Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Robert”

Robert’s #CBR4 Review #14: This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong

For all the enjoyment I got out of John Dies at the End, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it didn’t work as a novel. There were three very different episodes held together by a reporter framing device and the presence of a mysterious drug with inter-dimensional properties. It was funny, but the novel killed its momentum each time the story shifted to something completely different.

This Book is Full of Spiders by David WongI am happy to report that This Book is Full of Spiders, David Wong’s sequel to John Dies at the End, is unquestionably a novel. The clear three act structure exists, but it actually serves the telling of a single story. It’s funny, disturbing, and clever without any cohesion problems.

David and John have gone on many adventures in [Undisclosed] since their first run in with Soy Sauce. Surprisingly, it was calm, rational David that wound up in a courtroom after shooting a pizza delivery boy in the chest with a crossbow. Now he has to attend sessions with a court appointed psychiatrist who knows how to push his buttons. Read more…

Robert’s #CBR4 Review #13: My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland

My Life as a White Trash Zombie

My Life as a White Trash Zombie

Angel Crawford is not what you would consider a sympathetic hero. She’s a drug addict who dropped out of high school to enter the real world but can’t even hold down a simple retail job long enough to move out of her alcoholic father’s house. Her boyfriend is involved with a whole lot of criminals, including the guy who sells Angel a stolen car that sends her away on federal charges. As if life wasn’t bad enough, she’s turned into a zombie after a bad car wreck.

My Life as a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland is another urban fantasy book that changes the rules of what it means to be a zombie. So long as the living dead feed on brains every couple days, they pass as living humans with all their faculties in tact. The difference from other modern romance/horror/urban fantasy books is that Rowland’s mythology is well-developed and works for the story she’s telling.

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Robert’s #CBR4 Review #12: Ring by Koji Suzuki

Ring by Koji SuzukiThe challenge of translating a novel from another language is balancing the style and tone with the literal text. Lean too far towards literary flourish and you’re radically altering the content of the book. Stay too true to the literal text and you lose the nuance of wordplay in the original language that probably can’t carry over directly.

The English translation of Ring by Koji Suzuki poses an even greater challenge. The novel centers on a newspaper reporter and a philosophy professor who use the scientific method and many hours of research to solve the riddle of a potentially deadly video tape. Is the blunt prose the intended effect of Suzuki to best represent the non-fiction world of the two main characters? Or is it an unintended side effect of translating a medical sci-fi novel so couched in Japanese culture?

Ring, the inspiration for the popular Japanese horror series and blockbuster US remake, is a quiet investigative thriller. Read more…

Robert’s #CBR4 Review #11: A Bright Room Called Day by Tony Kushner

A Bright Room Called Day by Tony KushnerI recently had the pleasure of chaperoning a group of advanced high school theater students to a production of Tony Kushner’s little seen play A Bright Room Called Day. I’ve known for years about the problematic text (and even saw a production or two before), yet had neither a reason or desire to read it. This one black box production opened up the play in such a revolutionary way that I had to get my hands on a copy and actually read it.

A Bright Room Called Day is an experimental play, creating parallels between Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany and the Reagan administration’s treatment of the AIDS crisis in America. During President Reagan’s second term, a Jewish woman named Zillah moves to Germany so she can safely protest the administration. In 1930s Germany, a group of artists and communists fight against the rise of the Fascist party led by Adolf Hitler. By chance, Zillah has moved into the same apartment once owned by Agnes Eggling, a silent film actress who reluctantly joins the communist movement in Germany.

This play is not a light read. Read more…

Robert’s #CBR4 Review #10: How to Make Webcomics by Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurtz, and Kris Straub

How to Make Webcomics is not a book you’re going to pick up as a casual read. It’s a well-planned guidebook to all the big technical topics that come into play when you want to launch a webcomic. Brad Guigar (Evil, Inc), Dave Kellett (Sheldon), Scott Kurtz (PvP), and Kris Straub (Starslip Crisis) break down everything you need to know about running a webcomic.

How to Make WebcomicsThere’s a big area of webcomic creation that falls outside of the book: actually writing and drawing a webcomic. This is not an art guide book. There are some design suggestions–silhouette exercises to help identify character, creating a line-up showing the relative height and proportion of the characters–and a few writing tips, but this will not teach you to draw or write a strip. You’ll have to find that experience elsewhere.

How to Make Webcomics focuses on putting your comic on the Internet. One chapter teaches you how to properly scan hand-drawn line art into your computer for upload or further manipulation. Another discusses all the possible factors you need to consider when naming and branding your website. The more business-driven the task, the more detail the creators put into the chapter.

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Robert’s #CBR4 Review #09: Idiot’s Delight by Robert E. Sherwood

The year is 1936. The location is a remote ski lodge in the Italian Alps, formerly the Austrian Alps. An entrepreneur is struggling to keep his hotel in business. Just when his manager tries to tell everyone to clock out early, a group of varied international tourists all show up at once. There’s a British honeymooning couple, an American burlesque troupe, a beautiful Russian femme fatale, a German doctor, a French anarchist, and a rotating band of Italian soldiers. As soon as everyone is settled in, the planes from the Italian military base are heard taking off toward France.

Idiot's Delight

Surely nothing could really go wrong in Idiot’s Delight. Right?

Robert E. Sherwood wrote the play Idiot’s Delight three years before the start of World War I. He was a cautious man convinced that something was going to happen on an unprecedented scale. All of the characters in his play represent the best and the worst of their country’s role in his imagined conflict, yet none believe that another war could ever happen like The Great War. Didn’t we all learn our lesson from that?

