Review – Bluescreen – Dan Wells

Bluescreen

Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #51. This is the first review of the new paradigm! Basically a review of the same quality as before, just with longer breaks between the reviews. And to begin, a cyberpunk novel. Ahh, is it good to be back or what? (Don’t answer that.)

It took me until halfway through this book to figure out exactly what was wrong with it. That is a disproportionately long period of time for me to have a little feeling niggling at the back of my head as I walk through the world of a book (or run, or sprint, or step onto the really handy person conveyer belt thingie they sometimes have at airports and watch as the world passes me by). Superficially, Bluescreen is not a bad book. That’s probably why I continued to read it for as long as I did after my subconscious immediately took issue with it. And for the damnedest time I was just sure that telling myself that “oh, it’ll get better later, you gotta stick with it” would mean that this would actually be true and this book would magically turn into the book I needed. But of course I was left with the book I inevitably only justly deserve (Batman references for the win!).

Bluescreen is a cyberpunk novel. Self-proclaimed by the blurb, and the themes of poverty, greed, corruption and immorality against a backdrop of a gritty dystopian hard sci-fi megalopolis really prove this. Bluescreen walks, talks and acts like a cyberpunk novel, brain-jacks and all. And of course, having read (maybe about three chapters of) William Gibson’s Neuromancer and a sizable chunk of Charles Stross’ Accelerando, I know a lot about cyberpunk (</sarcasm>). But I am damn sure of one thing. Cyberpunk might be a gritty, crapsack dystopian view of the future where people rely on the digital world for their only joy, but by the nine hells it should not be full of third-person woe-is-me wow-look-at-how-shit-the-world is ANGST!

I now have a proper definition of the difference between vanilla dystopian science fiction and honest to gods cyberpunk. If there is even a passing referral of any form of teenage angst, it’s a dystopian sci-fi. If the protagonist is hard as balls and does many forms of weird science future-drugs for breakfast (here’s looking at you, Henry Case), then it is cyberpunk. If most of the book is about the invasive omnipresence of technology in this not-so-far-away future and this is a clear straw facsimile of problems in our modern world today, it’s dystopian sci-fi. If the action in the book is driven by the protagonist’s attempts to remain sane or hold on to their moral high ground as it gradually gets taken away from them by forces they cannot even begin to fight in any way, it is cyberpunk. Is there a clear line in the sand I am drawing here?

As a writer, this is a very big distinction. Hell, as a DM in a cyberpunk-themed RPG I’ve been having fun with, this merging of heathenish angst-ridden third-person sci-fi swill with one of the more gloriously underappreciated genres is downright heretical. So this book irritates me in many subtle ways, and it has the indecency to be well-written, properly thought-out and have complex enough plots and rather likable (if sometimes irritatingly overqualified) characters. Why is my job never simple?

Bluescreen was published in 2016 by Balzer + Bray, and can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

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Review – Bluescreen – Dan Wells

Hiatus (and Reboot!)

Hello Internet. You know who I am.

<<Hey guys. I’m Joe, Jester’s handler. You’ve probably seen me around as the guy who updated the blog during the Christmas Break.>>

Joe and I have something to tell you. Upon finishing the fiftieth review uploaded consistently on this site, we have decided to make some serious changes.

<<Thanks to challenges I have been facing in the real world at the moment (being a student is stressful), I’m going to be changing the update schedule of the site from every week to a more “wherever I manage the strength to summon Jester from his dark pit of misanthropy”.>>

Basically he’s stressed and I’m not really at full form either. My generally humorous demeanour has descended into expospeak and bad hyperlinking. I’m even struggling to put together coherent sentences sometimes.

<<In short, this site is being rebooted to a newer, more laid-back schedule in the hopes that neither Jester nor I go insane or lose what little will to live we already have, and focus on more important things.>>

I’d make a joke about being insane already, but…

<<Yeah, don’t. It’s insensitive to insane people.>>

When was I ever concerned about sensitivity?

<<You should be.>>

This is the reason we need to stop. We argue on definitions of the personality of my character.

<<We hope you understand.>>

Goodbye for now.

Yours: J.M. Pear

<<Cloud Pixels>>

Hiatus (and Reboot!)

Review – The Killing Joke – Alan Moore

The Killing Joke

Hello Internet. Welcome Back for Review #50. And for the first time in this half-century series of books, I’m opening my arms to the final installment in the list at the end of Rule #2. I hope you can all laugh along with me for my review of one of the best Batman comics ever made.

