Category: 1 Barrel

“Jim Lee’s C-23 1-8 (Complete Series)” by Jeff Mariotte and Alexander Lozano

Jim Lee's c-23

Jim Lee’s C-23 #1-8

Created by Jim Lee and Brandon Choi

Written by Jeff Mariotte

Art by Alexander Lozano

Published in 1998

I had high hopes for this series because it came from an imprint that I loved (WildC.A.T.s, Backlash, Stormwatch, The Authority, Gen13 are all nostalgia filled trips down memory lane for me) and covers by Ryan Benjamin that fit right in with those other books.  What I didn’t know when starting the series though was that this series was created as a tie in for a card game.  I’m usually not big on media tie in series, as they seem to restrict the creative freedom of the writers or don’t have any real stakes taking place.

Once I got into the inside of the book I was immediately disappointed by the artwork.  Character anatomy is pretty much not in the realm of reality, but not even in the fun comic book way of 90’s image comics.  Torsos are a cross between the typical steroid visions of that era, but also have an affected by toxic waste vibe where they flow into necks, legs or breasts in weird ways.  It’s particularly apparent on the female characters (of which there are only two that have any speaking parts, both are wanting to have sex with the protagonist) who look way less humanoid than I’m sure was intended by the story.

Speaking of the story… there’s not much there.  The entire plot of eight issues can be summed up as an elevator pitch or back of a book summary for basically any heroes journey.  Two rival races are at war, and the only person who can win the war is the man born to both of them.  His father was killed by the leader of the evil race, and now he’s the secret heir to the kingdom for the good guys.  I was going to stretch it out another sentence but that pretty much sums up all eight issues.

The setting is a mix between Avatar and Cyberforce, with the good guys being the organic Navi-like race and the bad guys being the cybernetically enhanced humans.  So little happens in this series that it’s inexplicable that one of the only things that happens in the story (a prison break) takes place in between issues.  In addition to the cardboard hero (Corbin), there’s a bad guy (Hemlocke), Scarab (a jealous brother), and the two females (one from each race) who want to have sex with Corbin (whose names I have already forgot).

I’m trying to think of a redeeming quality about this series, but the bad art, cliche story and forgettable characters are leaving me drawing a blank.

1-star

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Roadwork by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman) Review

Roadwork

Author: Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)

Release Date: 1981

Roadwrk1

Warning, this is one of those books I can’t complain about without also spoiling the ending.  Spoilers marked accordingly below.

 I had a feeling of déjà vu while reading Roadwork by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman).  Following on the heels of The Rage, The Shining and even The Long Walk, King has now told multiple books about seemingly sane characters snapping and losing all appreciation for right or wrong, life or death.  In this story, Barton George Dawes is forced to come to grips with a highway expansion that will require him to sell his home and relocate his employer.  From the beginning of the story it’s clear that Dawes is lying either to himself or to everybody else.  After buying some powerful firearms, he concocts a story that will cause the laundry corporation that he works for to miss out on the new property that it has an option on. The result will force the company to go out of business, but have little practical effect on the corporation that owns it.

 If that sounds like a stupid plan, it’s because it is.  Similarly to the main character in (the terrible) The Rage, here the protagonist frequently makes decisions that will cause hardships on other characters with no care for that effect on their situation.  Whereas the shooter in The Rage actually killed people, Dawes actions are more in line with ruining his wife’s and coworkers’ finances.  (There is a ridiculous statement about his coworkers having unemployment coverage that will take care of them better than the laundry ever could, but it only underscores how little Dawes cares for these people or understands their situations.)  As the book progresses, Dawes tries to simultaneously thwart the city’s highway expansion, while also weigh the moral implications of his actions.

 I’m starting to pick up on a trend that the Bachman books are supposed to be bleak.  Through the first three, only The Long Walk has been what could be described as an enjoyable read.  However the problem is not in the dark subject matter of the stories but instead in the execution.  **Spoilers follow for the ending of the book**  Dawes solution at the end is to blow up his house (with him in it) before a televised news crew.  The way he makes sure a news crew is present is to shoot at the lawyer and police officers he told could come take possession of his house when they arrive.  This book takes place in the 1970’s, so I think calling in a tip to the news station could have had the same desired outcome.  Although it doesn’t appear he kills any of civil servants, he shoots at least one in the arm with a Magnum (the book points out repeatedly how powerful the firearms he has chosen are).  Apparently we are to overlook or empathize with Dawes because he lost a child several years back.

 This book may have been a better read if told through the perspective of Mary (Dawes wife) or if he actually spent any time sympathizing with her.  While they both lost a son, Mary’s pain is overlooked because of how much their son was “George’s boy.”  When she loses everything and is forced to move in with her parents, Dawes solution is to split the money he received for surrendering the house with her as well as their bank account, and then give the rest to a hitchhiker he slept with shortly after they split up.  It is obvious King wants readers to either sympathize with Dawes or forgive some of his actions, but he never gives reasons to do so.  If his intent was to just tell a story about a selfish man who decides to kill himself, then he should have made it more entertaining than what is present in Roadwork.  In various introductions to the Bachman books, King expresses disappointment in this story but says it gives readers a window into his mind at the time of publication and later calls it his favorite Bachman book.  Although both statements can be true, I would only concur with his initial evaluation.

