BookBin2010: Army of Darkness/Xena, Volume 1: Why Not?

Huh? Wha? What the hell is this all about? Utter silliness, of course. This is a collection of comics that brings together the worlds of Xena, Warrior Princess and Ash Williams from The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness movies.

Why? Easy answer: Bruce Campbell. He portrayed Ash Williams and he played Autolycus, the King of Thieves in the Hercules/Xenaverse.

Yes, I wrote the word “Xenaverse.” Accept it and move on.

Does one need more reason than this to want to read these comics? If you do, then this is definitely not a book you would enjoy. However, if you’re a fan of either or both (tick!), then this is a goofy bit of fun that you can easily plow through in one sitting. I mean, honestly, how do you not love this?

Final Verdict: It’s not Shakespeare…but it is fun. Therefore, this gets to stick around. I even found it amusing enough that I might try to get my hands on a copy of its sequel at some point…

BookBin2010: Extreme Measures

I remember buying Michael Palmer’s book Extreme Measures during one of the first visits I ever made to my favorite used book store. It’s been nearly a decade since I started visiting this particular store, so that should give you an idea of how long this book has been waiting for me to do something other than dust it off every few months, flip through it, and make that stupid “Wow, this has been on my bookshelf for a really long time…I should probably read it at some point” grunt that I make about way too many books.

I’m not even sure why I bought this book. I’ve never read Palmer before and, while I have seen the movie, I didn’t really remember liking it enough to want to read the book (I didn’t remember hating it either, so perhaps that was what inspired me to buy the book? I don’t really know…). Whatever the reason, I finally cracked open my copy…and spent the entire time thinking to myself, “Did I actually see this movie? Or was I imagining things?”

I was so confused by the time I finished this book that I didn’t want to write about it until I had the chance to re-watch the movie (which is why it’s taken me more than a month since I finished the book to write this post). Thankfully, what I discovered is that I did, indeed, see this movie…and it’s not really my fault that I didn’t recognize all that much between the two stories. The movie is only tangentially linked to the book, if that. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the title is the only thing that both can honestly claim to share. Otherwise, these are two completely different stories built upon the diaphanous shards of a vaguely similar premise.

This isn’t necessarily a negative thing. True, I walk a thin line of tolerance/disdain when it comes to Hollywood mucking about with a book’s storyline. I admittedly prefer to see books represented onscreen in the most true-to-the-source-material ways possible. However, I’m all right with deviations if creative license is wielded well.

Do I think this is the case with Extreme Measures? No, not really. Of course, I don’t really think all that much about either story. Regardless of which version you choose, it’s a rather inevitable medical mystery thriller composed mostly of predictable plot points and paint-by-number villainy. My main complaint, I suppose, is that the movie version is guilty of a “White-washing” of Palmer’s characters.

In the book, the protagonist is Dr. Eric Najarian, a successful, well-respected Armenian doctor working at a Boston hospital. A possible foil of his is a Haitian doctor. In the movie, Gene Hackman plays the foil to Hugh Grant and Hugh Grant’s Floppy HairTM. Two White actors hired to play characters loosely based on two ethnic characters whose respective ethnicities were important to their personalities and/or actions.

This seems like a huge missed opportunity to have hired actors of proper ethnicities for these roles. Then again, the screenplay was so utterly different from the original book that the ethnic flavor was completely gone at that point…so it didn’t really matter. Neither does the movie. Or the book, really.

As you can tell, Extreme Measures left an overwhelming “meh” taste in my mouth. If you’ve seen the movie and liked it, I’d say give the book a go. You’re in for quite a different experience. However, if your opinion of the movie is similarly unenthusiastic, don’t bother with the book. I’d hate to spread the meh…it’s a rather unpalatable flavor.

Final Verdict: Though it’s been almost a decade since I liberated this book from the used book store, I do believe it’s time to finally return it to its previous home. Time for someone else to dust it…

BookBin2010: A Painted House

I actually finished another book prior to this one, but I want to re-watch the movie version of that story before I post my thoughts. I think there are significant issues there that deserve addressing…but that’s for another day.

