Category: 3 Barrels

“Quasar #1-14” by Mark Gruenwald from Marvel Comics

Quasar 1 to 14

Quasar #1 to #14

Writer:  Mark Gruenwald

Artist:  Paul Ryan and Mike Manley

Published:  1989 to 1990

Rather than reading Quasar Classic (pictured above), I’ve actually read the 9 issues of the main series collected in here as well as the next 5 issues of the regular series (so Quasar #1-14). There’s a Quasar #25 on Goodreads that I’ll mark on that website to review the next batch of comics, but I’ll just lay things out more clearly on this website.

Let’s start with the good. The first three issues of this series are fantastic. Issue #1 is a standard superhero origin story but it’s also charming in its retro tropes and SHIELD vs AIM storyline. Issue #2 was my favorite in this first batch of stories, as it takes a time jump of six years and features some deep space travel and discovery for our protagonist. Issue #3 three shifted things again by bringing Wendell Vaughn back to Earth where he tries to set up a business and rent office space in the Baxter Building.

Unfortunately, that’s where the book really stalls as the next several issues (#4 through #9) feature a very routine “alien of the week” storyline. Wendell is tasked by Eon with being ready to face a great alien menace, and so each issue he goes to find one of these aliens and confront him. Usually there is a quick battle or misunderstanding, and that’s about it. Wendell also shows up at his office for about 2 pages each issue to show up late, bemoan that there’s no business or that he has so much to do, but then he leaves again instantly to go investigate something.

Maybe it’s the thirty year old in me, but I really enjoy the supporting cast of coworkers Gruenwald surrounds Vaughn with more than the alien adventures that never really challenge Quasar. There’s also a hint of romance with Vaughn’s secretary, but as of yet it hasn’t gone anywhere. The other interesting relationship in Vaughn’s life is with his dad, who is more interested in chatting with Eon (the space entity) than with his son, although at this point in the series Gruenwald seems to be showing how it is more Wendell’s fault than his dad’s. I’d expect this storyline to have some major ramifications shortly.

The worst parts of this series can be found in those issues I lumped together (#4 through #9) as they really stay formulaic with little change in geography or concept. For a cosmic hero, Quasar is strictly Earthbound for this period and the book doesn’t spend enough time doing anything to advance plot to keep it interesting. (Issue #9 does have some more fun with AIM however, and a newer, evil female MODOK analog.) Even Vaughn’s power set hurts the comics as Quasar comes off like a Green Lantern rip off during every fight scene, with very little discovery about what he can do after issue #2. Issue #10 fixes some of that with a (finally!) cosmic adventure with a couple of Kree supporting characters but it’s back to the same problems for Quasar #11 and #12.

Where I’ve left off Quasar is engaged in another cosmic story with the Ex-Squadron Supreme, but because it deals with a different dimension I don’t have high hopes for it having much going on in terms of high stakes. I much more interested with what’s going on with Wendell’s dad and his coworkers, though if this group of comics is any indication it will be another 15 or so issues before either storyline pays off.

3-star

“Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House” by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker

Invincible 23

Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House

Writer:  Robert Kirkman

Artist: Cory Walker

Published:  2017

Invincible, Vol. 23: Full House is a solid installment in the continuing adventures of Mark Grayson and company, however it unfortunately suffers by comparison as it follows up one of the best installments in the series, Reboot? **Spoilers follow for events that have happened leading up to this volume** The cliffhanger ending of Reboot? had Mark returning to his wife and daughter after what seemed a few weeks for him but was five years for the rest of the universe. Full House picks up with Mark finding out what his family did without him, the state of the war against Thragg and how Robot’s reign as ruler of the Earth is going.

The bulk of the page count is spent with Eve, as Mark must accept and understand the situation she was in on an alien world, not knowing if he would ever return for so long. Mark and Eve always have one of the more rational relationships in comics, and the big revelations here provide some drama but also never really threaten the status quo of Invincible’s two most important heroes. Perhaps more important to the rest of the comic universe are Nolan’s (Omni-Man) acceptance of Robot back on earth, and Oliver’s direct line of communication with Thragg. The fact that the two other Viltrumite Graysons are both in some degree of cahoots with Mark’s greatest enemies foreshadows a conflict that will draw Mark (and Eve, and Terra) back into the fight against their wishes to take time as a family and detach.