Now dear readers, I do not delve into comic books lightly. I am the kind of person to sell myself to every book I read, and comics (like Manga) are normally very large arcs concerning several armloads of characters and an infinite subdivision of stories which make up the overarching mythos. And while it is generally pretty bad when it comes to Manga like Dragon Ball, at least there you have a definitive start and end. Comic book characters as old as Batman have so many stories it’s hard to put a finger on where the man begins and ends. So this is why comics are my Kryptonite (yeah, I know, oldest Superman joke since the one with Wonder Woman sunbaking). If I wanted to, I could totally become a comic nerd. I probably could, the superhero archetype intrigues me and a large amount of superheroes are fricking cool to read about. But I won’t, because I’m terrified I’ll begin reading comics and five years later I’ll be in a comic book store wearing an Aquaman t-shirt arguing with another 20-something over the merits of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight verses the Joker encapsulated in The Killing Joke and as I step away from the argument I just won I would wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life.

Comic books are a rich, detailed part of Pop Culture History, and they take their rightful place as forms of literature thanks to epics like Watchmen. But the sheer amount of time someone has to spend to learn to enjoy these forms of novel is ridiculous, and I never have even enough time in the afternoon to down something as large as Alan Moore’s epic, mostly thanks to the fact I have too many things to do. Enter the one-shot comic. Now, comics are never my area of expertise. I’m not an artist, and I can’t really judge the quality of comic or manga art beyond the really cool spreads or the angular art style, but I can tell you that even though The Killing Joke is over several decades old it’s very well written and drawn (painted? coloured? I don’t know what you’d say here).

The Killing Joke is a comic book about arguably the most entertaining Batman villain ever, and while someone like me can’t help but read it in Mark Hamill’s crazy, terrifying voice (which was of course established after this comic), I can see how it rebooted the Joker into the lethal force he is now. The Joker is a classic tragedy villain but shown in a whole new light by this book, and the open-to-interpretation ending of this comic just makes his saga throughout this “slim” volume that much sweeter. His lines are memorable (“All it takes is one bad day…”), his danger shown to be as much the result of his incredible cunning as well as his insanity, and what is slightly sicker is the just desserts he receives in the end ([whether or not he gets killed by Batman, Commissioner Gordon won’t go mad that easily and the Joker’s plan is foiled]). The Joker laughs his way into the halls of literature right next to Adrian Veidt. The Killing Joke may be a Batman comic, but it’s better to call it the Joker’s comic.

The Killing Joke was published in 1988 by Detective Comics, and can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – The Killing Joke – Alan Moore

Review – Department 19 – Will Hill

Department 19

Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #49. Blood! Gore! Glorious fountains of exploding viscera and vital bodily fluids! Now that I have your attention…

It’s a very inauspicious day when I attempt to start a paragraph with “so” un-ironically. But it’s happened. And this means that I am clearly not in the mood to kiss another ass about good prose and beautiful style. However, seeing as with this book I don’t have very much choice, I suppose I’m gonna have to pucker up and smile about it. Because Department 19 (which I have been meaning to review for friggin’ ages) has just come to a bloodstained close, and with the last book hitting my gloriously new pinewood desk which has miraculously managed to fit into my office (room), I now have the answer to why I have delayed them the just desserts of being complimented by yours truly. The answer is that I haven’t been able to give them enough credit until I found out how they end. Or haven’t yet, technically, but I have a very good idea about how they will end as I am still gnawing on the last book.

Department 19 is one of the books which looks like a horror book, acts like a horror book and squawks like a horror book but really isn’t one. Sure, there are vampires and [werewolves] and things that go bump in the night, but when you’re looking at them through a mirrored purple visor with a stake in one hand and a Glock hand cannon in the other you aren’t as much scared as much as you are more prone to yelling “bring it on, bitch” all BuffyStyle (I have also started watching those lately, and nothing is quite as satisfying as watching Daphne, clad in a tight t-shirt and jeans, embed a piece of wood into a monster’s chest while throwing out a snarky one-liner).

And so (see! I’m doing it!), Department 19 is a no-holds-barred gorefest with plenty of plot and character development enough to make you think there is a real point to the fact that vampires explode in a glorious shower of blood and giblets (there isn’t, but it’s cool as fuck when it happens). The protagonist evolves throughout the series from an angst-ridden n00b to… a still-angst-ridden-but-slightly-less-so full-on badass, complete with [a turn to the “dark side” when he becomes infected with the vampire virus]. And throughout it all, he gains an ubergenius adorkable nerd friend, Frankenstein’s monster and a vampire girlfriend (who is also a badass).

A little about the plot, while we still have time/space ({insert TARDIS joke here}). Department 19 revolves around the journey of one Jamie Carpenter (direct descendant of the manservant of Abraham Van Helsing and co-founder of the titular organisation, Henry Carpenter), as he works his way up the British equivalent of the Men in Black (except with vampires). His dad used to serve, and of course after a tragic accident left precautions behind to ensure that his son would never be found prey by the creatures of the night. What does Jamie do when he realises what Department 19 actually is? Oh, only try to hunt down one of the oldest vampires in existence. Serial escalation is only possible because there are like, five of them.

