Friday, September 20, 2019

Microreview [book]: Empress of Forever, by Max Gladstone

Empress of Forever is a rollicking, audacious, technicolor space fantasy opera that fully embodies its aesthetic and ethos while providing an over the top adventure.



Max Gladstone’s  novel begins with Vivian Liao. Vivian is a Elon Musk type tech billionaire who has made far too many enemies among various governments. So, a retrench and reboot and a plan to come back stronger are in order. But in the course of her escape, Vivian is captured and brought to a far future (or is it just far away in space) in a universe with strange monks, killer robots, pilots who can bond with their ships, space pirates and much more. Including, and most importantly, the titular Empress of Forever.

After that measured beginning, setting up Vivian on Earth briefly enough to rip her away from it, Vivian’s plunge into an outer space world is a wild ride from the moment she lands on the Mirrorfaith ship and meets Hong, one of the other main characters of the novel. From being under attack by robots, to freeing an extremely dangerous space pirate  who has been locked up for a very long time, Vivian goes down the rabbit hole fast. Her goals are straightforward at first--to find the Empress who has brought her to this time and space, and find a way to get back home. In entangling herself with Hong, and  Zanj (the aforementioned very dangerous space pirate), Vivian’s path, if not goals,  go off course almost immediately. In that tangled new course, Vivian meets new allies, new enemies and in the end, finds out the truth of the Empire and why the Empress has brought her here in the first place.

For all of the technobabble that the novel has, from the start as we learn about Vivian’s life on Earth in a couple of short set up characters, through the major facets of her universe, like the hyperspace Cloud, there is a definite science fantasy feel to all of the proceedings. Not only is it technology indistinguishable from magic (which the novel has in plenty) but there are whole portions of the novel that feel like they are even more closer to the fantasy section of the spectrum. Vivian and her friends, for example, landing on the ruined planet of Orn, find themselves in a post-apocalypse society and a problem that, as the author handwaves with Vivian’s thoughts, straight out of Beowulf. Later in the novel, as the author cranks things up to 11, the science as magic really does feel more and more like magic. The science fantasy nature of the novel reaches its zenith.

And on that way, we get a space opera/space fantasy universe that is full of sights, sounds, impressions, set pieces and environments.  Overall, I could see how Empress of Forever could and would play out on a screen--but as an animated feature, i think. This novel would bust the budget of any studio with trying to do practical effects and CGI with human actors. (Think Jupiter Ascending, to a square or cube power). Between the environments, the cinematic writing at the end, the larger than life characters, and the sheer inventiveness that the author brings means that this novel really works well for visual readers. If you are the kind of reader who relishes in those details, sights, sounds and experiences in your head as you read, Empress of Forever, after that early portion on Earth is done and Vivian is on the Mirrorfaith ship, the novel is most definitely for you.

That said, however, the novel, like many of the author’s novels, lives and grows on the strength of the cast. Taking the aforementioned Vivian, and Hong, and Zanj (space pirate for the win!), we have characters like Xiara, a preternaturally good space pilot and Gray, a graygoo creature, to fill out Vivian’s found family/team. They squabble, they fight, they come together and all have interesting character arcs, developments and growth. In a sense, I think Vivian, even though she is our Earth viewpoint character who we can relate to the most, is not even quite the most interesting character in the book. Given Hong (who feels in a sense to be the author’s most beloved character, since he gets to say a phrase that I’ve heard the author say himself in real life), Zanj (Space Pirate!) and Xiara (space pilot from a post apocalyptic world), the novel is rich with protagonists whose stories and personalities resonate. They are the heroes of their own stories.

And then there is the titular Empress herself. Most of the novel is experiencing and reacting to her from various points of view, various reactions, impressions, and even legends and myths for what people think of her. This gives her a larger than life quality that reminds me of the hints we get about Thanos in the early Avengers movies, until he actually starts to take action himself. The Empress’ goals, enemies and motivations are, to remain as non spoilery as possible, extremely grounded and well thought out. Even as Vivian and her friends oppose her and all of her works, what the Empress is really after, once it becomes clear, is logical and makes sense. She IS the hero of her own story, too.