This is the point in the year at which I start looking at my book stacks, realize what a flaming sci-fi geek I am, and lament that I’m not reading enough non-sci-fi books to keep my tastes well-rounded. I’ll inevitably then start sorting through the piles, looking for something as far from science fiction as I can find. Thus, how I pulled John Grisham’s A Painted House as my next read. What makes this even worse is the fact that someone lent me their copy of this book, and I promptly released it to the wilds of my collection to languish for almost a year now. Oops.

While I’ve seen several movies based on Grisham’s novels, the only other of his novels that I’ve ever read was The Client. I loved this movie (how do you not love it? Susan Sarandon and Tommy Lee Jones? WIN!) and was equally pleased with the novel (don’t tell anyone, but I even liked the television show that starred JoBeth Williams, John Heard, and Polly “Kiss My Grits!” Holliday). However, my opinion of lawyers is about on par with my opinion of politicians, so the thought of subjecting myself to more stories that feature lawyers as heroic was about as alluring as sitting down to watch Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

[Loba Tangent: My disdain for lawyers is, of course, a blatant generalization. I have met wonderful, upstanding lawyers who are decent, lovely people. I have also met sci-fi geeks who are socially functional and don’t still live in their parents’ basement. Every opinion has its exceptions. Except mine about politicians. And Sarah Palin.]

This Grisham novel, however, has absolutely nothing to do with lawyers. There are, of course, elements of illegal behavior and there is murder, mayhem, and mystery, but overall, it is a simple, slow-paced story told from the viewpoint of Luke Chandler, a 7-year-old Arkansas farmboy. The year is 1952, it’s time to harvest the family’s 80 acres of cotton, and “hill people” and Mexican laborers have been hired to help the Chandler family with the picking. To pass the limited free time he has, Luke listens to baseball on the family radio, dreams of the day when he’ll play for the St. Louis Cardinals, and harbors a secret crush on Tally Spruill, the daughter of the family of hill people his grandfather hired for the harvest season.

This is a period piece of such strong Southern flavor that you can almost taste the fried okra and sweet tea being served at the annual Baptist picnic. Since I hate okra, sweet tea makes my teeth ache from the sugar overload, and I find Baptists about as pleasant as a hungry lion with hemorrhoids (again, another generalization), I didn’t find a whole lot in this list to savor. I think that’s my biggest complaint about this story: not that it’s not written well (it’s an age-appropriate delivery, respectful of the fact that the narrator is a child but also not overdoing this truth and thus making it unreadable), but that it’s a tale and a time about which I don’t really have any interest.

What, in my mind at least, had the potential of being as exemplary a Southern tale as To Kill a Mockingbird instead delivered a story of predictability and, I’m sad to say, mediocrity. There wasn’t really much of anything in this story that you couldn’t see marching across the cotton fields a mile away. And, to be honest, the titular task could give serious competition as one of the most anti-climactic moments in literary history.

Final Verdict: I’m not regretful that I read this story, but I also see no reason to seek out my own copy or to ever revisit these characters again. I shall be returning this to its owner with a humble apology for taking this long to finish it and a heartfelt thank you for lending it to me and introducing me to something beyond the confines of my geeky preferences.

And now back to our regularly scheduled literary geekery…

BookBin2010: The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre

Honestly, denizens, I never thought I would finish this book in time for another BookBin2010 entry. I started reading this the night after I finished The Time Traveler’s Wife, so, yes, it took me almost an entire month to finish this collection. It’s only 406 pages; however, to be fair, it’s a very dense 406 pages. Dense like trying to traverse a virgin tropical rain forest with a plastic spork.

The collection in question is The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre. As I mentioned in this book review, I only recently read my first H.P. Lovecraft stories. And, as I mentioned, a big part of this reason was an inherent Cthulhu hurdle I’ve developed through various encounters with rabid Cthulhu fans who tainted the concept for me.

After thoroughly enjoying “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Colour Out of Space,” however, I decided that it was time to tackle more Lovecraft and, hopefully, banish this hurdle from my mind. Plus, I had a Borders gift card burning a hole in my pocket (because prophets know I need more books!). I grabbed this particular compilation because it contained both these previously read stories (even though this now means I have these stories twice, I assumed that the other short stories in the collection were chosen because they were perhaps similar in scope and scares, which is what I wanted) as well as the very first Cthulhu story. No better way to banish the hurdle than by starting at the beginning, right?

