Staying at home is the norm... What are you reading?

Bob_McMillan

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Finally got to read the latest Thrawn book. I've always enjoyed the character, and I still enjoyed him in this one, but as the first book set essentially purely in the Unknown Region, it was a bit of a let down. We barely got to see the culture and society of even the Chiss, much less the numerous alien races introduced.
 

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Anthem: Bountiful Hunt (3/5)

Not much to say. Anthem tie-in fiction, Freelancer hunts a creature, bonds with a kid, stuff happens...next!

Gears of War: Hivebusters (4/5)

There's a paradox at the heart of Gears that I don't think the series will ever shake. That on the surface, it's got over the top violence, while below the surface, you have solid storytelling, worldbuilding, and characters. To me at least, it's the OTTness that has always been window dressing. I bring this up because this comic kind of embodies that tension in that I found myself bored with the action scenes, but more invested in the character dynamics. Having started reading Gears: Bloodlines, I'm further reminded of how the series's strongest narrative strengths are pretty segragated from its strongest gameplay strengths. But that aside, I'll give my take.

The Swarm is boring, narratively. Or at least, this comic makes them as such. There's no Swarm characters, and throwing hordes of Swarm at the protagonists might make for nice artwork, but for me, it's tedious. Again, great from a gameplay standpoint, but this isn't a game, so in terms of narrative, it's lacking. But, getting into the dynamic of Team Scorpio, things are slowly revealed over the course of the graphic novel, so that by the end, I was indeed experiencing "the feels."

It's not perfect though, since of the three, Mac gets by far the most character development, whereas Lahni and Keegan get much less. This isn't bad on an objective level, but if you have a trio of characters, one of which gets more development than the others...well, okay, Harry Potter got away with that, but here, I dunno, it's just noticable. But as his backstory is slowly opened up, a lot of it is done through visual storytelling and slights of hand, making full use of the visual medium. And that's at its best in the comic's quieter moments.

So, yeah. Comic's at its best when it slows down, and at its worst when the characters are going pew-pew-pew against the monsters. In other words, kind of what Gears is best at, at least in its EU.
 

Hawki

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Sonic the Hedgehog: Volume 7: All or Nothing (4/5)

This is the final installment of the Metal Virus Saga...I think. Apparently the issues of volume 8 are an epilogue of sorts, but I dont' really know, and won't really know until the volume comes out. Anyway, suffice to say, it wraps up the arc that's gone on since volume 4. I'd say not a moment too soon, but that's not fair, since the arc's been good, but if it dragged out any longer, it might have worn out its welcome.

Anyway, there's not much to say about this volume that I haven't about prior volumes, at least in regards to plot and tone - as in, dark, or rather, as dark as the setting allows, with clear stakes. I'm going to give credit for the mind games Eggman plays on Sonic, and how the Deadly Six are...not exactly fleshed out, but certainly used to their potential, in terms of personality, and how their ability to control machines is used to its fullest extent plotwise. Like, this isn't something that's really in-depth, but I'll give credit where credit is due that Flynn is able to push things as far as he can. Up until the last 10%, I might have ranked this volume a 5/5. However, things become really rushed at the end.

So, basically, Sonic and Silver achieve their super forms, in order to 'suck' the metal virus out of the planet via the warp topaz. Okay, fair enough - it's DEM in a sense, but the likes of the Chaos Emeralds and warp topaz were established well before this arc, so it's not like this violates the rule of Chekov's gun. However, while the volume does a good job in leading up to this moment (in that the characters have to snag the Chaos Emeralds from the Deadly Six, and each deal with the circumstances particular to their respective 'boss fight', the actual moment itself is rushed. Extremely rushed. It happens, Sonic disappears, and...it ends. Sharply. Abruptly. Again, this might be where volume 8 comes in with the apparent epilogue issues, but taking it as it is, the ending feels like they ran out of time. Which is a shame, because everything up to that point was quite good.

So, good graphic novel, but could have been great.
 

gorfias

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One of my favourite artists dumped one of his signature series onto a google drive and shared it on FaceBook, which was awfully generous of him.