Some other fun tidbits from this volume: Allen the Alien shows off his healing capabilities which rival or surpass those of the Viltrumites; Brit, The Immortal and a few other early Invincible characters make (brief) appearances; and an abandoned storyline of Mark’s violent sexual encounter with a female Viltrumite resurfaces with some fun implications for the future. (One of the fun things about reviewing comics is the sheer craziness involved in doing plot recaps.)

While Reboot? nailed every note and provided fantastic twists and character development for Mark, Full House suffers by returning to the status quo despite an opportunity to shake things up by jumping five years ahead. Even the most shocking moments in this volume were negligible on their impact for the overarching series by the conclusion of the sixth issue (Allen’s storyline, Eve’s revelation, Oliver’s communication). The huge cast of characters Kirkman has developed for this series is great for long term storytelling but if it suffers a drawback it’s that certain characters seem to exist only to be killed and that was the feeling I had (instead of grief) at the loss of one recurring character at the conclusion of this volume. With the announcement that this series is ending, I’m predicting this to become more of a rapid fire occurrence in the world of Invincible as Thragg rarely makes an appearance without killing somebody. Hopefully Kirkman will avoid using the Deus Ex Atom Eve superpowers again though as it is in danger of taking away from the usually high stakes in the series.

Typically the easiest fault to point at Invincible is that it’s not new reader friendly, and I’ll concede that’s an issue for this series. However as the title heads to its conclusion I appreciate that it does reward long term readers with plenty of plots that will only make sense to those that have read it all. The entire series is in print from Image Comics as TPB’s, so there’s no excuse for not just starting at Volume 1 for those looking to try it out (seriously, why would you begin something at Vol. 23?). While I prefer the volumes that are entirely Ryan Ottley’s art, Cory Walker’s art in this volume is still very good and does not draw attention to the change in art styles except for on three or four pages scattered throughout (not bad at 6 issues of 22 pages each). Full House was not one of my favorite chapters in the Invincible universe but it did nothing to take away from what is shaping up to be one of the best complete comic series I’ve ever read. Let’s just hope Kirkman can stick the landing.

3-star

“The Keep” by F. Paul Wilson Review

 

The KeepThe Keep

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Published:  1981

I’ve reached a point in my read through of the Repairman Jack books that the next one I read is the conclusion to the entire series.  I also see that it is the conclusion to something called the Adversary Cycle.  Since it ties into the Repairman Jack books, I’ve decided to go back and read the Adversary Cycle books prior to reading that last installment because why spoil the ending to a whole separate series of books by an author I like that I’d probably end up reading eventually anyways?  Up first in that series is The Keep, the events of which have been obliquely referenced in other Repairman Jack books.

Set during World War II (Pre-American involvement) The Keep is about a structure in the Dinu Pass in Romania that is seemingly abandoned but kept in pristine condition.  The structure becomes relevant when German soldiers take up residence as part of a strategic location in their plan to eventually build a death camp in Romania.  The story is told from five viewpoints:

1)      A German Captain in charge of securing the keep, whose soldiers begin dying violently

2)      A German Nazi S.S. Captain sent to the keep to find out what’s causing the deaths and to stop it

3)      A Jewish man who has studied the keep for years and is brought in by the Nazi Captain to provide answers

4)      The daughter of the Jewish man who is his caretaker and assistant in his studies

5)      A mysterious man who travels to Romania to investigate what’s happening in the keep

Much like with the Richard Sharpe books, I much preferred the section with the non-Nazi Captain to those about the Nazi Captain.  Characters written as evil for evil’s sake in the military tend to be less interesting and more monotonous than competent, more human characters.  One of the best aspects of The Keep is that it provided both aspects in its German soldiers, a deft handling of the political and ethical climate of the era.  The rivalry between the two officers is done very well, and provides much of the early tension before the supernatural elements begin appearing.