Before I continue, here is a list of the short stories contained in this collection:

  • “The Rats in the Walls.”
  • “The Picture in the House.”
  • “The Outsider.”
  • “Pickman’s Model.”
  • “In the Vault.”
  • “The Silver Key.”
  • “The Music of Erich Zann.”
  • “The Call of Chthulhu.”
  • “The Dunwich Horror.”
  • “The Whisperer in Darkness.”
  • “The Colour Out of Space.”
  • “The Haunter of the Dark.”
  • “The Thing on the Doorstep.”
  • “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
  • “The Dreams in the Witch-House.”
  • “The Shadow Out of Time.”

All in all, a rather solid and impressive collection. It starts out incredibly strongly, in fact, with several of these first short stories holding some amazingly horrific ideas and imagery. Plus, M. Night Shyamalan’s got nothing on Lovecraft when it comes to the twist ending. Lovecraft possessed a brilliantly disturbed imagination, which I’m sure earned him just as many detractors as fans when he was writing. He was able to plumb the sinister depths of his mind in ways that very few writers have ever successfully done.

That being said, I believe this collection began to fall apart for me around “The Call of Cthulhu.” I tried. I really did. But I just don’t care about Cthulhu. I respect those who do enjoy this Lovecraftian mythology, but I found this particular story to be a tad bit tedious. It was also around this point in my reading that I began to notice the rather laborious nature of Lovecraft’s narrative.

Unfortunately, this latter realization was something that I couldn’t seem to shake throughout the rest of my reading. Each story at times felt like a slog through beautiful but unnecessarily cumbersome prose. Subsequently, each story took a great deal of time to get into; however, once I was involved in the stories, they almost always succeeded in captivating and haunting me. Almost each one following “The Call of Cthulhu,” however, contained some kind of reference to Squid Face and his particular mythology. Sigh.

Final Verdict: I’m definitely keeping this collection. I don’t think I will ever attempt to read it in its entirety again, but I foresee revisiting almost every single one of the stories separately. That’s one of the things I love most about collections like this; the ability to flop down on the couch on a rainy day and randomly flip open to a favorite short story for a quick scare or two. It’s why I love my Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe anthologies so much.

As for more H.P. Lovecraft, I do believe that my next attempt at reading his writings will be his novel At the Mountains of Madness, in honor of the upcoming movie being headed by Guillermo del Toro. I figure, even if the narrative of this novel is as dense as his short stories, I’ve got until the movie’s 2013 release date to finish. That should be just enough time…

BookBin2010: The Time Traveler’s Wife

There’s something about the politically correct labels of modern times that inevitably makes me a little uncomfortable. I think it’s all a tad bit silly. “Vertically challenged” rather than “short.” “Waste disposal technician” rather than “trash collector.” “Paris Hilton” rather than “vapid.”

I’m not sure if this is a global phenomenon or whether it’s just something that we silly Yanks have decided to waste our time and efforts on, but it irritates me. So when I first heard about Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, I must admit that I cringed a little when I learned that the main character, Henry DeTamble was labeled as suffering from “Chrono Displacement Disorder.”

Er, huh? He’s a Time Traveler, dammit.

Regardless, I had heard positive things about both the movie and the book, so I decided to tuck away my irrational irritation and give them both a try. I started with the movie, which stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams as Henry and his wife Clare. I like Bana enough as an actor that I’m not only willing to give anything starring him a go (yep, even that Big Angry Green Dude movie) but I even forgive him for being in the recent crapacious Star Trek movie (poke, poke, poke). As for McAdams, I recognize the name and I’m sure that I’ve seen her in other movies, but I do believe that she’s from that gaggle of young starlets that hit the cinematic scene a few years ago and all just blend together in my brain like the empty promises of every modern politician.


All that aside, the movie is quite enjoyable. True, I’m a raging sci-fi geek, so stories about time travel are going to definitely be my cup of replicated tea (Earl Grey, hot). However, this succeeds in being more than just a for-the-geeks time travel tale. It’s ultimately the story of the difficulties and triumphs of life-long love in the face of several rather overwhelming adversities. Of course, this is a highly oversimplified explanation of this story, but for the benefit of brevity (which shows up so infrequently here at the lair), we’ll leave it at that. Bottom line is that this is a clever enough cinematic adaptation that I decided I definitely wanted to give the book a try.