I'm otherwise slowly working through manga recommendations from a buddy of mine. Operative word: slowly (much to said buddy's chagrin). -.-
Link to the book?

The boy got me a hard covered volume of "The Batman Who Laughs" for Christmas. I've heard good things and look forward to reading it.

 

Bob_McMillan

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I finally caught up on Onepunch-man, and I have to say, the art is absolutely stellar but the artist can only do so much with ONE's original designs. Blast looks as silly as Saitama, like a reject Dragonball Z villain.

It's also nice that they seem to be making the S-class heroes more useful again, after making them look like absolute losers versus Garou. Speaking of, I'm liking him less and less. His idea of becoming the ultimate evil for good reasons is a little too stupid for me to overlook.
 
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Dreiko

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I finally caught up on Onepunch-man, and I have to say, the art is absolutely stellar but the artist can only do so much with ONE's original designs. Blast looks as silly as Saitama, like a reject Dragonball Z villain.

It's also nice that they seem to be making the S-class heroes more useful again, after making them look like absolute losers versus Garou. Speaking of, I'm liking him less and less. His idea of becoming the ultimate evil for good reasons is a little too stupid for me to overlook.
A cool bit I noticed about OPM is that if you take each pannel of the action scenes and you flip through them like a flipbook animation style, they actually really flow nicely together like it's an anime and not just a manga. The mangaka has insane talent not only for style but action scene composition.

Here's what I mean:

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Bob_McMillan

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Hawki

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Love Your Monsters: Postenvironmentalism in the Anthropocene (3/5)

This is a collection of essays curated by Michael Shellenberger, who you might remember from my review on Apocalypse Never. That's easily the better book, regardless as to whether you agree on it or not. What's weird about the essays here is that so many of them come off as mirror images to the positions they're arguing against.

I'll put it this way. You can broadly group environmentalists into two camps - Malthusians/degrowthers, and Cornucopians/technomodernists. Shellenberger's very much in the latter camp, but the essays are often written in such a vague, 'airy' manner, that they kind of parallel the writings more common in the opposite camp. The one exception is the last one which comes from an Indian writer, who takes a critical look at Ghandi and the caste system. I bring that up because it was at least a line of thought I hadn't been exposed to before. But considering this book was written about a decade ago, and the same arguments are being rehashed by both camps, I'm left to ask what's changed.

Meh. Could do worse for $5.
 

Johnny Novgorod

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Finished Michel Houellebecq's "Extension du domaine de la lutte", published 1994. Broadly speaking it's about male hysteria and sexual frustration. Arthur Fleck meets Patrick Bateman. The protagonist isn't actually a virgin, but hasn't had sex in 2 years (following a nebulous breakup) and attracts the worship of an incel coworker desperately trying to get laid. Their business trip makes up most of the book, but there isn't much of a plot to speak of - just the slow unearthing of just how unhinged this guy is, and a countdown to the inevitable mental breakdown.
 

Hawki

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Gears of War: Bloodlines (3/5)

I commented in my review of Ascendance that the book was a departure from Traviss's style of novels, and that it presented a paradox - that it was the weakest Gears novel from an 'objective' standpoint, but felt more in sync with the games than anything Traviss had written. I dare say that Jason Hough read that review because Bloodlines appears to be harkening to Traviss's style here.

Okay, he wouldn't have read that review, but Bloodlines is more in keeping with Traviss's style, but it doesn't pull it off nearly as well. Regardless, this book is really two plots in one novel, split unevenly. The stuff taking place in the present is a sidequel to Gears 5, taking place between the first and second acts of the game. The stuff taking place in the past focuses on Gabe Diaz, Kait's father, as a backstory of sorts for his role in Gears Tactics. Yes, the book is really tying in with two games (Gears 5, Gears Tactics), and I'm not sure why, since neither complements the other all that much. And what's more, the structure is weird. If I was to divide the book into three parts, parts 1 and 3 would take place in the present, whereas part 2 takes place in the past. It's one large, multi-chapter flashback. Yes, Traviss used flashbacks extensively as well, but they were spaced throughout her novels, whereas Hough clumps it all together.

