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Book Review: Anita, by Keith Roberts

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Anita the Teenage British Witch: Georgy Girl meets Granny Weatherwax.


Anita

Ace Books, 1970, 221 pages



Meet Anita Thompson: she's young, she's lovely, she's clever ... and she's a witch. A real one.

Anita lives in two worlds: the modern world of supermarkets and sports cars, radio and rock & roll, where she is a thoroughly modern girl with a thoroughly modern interest in boys and fast living and her own independence. But the ancient and rustic world of traditions, cauldrons, and familiars , where she and her Granny (a witch of the Old School, broom and all) invoke elemental spirits in the service of Him Wot's Down Under. She has senses no ordinary mortal can imagine (at least nine); with them, she can hear the voices of every creature of the night. She can changer her shape, call a drowned corpse from a lake, reverse the flow of time, and ride the Sea Serpent (there's only the one, you know; always has been -- always will be) deep into the ocean in the company of a mermaid, even though the modern world is trying to crowd aside -- and even change -- that world of witchcraft and magic. Yet, complicated as a young witch's life may become, Anita never loses her sense of fun, or her essential innocence.


Anita was a teenager when Samantha was a housewife.Collapse )

Verdict: These stories are a trip, a dated trip back to 60s Britain. Anita is a precursor to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, Buffy, and the entire contemporary urban fantasy genre. I would love to see someone write Harry Potter fan fiction with Anita appearing at Hogwarts. 7/10.




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Mars attacks! The granddaddy of all alien invasion stories.


The War of the Worlds

Originally published in 1898. Approximately 60,000 words. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



First published by H. G. Wells in 1898, The War of the Worlds is the granddaddy of all alien invasion stories. The novel begins ominously, as the lone voice of a narrator intones, "No one would have believed in the last years of the 19th century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's."

Things then progress from a series of seemingly mundane reports about odd atmospheric disturbances taking place on Mars to the arrival of Martians just outside of London. At first, the Martians seem laughable, hardly able to move in Earth's comparatively heavy gravity, even enough to raise themselves out of the pit created when their spaceship landed. But soon the Martians reveal their true nature as death machines 100 feet tall rise up from the pit and begin laying waste to the surrounding land. Wells quickly moves the story from the countryside to the evacuation of London itself and the loss of all hope as England's military suffers defeat after defeat.

With horror, the narrator describes how the Martians suck the blood from living humans for sustenance and how it's clear that man is not being conquered so much as corralled.


The chances of anything coming from Mars were a million to one, he said...Collapse )

Verdict: Truly the granddaddy of alien invasion stories; The War of the Worlds is still a frightening and entertaining classic. The plot is slow in places, and the characters don't really do much, but Wells describes a near-end-of-the-world in words that could be applied to any civilization that's been crushed, bombed, or genocided. 8/10.




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inverarity
Genre-savvy teens who know what kind of movie they're in try to survive a slasher.


The Last Final Girl

Lazy Fascist Press, 2012, 160 pages



Life in a slasher film is easy. You just have to know when to die.

Aerial View: A suburban town in Texas. Everyone's got an automatic garage door opener. All the kids jump off a perilous cliff into a shallow river as a rite of passage. The sheriff is a local celebrity. You know this town. You're from this town.

Zoom In: Homecoming princess, Lindsay. She's just barely escaped death at the hands of a brutal, sadistic murderer in a Michael Jackson mask. Up on the cliff, she was rescued by a horse and bravely defeated the killer, alone, bra-less. Her story is already a legend. She's this town's heroic final girl, their virgin angel.

Monster Vision: Halloween masks floating down that same river the kids jump into. But just as one slaughter is not enough for Billie Jean, our masked killer, one victory is not enough for Lindsay. Her high school is full of final girls, and she's not the only one who knows the rules of the game.

When Lindsay chooses a host of virgins, misfits, and former final girls to replace the slaughtered members of her original homecoming court, it's not just a fight for survival—it's a fight to become The Last Final Girl.


For everyone who ever watched way too many Jamie Lee Curtis films.Collapse )

Verdict: A clever, funny, genre-savvy bloodbath written in an annoying screenplay format. The characters are quirky and expendable, the story is a rollercoaster, the plot is ridiculous but intentionally so. 6/10.




My complete list of book reviews.

AQATWA: Shambling towards the second half

Constance Pritchard
I know, folks, I know. I'm getting more people asking me in slightly worried tones if I'm really going to finish book five (let alone the series). And how I said I'd be done last year, then that I'd be done this year.

It's been a rough year. I just don't have the writing time I used to. But I am still writing. I even want to get around to writing other things besides AQ. That hasn't happened either, lately.

