“To Your Scattered Bodies Go” by Philip Jose Farmer

To your Scattered Bodies Go

To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Author:  Philip Jose Farmer

Published:  1971

To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer is my pick for the worst titled Hugo Award winner (so far, at least). I had a hard time remembering the title when people asked what I was reading, and even sitting down to write this review I had to look it up again. Instead I would tell people I was reading the first book in the Riverworld series. That had a nicer ring to it, and it was also an honest response. Enough about the title of the book though, how was the actual writing?

Richard Francis Burton wakes up in a strange environment where bodies are all hairless, naked and the same age. Burton remembers being an old man with gout, being on his death bed, and everything else in his lifetime. However, looking at himself he sees a 25 year old version of himself, matching everybody else around him (the few exceptions being a few children under that age). After discussing the situation with others that are present, Burton eventually comes to the conclusion that the world he is on is populated by the entire population of Earth’s history, all resurrected and scattered in various seemingly random groups along a never ending river.

It’s an awesome concept for a book. It allows Farmer to bring in various historical figures, have them interact with each other and share knowledge and skill sets. From the concept of the book, I could expect a dozen different ways it could play out. Farmer opts for several different paths, alternating between philosophical experiment, exploratory adventure, and prison escape sequence. The supporting cast around Burton frequently changes. Among the most interesting characters are a man (and an alien) from 30+ years in the future of when the book was published (to the far off future of 2008!), Hermann Goering (a high ranking officer from the Nazi regime), and a Neanderthal man.

If there’s an area where the book will likely draw criticism, it is in its treatment of female characters. Across the board, the women primarily latch on to men for protection and are not what one would call contributors to the group’s survival. In Farmer’s defense, the bulk of female characters come from the 1800’s or earlier, and from societies that were not particularly progressive in their views of gender norms. If strong female characters are essential to your enjoyment of a book, this one will leave you unsatisfied.

I very much enjoyed the “rules” of this book. Following along Burton as he discovered how various individuals seemed to be scattered around the globe in a less than random pattern, as well as what happens to individuals who die on Riverworld was fascinating. The entities responsible for Riverworld were revealed sooner than I expected (this book moves very quickly, at only 220 pages), but there was still enough mystery as to why the Riverworld even exists that I’m looking to pick up the sequels to this book in the near future.

That same mystery that remains at the end of To Your Scattered Bodies Go that makes me want to keep reading the series is also frustrating when reviewing this as a standalone piece of work (it’s basically like the end of Avengers: Infinity War this week). This book ends on a to be continued, with very little resolved for Burton or the reader. I was more entertained and interested in this book than all but my very favorite Hugo Award winners so far, but the lack of a conclusion has me hesitant to give it a an endorsement without some reservations.

4-star

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“Nightworld” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Nightworld

Nightworld

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Published:  1992, Revised in 2012

**Note – This is a review for the 2012 revised version of Nightworld, not the original**

If you’re a Repairman Jack fan and have just finished The Dark at the End, before picking up Nightworld I would recommend reading the other books of the Adversary Cycle first. It’s not a lot of extra reading, as it’s only a six book series and fans have already read The Tomb and Nightworlditself is the last book in the series. By doing so, you’ll spend some time getting acquainted with several of the main characters of Nightworld and make it a much more rewarding conclusion overall. Without reading it, you’ll still be well aware of Glaeken and Rasalom and the big picture struggle, but details like the Dat-tay-vao and Father Bill’s/Carol’s storyline will leave you with plenty of questions.

As for the overall quality of this book, this was a terrific conclusion to one of my favorite sprawling book series. I have two main gripes with this book, but even with those this was a thrilling ending. This book picks up shortly after the end of The Dark at the End, with Rasalom basically victorious in the ongoing struggle and ready to ascend to godly power. The events are first noticed by the world at large by daylight being late one morning, and the sun setting earlier than scheduled that night. The pattern continues the next day, and throughout the book we proceed closer and closer to the titular never ending world of Night. In addition to the shorter day times, massive bottomless holes begin appearing throughout the world. At night, all sorts of violent bugs and creatures begin exiting the holes and wreaking havoc until daylight.

Unlike the rest of the Repairman Jack novels, which dealt primarily with small scale weirdness that could go unnoticed by the general public, the events in Nightworld are very much global and catastrophic. Along with Jack, there is a large cast characters in peril in this book, including series regulars Gia, Vicky, Abe and Julio, plus Adversary Cycle gang Glaeken, Dr. Alan Bulmer, Jeffy, Ba, Carol, Father Bill, Sylvia Nash, Nick and Ba. This isn’t the sort of book you should read as a stand alone. Wilson heavily revised this book to tie it in to the events of all the books he had published over the prior twenty years.

