Unlike the last volume, these episodes take place much closer together than Vol. 1’s trilogy, ranging from Season 2 Episode 6 to Season 2 Episode 10 (taking place in between the episodes is “Lie to Me,” which is included in Angel Chronicles Vol. 1… I’m not sure why they didn’t swap out Halloween and Lie to Me between the two, but it is what it is).

My same complaints are also around from the previous volume that this format seems like a missed opportunity to increase the perspective of the cover/title character from the events of these episodes. The three included in this book would seem to be great opportunities to do so, but not for Angel, instead for Xander, Oz or even Cordelia. For a somebody reading all of these books, they succeed in telling the stories from the episodes but the shuffled order and lack of anything new make it tough to recommend these for any other fans of the series.

3-star

“Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness” by Peter Godfrey-Smith Review

Other MindsOther Minds: The Octopus, The Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Author:  Peter Godfrey-Smith

Released:  2017

Octopuses have an ability to adapt to the special circumstances of captivity and their interaction with human keepers…In New Zealand, an octopus took a dislike to one member of the lab staff, for no obvious reason, and whenever that person passed by on the walkway behind the tank she received a jet of half a gallon of water in the back of her neck. Shelly Adamo, of Dalhousie University, had one cuttlefish who reliably squirted streams of water at all new visitors to the lab, and not at people who were often around. In 2010, an experiment confirmed that giant Pacific octopuses can indeed recognize individual humans, and can do this even when the humans are wearing identical uniforms.

If you’re like me, that previous paragraph is enough to dig in to read a whole book about the amazing creature that is the octopus. I love the idea of an intelligent creature living on our planet that most people know nothing about, and Peter Godfrey-Smith has written a very well researched book about cephalopods, primarily the octopus but also squids and cuttlefish. Although large portions of the book don’t deal with octopuses, Godfrey-Smith manages to explain why it is important to look at these organisms to learn not only about what they are capable of, but also what we can learn about the evolution of life on Earth and what intelligence and consciousness mean.

Why octopuses though? The primary reason is that scientists believe that we can trace all life on Earth to early organisms hundreds of millions of years ago that branched off into numerous different paths that led to things like plants, animals, bacteria, etc. Of all the living organisms on Earth, advanced nervous systems can be found in three subsets, the first being animals, the second being arthropods, and the third being cephalopods. The cephalopods come from an entire different branch on that evolutionary tree, and are unique in their development of a nervous system on that branch. Considering that, the octopus could be compared to an alien life form, as we can look at an animal whose brain has evolved under an entirely different set of circumstances than the rest of the planet.

I learned a lot about philosophy and evolution while reading this book, and I think most readers would gain similar new knowledge. For instance, all I knew about Pre-Cambrian history prior to reading this was that supposedly the Graboids from Tremors were around then. However, Godfrey-Smith explained that situation that the life forms in this era (the Ediacara) floated around in a pre-predator environment. Quite simply, early life forms were not hunting each other but instead scavenged (Godfrey-Smith refers to this as “the Garden of Ediacara”). The result was an environment allowed mutations to thrive and a giant boom in variation of life forms to follow in the Cambrian era.

In addition to reviewing studies on octopuses and preexisting literature, Godfrey-Smith frequently visits a location called Octopolis, one of the only confirmed habitats for multiple octopuses over several years. Throughout the book, I got a ton of great anecdotes about these amazing creatures both from the author’s personal experience and scientific studies. Some of the interesting stuff I learned included that octopuses have distinct personalities that come out both in the wild and in lab settings. Also, the nervous system of the octopus is spread throughout the both the brain and the arms, meaning that even if you cut an arm off it can continue to function on its own afterward for a lengthy period of time. Godfrey-Smith describes this relationship as the brain being a musical conductor, but the arms are all jazz musicians; the brain sends a command, but the arms have great leeway and creative ability to make decisions and react accordingly.