What an entrancing first novel! Niffenegger takes on a rather lofty concept and ultimately delivers a unique and engaging novel. At its core, this is definitely a love story wrapped in the trappings of a science fiction trope, but told in a way that is different and moving enough that it compels you to fall deeper and deeper in love with the story the further along you travel. I’d hate to say too much here about the story itself other than that it examines the aspects of time travel that mostly go unexamined, such as what happens to those who are left behind while you’re off gallivanting through the space-time continuum? How can a relationship survive on the ever-shifting sands of such an existence? How meta can one’s life truly become? How long can you think about these things before you go cross-eyed?

Oops, too late.

Admittedly, The Time Traveler’s Wife does become a bit circuitous at times, and (as I am always belaboring here) everyone needs an editor. I think this story would greatly benefit from losing at least 50 pages of bulk to get it down to a more suitable literary weight. As lovely as Niffenegger’s prose is to read, there came a point when I began to wonder if she was perhaps on a Dickensian “paid by the page” pay scale. Also, there was always a lingering “no” feeling regarding the way that Henry introduces himself to his future wife that I couldn’t shake regardless of how benign Niffenegger obviously tried to make it.

Final Verdict: I don’t anticipate revisiting this book any time soon, so it shall return to the library (possibly even stored in a section that Henry DeTamble might one day find himself wandering aimlessly…and naked). However, it was a worthwhile and worthy tale, and one that I’m very glad I took the time to experience both in its printed and cinematic forms.

BookBin2010: Felicity & Barbara Pym

Reading Harrison Solow’s book, Felicity & Barbara Pym, has brought me to a personally disturbing realization: I have become a lazy reader.

As many denizens know, I have a degree in English. More than this, I loved being an English major. I loved the hours of reading, the piecing together of analytical puzzles, the solving of previously unseen riddles. Therefore, the world that Solow’s characters inhabit in this skillfully crafted hybrid of academic and artistic reflection is a world with which I was once intimately familiar. It was a world in which there was time enough at last to dissect Aunt Jennifer’s tigers or to contemplate the feminist victory hidden within The War of the Worlds. Literature was sacrosanct and scrutable in one broad stroke and authors were gods to be questioned with delicious impunity.

Since my undergraduate days, my opportunities to read with such analytical fervor have all but disappeared. Life has reduced my reading time to the moments right before Wynken, Blynken, and Nod swing by to pick me up in their little wooden boat, with bonus time added for beach and rainy day reading. However, there are moments, such as those I felt while reading this book, in which I long for my English major days.

Solow has captured with laudable precision both what makes this course of study delightful and exasperating. She acknowledges the nadir that many English majors reach during their studies in which they begin to question the worth of their efforts. “Why should I study _____?” She also addresses the sometimes questionable approaches and attitudes of those responsible for guiding students through their studies.

I very much applaud this aspect of Solow’s narrative. While I encountered far more within my collegiate experience who were exemplary teachers (including the extraordinary English professor who inspired me so much that I chose English as my own undergraduate path), I encountered quite a few who resided at the far opposite end of this spectrum. This included one professor whose terminal disinterest and megalomaniacal self-promotion caused me to call into question everything pertaining to my field of study.

Plus, Solow does all of this while utilizing a form of writing that delights me when I find it being utilized by modern authors: the epistolary approach. I suppose it would be more appropriate to label Solow’s work “e-pistolary,” since the entire effort transpires through e-mail. This particular e-pistolary novel is monologic in approach. The only voice we ever read is provided by protagonist Mallory Cooper, who has taken on tutoring the eponymous Felicity as she prepares for an upcoming seminar on English author Barbara Pym.

I suspect that I would have both revered and feared a professor like Mallory Cooper, the former for her enviable knowledge of literature as well as her analytical and linguistic prowess, and the latter for the boldness of her critiques and expectations. She strikes me as the professor most inclined to learn the limits of her students’ comfort zones, and then to proceed to require performance that pushes well beyond those limits. She also strikes me as the kind of professor every student should encounter, even if only once during their studies, as she will leave you exhausted but inevitably improved.