The author keeps us mainly in Vivian’s point of view, but we get sections with the other characters, giving us a very good understanding of who they are, what they are about, and why as a reader we should care enough to follow their stories. In the last portion of the novel, as all actions and moves go to a conclusion, the author tries a little more cinematic of a technique, cutting between points of view to show us different portions of a wide ranging conflict.

The major thing again to keep in mind about Empress of Forever and deciding if it is for you really ties back into the expectations of the novel. This is not the hard space opera that you might be expecting or wanting. It’s side step into more fantastical realms, putting it in more the mind of space opera-science fantasy. However, this does not always quite work. The novel goes sideways phantasmagorical at times with an over the top world that the author is trying to describe, and sometimes, the author does exceed his grasp in that regard. Early on in the novel, before things get truly and utterly weird, the novel is on point, beat perfect and flawless. As the novel progresses, and as we get a sense as to what really is going on, and the universe becomes more defined, the action and events, paradoxically become just a tad fuzzier than I’d like. It’s minor, but it was noticeable for me.

That said, however, Empress of Forever is what you get if you decided to marry a traditional Space Opera narrative with Flash Gordon, Journey to the West, numerous Anime properties, Farscape, Jupiter Ascending, and most centrally, I think, Guardians of the Galaxy. When it works, Empress of Forever is  one of the best novels I have ever read. When it slips from that exalted mark, it is “merely” one of the very best books I’ve read this year.

---
The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10.

Bonuses: +1 for excellent and inventive worldbuilding, a unique and interesting verse
+1 for an intriguing and varied set of main characters. 

Penalties: -1 for not always hitting the science fantasy mark.

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 very high quality/standout in its category


Reference:  Gladstone, Max  The Empress of Forever  [Tor, 2019]


Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero





Pick of the Week:
GI Joe #1 - This review will contain some minor spoilers so keep that in mind as you read this. Cobra has occupied most of the world and the individuals who are trying to take back what Cobra occupies are facing an incredibly uphill challenge. Right off the bat, this is clearly a book for fans of the original series and is much more mature than the cartoon I watched as a kid. It is much darker and violent, but had me hooked early on.  Early in the book, a courier witnesses Major Bludd assassinate Duke. A character I grew up admiring was shot execution style and it was truly upsetting. This motivated the courier to fight back after he is tracked down by Scarlett after he found a thumb drive that is important for the rebellion.  I am really digging the more mature take on this and hope that somehow Duke isn't actually dead, although I have my doubts.

The Rest:
Star Wars Age of Resistance: Rey #1 - I have enjoyed the few Age of Resistance books I have read in preparation of the new film coming out this December and this one is no different.  We follow Rey on a quick stop in which she tries to overthrow an evil dictator on her way to find Luke Skywalker. Rey has quickly become one of my favorite characters in the Star Wars universe and this issue highlights how strong of a character is and how much she grew in The Force Awakens.  This book opens with an incredibly moving scene between her and Leia and has me stoked to take my family to the final movie in this saga in a couple of months.


Doctor Aphra #36 - I admit that I had the wool pulled over my eyes and did not expect this arc to end the way it did. Aphra was surprised to learn that Voor was planning on overthrowing the Emperor. As shocking as that was, the convoluted plan that she was using to surprise someone as in touch with the Force as the Emperor seemed destined to fail. Voor was relying on the actions of too many people and learned quickly that you need to search the Wookiee and Aphra remained one step ahead of her. The conclusion of this arc has me incredibly excited as it appears that she is about to once again team up with Vader, which was how we were introduced to her in the first place.  It looks like her character has come full circle. 


Napoleon Dynamite #1 - This past year we shared the film Napoleon Dynamite with my 12 and 9 year olds and it was a huge success. They enjoyed the quirkiness and bizarre characters as much as I did when I saw it many years ago. This comic picks up right after the film in Napoleon's, Deb's, and Pedro's senior year. There is an attempt to make what worked well in the film translate to paper, but it just doesn't connect for me.  I can hear the characters voices as I read the dialog and Jorge Monlongo's artistic take on this series is phenomenal, but I don't know if we need a sequel, even if one of the characters is under suspicion for murder. This is a four book series and I'm not sure if I will pick up the next issue to see if it improves or not.



POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Dragon Prince Re-Read: The Star Scroll

Last month I wrote about Melanie Rawn's debut novel Dragon Prince, which has long been one of my favorite fantasy novels and one of the very few which I occasionally come back to and re-read. When I considered beginning this series of essays, I knew that I loved Dragon Prince and that I liked most of the other novels, but it had been a long time since I last read any of them and I was curious just how I would feel about the subsequent novels.

As with Dragon Prince, this entry will be less of a proper review and more about my overall impressions of the novel and what it evokes in me, especially this being the fourth or fifth time that I have read it. As such, spoilers will abound, though more for this particular volume than the rest of the series. You have been warned. My memory of the rest of the series is incomplete. It may be worth noting that this is the first time I have read Star Scroll in at least ten years. If not longer.

If you're on the fence, don't be. Don't read what's below, just go read Dragon Prince and continue on with The Star Scroll. This is top notch fantasy.




One thing that jumped out at me more from re-reading my writeup of Dragon Prince is that The Star Scroll does not have that prominent villain to latch on to that Dragon Prince did. Dragon Prince had the High Prince Roelstra, one of the great villains in fantasy literature. I will argue that point all day long if necessary. The Star Scroll has hidden sorcerers. Oh, there is plenty of villainy to be found here, but it isn't the same. I would suggest that it is less necessary because now we are fully invested in the characters. Rohan and Sioned are familiar and comfortable and their dreams as rulers are our dreams as readers. We want them to succeed and build that peaceful society and make their world better. The nature of the conflict is different.

There is a discovery of several scrolls on the island nation of Dorval, the ancestral home of the Sunrunners (for lack of a quicker description, this world's magic users - see my previous post). The scrolls tell of long lost history, of a war against sorcerers who ruled the mainland, of a different sort of forbidden magical power.

It is not this discovery which sets events in motion, Melanie Rawn is far too good of a writer to do that. But, this discovery is a way to inform the reader as the characters are learning about a bit of history that might not be completely in the past. The scrolls are a set up for the reader, a hint that Rawn is changing the nature of the game here.

But, back to the villains. There are two, really. One is a character named Masul, who is claiming to be the son of long dead Roelstra, and thus having claim to the princedom claimed by Rohan for *his* son, Pol. Masul is a bit of a prominent villain, but the underlying one here is Mireva - one of the sorcerers looking to reclaim some power and completely upset the current order of things in the world. She is working multiple plots at once, attempting to subvert the Sunrunners, remove Rohan and family from power, and to set up a puppet of her own as the real power in the land in attempt to bring the long dormant sorcerers back into the light. That is a gross simplification.

Only one of those two storylines is resolved in The Star Scroll, the other (that of Mireva) will continue on into Sunrunner's Fire. To be honest, I really couldn't remember how that part moved forward, though I did remember it being a big thing. It's just not what you hang the book on. We're not reading to see how that particular storyline develops (as we were with the conflict between Rohan and Roelstra). We're reading to see how our heroes (as a generic term) rise to the occasion, to see how they develop, how Pol grows.

One of the best storylines in The Star Scroll is actually that of Andry, the son of Chay and Tobin (sister to Rohan). To quickly reduce all sorts of stuff, Andry is young (perhaps 20), and is tapped to be the next Lord of Goddess Keep when the current Lady, Andrade, dies. Andry, like Andrade, has all sorts of family ties to the ruling family, but as a Sunrunner, he has other loyalties. From the rotating tight third person perspectives in this novel, we see Andry go from fondly thinking about his "beloved older brother" to becoming almost estranged from his family when Andrade is killed and he is still given the full rule of the Sunrunners at such a young age. We can see the drift, and perhaps because I knew it was coming I can notice more those earlier moments when Andry is trying to hold on to his family and just be a brother and a son - and I know that the estrangement is coming. I know that the change is painful, and it is heartbreaking to watch happen even though you get the sense that Andry is kind of a dick, but he's also young and immature. Which is awkward for the man who is now a major power in the land.

The other great bit (in a book filled with great bits) is Sioned and how she is using her powers to initially touch, and then communicate with a dragon - something that had never been even considered. It isn't a major point of this novel, but it's so beautifully done and frightening and thrilling that it just has to be mentioned.