This being an F. Paul Wilson book, supernatural elements are a given.  The setting and clues early on point to the culprit being a vampire (Romania, imagery of crosses, fatal wounds to the neck) and with Ghosts and demons having appeared in Repaiman Jack books I didn’t immediately rule that creature of the night out as a suspect.  As more information into the force of evil appears, fans of this series will pick up on additional clues as to who or what is at work.  Certainly anybody who has read the Repairman Jack series will anagram any bad guys name who shows up; if you haven’t read those books then that is not a spoiler.

As a stand alone novel this book works fine, but it is definitely more enjoyable as part of the overall Secret History universe Wilson has established.  Glaeken on his own in this novel is an interesting character, however with his rushed into a few pages of dialogue he reads more like a dream man from a romance novel than the hero of a battle between good and evil.  I prefer having discovered his history as it unfolded over several books in Repairman Jack then how it was quickly disclosed here.

The romance novel analogy is unfortunately not only present in revealing Glaeken’s past, but also in every seen between Magda (the Jewish daughter) and the mystery man.  Wilson struggles with discussing Magda without either bringing up her physical attributes in the eyes of the German soldiers or the stirring pangs in her body for the forbidden touch of this man unlike any she has ever seen before.  I can excuse some of the writing as an attempt at a 1940’s woman who was stifled in her development by being the caretaker for her father, but the vast majority of her characterization was distractingly bad whenever it was the focus.

As the first book in the Adversary Cycle, this did enough to get me interested to read more.  At the end of my copy of the book was a chart outlining the chronological reading order of the rest of the Secret History books, so I’ll probably follow that instead of the Goodreads/Wikipedia recommended order.  There are also several other books listed that go beyond Repairman Jack or the Adversary Cycle, in what I can only assume or Secret History books, so maybe I’ll try those out eventually as well (nothing like being a OCD when it comes to lengthy series).

3-star

“Franklin Pierce: Martyr for the Union” by Peter A. Wallner Review

Franklin Pierce Martyr

Franklin Pierce: Martyr For the Union

Author:  Peter A. Wallner

Release Date:   2007

From 1860 to 1865, half of America went to war against the other half, and nearly three quarters of a million people died in the process,  In 2017, Donald Trump asked why the Civil War could not have been avoided.  I bring up both of those facts because finishing up the second part of this biography series on Franklin Pierce spends a great deal of time on the eight years leading up to the Civil War, four of which Pierce was in office as president.  Certainly there is plenty to be found here in terms of causes for the Civil War.

In rankings of the best to worst presidents, guys like Pierce, Fillmore, and Buchanan are justifiably ranked near the bottom, however each came into office with issues that presented choices that would anger one half of the country into possible battle.  I mentioned in my Millard Fillmore review that northern presidents of this era came off worse than southern ones in historical retrospect and that continues significantly here.  The reason for that is that each compromise the presidents took to preserve “harmony” was to appease the southern slave states.  Pierce went well beyond Fillmore in his support for the south however, and through fourteen presidents he was by far the worst individual to hold office (though Buchanan looks to be even worse).

Here’s how he scores up on my presidential ratings rubric:

Born into – Pierce’s father was a Revolutionary War soldier who made himself successful farmer afterward and then a tavern owner.  Pierce had several siblings, but was born to his father’s second wife (named Anna Kendrick, who was also referenced in Scrappy Little Nobody which I read while I was reading the first volume of this biography set), who gave birth to Franklin Pierce as the 5th of eight children.  Pierce’s father eventually became sheriff, and used that as a platform to eventually become governor of New Hampshire (while Pierce was in college).  2/5

Pre-President – Pierce was not a great student at first, being last in class after two years at Bowdoin College, before buckling down and finishing 5th out of 17.  Like so many presidents before him, he became a lawyer after college.  His political career began when he was elected to state legislature, becoming the youngest ever speaker of House in New Hampshire.  While in the House, he voted to curtail a number of news papers that had been funded by the government to print laws; in actuality this measure was actually a shrewd manner of eliminating non-Democrat news papers.  Pierce would continue to act with the best interests of the Democrat party ahead of those of the people in his state in country throughout his political career.  Pierce also spent some time in the military during the Mexican American War, which provided no moments of great account for Pierce and possibly some aspersions of cowardice that would follow him around throughout his career.