The color changing aspect of octopuses is discussed extensively. If you haven’t watched video of their camouflage in effect underwater, stop reading this and hop on Youtube because they are natures greatest color changers. Scientists disagree as to if this is used at all for communication between animals; I came away with the impression that at a minimum they are used in expressing dominance or submission to other octopuses. What is amazing though is that octopuses are themselves colorblind, even though their eyes are very similar to human eyes in how they function.

Much of the difficulty in knowing more about octopuses, or limiting how much one can learn, is the short lifespan of the animal. For the most part, they all live for about two years or less, an extremely short time for such an intelligent animal. There are a few exceptions, such as the nautilus (which can live ten times as long but is nowhere near as smart) and the deep sea Octopus which not only lives longer but can spend over four years just nurturing its eggs! This was the longest egg brooding period ever observed for a creature on Earth.

As people become more aware of the intelligence of these creatures, additional studies are being performed. In 2011, it was learned that octopuses can recognize other individual octopuses. Another study seemed to indicate that octopuses can learn by watching others do something and not by doing it once themselves. Humans are able to have episodic memories of a particular event instead of how to do something. Studies show octopuses also have this high functioning capability.

There are some great photos in this book as well (both color and black and white) and some helpful diagrams related to a variety of subjects. When the book gets into more philosophical issues, or discussions about biological evolution, it can get a bit text booky at times, but never for more than about 10 or 15 pages. Godfrey-Smith wisely centers all of his big ideas and conclusions on the octopus. Highly recommended.

5-star

“Cycle of the Werewolf” by Stephen King and Bernie Wrightson (Artist) Review

Cycle of the Werewolf

Cycle of the Werewolf

Author: Stephen King

Artist:  Bernie Wrightson

Published:  1983

I didn’t realize when I started this that this book is the basis for the 1985 film “Silver Bullet” starring cinema greats Gary Busey and Corey Haim. It’s been nearly twenty years since I’ve seen that movie, but even without reading this book I vividly remember a teenager defending himself from a werewolf with fireworks and the reveal of who the the werewolf was due to an eye patch a short time later. (In the film, the werewolf was played by Everett McGill, aka Big Ed from Twin Peaks, and an actor who one of my favorite podcasts would refer to as a god damned American treasure).

Cycle of the Werewolf is a book that’s difficult to put into a genre. It’s certainly a horror story due to its subject matter. It’s also like a short story collection, as the book is divided into 12 chapters based on the full moon each month, and only about 4 of the twelve chapters really feel connected to the main narrative and the rest seem like vignettes. The book is a very quick read with illustrations mixed in for each chapter (typically a scenery picture to open the chapter, and a werewolf attack or two also illustrated). I wouldn’t classify it as a kids book due to some violence and language, but the pictures and quick read probably make it more juvenile than many adults would want to be seen reading in public (although at 127 pages, and with many of those illustrations or blank title pages this is easily a book one could read in one sitting).

Unfortunately there’s not a lot more to this story than the few iconic moments I remembered from the film as the bulk of the book is just a few paragraphs about a person about to become a werewolf attack victim. The film script that came from this did a much better job of developing characters and telling an interesting story than this book, but as a quick read about werewolves near Bangor this was fairly harmless. The art by Bernie Wrightson was also very fun and added to my enjoyment of the story. I’m also ready to rewatch “Silver Bullet” now, so that’s an added bonus.

3-star

“Shape’s Siege” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Sharpe's Siege

Sharpe’s Siege

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Published:  1987

Sharpe’s Siege picks up with the English army working their way into France, Sharpe happily married to Jane and Harper the proud father of a two month old. Sharpe’s soldierly duties always come first however, and here he is drafted into helping the Royal Navy on a mission to possibly assist in Bordeaux turning against the French Empire in a stroke that could end the Napoleonic War. Anyone who knows Sharpe (or European history) will know this doesn’t happen, and instead Sharpe will end up being caught in a trap left by the French intelligence officer Ducot, who is making yet another appearance, rivaling Obadiah Hakeswill’s run as a villain.