The plot of Nightworld reminded me a bit of The Stand by its conclusion, with bands of survivors coming together for the chance of standing up to evil. I pretty much loved the book, except for two pretty major issues. First, was that Glaeken’s method of fighting back against Rasalom came out of nowhere and definitely entered deus ex machina territory. The other problem was that Rasalom was pretty impotent as a villain for this book, only once trying to actually screw with the main cast and even then coming up empty. Instead he basically just allowed every opportunity to defeat him go unopposed and had way too much of the main cast survive to the end.

One almost ends up thinking that Wilson was leaving the door open for more Repairman Jack and Adversary Cycle novels (which he has written, but instead has opted for prequels) by keeping so much of the cast alive at the end. Although it’s not a perfect book, and not even my favorite in the series (at this point I’d give the edge to Hosts as I’m a sucker for body snatcher stories) this was a blast. My favorite moment in the book was an airplane encounter with a leviathan that was a nice microcosm of how terribly the world had gotten in a short period of time. I’m still going back and reading the young adult books in the series, and I’m sure I’ll read the three new prequels as well. Unlike the Jack Reacher series, Wilson hasn’t burned me out yet on the continuing stories from his fictional universe.

5-star

“Nether Isle” by Nicoline Evans

Nether Isle

Nether Isle

Author:  Nicoline Evans

Published:  2015

I picked up a copy of Nether Isle by Nicoline Evans at C2E2 last month. Ms. Evans had an entire booth promoting the multiple books she had written which was the most impressive independent author set up I’d seen at a comic convention. Her books all featured very beautiful cover artwork and fantastical plot elements that also drew my attention. As a big fan of buying books directly from authors I talked to her for a bit and settled on Nether Isle, which she described as a supernatural story that was also her dad’s favorite book that she’d written to this point. As I was pushing my son around in a stroller at the time, I thought “ah, that’s the one for me.”

More broadly, Nether Isle tells the story of a remote village off the coast of Maine where it seems things are just a bit more depressing and anti-social than normal. The reason for this is quickly revealed, but honestly my favorite part of the book was the reveal so I’m not going to get into it here. The protagonist of the book is Theodore, a teenage boy who recently moved to the neighborhood with his drunken abusive father. Theodore is a loner, never staying anywhere long enough to feel connected to other people. At his new school, he is an outcast until a new student named Bianca arrives. Bianca befriends Theodore and the two immediately begin to get close. Everybody else at school though seems to hate Bianca for no reason, and even adults close to Theodore warn him not to get close to her.

Again, the reveal for what’s wrong with the town and basically everything else happens pretty early on. My favorite parts of the book were Theodore’s discovery of the town’s secret, followed by the progression of his relationship with Bianca. Once Theodore has finally chosen sides about halfway through the book, the remaining story did not maintain the same momentum. The mystery of the early chapters is replaced primarily by training/gathering of allies. While Evans was trying to likely trying to increase the stakes of the story, the opposite effect resulted. The more new characters that were introduced, the less I ended up caring when a terrible fate would befall one of them.

Evans was completely successful however in creating a very memorable and interesting world for the characters to live in. There is an excellent balance of rules of magic for what is going on, and mystery for what becomes of the village’s special residents when they leave. The things I’ll most remember about this book are the distinct settings: the lighthouse, the fish market, the small school. The result was a timeless quality that could exist both before or after the invention of smart phones and the internet. A few other random notes:

  • Cadence, Bianca’s little sister, flipped between one of my favorite characters and one of the most frustrating. It’s hard to imagine how somebody her age and life experiences would act, but the switch between strong willed and victim had be invested and frustrated at the same time.
  • Evans touched on some difficult issues in introducing characters affiliated with tragic events from human history but did a nice job of avoiding their purpose just being shock value.
  • The spell that involves a blessing bothered me when it was introduced. It seemed a bit too flippant to wait until so late in the game to inform Theodore about this alternative, and then the ethics of using it seemed to be given minimal thought. (I suppose you could explain this away by saying the mystery of where its recipient was sent makes it rather pointless, but obviously some of the casters believed it very much mattered.)
  • I got a bookmark for another book by Evans about a man made of stone, and after seeing it every day while reading this book I’ve decided I should track that one down to. Free bookmarks are awesome people!

Overall this was a quick read, even at 463 pages . I would recommend taking some time on the first half of the book and letting the mood and mystery linger before marathon-ing the end. I give this one 3 ½ stars, which I haven’t created barrel artwork for, so I’m forced to make the tough call. There was enough here that I really enjoyed however, that I am definitely down for reading more of Ms. Evans’ books in the future.