Pierce followed his state service up with eight years in United States House of Representatives.  While there he did not support Gag Order on discussing slavery, even though he was against abolition.  I mention this because this is pretty much the only time in his political career he did something that was not the prime wishes of the southern democrats.  Like Andrew Jackson, Pierce was involved in a duel that killed another member of the House of Representative, however rather than fighting in it he assisted in finding “a second” for the duel.  Due to his limited role, he managed to escape the wrath of congress afterward unlike the rest of the participants.

Pierce became a Senator next, but retired partially into his only term as he wanted to go back home.  His only real impact as Senator was involvement in vetting claims for Revolutionary War Pensions.  Back in New Hampshire, Pierce focused on directing the path of the state Democrat party.  While there his main political rivalry was with John Hale.  Hale (an idealist, willing to break from party on issues if needed) versus Pierce (follow the party position on all matters) was the most interesting contrast of politicians in the first volume by Wallner.  It was still fairly amazing he emerged as presidential candidate after years as the unofficial leader of Democrat party in New Hampshire, and as a dark horse candidate he even puts famous dark horse Polk to shame.  Essentially it happened by Pierce becaming a compromise pick, everybody’s second choice at Democrat convention.  None of the front runners saw him coming and he secured nomination rather quickly once he was presented as a candidate.  As the candidate, he won in a landslide victory winning all but four states, albeit with a very low voter turnout.  3/5.

Presidential Career –   Pierce’s first acts were all attempted to represent all factions of the Democratic Party in his cabinet.  I thought this was admirable, not quite as much as Washington on Monroe welcoming different party views, but admirable still.  Those that he ended up selecting ended up being the only cabinet (as of the writing of book) to remain the same for entire presidency.  Pierce gave more responsibilities to his attorney general that had previously been done (those had belonged to Secretary of State) and created the modern justice department as a result.  His first crisis/headline involved a man named Koszta who lived in America but was wanted by Hungary for his role in inciting a revolution; Pierce held strong and Hungary eventually relinquished their demand for him.

Pierce’s policy of spreading out appointments and patronage began losing him favor immediately; it cost him support particularly in New York where the “Hard” portion of the party’s appointed leader disregarded Pierce’s instructions and screwed the “Soft” and “Barnburner” democrat portions.  Pierce set precedent by removing the culprit with that as the cause.  Often Pierce’s ideas were good but the execution was poor.  In one instance he sent an individual to finalize the Mexican border with Santa Anna; the problem being the man he sent was also an interested party in a citizen claim affected in that area.  The man of course leveraged his claim into the treaty and insinuated that was Pierce’s wish as well, however Pierce did have that portion removed before submitting it to the Senate for approval.  The Senate (rife with corruption and special interests at the time) reinstated it plus added other private claims.

The most famous act in Pierce’s presidency is the Kansas Nebraska act.  Overturning the Missouri compromise, the act could lead to the first expansion of slavery into the north.  It was supported by Pierce, which contradicted his inaugural statements that he would not agitate the slavery question.  Wallner argues that non-support of the act would have had same effect towards Civil War.  Pierce did not just support the act, he bribed it into existence by promising jobs to 13 House of Representatives members if they changed their vote.  In the mid-terms, twelve of the thirteen were voted out of office as a result and needed them (a theme for the entire Democrat party in the midterms).  Pierce also returned more fugitive slaves than any other president during his four years in office (although the length of his term versus everybody but Polk from this era makes this an unfair statement).  Kansas remained the biggest issue throughout Pierce’s term.  Called “Bleeding Kansas” by the press, pro and anti-slavery groups moved to the territory to try and establish a voting block on the slavery issue, and violence and voter fraud issues were common.  For a time, two separate governments ended up being set up in the territory.