I don't love The Star Scroll in the same way that I do Dragon Prince, but from the start this is a gripping fantasy that from the first word I fully immersed myself into and did not want to stop until I had turned the final page. From these first two books, Melanie Rawn is a master and should be mentioned far more often as one of the great fantasy writers.

As a side note, given how much I love the Dragon Prince cover and that it was one of the first pieces of fantasy art that made me actually notice fantasy art, the cover for The Star Scroll is fairly disappointing. It shows an important scene of the book, but it doesn't really differentiate this as being any different of a book than, say, Anne McCaffrey's Pern novels (which are very good, but not at all the same sort of thing). Of course, Michael Whelan did do a number of the covers for The Dragonriders of Pern and McCaffrey herself did blurb Dragon Prince, but still. The cover here lacks that sensual and exciting feeling of that awesome piece of art he did for Dragon Prince. Perhaps it is not a fair comparison, that is, after all, one of my favorite book covers of all time.



POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

LET'S FRIGHTEN CHILDREN! The Mainstream

When I saw Coraline in the theater, I thought, “Nope nope nope. This is way too scary for kids.” I loved it, but the movie was legitimately unnerving. Buttons for eyes, sewn-up mouths, dead kids, a spider-lady. But then I heard an interview with Neil Gaiman where he was asked basically the same question — why did you write such a scary thing for kids? His response was wonderful (I mean...Neil Gaiman), and it was that things that are scary to adults are not the same things that are scary to children.

I think about this a lot, and try to take it into account when thinking about what to show my own kids. At the bottom of it all, the way I understand Gaiman’s meaning is that what’s *truly* frightening is the notion that the world ultimately doesn’t make any sense and isn’t governed by any rules that can be understood. As a kid, you’re always finding yourself in trouble or with aggrieved parents for reasons you don’t understand. The great hope is that one day the world will make more sense, and the feeling of careening between invisible, unfair obstacles will lessen.

It's a lovely fantasy. We don’t want to burst their bubble too soon. There is a pervasive mindset that runs throughout much of horror, which is that evil is omnipresent, its application is essentially random, and it is unstoppable. This is a universal feeling and one that older audiences are generally forced to reckon with beyond the confines of movies. One of the great gifts of horror stories to audience members is these tales allow the listener/watcher to confront their very real fears of an impersonal, uncaring, and brutal world in a safe environment. But for kids, the concerns are not yet of that nature. They are personal, dealing largely with one's place in the world. And these fears, too, are more-or-less universal.

The good news is that there are a ton of films that address these fears in a family-friendly way. And by and large, they’re the films you’re probably already familiar with.

Stranger Things

This is probably more of a no-brainer today than I give it credit for. I had some mixed feelings about showing my kid the breakout pop-horror title of our moment, but then I got the, "EVERYBODY at school has seen all three seasons and I'm getting SERIOUS spoilers" treatment, so now we're plowing through.

After Stranger Things, Season 1, I weighed in on this site about what I thought was a bizarre co-opting of...well, pretty much all the other titles I'm going to mention in this series. But here we are, two seasons later, and if kids today don't have time to read/watch every single thing me and the Duffer Brothers read and watched a million years ago, well, who can blame them? If Stranger Things is what steps into the breech, I can think of far worse things.

Tim Burton and LAIKA

At some point, everyone feels alone. Everyone feels like an outsider, or an imposter. Everyone feels un-understandable. This makes sense -- we each experience the world discretely from within our own literal shell. We are unique, separate beings, and each of us experiences the world in a singular way. It's scary. When you get right down to it, it's terrifying. It's only through shared experience and through story that we begin to recognize our own experiences in the experiences of others. Many of us are lucky in that we overlap in many ways with those around us, and begin to recognize these shared impressions almost before we are conscious of them. I guess this is what's called "fitting in." But some of us take a long, long time to encounter another or others who make us feel like we're not the first ones to fight these particular battles.