Final Verdict: One of my favorite quotes from My Fair Lady comes from Professor Henry Higgins as he explains to Eliza Dolittle why it is so important that she succeed in her efforts to speak properly: “The majesty and grandeur of the English language, it’s the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative, and musical mixtures of sounds. And that’s what you’ve set yourself out to conquer, Eliza. And conquer it you will.”

I think this is an appropriate summary of Mallory Cooper’s (and ultimately Harrison Solow’s) message to Felicity. Literature encompasses some of the noblest thoughts, the most glorious imagery, and the most contentious arguments to ever flow from the minds of those who dare put pen to paper (or fingers to keys in this modern age). Whether it is a work from a scion of the literary canon or from a lesser known voice like Barbara Pym, there is worth to be found, meaning to be examined. And while the ultimate goal to literary analysis is not conquering but rather understanding, it is still a field deserving of a conqueror’s focus and drive.

With Felicity & Barbara Pym, Solow has written both a love letter and an admonishment to those within her field of literary analysis, and she has done so with grace, accuracy, and honesty. I will happily be placing this one on my shelf right where it belongs: among the classics that I discovered while earning my degree in English.

BookBin2010: War on the Margins

Something quite serendipitous occurred thanks to my review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. I received an e-mail from Libby Cone, a radiologist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who happened to have published a book similar in scope to Shaffer and Barrows’ book. Cone’s book, War On the Margins, also dealt with the Nazi Occupation of the English Channel Islands, this time focusing on the residents of Jersey rather than Guernsey. She asked if I would be interested in reading her manuscript and posting a review, whether good or bad, here at the lair.

Of course, as I stated in my review of Shaffer and Barrows’ book, I was slightly embarrassed by the fact that I had never heard anything about this particular aspect of World War II, never had any clue that the Nazis had ever gotten so close to England as to actually occupy the islands in the English Channel. So I was very interested in reading Cone’s account of this historical event.

War on the Margins, although in some ways a companion piece to Shaffer and Barrows’ book, is quite different in approach. Whereas the previous book has a certain degree of whimsy (as one would expect from a book with such a whimsical name), Cone’s novel is austere in its approach to its subject matter. Perhaps it is because I am naturally drawn to darker and more severe tones, I think I preferred this approach slightly more than Shaffer and Barrows’ book. While I think that embracing a certain degree of whimsy helps to make difficult topics a bit more palatable, I also think that there are some things, particularly those things that are entrenched in the more horrific truths of our global history, that shouldn’t be sugar-coated.

Cone presents her story directly, providing very little padding to protect us from the events that transpire within her book. I did find that the writing style was a bit…institutional. However, I realized once I was finished and reading the acknowledgments toward the end of the book that this actually grew from Cone’s thesis for a master’s degree in Jewish Studies from Gratz College. Although the text has obviously been massaged to sound more like a literary work rather than a scholastic work, it still reads very much like a thesis in many ways.

Another thing that I didn’t realize until the end of the novel was the fact that many “characters” throughout the story were real people. For example, Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, two of the protagonists, were real people. Their love was real, their resistance was real, and what they endured at the hands of the Gestapo was real as well. To be honest, I think this information should have appeared toward the front rather than the back of the book. Knowing that Lucy and Suzanne were real made their stories so much more impactful.

Regardless, however, this is a strong novel, replete with a mostly healthy balance of historical information as well as personal accounts of what the residents of Jersey survived at the hands of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands. I do believe that it is still predominantly an academic effort (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely something to keep in mind if you are tempted to approach from a purely fiction viewpoint), but I also think that it’s a strong historical offering about people and an event that time should not forget.

Final Verdict: I’m very glad that Libby Cone contacted me with her manuscript. I found this to be another enlightening glimpse into a bit of world history that I only recently discovered. I will be keeping this manuscript as part of my collection.

BookBin2010: Section 31: Abyss

No, I didn’t read a novelization of the awesome James Cameron movie, The Abyss. This Abyss is the third book in the Deep Space Nine compendium, Twist of Faith, that I started reading last September. Remember how much I loved book one and book two of S.D. Perry’s Avatar?