 The only positives I can say about this book involve a few entertaining scenes that had me optimistic King’s story would develop into something better.  Early on when Dawes is coming up with stories to fool a gun seller (for no real reason) and later Dawes’s supervisor (in order to make them lose their option on the property), I was eager to find out what the end game he had in mind was.  Instead for 300+ pages, Dawes has no idea what he is going to do and we are dragged along.  This included numerous pages of Dawes moping around his house and a trip on mescaline that seemed out of place with the rest of the book.  While I’m only giving this one star, I will say that on the scale of one star books this is much closer to two stars than zero stars (which Goodreads doesn’t allow) and was much better than The Rage.

1-star

“Lord of Light” by Roger Zelazny Review

lord

Lord of Light

Author: Roger Zelazny

Release Date: 1967

I nearly quit reading this book three times. The first was around page 75, the second was around page 150 and the third was around page 250. I stuck with it out of a goal to finish all the Hugo and Nebula award winners, but at no point did I enjoy reading this book. Having read one of the other nominees for the 1968 Hugo award (“The Einstein Intersection” by Samuel R. Delany) I can say with some confidence that that was a terrible year for science fiction.

The plot of “Lord of Light” is about a society where Hindu gods and a system of Karma are the norm, and people are elevated into deity roles if they have some attribute that is basically a psychic power (pyrokinetic, death stare, and electromagnetism among those mentioned). All of these Gods have used technology to assert their dominance over the rest of the people from their capital of Heaven, and demand that technology remains pre-renaissance for their people (I gathered this from reading the back of the book, as the book itself is not nearly as clear regarding the pre-Godhood ascension). This despite the fact that any character that dies in the book is likely to reappear in a different body, with a different gender or be transmitted to some other consciousness. The whole thing had similar contradictions that seemed to only make sense as a way for the author to create this world. One God/man, Sam, Siddhartha, Maitreya, Mahasamatman, the Lord of Light, twenty other freaking names (which is common for most characters as they switch bodies) is either a God or a Man, and leads the struggle against the Gods, either resurrected by his own will or by his followers. Also present are demons, who could be aliens or subjugated humans (Christians?). I’m not even sure if this is supposed to take place on Earth or not and I’m not going to bother spending more time on this book looking it up online.

The writing style itself was also unpleasant. The author had a habit of starting chapters off with two characters and try to spend several pages in conversation before identifying who was present or which one was talking. Then once they were revealed, there would often be two more pages of rapid fire dialogue with no additional identifications for the the reader, who must depend on their memory of which character was delivering each boring monologue. I much preferred Zelazny’s other award winner, “This Immortal,” but that’s not saying much.

1-star

“Rage” by Richard Bachman (Stephen King) by Review

rage

Rage

Author: Richard Bachman (Stephen King)

Release Date: September 1977

“Rage” is a book written by a young Stephen King and published in 1977 about a fictionalized school shooting incident. The book has since been taken “out of print” due to its relationship with subsequent actual school shootings and the author’s discomfort with that connection. It would be easy to dismiss criticisms of “Rage” as applying our collective knowledge and experience of multiple school shootings to retroactively criticize King’s work. (King released this book under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.) While reading it, I was in shock that anybody could have ever read this book and thought it told a story that was at all realistic or have a lead character that was even an ounce sympathetic, and it’s that latter problem that really made the book bomb for me.

A few things about my beliefs, before I go any further. First, I don’t believe any topic should be off limits for writing. I think that if somebody is inspired by fiction to do wrong acts, that person is solely responsible for those consequences, not the author of that fiction. Furthermore, I think you can tell stories about bad people doing bad things that end up being great stories. (I’m a huge Bret Easton Ellis fan, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg for my enjoyment entertainment in that category.) That being said, it’s not the idea of this book that ruined this book for me, but the author’s goal and execution.

“Rage is the story of Charlie Decker, a high school student who is returning to school after swinging a pipe wrench at one of his teachers. **Spoilers follow** After freaking out and accusing an authority figure at school of very specific sexual proclivities, he goes to a class room, kills the teacher, kills another adult, and takes the students in the class room hostage. The rest of the book takes place in that class room except for flashbacks of certain “traumatic” events from Charlie’s youth, few stories shared by classmates/hostages, and a few pages of epilogue after the crisis is resolved. One about two or three occasions, Decker mentions the thing sitting motionless at his feet, or the former body of his teacher in that room. Besides that, one girl screams and one student (the bad guy in the book) points out that Charlie murdered two people. The rest of the class (and Charlie himself) spend the rest of the time laughing, telling stories and bonding, while ignoring the dead teachers and the situation they are in.