TBH, I've actually never seen a novel use this style of flashback before. I don't know if I can really call it "bad" per se, even if I feel that it's breaking unspoken rules of writing. But that aside, it seems to be following the template of Aspho Fields - what Aspho Fields was to Marcus, Knifespire is intended to be to Gabe. High risk missions that play key roles in their character development. Still, Knifespire isn't nearly as well done as Aspho Fields. Though it does represent the paradox that in a game series where the enemy is Locust/Lambet/Swarm 90% of the time, it's sections against the UIR that are the more interesting.

So, at the end of the day, I actually liked Bloodlines more than Ascendance. However, being objective, I think it's the weaker novel, at least from a structural standpoint.
 

Gethsemani

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How to invent the world - Katrine Marcal

Katrine Marcal is a Swedish writer who's specialized in something as odd as feminist analysis of economics. In "How to invent the world" she points out both how women are often overlooked or downplayed in their contributions to scientific progress but also how our gender roles and stereotypes have actively impeded scientific progress. It is written with a dry, understated humor that makes you chuckle and then you start thinking about how weird it all is. Like how it took until the 1980's to put wheels on travelling bags, largely because men are supposed to be big and strong and able to carry luggage and didn't want to seem weak and unmanly by having a bag that rolls.
 

Baffle

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I'm reading something by Stuart MacBride. To be honest, I can't tell the characters apart very easily and they're all awful people. The ideal outcome would be that I turn the page but a printing error means the rest of the book is just a different book.
 

Breakdown

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I just finished Stephen Fry's Troy.

I've always been interested in Greek mythology anyway, but I think Stephen Fry could write about any subject and make it interesting.
 

Hawki

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I've always been interested in Greek mythology anyway, but I think Stephen Fry could write about any subject and make it interesting.
I can reccomend Planet Word by him. Very interesting look at the nature of language.
 
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Dreiko

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Apparently the Kimetsu No Yaiba (demon slayer) manga is outselling the ENTIRE american comic book industry single-handedly now. Pretty amazing numbers. It also had the recent film. I saw the anime but what a better time to jump on it than now XD.
 

Hawki

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Star Wars: Age of Resistance - Villains (4/5)

You might recall awhile back how I reviewed the "Age of Resistance - Heroes" comic. This is the villains counterpart to the Resistance era in this sextet of graphic novels. The TL, DR version is that this proves the adage that bad guys have more fun, or something...yeah, I don't know if it's an actual adage. But, basically, I preferred this to its do-gooder counterpart. So on that note, I'm actually going to give quick rundowns of each short story.

FALLEN GUNS

This is Phasma-focused, but it's seen through the eyes of a stormtrooper - KM-8713. Plotwise, it's nothing special - First Order is taking a world, Phasma takes KM under her wing, has her toughen up, only fed up with Phasma's sociopathy, KM turns on Phasma, but her blaster is useless against her armour, and is shot in turn, and left among the corpses that Phasma used as a means to an end in a mass assault. Like I said, plotwise, it's nothing special, but this is far more character-driven rather than plot-driven. KM doesn't stay around long, but I find her as a sort of 'what if?' that Finn could have gone down. She laments her lack of an actual name, takes off her helmet despite regulations, despises Phasma, turns on her, but is still loyal to the First Order (or maybe she's just brainwashed). Also, I might be reading too much into this, but the use of "KM," for a human female of East Asian appearance...KM? Kim? I found myself calling her that in my head. Only unlike Finn, "Kim" doesn't get a happy ending, because the First Order has waves of disposable meat, and sociopaths like Phasma running the show.

MAROONED

This focuses on Hux. Again, the plot is simple. He and Kylo Ren are in a shuttle, but due to sabotage, it crash lands on a world, and they're the only survivours. What's more, Ren is knocked out by some kind of creature that a survivalist has tamed - one who's a former soldier of Alderaan. So, Hux has to pretend he's anti-Empire, while using Ben's status as Han/Leia's daughter to gain sympathy points, while speaking in double meanings to let the reader know how much he hates Ben, but fooling the survivalist into thinking he respects him. Eventually, First Order troopers come, slaughter the survivalist's beasts, and leave him to rot, in the knowledge that he'll die when this world is destroyed as part of a test firing from Starkiller Base. Returning to said base, Hux finds the man who betrayed him and executes him, getting vengenace for childhood stuff.

