Tag: series

“Meg: Nightstalkers” by Steve Alten

Meg nightstalkers

Meg: Nightstalkers

Author:  Steve Alten

Published:  2016

Meg Series #5

Five books into the Meg series (and apparently one should also have read The Loch by now as well), this was the first book in the series that I found myself shaking my head at the ridiculous plot more than enjoying it. That’s quite a statement, as the book has previously featured the discovery of giant extinct sharks, a character named Jonas being swallowed by a sea creature and surviving (yeah, it’s not Jonah but it’s close enough) and a prehistoric dinosaur called a Liopleurodon that Alten makes 100 feet larger than a reputable website like Wikipedia claims was possible.

**Slight spoilers follow** Set shortly after the events of Meg: Hell’s Aquarium, this book follows dual plot lines as both Jonas and David Taylor are involved in tracking down giant sea creatures that were formerly isolated from the rest of the oceans. While David is tracking down the Liopleurodon that ate a loved one earlier in the series, Jonas is trying to figure out what to do with his Lagoon now that the Megs housed within have been set free. Sounds like a logical followup to the earlier books… so why didn’t this installment, err, keep its head above water for me?

1. The shoehorned crossover with The Loch and its upcoming sequel Volstok felt very out of place with the rest of the series. The plot is inherently ridiculous, so slapping a time travel element in it just seems to break the anything goes rules one step too far. Also, the method of explaining all of this was done over about 5 pages in the book and didn’t seem like it was necessary to maneuver the plot where Alten wanted to take it.

2. The over dependence on the Liopleurodon for the plot. Alten has all of these cool sea creatures he could write about, so why spend so much time on an animal that didn’t even exist as Alten has written it. At this point it might as well be a dragon or something else mythological for as far off as it is from what we know about the actual creature.

3. In contrast, the Moby Dick whale was a very cool addition to the creature catalog, but the explanation for how and why it was just now being discovered tied into the stupid Volstok storyline, which in turn distracted from the enjoyment of reading about a super huge and aggressive whale.

4. Most importantly, there was a significant lack of something in this book, and that something is giant prehistoric sharks called Megalodons. I’m not a Harry Potter scholar, but I’d imagine this is similar to reading that series for four books and then in the fifth book Harry shows up for a few pages while the rest of the gang takes a trip to Mordor. Jonas, David and Terry Taylor may be the protagonists of these books, but they’re still just plot points necessary to tell a story about giant sharks.

I’ll keep reading the Meg series because there’s only one more solicited and they’re quick reads. More than that, when Alten focuses on an exciting shark story he’s capable of making a funny and exciting story that reads like a blockbuster film (for me, Meg: Primal Waters is a perfect example of that). I’ll keep an eye out for the tie in books as well, as maybe getting that storyline fleshed out more than its done here will add in the enjoyment for Meg: Generations, currently solicited for 2018.

2-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

Rank the Series: John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom Books

John Updike’s Rabbit series is unusual in the literary world for several reasons.  For starters, it’s a series of books that doesn’t involve any supernatural, magical or militaristic elements.  It’s also very adult material, with probably as much time spent on sexual acts as anything I’ve read (including the awful “50 Shades of Grey”) but described more realistically than you would find in an erotica novel.  Most impressively, the series was written over 41 years and takes place in real time with the characters and current events aging with the author (and readers who originally picked up the series).  The series is to literature what “Savage Dragon” is to comic books or “Boyhood” is to film, an achievement and testament to its creator merely for existing.

 The idea of this series, following the life and death of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom as detailed over generations, was so interesting to me that the quality of the books almost became secondary.  Having now finished the series, I’m glad I read it all chronologically as each of the five installments was essential in understanding who the characters were and why they reacted to situations as they did.  If you are planning on reading this series, there’s no other order you should read it in than “Rabbit, Run” –>  “Rabbit Redux” –> “Rabbit is Rich” –> “Rabbit at Rest” –> “Rabbit Remembered.”  But that’s not very fun to write about, so here are some thoughts on how enjoyable each of the books in the series is, ranked from worst to best:

 Rabbit redux

5.  Rabbit Redux

Release date:  1971

Chronological Order:  Second

 The two easiest choices in ranking this series are best and worst.  I enjoyed every Rabbit book except for this one that takes all of the social strife of its era and tells the ugliest story in the entire series.  Even in later books the events of “Rabbit Redux” are spoken of in disbelief, with plenty of “do you believe the time Harry had that teen girl and her drug dealer move in with him and then _____ happened?”  In addition to general unpleasantness of the story, the book is also bogged down with racial language of the era that will make many readers uncomfortable. I almost quit reading the series after this one, but after finishing the next three books my dislike for this book is tempered as it became just another crazy memory in the lives of its characters.

 rabbit remembered

4.  Rabbit Remembered

Release Date: 2001

Chronological Order:  Fifth

 This novella is shorter than the rest of the series and also is missing a major focal point from the rest of the series.  Despite that, Updike tells a compelling story about Rabbit’s two surviving children and the people they have grown up to become.  The real world politics and current events that make it into every story resonated the most for me of any book in the series as they were the headlines and pop culture of my youth.  The biggest drawback however is that any ending to this story pales in comparison to the excellent and fitting conclusion to “Rabbit at Rest” in terms of wrapping up the series.

 rabbit

3.  Rabbit is Rich

Release Date:  1981

Chronological Order:  Third

 “Rabbit is Rich” and the second place book on this list are interchangeable in terms of quality.  Here Updike has abandoned the extreme events of “Rabbit Redux” in favor of a much more toned down and relatable storyline.  As Rabbit has finally settled down and reduced the drama in his work and personal life, his son Nelson is now old enough to supply drama enough for both of them.  The ending of this book gets into the most over the top sexual situations in the entire series, so if that’s something that turns you off at the end keep in mind it’s all toned back down after this book.

 Rabbit Run

2.  Rabbit, Run

Release Date: 1960

Chronological Order: First

 A young married man decides to abandon his pregnant wife and young child in favor of the thrill of escape.  I’ll give this book the edge over “Rabbit is Rich” for being the book that established this entire fictional family tree, business and household that have survived so well throughout the series.  Just about everything that happens in the rest of the Rabbit series can be traced to an event in this first book.  At parts heartbreaking and other moments infuriating, Updike does a great job of making unlikable characters interesting and sympathetic.

 rab

1.  Rabbit at Rest

Release Date: 1990

Chronological Order:  Fourth

 The only book in the series I would call a classic on its own, “Rabbit at Rest” is the rare book that delights on every page and even makes you reevaluate earlier books in a more favorable light.  Now a grandparent, Harry’s bad behavior swings more toward curmudgeon and for the first time in the series is even a likable character at times.  However, Harry is also still the same man he’s always been and behaves true to form when given the opportunity.  The family drama provides the most interesting moments in thirty years of history for Harry, Janice and Nelson.  I also can’t speak highly enough about the ending, which provides nostalgia and cyclical storytelling better than just about anything I’ve read.  I loved this book for how it made me reevaluate and love the entire series.

Rank the Series: The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind

When I first started the Sword of Truth series, I loved it.  I hadn’t read a lot of fantasy, and as a result I was surprised at the mixture of likable characters and adult drama that filled the pages.  So I continued to read, and Goodkind continued to write, and write and write.  As a completionist, I stuck with them, even though the stories became more and more predictable and repetitive.  For this being a twelve book series (as of this writing), not a lot happened in the later books.  I have spent countless hours reading these massive books, and I can say that not all of those hours have been rewarding.  If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self about my reading habits, the advice I’d give him would be “The Sword of Truth series will disappoint you, more than half of the books are not good and the payoff is only average. Then, when you think you’re finished, he’ll release another book that’s really bad.  If you insist on reading this series, just read the good ones and read recaps of the bad ones.”  I’m sure I wouldn’t have followed my own advice (I’m like Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Looper” that way), but here’s my breakdown of the books in this series and where the reader should drop off in favor of a recap:

 Wizards_first_rule

1.       Wizard’s First rule –A solid introduction to this world and its characters, one that has unfortunately been damaged by the end of the series.  While Richard and Zedd are faily prototypical heroes of Fantasy, Kahlan’s role as a confessor was unique enough to give make this a plunge worth taking.  After reading “Confessor,” you will realize a lot of what the characters believe in this series are lies and the drama of this book was mostly unnecessary.  But you won’t realize that yet, so I say go ahead and read this one if you’re interested in this series. Overall rank – 3rd out of 12.