Artists are generally outsiders. Otherwise, we'd all be businesspeople. Growing up, we're often bullied or shunned. The weird kid. The oddball. The quiet one. Like Tim Burton, who famously idolized Vincent Price as a child and struggled to fit in, yet grew up to put a stamp of weirdness across the whole of popular culture that continues to invite other oddballs to feel ok about standing out. As a creator under the ubiquitous Disney umbrella, it's probably easy these days to shrug off Tim Burton. But I don't. This is, after all, the man who directed Ed Wood. He's more than earned his place on my Mount Rushmore.

The first two horror-adjacent films that my kids loved and re-watched again and again at a very young age were The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands. But there's a funny thing about the movie that is billed as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas — Burton neither wrote nor directed it. Henry Selick directed and Caroline Thompson wrote the script. Now, Caroline Thompson's a helluva writer. She also wrote Edward Scissorhands, and The Addams Family, and The Corpse Bride, among many other titles in her 30-year-and-still-going career.

Henry Selick later moved to LAIKA and directed their first feature film, Coraline. You're sensing a pattern, I know. ParaNorman was the studio's second feature film, and is, to me, an indispensable family horror film. There is a lot of very dark thematic material in it, particularly when we learn about Abigail's backstory, but that character, like the rest of the film, is handled so empathetically and with so much care that I never hesitate to recommend the movie. Plus, the zombies are no scarier than Scooby-Doo villains, and are often played for laughs.

I mentioned how the film treats Abigail with empathy. This is a common thread in so many of these films. Norman himself is an outsider, someone who is misunderstood both at home and at school. Like Edward Scissorhands. Coraline is ignored, and feels invisible. And Jack Skellington is someone who seems cool and the guy everybody else wants to be like...but he feels out-of-place and like something's missing. For kids (and, let's be honest, most adults), these films model a way of existing in the world that resists being governed by the fear of not fitting in, encourages being open and welcoming to others who may be different, and highlights the fundamental human connections that bind us.

These are powerful messages, and they run counter to so, so many of the messages that kids receive on a daily basis.

If we can encourage our own little weirdos to be themselves and support each other, and we can do it with ghosts and spider-ladies, isn't it kind of incumbent on us to do so?

Recommendations

For kids, I recommend:
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Edward Scissorhands
Coraline
ParaNorman
Stranger Things


And though I haven't seen them, I have had good friends with kids recommend the more recent:
Goosebumps
The House with a Clock in its Walls


Posted by Vance K — cult film reviewer and co-editor of  Nerds of a Feather since 2012. Emmy-winning producer and director, and lifelong horror geek.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Microreview [video game]: Control by Remedy Entertainment (developer)

Bigger on the Inside


Control had some work to do right out of the gate. Quantum Break wasn’t exactly an unqualified success and Remedy’s relationship with Microsoft seemed to disintegrate from it. Now back out on their own and paired with 505 Games, Control is a bit of a return to form for Remedy. Smaller in scope than Quantum Break, but doing more with less.

Control is a third person shooter with mind powers. You play as Jesse Haden, a woman who walked into the Federal Bureau of Control, and assumed leadership by bonding with the weapon of the former director. If that sounds weird, we haven’t even scratched the surface. The FBC is charged with protecting the nation from supernatural threats, and it’s been invaded by a threat called The Hiss.

Control is a pitch-perfect blend of creepypasta, Lost, and The X-Files. There’s lot of talk in memos and audio logs about containment and neutralization of Altered Items and Objects of Power. Jesse can bind with some of these OOPs to get new powers, starting with the ability to throw stuff with her mind. Littered all over this game are collectibles describing the supernatural effects of these items and how the FBC are working to contain them. There’s also a series of videos that look like someone took the Dharma Initiative videos from Lost and made their own. These all star the same guy who played Alan Wake. Speaking of Alan Wake, there’s also a series of videos starring the guy who voiced Max Payne. This whole game is stuffed with creepy fiction and Remedy all-stars and I loved it.

The gameplay is also well suited to the atmosphere. This is no cover shooter. Jesse has the archetypal shooter weapons: pistol, shotgun, sniper, etc. Augmenting these are the mind powers, with the first and most useful being Launch, which throws stuff. Essentially every piece of set decoration can be picked up and tossed at the enemy. It does a healthy amount of damage right out of the gate and it’s extremely satisfying. More abilities trickle out later, but Launch is a mainstay through out of the game. Both weapon ammo and mind powers are on a delayed recharge, so combat is usually a matter of emptying one of those meters, and then emptying the other while the first recharges. Enemies also explode with health pickups when they die, so it makes no sense to sit in one place and shoot things in the distance. Eventually you need to get up close to heal. There’s a good variety of enemies, so the mix of weapons and mind powers have plenty of uses and combat essentially never gets boring.