Mixed on this one. What's actually the most interesting is the author's notes. Apparently, the idea was to have Hux presented as he was in TFA, but establish the tension between him and Kylo Ren. Then, in TLJ, the idea was to have him be the whipping boy, and then subordinate to Ren without Snoke, cementing his hatred even further. Whether you like this development or not is up to you, but there was at least a plan that both films followed. However, Hux's backstory of being a bastard child to his father, and be emotionally abused? Yeah. Never in the films. I figure if I read this comic before TFA, I might have liked it more, but again, it's EU stuff.

FALL. OR KILL IT

One of the best stories in the anthology, and a case of fan service done right. This is Snoke-focused, but it's actually Ben that has most of the story. Snoke takes Ben to the cave on Dagobah - the same one that Luke went into. It's almost a recreation, but with lines and themes changed. So, for instance, when Yoda states that Luke doesn't need his weapons, Snoke stresses that Ben MUST take his weapon. And the result is that while he encounters a vision of Luke in the cave and slays him, when confronted with visions of Han and Leia, he can't bring himself to strike them down...yet Snoke thinks he does, because in his anger, Kylo's power destroys the whole cave.

Like I said, this is argably fan service, but it's fan service done well. Said it before and I'll say it again, Kylo Ren is easily the best thing to come out of the sequel trilogy, and the idea of being 'seduced' by the Light side is an interesting reversal. So it does tie things in nicely, with Snoke thinking that Kylo passed the test of the cave, while we, the reader, know that he hasn't. I'd say this is the strongest story of the bunch.

What's arguably weaker though is the author's note, which is very scant on Snoke, and states that "maybe there's things we'll never find out about him," or words to that effect. Bear in mind, this came out after TLJ, and it feels like an apology when, IMO, none is needed. Snoke isn't interesting, and TLJ did something creative when it cut him down like it did. I'm not saying Snoke should lack any backstory, but I'm not particuarly interested in him. Rise of Skywalker walked things back of course, bringing Palpy into things and giving Kylo Ren a redemption arc when none was needed, but that doesn't undermine this comic in of itself.

OUT OF THE SHADOW

This is the final story and arguably the weakest, but it still has things going for it. Basically, this is the Kylo Ren-focused story, where he leads First Order forces against a world that was previously conquered by the Galactic Empire, under Vader's command. Basically the whole thing of simultaniously stepping in Vader's footsteps, while also stepping out of his shadow by permanantly subduing the natives this time, whereas the Empire had to retreat in the end.

Again, nothing special plotwise here, but what elevates it is the artwork. A lot of panels are done side by side, where the artwork is framed exactly the same way, but things are replaced - Empire stormtroopers with First Order stormtroopers, Vader with Kylo Ren, etc. It's good visual storytelling. Also, in addition to the Phasma story, it really helps sell the First Order as an army of fanatics. Even more fanatical than the Empire. Reading this, I catch glimpses into what the sequel trilogy could have been, but alas...

Anyway, yeah. This hasn't shifted my view on the sequel trilogy, but I really enjoyed this comic. At the least, it's given me some appreciation for the First Order, even if that appreciation didn't come through into the films.
 

Hawki

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Star Wars: The Legends of Luke Skywalker (4/5)

This is a manga collection of Star Wars stories, all focused on, or at least relating to, Luke in some way or another. I'll say this off the bat, this is only getting a 4/5 because the last story is simply that good, while the rest...aren't, to put it mildly. Anyway, let's get to it.

THE STARSHIP GRAVEYARD

Okay, serious question, is manga characters' tradition of stating their feelings a cultural thing, or a translation thing? Because the character in this manga (said character not even getting a name) has the same tendency of basically to yell "I AM FEELING ANGRY!" Maybe not in those exact words, but close enough. I really don't get this. "Show, don't tell," as the saying goes, but manga seems to both, and I don't get why.