But, however slowly, progress is being made. I hope you all will still be around when I finally get to the end.

I just finished chapter 30, at 152K words.

cactuscommando has finished his splendid series of AQ fan art. And he's promised to make an AQATWA cover to match the others he did, when I have finally finished a rough draft.


Constance Pritchard
by cactusfantastico on deviantART


Forbearance Pritchard
by cactusfantastico on deviantART


Lineup
by cactusfantastico on deviantART

Book Review: Blackbirds, by Chuck Wendig

inverarity
A foul-mouthed fucking road tramp with a fucking psychic gift tries to fucking cheat fate fuckity fuck.


Blackbirds

Angry Robot, 2012, 384 pages



Miriam Black knows when you will die.
Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days he will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. No matter what she does, she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.


Yeah, she kind of does talk like that.Collapse )

Verdict: Strong voice, clever writing, if relying a bit too much on violence and profanity . The characters are vivid and the dialog is snappy, but also leaning heavily on the ability to disturb the reader. The plot moves along, and gets to an end that isn't too much of a cheat. 7/10.




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Book Review: The Troop, by Nick Cutter

inverarity
Boys' Life meets Stephen King.


The Troop

Gallery Books, 2013, 358 pages



Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip - a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There's Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well-liked and easygoing; then there's Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there - which makes Scoutmaster Tim's job a little easier. But for some reason, he can't shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked...

It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry - a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.

And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected...or one another.


This is a writer who knows what Stephen King did best and does it almost as well.Collapse )

Verdict: A little scary, and very disturbing, The Troop is an almost perfect horror novel. The plot never slows down, the extras like interviews and news articles all add to the story, and the writing is polished, detailed, and descriptive without ever going off-course. Characters are real and engaging, and they act like real people. While the content may not be to everyone's taste, it gets my highly recommended tag.




My complete list of book reviews.
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A rippin', bloody bottom-of-the-sea thriller, for fans of monster movies of indifferent quality.


Deep Black Sea

Permuted Press, 2014, 284 pages


It's October, and time to read a few of the horror novels that have been sitting on my shelf!

A gory monster movie in a book - cheap, dump, and entertaining.Collapse )

Verdict: Page-turning story with monsters who are freaky and gross, buckets of blood, and an atmospheric, scary, and isolating setting. Unfortunately marred by very mediocre writing, cardboard characters who are too dumb to live, and some suspensions of disbelief that are harder to swallow in a book than a movie. 5/10.




My complete list of book reviews.

Book Review: Persuasion, by Jane Austen

inverarity
The sailor she rejected when he was poor is now rich, and she's unmarried at 27.


Persuasion

Originally published in 1817, 236 pages. Available for free on Project Gutenberg.



Anne Elliot has grieved for seven years over the loss of her first love, Captain Frederick Wentworth. But events conspire to unravel the knots of deceit and misunderstanding in this beguiling and gently comic story of love and fidelity.


Perhaps the most outright romantic of Austen's novels, with torches carried for seven years, and an Austenian heroine married off more happily than the author.Collapse )

Verdict: Not my favorite Austen, but not my least favorite either. Austen's prose is as flawless as usual, and Persuasion is finely plotted. It loses points for missing the humor and poignancy I found more abundantly in Austen's other novels. 7/10.

Also by Jane Austen: My reviews of Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, and Emma.




My complete list of book reviews.
inverarity
Apparently acrackedmoon (of Requires Only That You Hate fame), formerly "winterfox," has been outed.

I can't say I've ever heard of her (the real name who is apparently an up-and-coming author), but I'll probably check out one of her stories.

I think outing people who are trying to remain pseudonymous is generally a pretty shitty thing to do. I am quite aware that I'm not really anonymous - someone who really wants to know my real identity can figure it out. If someone posted to Twitter: "Hahahaha! Inverarity is really Stephen King*!" I would be annoyed, but I would not freak out about it. I would consider that person to be an asshole, though.

Right now, no one cares who I am, and the number of people who dislike me enough that they'd find it amusing to post my real name just because it would annoy me is small enough that I don't really care. If I ever actually get published, I expect at that point it would be a matter of time before I got "outed," if I didn't out myself.

So, I think the people involved in outing acrackedmoon (exactly who these people are seems to be debatable, as there are those who have apparently known for a while, those who've been dropping hints and threatening to out her, and then the one(s) who actually first publicly posted her real name) are kind of dicks. I've read various justifications from "It was coming out anyway and this put an end to the drama" to "Bwahahaha, karma's a bitch!" And I still think that absent some reason more compelling than "She deserved it," it's wrong to post someone's real name if they don't want their real name posted.