Pierce continued his bribing ways when he authorized $5,000 for use to persuade Canadians for a favorable settlement in a fisheries dispute.  Secretary of State William Marcy was troubled by this as however Pierce did not hesistate.  Once again miscommunications was a problem, as the Canadian ambassador ended up spending tens of thousands more than authorized.  Another instance of this was an ambassador sent to Spain did not understand what was meant by “detaching” Cuba from Spain and failed to present the option that Pierce had intended.

Pierce focused much of his attention on foreign affairs, probably to deflect from his poor handling of issues at home.  The Crimean War was occurring in Europe at the same time, but had little effect for Pierce aside from him authorizing sending three military officers to observe military tactics of multiple European armies.  Pierce focused the most on British involvement in Nicaragua in speeches and inside the office.  This may have had to do with Pierce’s view of the office of presidency, as he vetoed so many bills for internal improvements (which were then overturned by congress) that foreign policy was one of the only areas left for a president to make an impact.  The result for all this intrigue was the Dallas-Clarendon treaty which would have Great Britain exit central America with the exception of Belize.  However after all the time spend on the issue, the treaty was not passed until Pierce was out of office, at which point it was modified so much that Britain rejected it.  Pierce did support the transatlantic cable, one of his positive legacies in addition to building additional Navy ships and modernizing the army prior to exiting office.

Some interesting random notes from during his presidential years.

  • William Atherton (one of Pierce’s best friends and a loyal politician) died unexpectedly and left $8,000 in his will to Pierce. Scholars later found out it was for the care of his secret family and lovechild.  Certainly an oddity for a sitting president to have to deal with.
  • Brigham Young was appointed Territorial governor of Utah and caused problems by showing his power was greater than that of the national government, even colluding with Indians against the army. Pierce made the political move of appointing somebody else to take Young’s place that would end up declining the offer, thus not showing endorsement of Young or polygamy but also not removing him from power in Utah either.
  • Pierce lost the presidential nomination to James Buchanan and never had any momentum in his favor. He is the only president who sought reelection to be denied nomination by his party.

Vice President – Vice president William R. King died very early in office, was never replaced as there was no mechanism for it at that time.  .5/5

First Lady – Jane Appleton was one of the most intriguing first ladies, but not in a good way.  Wallner did not seem to be a fan of her, citing statements that Jane Appleton Pierce’s  only redeeming quality was keeping Pierce sober.  More than anything, she seemed a tragic figure.  Jane and Franklin had three children, one died at three days old, one died at four years old, and the last died at eleven years old.  The last one was particularly sad, as he died when Pierce was on way to Washington with his family via train.  The train crashed, and Pierce’s son Benjamin was thrown.  When Pierce went up to him he thought he was unconscious but discovered the back of Benjamin’s head was missing.  This drove his wife into grieving, and led to a fight 48 hours before inauguration where she told him not to worry about politics.  She also decided not to give him lock of hair from Benjamin to wear at inauguration which she had previously saved.  Jane remained in mourning for entire first year.  In addition to being described as sad  she was also mentioned as controlling, known for criticizing Pierce for his mannerisms (i.e. keeping his hands in his pockets) or for inability to resist alcohol at dinner.  After he death, Pierce made comments to a writer about his wife indicating his favorite thing about his wife that that she needed him to take care of her due to always being ill.  Interestingly enough, Pierce’s friendship with writer Nathaniel Hawthorne seemed more emotional than his relationship with his wife (or siblings).  I’ll give her a decent score here for being memorable, though she stayed out of any roles as a First Lady.  3.5/5.

