CBR6 #15, Terra Formars Volume 1, by Yu Sasuga

15terraformarsI have never met Yu Sasuga.  I have never read an interview with Yu Sasuga.  I do not presume any knowledge about Yu Sasuga.  And so, I will not accuse Yu Sasuga of being a racist.

15cockroachesIn fact, it’s pretty difficult to levy a strong complaint against Terra Formars as being a racist work.  I may be a little bit racist (maybe it’s a fact we all should face) in saying that there has, however, been a certain level of tone-deafness that arises in Japanese pop culture from time to time when it comes to appropriating imagery that doesn’t have the same connotations or history that they might in another country, and it’s hard to look at Terra Formars without looking at the existential threat its heroes face as another tone deaf appropriation.  In short, the villains of the piece look awfully like African-American caricatures, and it makes me cringe on a nearly constant basis.  If only there had been a different choice made in the design process (like, say, giving the characters large insect heads), it would be a lot easier to recommend Terra Formars for what it is.

Still, that’s the disclaimer.  I don’t think, from what I’ve read, that the design is supposed to be provocative or making any sort of statement.  It simply feels tone deaf in an unfortunate way.  If you can move past that, Terra Formars makes for a pretty decent little science fiction, giant bug fighting Ten Little Indians riff.

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CBR6 #14: Bones of Faerie, by Janni Lee Simner

14bonesoffaerienarfna posted a review of Bones of Faerie last week that, while not effusive, piqued my interest enough to get me to go through it this week.  Now I find myself very nearly in lockstep with the review in question.  It feels almost too brief to form anything like a true connection with the characters.  The plot is very nearly a perfunctory thing, a road trip here and back again with as little embellishment along the way as possible.  The characters are, for the most part, thinly drawn not for the lack of interest or potential for them to grow but simply for the lack of time that we spend with them.  The short length of Bones of Faerie is in many ways its greatest detriment.

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CBR6 #13: Dragon Kicker XV, by Paul Chapman

13dragonkickerAnd so we come to the end of the series that began with Porn Gnomes and continued with Bike Riding Wood Apes and find ourselves asking: that’s it?  While I found both of Paul Chapman’s prior quirky, comic, tragic, and horrific short story anthologies fairly worthwhile, I’m left looking at Dragon Kicker XV with a bit of a shrug.  Part of this might be its length, clocking in with the least amount of stories and thus having the least chances to find something that really hits among the tales that make one smile and the ones that actually resonate.  A much larger part may, unfortunately, be a matter of familiarity.  The luridly purple prose that almost singlehandedly carries some of Chapman’s stories in the first anthology feels very nearly rote and unfortunately (rather than entertainingly) overdone in many of Dragon Kicker‘s stories, and the jokes never hit as hard even in a series of books where the drama has always been the highlight over the humor.

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CBR6 #12: Marvel’s The Marvelous Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum and Eric Shanower

12landofozIt’s all too common for modern readers to look into the works of the past and see things that may or may not have been intended in the fullness of time.  What we may see as a delicate, subtly woven metaphor to rail against some then-incumbent wrongdoing the author may have added as nothing more than a narrative flourish.  How much exactly did L. Frank Baum intend to comment on women’s suffrage, transgender issues, and the monstrosity of the pun?  I can’t safely say, given how little I’ve looked into the man and his life and how much it seems as though the original intent behind The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was to tell a delightful American-grown fairy tale and little else.  Nonetheless, it’s awfully difficult to read the first sequel to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and not take away from it certain insights or opinions on gender politics.  Reading Marvel’s second graphic novel adaptation, I can only use the first adaptation as a guideline for assuming that the text and story of this book are as close in tone to the source material as the first was, as it has been a very, very long time since I’ve read The Marvelous Wizard of Oz.

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CBR6 #11: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

11faultinourstarsIf Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem were here, he’d know exactly what to do.  It doesn’t matter that you can’t shoot cancer, because he’d probably find a way.  Maybe there’s a spectacular shrinking device that could put Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem (along with Specialist Manny Loco, Private Jasper Jacks and the rest) into the blood stream of someone afflicted with cancer so that a rain of heavy weapons fire would lay decimation to the root of the problem.  Maybe there’s another type of bullet, a medicine bullet that would know when to hurt (i.e. “there’s cancer”) and when not (i.e. “no cancer”).  Maybe it’s as simple as kicking the crap out of a bio-terrorist cell calling themselves the Chemo-Goblins.   Remission Complete.  But sometimes stories (particularly the ones about cancer) aren’t simple, and sometimes they just end.