       READ IT

Stone_of_Tears

2.      Stone of Tears – More than any other book in the series, Stone of Tears expands the world of the Sword of Truth series and leaves the reader optimistic about the scope of amazing stories Goodkind will surely share with his readers.  The Sisters of the Light and the expansion to Aydindril provided enough change from the previous book to distract from the normal problems that were starting to pop up in the writing. Because it was early in the series, there was less prior material to recap as well.  Overall rank – 2nd out of 12

       READ IT

blood of the fold

3.      Blood of the Fold – At this point in the series, I still enjoyed this book but also realized that Goodkind was fairly limited as a writer. Tons of time is spend recapping prior events and lengthy speeches by characters become more frequent.  Goodkind also spends a great deal of time describing acts of violence against women, more so than in the rest of this series (which still deals with this quite a bit).  Even if the scenes don’t bother you, you’ll realize quickly how often Goodkind uses this as a crutch for generating tension in his plot.  Overall rank – 4thout of 12

       READ IT

Temple_of_the_Winds

4.      Temple of the  Winds – The Hallmarks of what ruins most of this series begin here and are on full display.  The villains are all sadistic clones of each other, prophecy comes up out of nowhere that foreshadows the end of everything and isn’t mentioned again before or after this book, the magic used at the end and reveal of the Temple of the Winds are deus ex machina that completely ignore the rules of magic set out in other books.  Also, the way that Kahlan “betrays” Richard in blood was about as close for me to throwing a book in the garbage as I got in this series.  Overall rank – 6 out of 12 (Yes, that means many of these books are really bad).

       SKIP IT, READ A RECAP

Soul_of_the_Fire

5.      Soul of the Fire – A lot of the same problems as the last book, but this book sets the new tone for the series that every book will follow, namely that no character in the book knows anything about magic.  Wizards and the like such as Zedd, Nicci, the Prelates, Nathan etc. will argue with Richard about what magic can and can’t do.  **Spoiler alert for the series**  Richard is always right, in every book, every time. Despite that, these same experts (his teachers) will doubt him through every book.  Finally Richard will solve the problem through some amazing magic at the end that comes out of nowhere, then be treated as an amateur again at the next book and also forget how to use magic yet again until the ending.  Overall rank – 7 out of 12.

       SKIP IT, READ A RECAP

Faith_of_the_Fallen

6.      Faith of the Fallen – The last good book in the series, and my favorite entry overall.  Look, it’s Goodkind, so it’s not perfect.  This is the preachiest book in the entire series, but the story and characters were all at their most enjoyable.  Throughout the Sword of Truth, with almost zero exceptions the characters are archetypes that don’t change or do anything unpredictable.  In this book, Nicci has an actual character arc and grows as a person.  I’d describe this as Goodkind doing a good Ayn Rand impersonation, so it’s definitely not for everybody but it was well done.  Overall rank – 1 out of 12.

       READ IT

Pillars_of_Creation

7.      The Pillars of Creation – The most forgettable installment in the entire series, that’s actually sort of a compliment at this point.  There was nothing about this one that completely infuriated me, but there were also still tons of pages of recaps and character speeches that did nothing to advance the plot.  This is an entry that could have been skipped altogether and not affected the series.  Overall rank – 9 out of 12.

       SKIP IT, RECAP OPTIONAL

Naked_Empire

8.      Naked Empire – This is a bad book.  I’ll summarize by saying the problems that were in Temple of the Winds, Soul of the Fire and Faith of the Fallen are proudly resurrected for this novel.  What I could do, is recap what all of those problems are and spend ½ of a book talking about those problems and how they were addressed previously instead of actually writing a new story, and fill the other half with definitive statements on how we should view the world and what makes a person good (this style of writing could be called “Goodkinding”) but that wouldn’t be very entertaining, would it?  Overall rank – 10 out of 12.

       SKIP IT, READ A RECAP

Chainfire

9.      Chainfire – The beginning of the END.  Book one of a trilogy to wrap up this meandering series that lost all quality 2 books ago. Surely, stuff starts to happen that is important in this book, and the long recaps are abbreviated?  WRONG.  All of the same problems here, including new magic rules that nobody knows and are quickly broken, more dark prophecy out of nowhere.  Here’s your recap: Richard and Kahlan are separated.  Overall rank 11 out of 12.