This time the book wasn’t written by Perry. Instead, the story was done by Jeffrey Lang and David Weddle. Admittedly, I was a little spoiled by the powerful kickoff that Perry provided for the DS9 “eighth season” with her amazing two-parter, but I was willing to give this third book a shot (especially considering the fact that it’s part of this collection that I’m obviously keeping if only for Perry’s novels).

The problems I had with Abyss right from the start were two-fold: 1) the story focuses on Section 31, which was one of my least favorite additions to the Star Trek mythology; and 2) the book focuses on Julian Bashir. When I first watched DS9, I hated his character. That hatred has mellowed considerably throughout the years and, if anything, is now a tepid acceptance with mild spikes of “like.” However, combine both these issues and you’re really not starting out on a positive note with me regarding your tale.

I should point out here that this novel was part of a four-book Section 31 story arc that ranged from the original Star Trek to The Next Generation, this DS9 story, and finally Voyager.

Knowing that this was one part of a four-part story, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t understand what was going on in my part of the arc (but not worried enough that I ever considered buying the other three novels; again, I really don’t like Section 31). However, Abyss worked perfectly as a stand-alone story. If there was anything missing, I couldn’t tell. This book does tie in with events that took place in Avatar, as it should. Lang and Weddle did a great job, in fact, of connecting their story to Perry’s novels, picking up nuances and threads throughout. I very much enjoyed these aspects of the novel. There were also some great character development moments that were worth the effort to find as well. One of the greatest joys of all these eighth season DS9 books thus far has been the care and quality the authors have invested into character development. The DS9 crew is being handled in ways almost more impressive than they were on the actual show.

Regardless of my lack of enthusiasm over the actual Section 31 story, I still enjoyed reading this novel. If you did like Section 31, then you’ll probably enjoy it even more. It’s a well told tale with wonderful character moments scattered throughout. I’m still very much enjoying what they’re doing with Ezri Dax. There were equally intriguing moments concerning Ro Laren as well as a plot point concerning Colonel Kira that was kicked into motion by the events of Avatar and has left her quite vulnerable to those who do not wish to see her continue as commander of Deep Space Nine.

I’m very glad there’s still another book to go in this compilation (along with a short story), because I don’t want my time with the eighth season to come to a halt just yet. If things keep running at the impressive pace of the first three books, I will definitely be continuing with the next batch of novels in this series.

Final Verdict: Really now…what do you think I’m going to do with this book? 😉

BookBin2010: Whatever Happened…?

This is going to drip with geekery, so if you’re not really into these things, you might want to just skip this entry. You have been warned.

So I’ve been going through this comic book reawakening lately. I blame the women in in my life: Kate Kane and Diana Prince. Everything was fine until I realized that Batwoman was hitting the comics circuit in such new and exciting ways. And then alternate universe discussions about the possibility of a Wonder Woman movie (if anyone utters the name Megan Fox at this point, I swear I will have you spaced by one of my Internet PersonalitiesTM) combined with the imminent rebooting of Wonder Woman’s comic storyline has inevitably pulled me back in in a huge way. Sitting on my desk right now, in fact, is a stack of Batwoman comics and issues 600 and 601 of Wonder Woman’s comic.

[Loba Tangent: I think those are the only two of the new Wonder Woman comics I’m going to be getting. What a meh storyline. Disappointed!]

Truth is, however, that I’m not much on collecting actual comic books anymore. I haven’t purchased comics on a regular basis since I collected the first three or four issues of the X-Files comics from Topps. Yes, it was that long ago. As much of a collector as I may be, I must draw the line somewhere, and lots of issues of comics are a little more clutter than I’m willing to bear right now. I guess this is why most of my comic books are in a trunk stored at my parents’ house.

Therefore, I tend to go for the graphic novels, those glorious compilations of several comics in one handy, pretty book. Like Elegy. Or like the latest graphic novel that I found at the library: Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

I think the one thing that I have taken away from this graphic novel is a final acceptance that I enjoy Alan Moore as a conceptual thinker. But I really don’t enjoy his execution of those concepts. I didn’t come to this realization based on this collection per se, but I think it’s something that I already knew and just needed an excuse to finally accept it as the truth. I guess this book was reason enough to finally embrace what I already knew. Honestly, the stories collected in this novel weren’t all that bad. They weren’t all that great either. Middle of the road is where I would place the Man of Tomorrow.