Anyway, the protagonist is a gunner on a Star Destroyer, but it's destroyed in what appears to be the Battle of Jakku. The ship crashes, and the gunner finds himself aided by Luke Skywalker...or not...Basically, Luke in to this story what Moses is to the Bible - leading people across a desert wasteland, walking on water (sorry, lava), and leading the imperial survivours to safety. Except he might not be Luke, as he says "we're all Luke Skywalker." And the gunner, when taken back to the Empire and mind probed for perceived dereliction of duty, breaks free and declares "we're all Luke Skywalker." Basically, trying to do what Last Jedi did with the idea of heroism and legacy, but not working nearly as well.

Also, the gunner is a neat freak, preferring protein cubes to actual food because of their dimensions or something. Um, okay...

I, DROID

This story deals with droid slaves...or something. I say "or something," because I'm kind of left to ask whether droids can even be called slaves, or if they are, why they're designed to be aware of their enslavement and suffering. Kind of "why, why was I programmed to feel pain?", only played straight.

Anyway, a droid gets abducted and put to work in mines as an enforcer, overseeing other droids, only for C-3PO and R2-D2 to show up, only 3PO is actually Luke in disguise, and he frees the droids, and they all go free. Um...long live the revolution?

THE TALE OF LUGUBRIOUS MOTE

This is arguably one of the more creative stories of the anthology, but also the silliest. Basically, it recounts Act I of Return of the Jedi from a space flea's perspective. Yes, this flea in Jabba's palace becomes friends with Leia after she's captured, and later, jumps to Luke, becoming a voice in his head and guiding his actions in the rancor pit and beyond. You read it here first folks, Luke would have died in RotJ if not for a space flea.

...fine, sure.

BIG INSIDE

This is the final story in the anthology, and the one that manages to elevate the anthology as a whole.

Some point after Ep. 6, Luke is flying across the galaxy, searching for Jedi McGuffins. He meets an archeologist on a world, and they land on an asteroid, only to discover that they've flown into an exargorth (the space slug from Empire). Months pass as they explore the interior, and find the records of an ancient order of Force-users, or rather, Mist-weavers. In the distant past of the galaxy, they set out to explore it, but found their way into the space slug as well. Thus, they wrapped themselves in 'Force coccoons,' to prolong their end. At their bidding, Luke cuts the coccoons, allowing them to move on (and for him and his companion to get out of the space slug because...reasons).

So, yeah. As far as the actual plot goes, the story is pretty simple. Outright nonsensical in some areas. However, where it succeeds is in its tone, its artwork, and its themes/ideas. It's arguably silly to analyse an in-universe religion and whatnot, but I really like the idea of "Mist weavers," and the idea that the Force exists irrespective of what you call it, or how you behold it. It ties in with Luke in TLJ, stating that the Force does not belong to the Jedi. There were Force-users before the Jedi, and there'll be Force-users after them. But even that aside, again, the melencholic tone that runs through the piece manages to uplift it.

So, yeah. Mixed on the prior stories, but solid final one.
 

Bob_McMillan

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Been reading lots of Warhammer 40k recently. The last one I finished was Rise of the Primarch. What a weird experience. I'm not entirely sure what kind of book it was meant to be, but reading it electronically was very odd. It is laid out like a coffee table book for some reason, with some TERRIBLE pages that strained my eyes.

As for the plot, it was okay I guess. I can definitely see why people had problems with it. It came off as very fanfiction, with dozens of important characters meeting each other with barely any explanation. But as I thought about it more, this is after all the return of a Primarch, a ridiculous important and notable event for the galaxy. So why wouldn't the numerous main heroes and villains of the universe be present? That said, the book lacked the attention to detail that I enjoyed in other smaller scale 40k books.

The more of 40k I read, the more disappointed I get in various factions and units. Such as the Grey Knights, for all their supposed prowess, they don't seem like anything special at all. I get that this is sort of the point of 40k, but I have yet to read something that was able to capture the "grimdark immortal supersoldier" feel that I got from Astartes.