Sometimes they’re more like An Imperial Affliction.  They’re comfortable, familiar, little-known, and maddening in how they end.

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CBR6 #10: The Magician King, by Lev Grossman

[Sound the Second Novel Alarm! Spoilers for The Magicians ahead.  I mean it this time.]

10magiciankingThe Magicians was an exercise in literary frustration for me.  I loved it.  It was wonderful.  Its adherence to explaining away its every mystery absolutely infuriated me.  Reading it a second time allowed me to be well aware that the breathtakingly horrific things that occurred in the unfurling of Lev Grossman’s fantasy novel cioppino would not remain the unexplainable night terrors of a magical world beyond our reckoning and to simply enjoy the story for how it was told rather than for how I might have liked it to be told, yet it remained that I was not wholly satisfied by the neatness of the entire story.

As a crash course, The Magicians is something of a melange of asshole twenty-somethings coming of age, Harry Potter, Narnia, Lovecraftian horror, and the Dungeons and Dragons Saturday morning cartoon.  It’s a careful blending of a great many influences into something that manages to both overtly and subtly reference, tweak, and cast down the cliches of fantasy novels while reveling in their joys at the same time.

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CBR6 #09: Sasquatch Rides a Harley, by Paul Chapman

09sasquatchOccasionally timing is simply not on our side.  Shortly after posting my review for Paul Chapman’s Porn Gnomes and Other Strange Tales, the author had a twenty four hour giveaway of his three collections, free to anyone who might have liked to download them from Amazon.  Though I would have liked to have spread the good word, it was only at the very end of that day that I saw the announcement, and the price shortly thereafter returned to normal.

Then again, maybe that’s for the best.  The two dollar asking price for these anthologies is a trifle for how entertaining they can be, and the author well deserves the pittance for which he asks.  Much of what I said of Porn Gnomes remains true here.  Chapman has a gift for purple prose along with a pulp sensibility that meanders from tale to tale and tone to tone with a deftness that sometimes leaves the stories too slight to sustain themselves but never lingers too much on any one aspect.  This means that the best of the stories in this anthology of ten feel as though they leave you far too soon, but the lesser entries are little more than bumps in the road that can be quickly moved past.  The tales that resonate with any given reader will no doubt vary.  For my money, the titular Sasquatch Rides a Harley is good enough to raise my grade of the entire book an entire notch, and coming as late as it does in the anthology, lets the entire thing crescendo on an awfully high note.

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CBR6 #08: Shift (Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey

[Second Novel In A Series Alert!  Review of the first book is here]

08shiftSequels are exceptionally tricky affairs to balance.  If you stray too far afield from what came before, then you risk alienating the audience you built with the original.  If you hew too closely, then you’re bringing nothing new to the table.  But as difficult as following up a story can be, fleshing out what came before is an even more difficult tightrope to walk.  In order to write a proper prequel, you have to work off of whatever assumptions and breadcrumbs have already risen to the surface based on what exists in the prior work.  If you’ve already managed to flesh out everything that the audience needs to know from the past in the initial story, then you’re only coloring inside lines that were already visible from the outset.  If you use the wrong crayons, you can make the finished picture look like a mess.

Luckily, Hugh Howey left enough room in the story of just what happened before Wool that it expands effortlessly to fill in the void. Continue reading

CBR6 #07: Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

07hyperboleThere’s a chance that if you’re reading this review, you might not be an active participant in Cannonball Read 6.  Maybe you didn’t sign up, unsure of whether or not you could participate to your satisfaction, or you missed the deadline, or you just wanted to cheerlead from the sidelines, or any other number of reasonable and perfectly fine reasons.  Nonetheless, you could always try to read fifty two Cannonball Read reviews this year!

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CBR6 #06: Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum and Eric Shanower

06marvelozUnlike with Peter PanThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz was one of my first stark realizations of the differences that adaptations of works could bring.  When I was wee, though I can’t recall if this was during elementary or middle school, there was a program by which one could earn a little extra credit.  Quite literally, it was a program on one of the Apple terminals the school had that contained countless quizzes on books that our school library had in stock, ranging across various difficulties and lengths.  By completing some number of these quizzes and proving that you’d read the books, you could add a few points to your grade.  A brilliant mercenary swerve to get kids to read, but as a kid who loved to read, free money on the table.

You can probably see my folly from there.

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