The titular tale is easily the best of the bunch, and deals with some intriguing ideas concerning the Superman story. Is it possible for the indomitable Man of Steel to be stopped, eliminated from existence? Moore posits some interesting takes on these questions. Then comes a story involving Superman and Swamp Thing. I don’t really think anything else need be said about that one. It’s best experienced on one’s own. The final story, “For the Man Who Has Everything,” while not as strong as the eponymous story, is equally intriguing and equally enjoyable. And it features Wonder Woman. A lot. Oh, and Batman and Robin feature prevalently as well.

Truth is, I found each of the stories fun to read. They just weren’t…WOW. Apparently, the older I get, the more difficult it becomes to make me say “Wow.” Of course, I’m also the one who thought that a photo of my Wonder Woman and Xena action figures together was cool enough to warrant their own blog post. Go ahead, try to figure me out, denizens. I double dog dare you.

If you enjoy Superman as a character, which I generally do even if he isn’t one of my favorite superheroes, then you might enjoy these offerings from Moore.

Final Verdict: This book goes back to the library and doesn’t go onto my wishlist.

BookBin2010: Alas, Babylon

I’ve mentioned before that I have a penchant for reading bleak, dark, sometimes post-apocalyptic stories. That’s how I ended up last year reading the dismal attempt by Cormac McCarthy to add to the post-apocalyptic subgenre of science fiction.

To be honest, that read caused me to shy away from this particular subgenre for a little while. That is, until I found the copy of Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon that I had bought during my last trip to the local used bookstore. I don’t really know what caused me to buy this book, as I had never heard of it prior to finding it in the sci-fi section. I found the cover to be striking enough that I read the back cover blurb on a whim. When it sounded like something that I would find intriguing, I went ahead and added it to my pile of purchases.

[Subsequently, I haven’t been back to this particular used bookstore, since this is the kind of scenario that occurred each time I went there. In for a penny, in for…at least 10 books each time I walked out of the store.]

In all the ways that McCarthy’s story failed me, I believe Frank’s novel succeeded. In fact, I would rank this very high on my admittedly short list of experiences with such novelizations. Frank provides us with his take on what might have happened had the Cold War escalated into the constantly feared nuclear attack by Russians on American soil. Having been written in 1959, this was one of the first post-apocalyptic tales written during the height of the nuclear age and subsequent nuclear fears. Focusing on the town of Fort Repose, Florida, it tells of the survival of protagonist Randy Bragg and his circle of friends, lovers, and neighbors after massive nationwide nuclear attacks on all of America’s major cities, including the locations of all major military outposts.

What I found most intriguing about Frank’s tale, especially in comparison with the bleakness of McCarthy’s novel, is the surprising optimism of the story. Whether a genuine belief or perhaps a nationalistic attempt to placate the fears of the masses that, yes, we will survive anything because we are Americans, Frank puts forth a scenario that, while reflective of a dismal expectancy should something like this actually occur, remains hopeful. The protagonist and his co-survivors continue to push forward, continue to succeed in ways that are surprising and pleasing. There are pitfalls and there are heart-rending moments, but overall, Frank shows a collection of characters with an undaunted communal will to survive and thrive.

Additionally, while McCarthy presented a scenario in which all bets are off and to the most violent and ruthless go the spoils, Frank seemed determined to show us that not even something as destructive as nuclear fallout will bend the will of the upstanding American citizen. These survivors are not ones to be frightened or defeated by the appearance of scurrilous looters. They are determined, cautiously optimistic, and convinced that continuing to do what is right and just is the way to move forward, even when the enforcers of those right and just rules of play are no longer in effect. Perhaps this was nothing more than an exercise in convincing Americans that this is how we must remain, should nuclear attack ever become more than just a threat or a deeply ingrained fear, but regardless of its purpose or intent, it was an intriguing look at the mindset of one of the Americans who lived through those fright-heavy “duck and cover” years.

Final Verdict: Although this book at times dove deeply into the language of military and warfare (two things that admittedly do not hold my attention if they go on for long stretches), I found myself unable to stop reading, even when I was well into the time of night when I usually am settling down to sleep. I found this to be a very interesting peek into a period of American history about which I know only what is written in scholastic texts. Whether correct or conceived, it was well worth my time and shall remain a part of my library.