3 star

“Invincible Volume 25: The End of All Things Part Two” by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker Review

invincible 25

Invincible Volume 25: The End of All Things Part Two

Writer:  Robert Kirkman

Artist:  Ryan Ottley & Cory Walker

Released:  2018

Publisher:  Image Comics

Reading the end of one of my all time favorite comic series reminded me a lot of watching the series finales for “Chuck,” “Six Feet Under,” or “Rescue Me.” Those were all shows I really enjoyed and was sad to end, however I also felt like they went out on great notes that provided enough closure that I didn’t walk away needing anything more from the stories. (Other finales like “Justified,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” or “Twin Peaks: The Return” were also excellent, but when they were over I was just really depressed that there wasn’t more to return to the next week.)

Here Kirkman has said goodbye to his characters, let us know all of their fates, and basically shut the door on future Invincible stories. I should be very depressed that the series has ended but instead I’m happy with where he left the characters. Mark and Eve get plenty of closure on how their lives end up, as do characters like Allen, the Viltrumite empire, and everybody’s kids. The end of Robot’s storyline felt rushed to me. My only real complaint is that when Mark returned to Earth and Robot is ready for him, that felt like it should have been the start of another arc and instead it got handled in one issue.

The art in Invincible is always consistent, and here Ottley and Walker are are their seemless best, with it never taking you out of the story when one hands off art duties to the other. The colors in this series are always vibrant and fun, and with less blood than normal and a cheerful ending it’s very hard to walk away sad from this book. Still, over the 25 volume (I read this book exclusively in trade paperback format) story I always looked forward to the next six issue set showing up at my comic shop every 8 or 9 months.

Unlike many mainstream comics, independent comics can actually end. While Silver Surfer as told by Dan Slott and Mike Allred was my favorite book of the last two years, when it ended I knew the character would be showing up in other Marvel books and adventures before too long. Even a character like Jessica Jones who had only been written by one author will be returning before too long as part of the greater Marvel Universe. Independent books like “Bone,” “Strangers in Paradise” or “Cerebus” can return when the author wants them to, but for the most part the endings are much more final than anything else in comics. Nobody else can do “Savage Dragon” but Erik Larsen, and “Invincible” by somebody other than Kirkman and Ottley/Walker could never be the same thing that was told over the last 15 years of this book. Congrats to the creators on an amazing finish to a great series.

5-star

“The Angel Chronicles: Vol. 3” by Nancy Holder Review

Angel 3

The Angel Chronicles: Vol. 3

Author:  Nancy Holder

Released:  1999

I’m giving this one four barrels, though as far as straightforward novelizations go this one will probably be tough to beat. It’s not really a surprise, as reliable author Nancy Holder was tasked with combining three of the ten best episodes of the series (that also fit very well together) into one installment.

I recently saw a website picking the best season of every famous tv show and even before opening it I knew season 2 of Buffy would be their choice (and it was their choice). I think most fans would have it as their consensus choice as it featured the great villains of Spike and Drusilla and later Angelus. While season 3 (Faith, the Mayor and graduation) was every bit as excellent it lacked the gut punch the end of season 2 had.

Three of the four best episodes of the season are revisited in Angel Chronicles: Volume 3 with the only one missing being the season finale. The first two are episodes 13 and 14 which were the rare “to be continued” two parter and the last was episode 17 which had the pay off to the prior two. Here you’ve got Angel and Buffy’s last perfect night together, the switch to Angelus and the biggest death of a central character yet on the show (and for my money the best done death outside of “The Body”).

The two episodes skipped through on the way to Passion were an Oz then Xander centered stories which while fun episodes were easily enough skipped with one line of exposition by Holder (“since then Willow had gotten a boyfriend”).

The reason this only gets four stars is that while the source material is awesome and the execution is spot on, as with all of these there’s not much added to what we already saw on the screen. There’s 2 pages of prologue and two pages of epilogue that frame the boom but don’t add to it and any additional benefit is in characters’ inner monologues which are fairly sparse. In other words, for die yards only.

4-star

“Gerald’s Game” by Stephen King Review

Gerald's Game

Gerald’s Game

Author:  Stephen King

Released:  1992

I’m going through these Stephen King books pretty close to in order of publication, so reading Gerald’s Game felt a lot like Misery: Part Deux. Unfortunately that’s not a compliment as that book was a particularly unpleasant reading experience. With both books, our protagonist is stuck in a bed and unable to get out for most of the book. I know at some point Stephen King was struck by a car and bedridden for a period of time, but whatever the inspiration for revisiting the motif I was thoroughly over it by the end of this one.

Here the reason for the bed is that Jessie and Gerald are preparing to have sex at a secluded cabin, with Gerald preferring Jessie handcuffed to a bed to increase his experience. Jessie decides against it and tells Gerald she does not want to go forward and to untie her, but he pretends that it’s part of the game and refused. When Gerald tries to go ahead and continue Jessie ends up kicking him in the groin. As Gerald pulls away, he has a heart attack and dies at the base of the bed, leaving Jessie stuck in handcuffs miles away from another person.