       SKIP IT, READ A RECAP

Phantom_SoT

10.  Phantom – We’re getting closer to the end, but still nothing much happens.  This book had probably the least interesting plot of any in this series.  Kahlan and Richard are still separated, but now there’s a blood-beast to contend with.  (A blood-beast is another magic thing that came out of nowhere, that nobody has ever heard of, and is tied into new prophecy).  I’ll rank it higher than “Pillars of creation,” “Naked Empire” or “Chainfire” because the stupid blood-beast was more action than any of the entirety of those go nowhere books.  Overall rank 8 out of 12.

       SKIP IT, READ A RECAP

Confessor

11.  Confessor – The best book since Faith of the Fallen (settle down, the other four books were all… not good).  There’s still tons of recap and preaching, but actual things happen in this book!  There’s an exciting Ja’la match, a trip to the underworld, and the final use of magic rules that come out of nowhere and prophecy that doesn’t make sense (because the series ended!).  The end of the book conveniently tries to fix everything, and really there aren’t many consequences for any characters of interest in this book.  Cara and maybe Zedd have endings that wrap up their story, but the rest of the characters are pretty much where they’ve been since book three in the series.  Overall rank, 5 out of 12.

       READ IT

OmenMachineCover

12.  The Omen Machine – Wait, there’s another book after Confessor?  I’ll start by saying this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Like Scarlet Witch in Marvel Comics, I had to say outloud when finishing this book “No more Goodkind.”  For starters, early Goodkind was well written even when his poor plots and overly preachiness took over.  The Omen Machine was not even well written.  Much of the fun banter is missing, also gone is the feeling of any gravity to a situation.  Despite being a shorter book it was harder to get through than any other in the series.  The big wrap up that Confessor finally delivered?  The Omen Machine takes place ONE DAY later and goes right back to the same well with a new prophecy that threatens all.  Kahlan in particular is useless in this novel, ignoring all of her prior resourcefulness from the series and requiring Richard to do everything.  This series had a few books I’ll remember fondly, but this last book was so bad and it caps off a string of subpar books that Goodkind’s not getting any more of my time or money.  12 out of 12.

       SKIP IT, DON’T READ A RECAP, PRETEND IT DOESN’T EXIST

 Overall Rankings from Best to Worst:

1.      Faith of the Fallen #6

2.      Stone of Tears #2

3.      Wizard’s First Rule #1

4.      Blood of the Fold #3

5.      Confessor #11

6.      Temple of the Winds #4

7.      Soul of the Fire #5

8.      Phantom #10

9.      The Pillars of Creation #7

10.  Naked Empire #8

11.  Chainfire #9

12.  The Omen Machine #12

 **Note – I read these books before I started reviewing each book I read.  My thanks to the many reviewers who have reviewed the individual books in the series for their assistance in reminding me which order to put the bad books in.**

“Sam and Twitch: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2” by Brian Michael Bendis Review

sam

Sam and Twitch: The Complete Collection, Vol. 2

Author: Brian Michael Bendis

Release Date: February 2012

This review is for the actual comic issues collected in this series.

I can only imagine that reading this series when it first came out would have been incredibly frustrating and one I would not have stuck with. The letters pages indicate that the book was always late, with a one year gap occurring between issues 24 and 25. For a mystery series (which is usually my least favorite genre in comics due to the long time between issues) that would have been a deal breaker.

On top of that, the series had a major creative change, going from Brian Michael Bendis and Angel Medina to Bendis and Alex Maleev, to finally writer Todd McFarlane and artist Paul Lee. The most jarring change in in the writing, which went from solid, very Bendis style dialogue to an overwritten McFarlane style that frequently used every available inch of panel space to cram in dialogue. On top of that, the editing appears to have slipped as well at the creative transition, as typos routinely slip through (I noticed a few “you’re” instead of “yours”) and lettering issues where spaces are missing and apostrophe’s dangle away from their words. I’ll probably draw ire for saying this, but I actually prefer the simpler Paul Lee art to either of the prior two guys, and think the best drawn segment of the entire series was the two detectives exploring the killer’s property in issue 26.