There are two things that take away from Control, and that’s the environments and difficulty spikes. The whole game takes place in the same extradimensional building (think House of Leaves or the Tardis from Doctor Who), and eventually I noticed that it’s an awful lot of poured concrete. It’s good looking and well designed but there’s just so much grey I can look at. Jesse is also fairly fragile, and I found numerous points in the game where difficulty spiked really hard, to the point that I sometimes just walked away from a mission and did something else, or quit out of the game entirely from frustration. There’s a brutal section near the end of the game that took me at least a dozen attempts to get past, and required that I play the game differently from how I spent the rest of the game playing it. It wasn’t fun. Even now, there are a couple side missions I may not finish because I’m past the ending and they’re annoyingly difficult.

Despite these fairly minor quibbles, I absolutely loved Control. It’s creepy, it plays well, and it looks great. Control is an excellent storytelling game.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 collectibles worth collecting, +1 gameplay that punishes inaction

Penalties: -1 same-y environments after a while, -1 brutal difficulty spikes

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 (very high quality/standout in its category)

***
 
Reference: Remedy Entertainment. Control (505 Games, 2019)

POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Microreview [book]: This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This is how you lose the Time War is a moving story of a professional rivalry a love story, and a meeting of perspectives told through world-changing time travelers’ letters




The idea was inevitable, and originated relatively early in the history of time travel narratives. If one person can invent a time machine, and if history can be changed, then more than one person is going to invent a time machine, and the goals of those forces are going to not be congruent. From Jack Williamson and Fritz Leiber to The Terminator, to recent novellas like Alasdair Reynolds’ Permafrost  and Kate Heartfield’s Alice Payne Arrives, there is a lot of mileage to the idea of a Changewar, where different time traveling factions seek to change history

Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar’s This is How You Lose the Time War takes this subgenre of a subgenre in a new direction by telling the story of two agents from opposite sides, who find something in each other, greater than the causes they separately serve..That in itself would be an interesting enough concept to pin down a novella, but the authors have an additional, dellightful wrinkle: The agents do not meet, but rather communicate in letters to each other.

In a world of twitter, and direct messages, and texts, and instant social media, long form letters are a delightful retro technology and form. Epistolary novels and stories, never the most common of forms even when letters were dominant as a means of communication, are exceedingly distinctive just by their format in this day and age. It’s a bold choice by the authors to have the two agents, Red (from a technological end state utopia) and Blue (from a biological super consciousness utopia) to start their correspondence and to have their letters (which take increasingly unusual forms as described in the narrative) be the backbone of the action. Every chapter has one of the principals in action, and a letter from the other principals, giving a harmonic balance for the reader as far as perspective. But it is within the letters themselves that the novella truly sings and shows its power.

Those letters, those perspectives, the shift from adversarial relationship to something more, as the two best time agents in all of history find in each other something more in common than in their own sides, Agency and Garden, that this novels runs on. I was half expecting, going in, a narrative more like Leiber or Anderson, or the like, where jonbar points are displayed and fought over, and changed back and forth as the two sides change history. And there is some of that but it is in the most general of senses, with lots of references to alternate strands and timelines. The worlds that were and what might be,and could be are really just smoke and reflections, pale ghosts compared to how Red and Blue bare their souls and hearts to each other. So this is not a story for deep explorations of how saving Archduke Ferdinand or giving Genghis Khan a longer life might change the timelines. Sure, there are handwaves in the direction of changing things here and there, but those are not the point. The novella is not really oriented toward pulse pounding action, either, although there is a culminating sequence toward the end of the novella where the style does change a bit to allow for it.