It almost has to be read to be believed how little the students in this class care that somebody is shooting teacher’s in their school. **Seriously, the rest of the book is spoiled here** As Decker begins to tell the students about the events that made him who he is today (vignettes which foreshadow the much better writing by King later in his career) the students change from ambivalent about the murders and being held hostage to actively rooting for Charlie and violence on their own toward the lone bad guy fellow student. Those events that made him who he is? Well, there’s the time he heard his dad saying he’d slide Charlie’s mom’s face open if she cheated on him. There’s also the time he broke a bunch of windows as a kid and his dad threw him and he denied it. There’s also the time he was made to wear a suit to a birthday party and ended up getting embarrassed and in a fight. Finally, there’s the time he almost had sex at a party with a stranger but couldn’t get it up (ok, this story was actually fun enough it almost earned the book a second star). Compared to the trauma of the child in “Firestarter,” or the killer in “Mr. Mercedes” it really just kind of reads as so what? None of the stuff he described has any possible justification for killing two adults that had nothing to do with him. But the students in the class room see differently, and refuse to escape when given the opportunity, and even participate in a group beat down of the lone dissenter in the class room leaving him in a catatonic state afterwards.

The tone King goes for here is not dark comedy, which is probably the only way this type of story could have worked. By having the entire class (except one student) accept Charlie’s actions and later enjoy and participate in the violence, the entire thing comes across as unintentional farce: an entirely unrealistic response to a tragic situation. Not present at any point are sympathies for any of the parties involved, and the concluding epilogue doesn’t seem to indicate anybody has changed based on what happened, except that people still remember and think fondly of Charlie. So far the Bachman books are off to a rough start, hopefully “The Long Walk” is a better story, or at least has some semblance of reality in how the characters respond to its conflict.

1-star

“The Einstein Intersection” by Samuel R. Delany Review

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The Einstein Intersection

Author: Samuel R. Delany

Release Date: 1967

** spoiler alert ** Well, I’ll admit it. I didn’t understand or care about what was happening for the first 125 pages of this book. The book was only 155 pages long, so that’s a bit of a deal breaker in terms of getting a good score. The story of Orpheus isn’t interesting enough of its own to be a payoff for an exciting ending, and with characters dying and reappearing frequently there was never any real suspense at any moments.

I’ll do my best to summarize the plot, which even reading the back of the book did nothing to clear up for me. So aliens are living on Earth after humans have either left or died out. The aliens are big on making sure everybody can function, speak, hunt, etc. or else they go live in The Kage. The main character is Lobey, who has a thing for a silent girl who can do some special tricks with her mind. She ends up dying. Lobey also finds an old super computer that gives him more questions than answers. He ends up chasing down a guy called Kid Death that’s like a Billy the Kid analogue (not metaphorically, he is actually an incarnation of that figure) while the silent girl may be film star Jean Harlow, or that could just be The Dove. There’s also Green-Eyes and the Spider, who fit in the Orpheus parable depending on when Lobey is getting things explained to him. And it’s possible all of this is just simulated realities by the aliens or the super computer.

Just typing that out made me frustrated at how ambiguous the book is at parts. Instead of clear explanations for the alien civilization (which is also just their version of reliving Earth world life) the reader is thrown in and not given enough reason to care about any of the characters. Also, because it’s a whole retelling of Orpheus and the underworld and everything’s a simulation, nobody really dies and everybody can be resurrected. Also several people have magic power (speaking to animals, telekinesis, knowledge of the exact amount of time somebody can hang off a cliff before falling) to serve the story at random moments. This book was just not for me.

1-star

“Night of the Living Rerun” by Arthur Byron Cover Review

night

Night of the Living Rerun

Author: Arthur Byron Cover

Release Date: March 1998

I feel guilty giving any book one star because nobody sets out to write a bad book. Unfortunately this book was a perfect storm of elements that made it a slog to get through despite being less than 200 fairly small pages.

I’ll be the first to admit that season one of Buffy was the worst, featuring characters that hadn’t yet found their voice, a generic big bad (The Master) and ill fitting plot points from the movie worked in. However, despite all that I’ve enjoyed books like Coyote Moon that felt true to the characters at that point and told a fun story.

Here, the plot is set into motion by dreams, the most boring thing in fiction (books, movies, etc). Buffy dreams of being a witch slayer, Xander dreams of being a witch, Giles and the Master dream of even less interesting stuff. As each dream sequence began I thought “here’s another stretch of pages that aren’t about these characters and have zero risk of affecting the story.” It turns out all the characters are reliving the Salem Witch trials, and it’s part of some once every 300 year (give or take a few) opportunity for the master to ascend.

With the lame plot in motion one would hope the characters act at least true to their tv counterparts. No such luck here as Giles asks “how do you Americans say this” and Buffy kills the master using a steak knife and the entire timing of the book is vague as Buffy makes a joke about dying (“been there done that”) putting it after the season finale but the Master is still trying to ascend from below ground.

The entire read was tedious and frustrating, sadly my least favorite book in my chronological run through so far.

1-star

“The Sword of Shannara” by Terry Brooks Review

sword

The Sword of Shannara

Author: Terry Brooks

Release Date: 1977

I think I would have enjoyed this book more if I hadn’t read any other fantasy before it. The characters all felt lifted from Lord of the Rings, and the writing style wasn’t very engaging to me. I’d say this was a step down from Terry Goodkind and 3 or 4 steps down from Sanderson, Rothfuss or George R R Martin.

1-star