The two storylines collected in this volume include a bounty hunter storyline where Twitch’s girlfriend is shot in a random act of bad luck by a visiting bounty hunter and a serial killer who targets Sam and sends him videotapes of all his killings. The first story is fine, though it seemed like an excuse for Bendis to have his Jinx character crossover into this book. The concluding storyline not only completely brushes the ending of the previous arc under the rug and ignores exploring Twitch leaving the force, but then ends up feeling like so many police story cliches strung together. Besides enjoying the art in this final story, I did also appreciate that we finally get a sense of Sam as a human being outside of work. I enjoyed this series overall when read in a few sittings, though the quality was up then down in terms of writing and inconsistent in terms of art.

3-star

“Blue Devil” by Gary Cohn Review

blue-d

Blue Devil

Author: Gary Cohn

Release Date: 1984

This is a review for issues 1-31 of this series. Blue Devil centers around a Hollywood Special Effects guru/stuntman (there’s your first example that this is fantasy) who builds a costume that gives him infrared sight, super hearing, additional size and strength for a movie. While filming the movie, a co-star accidentally releases a real demon who zaps Daniel Cassidy (the protagonist) with demon energy and traps him inside the suit as a real demon. At first Cassidy is reluctant to be a hero, only getting involved when something threatens his friends directly (this happens pretty much in all 31 issues) but by the end of the series he is much more willing to just be a hero.

The supporting cast of this book is pretty mediocre. There’s a pretty blonde that is his girlfriend, an egomaniac named Wayne who gets into trouble, a seemingly 10 year old named Gopher who becomes his sidekick Kid Devil, and a few movie executives who fade into the background after the first few issues only to resurface sporadically. The villains are likewise mostly not memorable. Nephiros gets some benefit by being in the first issue, adding to the origin and thwarting Zatanna later on. Trickster (from Flash’s rogues gallery) is a recurring character here, though as a 60/40 good guy.

The tone of this book is definitely farce. There is routinely no explanation for why villains are attacking Blue Devil, until it becomes a joke that he is a weirdness magnet. Eventually that becomes the actual explanation for the seemingly disjointed storyline. Most of the series is stories completed in one issue (which I’m a fan of), with a few high points being issues 1 and 5 (Nephiros) and issue 26, a gargoyle/baseball hybrid story that I loved. Issue 25 was one of the worst comics I’ve read in a long time, a St. Patrick’s day adventure that felt like it was written when the author was on crystal meth.

I became interested in this character because of his role in Shadowpact. That series was one of the best magic based series in comics, and there were a few things here that felt like they had the same spirit of that book (Blue Devil’s house had a gateway across the country, Imps sometimes came through and caused problems, etc.) . While by no means an amazing series, I had a lot of fun reading most of it and am glad I stuck with it as for the most part it got better as it went on. According to the letters page the editors were taking this book into a new, more serious direction upon its cancellation. This book could have benefited from a change of direction to shake it up, and maybe that darker direction could be a fun way to reboot the series, now 30+ years later on.

3-star

“Phantom Force” by Jack Kirby Review

phant

Phantom Force

Author: Jack Kirby

Release Date: 1993

I wish that Jack Kirby’s last comics could have been a stronger set than this one. Although his name is prominently featured throughout (literally, on the cover, tons of pages in the back, and liberally listed in the “created by” section) this book is likely more the work of Michael Thibedeaux. The story (in 8 issues plus a zero issue) is about an alien named Darkfyre who comes to Earth to get a sword being wielded by a hero named Apocalypse (when told that’s a stupid name, he changes it to Ragnarok) and his teammates Probe (a woman who exists to wear bikinis and make Ragnarok and Darkfyre feel horny), Gin Seng (really, that’s his name; he’s good at fighting), Sensei (Asian stereotype Kung Fu Master), Bobby (a kid who invents stuff) and Suzie (who can switch dimensions with a big guy who doesn’t get much backstory b/c he was supposed to have a four issue series explaining everything that as far as I can tell never came out).

The story is very decompressed, using 6 of the 8 issues to tell the story of Darkfyre getting captured and then escaping, with the first two issues feeling like a totally different series (and those being the only ones Kirby worked on). I probably would have liked this a lot more at 12 years old than I go in my 30’s. There is a light-heartedness to it that is fun at times, but overall the book feels like a generic good vs evil with lame versions of both. The one female character in particular gets the short end of the stick with mostly only scenes of being in peril while almost nude.

2-star