What this novella provides, and the target readers, are an extremely literary focus. There are clever bits with wordplay, allusions, references, and even a book recommendation mixed in with that. The letters, starting as boasting and admonitions that each side is going to win, slowly change and evolve, as the adversarial relationship finally turns to respect, and then love. The power and the strength of the letters become richer and richer as the novella continues, as Red and Blue really start to really understand each other, and themselves, that the novella truly shines with the full power of the writers. The seamlessness of the two writers writing is also noteworthy--I can make a guess as to which writer might have written which side more predominantly but I cannot possibly be sure of that. Like Red and Blue themselves, the two sides blend into each other, and while I may slightly prefer the letters of Blue to Red, the beauty and poetry of both sides’ letters, especially in the latter portion, is magical.I was moved deeply by the slow burn love story that unfolds in the words in their letters.

My only real quibble is something that I have tried to make clear in this review, this novella being difficult to capture in words, like a letter being consumed in flame even as you write it. My quibble and it is not really for myself but for others is that it is an extremely narrow and specific kind of story that is going to appeal to a particularly stratum of readers, and probably be of absolute no interest to many more. Even if you are a big fan of time travel and Changewar stories, if you are expecting something like a cold or hot war of temporal changes and conflict (again, something I wondered if we would see in the novella, and we do not), you are going to come away disappointed. This is a character focused story, a love story between two women who are opposing agents in a time war. It's heartbreakingly, movingly good at what it does, but that thing is a narrow interest.

There is a line in one of the letters, “All good stories travel from the outside in”, and This is How You Lose the Time War fulfills that promise for me as a reader.
---

The Math


Baseline Assessment: 8/10.

Bonuses: +1 for heartbreakingly excellent prose

Penalties: -1 for a style and format that may not be appreciated by every reader.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 well worth your time and attention



Reference: El-Mohtar, Amal and Gladstone, Max, This is How You Lose the Time War [Saga Press, 2019]



POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thursday Morning Superhero

The first book for the return to the world of Locke and Key has a name and has a release date. On October 16, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are bringing us back to the Locke family in a book entitled Dog Days.  Rodriguez teased some art on his instagram and I couldn't be happier!  Just over one month to go!



Pick of the Week:
Trees: Three Fates #1 - Fresh of getting a television adaptation of the original series, Warren Ellis and Jason Howard have returned to the world of trees. This books takes place in Russia, where the trees fell 11 years ago and the residents of this small town are still adjusting. Things take a dark turn when Klara Voranova, a police officer, is alerted to a dead body.  The mangled body was found near one of the trees and it appears that there is a lot going on behind the scenes in this small town that Klara doesn't know about.

The Rest:
Babyteeth #16 - Five years have passed since Sadie's father sacrificed himself in order to save everyone.  We cut to five years later when Sadie is still trying to make everything right and is currently separated from her daughter and recording videos.  If I remember correctly, this is where we started in issue #1.  She is telling the video of how they escaped from the devil and made it out of Hell.  It is nice that this book has come full circle, but Joshua Williamson is keeping the reader on its feet as the bomb that is dropped on Sadie when she decides that she should head home was quite shocking.



Daredevil #11 - Matt Murdock better get his stuff together quickly or a lot of people in Hell's Kitchen are going to get hurt.  Not only is he not offering them his protection, despite Electra wanting to help, imposter Daredevils are taking the law into their own hands and don't have his restraint. It also looks like Mayor Fisk's power might be nearing its end thanks to Owlsley.  An attempt to get Owlsley out of Hell's Kitchen for a period of time, Fisk is betrayed and severely underestimated Owlsley and the reach of his people.  There was a nice cameo from a certain web slinger to boot!  What I love about Daredevil is how real Murdock has always been and how he isn't shy of admitting the struggles he faces day in and day out.  Murdock is a character a lot of people can relate to and look up to, even when he is feeling down.

Star Wars Adventures #25 - I took a short break from this series and based on seeing Princess Leia on the cover decided it was probably a good time to come back. The story follows Leia with one of her oldest friends Amilyn Holdo on a short adventure on Coruscant.  Holdo is learning how to drive and taking Leia on a tour of the shady underbelly of Coruscant where Leia makes a surprising discovery. Tales of friendship like this are something that the Star Wars Universe needs more of. It is nice to see stories that are more run of the mill, while still set in this fantastic environment.  As I note almost every time I write about this series, it is a fun all-ages series that I highly recommend.




POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.