That said, apparently this up-and-coming author also adopted a sweet, friendly, and mild persona when interacting with the very people she was shredding on her ROTYH blog. And the point at which she stopped blogging and tweeting coincided with the point at which she started getting published. So I find that profoundly disingenuous and cowardly. If you're gonna say it, own it, and if you're gonna say it anonymously, be prepared to own it when you inevitably get outed.

I've generally tried to be pretty much myself and not say things I'll regret here. Supposing that I became famous (for some small value of "fame"), I'm sure someone could scour all my LJ posts and find something objectionable I've written. But the reason I don't worry too much about being outed (besides the fact that I'm a nobody) is that I'm fairly confident that the worst thing that would come of it would be some mild embarrassment. ("Oh, he's that guy?")

So anyway, be yourself and own your words. acrackedmoon is no angel, and she went out of her way to antagonize some of the people who are now celebrating her little moment of notoriety. But what I find most objectionable is the fact that she wasn't prepared to face down her critics when this day came and say, "Yeah, that was me, and yeah, I said those things."

In the long run, though, I doubt this will really hurt her. If she goes on to become a Big Name Author, she will always have her remora-like enemies hanging around reminding everyone that she used to be winterfox and that she once said she wanted to punch Paolo Bacigalupi in the face and that U.S. soldiers are all mass murderers, but editors and publishers really don't care about this kind of thing. If Orson Scott Card, Marion Zimmer Bradley**, and Harlan Ellison haven't lost any sales, a writer once known for incendiary reviews and vitriolic tweets will be able to live this down just fine.

* I am not really Stephen King

** Yes, she's dead. She probably still outsells most living authors.
inverarity
I'm not one of those prudes longing for a pristine, wholesome Golden Age of Comics when superheroes were morally unambiguous and nobody swore or died.

I liked it when superheroes first started getting a more "adult" treatment. Now there are numerous superhero novels. Like 'em or hate 'em, they have made it a distinct if niche sub-genre. Some authors treat the genre and its conventions at face value, others try to be subversive. But it's cool and interesting to explore questions like "What if Superman wasn't so nice?" or "How would the world really deal with superpowered people?"

I do, however, believe that the heart and soul of the superhero genre is heroes being heroic. And villains being villainous. And a generally optimistic tone in which we have reason to believe that Good will eventually triumph over Evil.

It's not terribly realistic, and it's not terribly nuanced, and a lot of people don't like superheroes, or think the whole idea is stupid, for precisely that reason. Fair enough. I don't get the appeal of paranormal romances or steampunk. We all like what we like. But I think what draws fans to the genre is the expectation of tales of heroism.

According to some, superheroes are modern myths retold, and there's some truth to that. But I think they are mostly power fantasies. Specifically, we look at a deeply dysfunctional broken world with mostly insoluble problems, injustice and atrocities that cannot be easily fixed with individual action, and imagine how satisfying it would be if we could just run around punching out bad guys.

Mix it up a bit with some moral dilemmas, the occasional "anti-hero," sure. I was as big a Wolverine fan as anyone, back when he first became the hot new icon that everyone copied and parodied. And while Alan Moore's Watchmen is an ugly, cynical deconstruction in a lot of ways, it's also clever and it respects the conventions it's deliberately breaking. And it was a limited, self-contained story, not an ongoing bloodbath in which all the tropes of superherodom were repeatedly shat upon.

Which brings me to the "Free Comic Book Day" issue of DC's The New 52 Future's End:

Future's End

Basically, the whole issue is a bloodbath in which all the DC heroes are hacked apart and assimilated by some Borg-like Big Bad who's taken over the world. Bruce Wayne, mortally wounded after having his arm graphically chopped off, sends his protege back in time to fix it.

First of all, Marvel has already done this. Repeatedly. It was even made into the most recent X-Men movie.

Once again, DC is trying to capture what has been a winning formula for Marvel without any sense of what makes it winning. Some people did not like the "Days of Future Past" or "Age of Apocalypse" storylines in the old X-Men. They were kind of grimdark. I liked them, but in the 80s and 90s when they were first published, Marvel was experimenting with their most popular and contemporary heroes, and they did, unfortunately, then go through a long dark period of X-Force, X-Factor, X-cetera, and the completely worthless character Cable. I know this legacy is still around, but notice the winning Marvel movies, even Days of Future Past, were "darkness before the dawn," not darkness all the way through.

I assume that DC, also, intends for "Future's End" to end with the heroes victoriously hitting the reset button. But everything I have seen in their new line indicates that they're just kind of clueless about what draws readers to superhero comics.

"Free Comic Book Day" is supposed to attract new readers to the genre. So what the hell makes DC think the best way to do that is by putting Wonder Woman's head on a spike?

New 52 Future's End Cover

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