Post Presidency – Pierce didn’t take any official roles in politics after he left the office of president.   Instead he spent time traveling with his wife across American and Europe.  Pierce’s cabinet stayed loyal to him after office he left office, particularly Jefferson Davis.  Unlike prior presidents that I’ve read about, there was a story of Pierce drinking all night with a friend and spending $30 unaccounted for in area known for gambling and brothels.  It seems like every president that’s been alive four years after their loss has been asked to run again, and Pierce was no exception after the disaster of the Buchanan administration.  Pierce continued to make “pro-National” speeches, chastising abolitionists.  Wallner glosses over his repeated statements that whites and Africans are not equals regardless of how the law characterized them.  This went on throughout the Civil War, as Pierce and other democrats remained critical of Lincoln and abolition until victory in Atlanta assured Lincoln victory.  1.5/5

Book itself –   I enjoyed the second volume of Wallner’s biography better than the first, as it focused more on this fascinating time in American history.  Throughout the two volumes however, there were some things that did not work as well other biographies that I’ve read.  Stories of Pierce as a lawyer were full of hyperbole (there was even a part talking about how everybody would be weeping after his closing arguments were finished).  Wallner also frequently made excuses for Pierce, such as his frequent use of bribes (“it shows how important Pierce felt the issue was”) or using patronage to sway votes (“what president before or after would not have done the same thing?”).  However Wallner also includes some fun critical comments of Pierce such as the critics of his drinking’s nickname for Pierce as the “Hero of many well-fought bottle.”  Possible military cowardice was also mentioned, however like Pierce’s drinking Wallner mainly mentions that the critics said it more than analyzing how much truth there was to it.  Overall as good as can be expected on the subject, but not one of the best biographies I’ve read so far.3/5

3-star

“Colony” by Melinda Metz and Laura J. Burns Review

Colony

Author: Melinda Metz and Laura J. Burns

Release Date: 2005

Colony

The first season of Buffy features some ridiculous storylines and villains, including an episode (“Teacher’s Pet”) where Xander’s teacher is a beautiful woman who is actually a praying mantis looking to eat her mates.  Colony takes place during season two of Buffy and features a very similar villain although with the added danger of mind control (similar to the episode “Bad Eggs”).  With a plot reminiscent of two actual episodes, one would expect that this book nails the overall feel of the early episodes of the season.  There were a few issues that keep that from being the case, starting with that recurring Buffy novelization problem of visions by the protagonist.  One gets the feeling that a lot of these writers rewatched the movie before writing their books as Buffy’s dreams are constantly referenced in the books whereas they were totally disregarded in the show.  The other biggest problem in this book was Buffy’s slow reaction to the danger her friends were in.

In Colony, the school is visited by a guest speaker who is actually an Ant Queen whose goal is to reproduce and build an Ant Colony.  Buffy sees many of her friends and Watcher under mind control, and even suffering from body horror out of Cronenberg (Xander develops a giant thorax, other characters develop Ant mouths) but routinely takes no action or doesn’t acknowledge the seriousness of the situation.  It’s difficult to criticize a book with a ridiculous plot (and a giant demon that resembles the Lucky Charms Leprechaun) for not taking things seriously enough, but the characters treating the situation as not serious removed any tension from this book.

This is a Stake Your Destiny book where the reader makes choices and tries to navigate through to a happy ending.  In that regard this book did a better job that either of the previous two installments (although I preferred the story more in The Suicide King).  The choices offered to the character were more in line with actual paths Buffy might take in the show, and I made it through with only one wrong choice.  My one wrong choice involved whether Buffy should ask Xander about what was going on with him or go patrolling and look for Angel.  It was one of those situations where Buffy made a few other decisions after the one I made which ended up killing her but overall it didn’t feel completely unfair.  This book also didn’t have the same problem as Keep Me in Mind where the choices were obvious based on page numberings which one you should pick.  Here I jumped back and forth across the book and reached the end so if there was a more direct path through it I missed out on it.

The cleverest part of this book involved the purpose of the personality test that the students were all required to take (determining what role they’d have in the ant colony).  The twist felt like a well thought out reason for the villain assuming the identity that she was posing under.  I still have another Stake Your Destiny to go and am hoping for one that feels accurate to the series and offers realistic choices laid out in a non-predictable manner.  So far each of these books has been lacking in at least one of those areas, but I am still enjoying the general idea of reading these and navigating my own way through a Buffy episode.