The bulk of the suspense of the book is delivered via two separate events. The main storyline is Jessie stuck on the bed, weak from wanting water and trying to brainstorm her way out. In addition to the physical pain of being stuck, Jessie begins to hallucinate and believe there is a man visiting her at night that intends to kill her soon. As readers, we are as unaware of whether the man is real, imagined or paranormal as Jessie is and these scenes were some of the most suspenseful in the book.

The other storyline is a set of flashbacks Jessie is reliving involving an afternoon where she was molested by her father during an eclipse as a child. Why is this important for her to relive? In one aspect, it’s relevant because of her current sexual predicament that she is dealing with. However the big reveal for why she is actually remembering it is pretty lame as it’s something that seemingly she could have thought of based on a hundred other offhand comments and experiences she would have had throughout her life.

This book definitely felt more padded in terms of page count than what the story merited. Perhaps had it been a short story I would have enjoyed it more. As it stands though this was lesser Stephen King and one I understand not being listed as one of his best.

2-star

“Rogue Lawyer” by John Grisham Review

Rogue Lawyer

Rogue Lawyer

Author:  John Grisham

Released:  2015

I was loaned this book by another attorney, and I’ve already given him a hard time for overlooking some of the problems I had with this book. Rogue Lawyer is about a defense attorney named Sebastian Rudd who works out of a van because his office has been firebombed. Who firebombed his office? Who knows. Rudd has so many enemies it could have been an angry client, and the cops don’t seem too interested in solving it because maybe they did it themselves? Why is Rudd so hated?

Well, he’s a defense attorney, and that’s enough reason for some of us. (I kid.) In particular though, he’s a defense attorney that specializes in getting his guilty guys off by any means necessary, and exposing the corrupt practices of police officers. Over the course of this book, he’ll represent individuals in several high profile cases. Included among those is an obviously innocent goth druggie accused of murdering two children, an obviously innocent man whose wife was killed when Swat officers raid the wrong house (he is charged for firing a gun back in self defense), and an obviously guilty guy who snaps after losing a cage fight and who beats the referee to death.

In addition to the legal cases, there is also extensive drama in the form of Rudd’s ex-wife who is now a lesbian with a beautiful girlfriend intent on terminating Rudd’s parental rights, a mob boss on the run after escaping death row, and a mystery surrounding a high ranking officer’s pregnant daughter who was abducted from a parking garage. Grisham keeps multiple plot threads going throughout the book, giving a payoff for each one though not necessarily tying them all together. My favorite of the storylines was the case involving the wrongdoing by the SWAT team as it was the sort of event that dealt accurately with the law and was definitely cribbed from real life tragedies. It also lacked most of the problems that I had with the other stories, in that Rudd could actually do something good as a character and help his client out. The attorney on the other side was also handled somewhat sympathetically. (I didn’t think it was realistic that the man would be brought to trial in this case, but if it were brought to trial I thought it was handled realistically.)

By contrast, the criminal case that opened the book had me ready to chuck this in the garbage and I never totally recovered based on that. In a small county, two children die and law enforcement picks up the first creepy guy they can and coerce lies and false evidence to rig a confession. Rudd is forced to smuggle DNA from who the real (obvious) killer is to get his guy off, because law enforcement and the judge had all been unwilling to run any DNA test due to expenses and time. Ok, so I’ve worked in small counties (and in a large one), and one thing I can say definitely is that when a huge case comes through in a small county it is handled extremely cautiously. Small counties don’t deal with a lot of murders, so when they get one they make sure every base is covered so the case doesn’t blow up in their face in the media. The judges are even more likely to be cautious, granting continuances for defense attorneys seeking evidence, as they don’t want to bungle a major case and have it come back on appeal. The only realistic aspect of this part of the book was the fact that the jurors all knew about the case and probably had their mind made up.

So needless to say I had a lot of problem with how Grisham treated the honorable profession of prosecutors in this book. Even Rudd though can’t escape Grisham’s antics of being a dishonorable, despicable character. **Spoilers follow** Late in the book, there’s a confluence of events where a terrible human being gives Rudd information that could save dozens of girls lives. Rudd makes it clear that there it no attorney client privilege in this situation. What does he do? He conditions revealing this information to law enforcement on them giving a deal to his client that is 100% guilty of murder that would basically be a slap on the wrist. I guess the readers are not supposed to care about the good person that was murdered by Rudd’s client or about the many women whose lives are being ruined in captivity, because hey, look at Rudd work his magic. Things don’t work out the way he thinks however, so maybe that’s Grisham’s way of not rewarding all of Rudd’s bad behavior. **End of spoilers**

I tend not to watch legal shows or read legal fiction because the inaccuracies end up driving me up the wall. Odds are a different reader will enjoy this book much more than I did. This was a very fast paced book with plenty of snappy dialogue and slimy characters that will fascinate readers. Just not this one.

2-star