Sherwood’s masterful satire accurately predicts so much of what happened in WWII that you’ll get a chill down your spine. Switch Italy for Germany and France for Poland and he gets the order of involvement in the war perfectly. The minor elements he gets wrong are not so far from the truth. His text is so powerful that he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1936 for Drama.

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Robert’s #CBR4 Review #08: Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: Director’s Cut by Jhonen Vasquez

Of all the comic compendiums/graphic novels I own, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac: Director’s Cut by Jhonen Vasquez is easily the one I’ve read the most. I still have the first copy I picked up at a mall Hot Topic in middle school and it’s been through a lot. It’s been attacked by stupid dogs (they were mine and bright is not an appropriate descriptor), thrown in the trash by over zealous Catholic relatives, and defaced by a terrible roommate my first year in college. If none of that could stop me from reading it, what could?

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac

JTHM Director's Cut is a killer collection. Literally. It's in the title.

The answer seems to be nothing. Vasquez’s ultra-violent dark comedy comic series ran all of seven issues before ending with a literal hiatus for the series. Side stories came out–I Feel Sick followed Johnny’s ex-girlfriend and Squee followed Johnny’s traumatized little neighbor–but the original series has not expanded (beyond awful fan fiction, which obviously doesn’t count).

The concept is encapsulated in the title. A man named Johnny is a homicidal maniac. He kills people in horrible ways using an expansive subterranean torture chamber and some on the street ingenuity. Are you supposed to root for the killer? Nope. The victims? Guess again. The survivors? Only one, and she gets her own issue to deconstruct everything that should stop you from reading the series at all.

The key to Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is realizing that it’s an exploration of character, society, pop culture, and storytelling. Read more…

Robert’s #CBR4 Review #07: Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey

How do you evaluate a book that fails to meet its structural conceit? This is a problem for anyone reviewing Ceridwen Dovey’s Blood Kin. Dovey wrote a book from three perspectives–the chef, the barber, and the portraitist of a dictator–about the intersection between the fall and rise of dictators in an unnamed foreign country.

Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey

What has happened to the throne in Blood Kin?

The problem is one of perspective. Had Dovey written the book in the third person, it would work. Instead, she tasked herself with telling three concurrent first person narratives. There is nothing beyond plot details and character backgrounds to distinguish the voices. If you removed the tags that start the chapter, you wouldn’t know who was telling their story because they all sound exactly the same. The only real distinction is what they’re doing. The cook will mention food, the barber beauty, and the portraitist art in every chapter.

This is a shame. Blood Kin otherwise has an interesting story to tell. The three men were so isolated by the previous leader’s regime that they didn’t even know a revolution was brewing. They spend the rest of the novel finding out just what, exactly, their beloved employer did to result in a bloody coup. Their lives are forced together in uncomfortable ways as the new president boards them in the same room without access to their friends and families.

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Robert’s #CBR4 Review #06: Corridor by Robin Parrish

Corridor is a twisted science fiction novel for a YA audience. Troy wakes up in a blinding white room with the voice of a girl, Victoria, in his head. Victoria tells him he has to run in order to survive. Before he can understand what she means, the ground he sits on collapses beneath him. Troy is trapped in a life or death battle with a sentient and ever-adapting labyrinth taking him through the harshest environments known to humankind.

Book Cover

In Corridor by Robin Parrish, the rules of the game never stop moving or adapting.

Robin Parrish writes in a clear and authoritative third person limited perspective. He does not step away from Troy’s plight to explain what is happening. What you do learn is told entirely through the challenges and nothing more. The result is a novel that crosses over from too blunt to an accurate reflection of split-second decision making.

Are Troy and Victoria likable characters? No. We never learn enough about them beyond personal tragedy to gauge that. They’re more developed than foils, but not anywhere near as developed as your typical sci-fi survivor/last one archetype.

But are they empathetic? Goodness, yes. We believe Troy’s desperation and Victoria’s panic because Robin Parrish keeps them in the moment. If they have time to talk, it’s fleeting. Time is constantly ticking away and Troy will not live long enough to meet Victoria in the flesh if he does not keep running. The novel only works as well as it does because the two leads are believable. We can connect to their emotional states because the stakes are obvious.

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Robert’s #CBR4 Review #05: Danse Macabre by Stephen King

I have a very strong love/hate relationship with the writing of Stephen King. When he is on point, it’s hard to find his equal in contemporary horror and horror criticism. When he’s off, he epitomizes the worst of horror cliches that give the genre a bad name. I prefer my King in small digestible bites–articles, short stories, essays, and book forwards/afterwards.

Danse Macabre

Prepare to be schooled by Stephen King

Before I even got past the newest introduction to his treatise on horror cinema Danse Macabre, I knew I was in for a bumpy read. King listed what he believes to be the three most important horror films in recent memory. He starts with The Blair Witch Project, a film I did not care for at all. Then he jumps to the Dawn of the Dead remake, a film I did not care for at all, but focuses on the strong opening sequence and stabs at Romero-esque political/social commentary. Then he writes about the controversial Last House on the Left remake, doing an updated take on the common feminist reading that is dismissed by so many because rape, that’s why. We started and ended this introduction on the same page.

The challenge with a book like Danse Macabre is teetering on the line between an objective/historical look at horror films and a subjective reading of which films are the most important. No one critic is ever going to line up 100% with your views on film. It’s impossible. The whole medium of film is so subjective that no two people will even see a film the exact same way. Now do that with thirty years of horror history and see how the fans respond to your work.

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