The title of the book gives away that there will be a siege, though Cornwell pulls out all the stops in making it more intense and creative than similar battles in earlier books. **Spoilers follow** For starters, Sharpe, Harper and Sweet William Frederickson are all on the inside the the structure under siege, and they are vastly outnumbered and outgunned. The limited bullets in particular is unusual in this series, and the tricks that Sharpe and friends pull to even the odds were more similar to those found in the various Sharpe short stories that I’ve reviewed on here.

While Sharpe is worrying about the enemy, he is equally distracted by the possibility of losing his wife Jane to fever, as she has come down with symptoms immediately before he was deployed. Also sick is Major Michael Hogan, who is (along with Harper) as long tenured as an ally to Sharpe as we’ve seen in the series. This installment also introduces the character of Cornelius Killick, an American naval officer or pirate, depending on the moment. Killick provides for many of the surprises in this novel, as both Sharpe and the French are at times forced to depend on him or go after him.

4-star

“Nailbiter, Volume 2: Bloody Hands” by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson Review

Nailbiter 2

Nailbiter, Vol. 2: Bloody Hands

Written by: Joshua Williamson

Art by: Mike Henderson

Published:  2015

Volume 2 of Nailbiter was a bit of a letdown from the first volume. The main culprit was story decompression as 2 of the 5 issues included featured what read like stand alone issues (featuring stories about a Beekeeper and a pregnant girl who wants her baby to be a killer). The issues that tied back into the main plot didn’t advance the overarching storyline much, with some further interrogations being teased and the Nailbiter acting creepier but not much else going on besides s religious guy rising as an antagonist. There’s also a weird Brian Michael Bendis cameo shoehorned in and a bus incident that would certainly be national news.

The art continued to be OK, but probably a step below most of the books I read on a month to month basis. The backup story at the end was certainly gross and shocking, but it also felt like a reveal that would have been better earned in the main storyline instead.

3-star

“The Number of the Beast” by Robert A. Heinlein Review

Number of the Beast

The Number of the Beast

Author –  Robert A. Heinlein

Published – 1980

I read 80 books last year, and finished everyone of them. Ditto the year before. The year before that I gave up on an E.M. Forester book, and felt bad about it but I recognized about a hundred pages in that it just wasn’t a book I would end up enjoying. I made it 250 pages into this book before saying screw it, and that was just out of loyalty to this normally great author.

This book was awful (or at least through the halfway point). The book starts with two characters meeting each other and deciding to get married at a dance. Zeb and Deety are both brilliant, and they leave a party accompanied by Deety’s dad Jake and Aunt Hilda who also decide to get hitched. After an explosion meant for one of them, they all flee to A remote location in Zeb’s car and figure out that Jake has previously invented a method for travel across all dimensions of time and space. They hook it up to Zeb’s car and (after discovering it is a alien conspiracy trying to kill them) flee the planet to Mars, which may or may not be Barsoom from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels.

That sounds like a lot of action,but it probably took place over 10-15 pages, with the remainder of the first 250 going to such plots as Hilda and Deety both becoming pregnant after their first night on the run, Hilda and Zeb being encouraged to screw by Deety and her dad, Deety hinting that she’d get with her dad if he wanted her to, and Deety’s great breasts but terrible body odor if she doesn’t bathe twice a day.

The main conflict is who will captain their car on this trip, with none of the four wanting to and all of them taking way too seriously their chain of command. Nobody in this book read like a real person; instead they all seem like fantasies of gender roles made up by a 73 year old two generations ago. Apparently the group makes it to Oz and other fictional worlds later on, and frequent character Lazarus Long and Robert Heinlein himself make an appearance. No reward can be worth spending so long with these four bickering, unrealistic, characters in a stationary plot.

1-star