3-star

“Mid-Flinx” by Alan Dean Foster Review

Mid-Flinx

Author: Alan Dean Foster

Release Date: 1995

Midflinx

Midworld is one of my favorite Alan Dean Foster books, so I was very much looking forward to Pip and Flinx visiting the planet described in that book. For those not familiar, this unnamed planet features the most complex ecosystem in the Humanx Commonwealth. The planet is covered in various trees and planets that are 400+ meters tall with entire different miniature ecosystems above the trees and throughout depending on how high or low you go. In addition to that there are hybrid plant/animal creatures and the most deadly camouflaged organisms imaginable. What a perfect setting to drop our empathic young hero and his deadly mini-dragon.

For the alien world setting, this book absolutely delivered. It also managed to advance the plot of the overall series down that path I was worried about in the previous book without getting too ridiculous. The problems with this book all stem from the reason for visiting and internal story of Mid-Flinx. Flinx find himself in a plot straight out of Jack Reacher. He is passing through town when a dastardly villain obsesses on him for no good reason and the result is a game of cat and mouse that ends in death. Here the villain is fixated on taking Pip into his own private zoo and pursues Flinx all the way to Midworld to take it. Normally Flinx would have a handy sixth sense to keep villains from creeping up on him but in this book it is conveniently available only to allow for maximum dramatic effect.

The book takes a second ridiculous turn as serendipity and surprises coincide with the arrival of two additional alien races in pursuit of Flinx. Here Foster prefers setting up impossible situations for Flinx that end in escape by the perfectly timed rescued of off page characters. The first instance of this involves a sniper shot, but was explained in a satisfactory though not all that convincing manner. The second instance with falling mushrooms explanation does not hold up to scrutiny as the location was selected by the bad guys and not the heroes. The final save (the Thranx) made sense but also served to show how ridiculous the string or Flinx’s pursuers was.

In a darker series this string of events could have culminated in some very exciting or devastating consequences, but much of the tension is removed by Flinx’s guides being a woman and two children. The lack of real stakes, frequent coincidences and one note villains keep this from being one of the better entries in the series, despite the awesome setting for a science fiction book.

3-star

“Rabbit Remembered” by John Updike Review

rabbit remembered

Rabbit Remembered

Author: John Updike

Release Date: 2000

Return to the world of Brewer, Pennsylvania to check in on the Angstrom clan in this nostalgia trip by John Updike. Set ten years after the excellent “Rabbit at Rest,” this book brings back the supporting cast from the previous four books by focusing on Nelson and Janice as they become aware of Harry’s illegitimate daughter Annabelle. Along the way we get updates on Nelson’s wife Pru, two children Roy and Judy and even minor characters like childhood friend Billy and Rabbit’s rival Ronnie Harrison.

I imagine reading these books when they came out was an amazing experience as each book brings back characters years apart and shines a light on their lives. This book felt the tidiest in the entire series which made it more enjoyable than “Rabbit, Redux” (which was a mess in the sense that it was all over the place) but less entertaining that “Rabbit at Rest” (which felt more free to tell its own story rather than be tied to nostalgia).

The real joy in reading this book was the nostalgia from my own life as the events in this book finally got to events that I grew up being aware of. Updike has always spent a lot of time visiting the headlines of the year in the the Rabbit book takes place. This has served well to both set the setting for the book on a macro level as well as provide political views of the characters in reaction. However most of these books were written before I was alive or cognizant of those same headlines. “Rabbit Remembered” spends time on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal, Y2K and best picture nominee “American Beauty.” The result for me was a stroll down memory lane both with characters I’ve spent four books with as well as with the headlines of my own youth.

As a series the Rabbit books are fairly uneven, but the positives definitely outweighed the negatives for me. I consider book four to be the conclusion of the series, and while this novella did not detract from that ending in any way it also felt very anticlimactic in wrapping up the story of Nelson and crew in comparison. The biggest strength was in characters like Nelson and Ronnie, who originally did not appreciate Harry, finding reason to remember him and even stick up for him at times. Saying goodbye to Rabbit and the folks in Brewer was sad enough in book four; “Rabbit Remembered” is a good reminder that a trip down memory lane is worthwhile if there was enjoyment on that path in the first place.

3-star