Department 19 was published in 2011 by HarperCollins. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Department 19 – Will Hill

Review – Legion – Brandon Sanderson

Legion

Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #48. This time, after following a (really good in hindsight) referral from a friend about this book, I cleared my queue and read it. Which turned out to be a better idea than I ever could have imagined.

Brandon Sanderson is a prolific author. This fact is about as obvious as the fact that the Harry Potter brand would be worth millions, or that fact that Stephen King can scare the shit out of a war-hardened veteran. In fact, only calling him prolific would be an understatement. However, as well-written as he is, it still surprises the hell out of me that he can construct an amazing story which captivates the audience in about 70 pages. This goes beyond the definition of a “novella” and more into the realm of “short story”, because I read Legion in one sitting, going through about one-and-a-half cups of tea and maybe a dozen or so biscuits whilst bored on a Sunday afternoon. Legion not only has amazingly well-made characters, it completely immerses you in an action movie-esque thriller of a plot which will absorb you for a good, long while after you finish the book (even though this story is technically called a “novella”, it’s been published in hardback and in my book qualifies as a book).

Legion tells the story of a man named Stephen Leeds, and as one of the best opening lines in all of literature tells you, “I’m perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad”. Leeds (sometimes nicknamed “Legion”, hence the book’s title) is an ubergenius with an eidetic memory, an off-the-scale cumulative IQ and advanced, specialised knowledge of over 50 different professional fields including handwriting analysis, psychiatry, architecture, fine art and [advanced quantum mechanics]. But there’s only one problem. His conscious mind doesn’t know any of it. Instead, Leeds literally hallucinates people who do have these specialised skills, and so when he needs to know something he just asks one of the many people who live in his head.

And if this sounds insane to you, well technically you’d be wrong. Stephen himself (or at least, what he defines as himself separate from his hallucinations, or “Aspects”) is perfectly sane by any definition of the word. But of course, since he sees people who aren’t actually there and they talk to him (and he talks back, which of course looks as weird as bacon flavoured jam from the outside), he’s not really a very comfortable person to be around. And (at least to him) his Aspects take up physical space, with needs and wants. So when his imagination begins to differ from reality (more than normal), Leeds begins to unravel. Throw in a camera that can take pictures back in time and [a plot to prove or disprove every religion in existence], Leeds is up to his neck, and he’s sinking fast.

So I had a lot of fun with this otherwise concise book. There’s going to be a series, which is what I found out when I realised there was a (longer) second book and promptly finished it, leaving me with a cliffhanger. So Legion will be back, and let me tell you I am totally going to be there to see it end. And hopefully so will Leed’s sanity.

Legion was published in 2012 by Subterranean Press, and can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Legion – Brandon Sanderson

Review -Never Always Sometimes – Ali Alsaid

Never Always Sometimes

Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #47, and May the 4th be with you. No, I’m not doing a Star Wars novel, I don’t consider many of them canon anyway. Not since Disney… Anyway! Enjoy my rant this week.

Never Always Sometimes had the misfortune of being the bounce-back book I read while still in the rage-haze of Eleanor and Park. So while I was fuming over the shitty ending scene of one of the best Teen Fiction novels I read in a long, long time, Never Always Sometimes is like taking that ending and rubbing shit all over it before ramming it up my nose. Thusly, I thoroughly hated the characterisation, found the cheaply exploited faux-love-triangle angle irritating and compared every character to their more three-dimensional and more interesting E&P counterpart. Also, the style just rubs me completely the wrong way, as if it’s a shitty paper façade of the nigh-poetic prose of Rainbow Rowell. I dislike rating scales, but if E&P was *here*, then Never Always Sometimes would be… *here*.

Gods, is this the part where I have to explain the plot? *sigh*. Alright, so the general idea of this novel is based along the eternal friendzone of High School Best Friends who are clearly and obviously a couple but one half of it fails to see that they are Supposed To Be. So of course, instead of pining over the currently-unavailable-but-nevertheless-inevitable, the second half finds someone else, and then first half realise their mistake, and from that point the end writes itself. It’s been done to death, and will continue to be replicated come the end of time.

Let me pick apart the many narrative techniques this author abuses/fails to mention/fails to deconstruct. Look, I can list them: the really weird and exotic (but white, must be white) feminine half of this unfortunately stereotypically heterosexual (why haven’t I been able to find a proper Big Gay Love Story which deconstructs these romance tropes yet?) focal pair has clear, family-related traumatic pain in their backstory; the adorkable, sensitive and geeky masculine (hardly!) half of this pair is naïve enough to think they know what they’re doing all throughout act two; and the third wheel, being the amazing goddess that they are, completely understands the protagonist’s true calling (by the end of act three, at least) and is completely fin with being left by the side of the road by what is clearly the better person for them.

<<OK Jester, you can breathe in now. Breathing is a good idea.>>

Apart from one of the many voices in my head having to give me some tips on how to breathe, you understand my point. Never Always Sometimes (one of the few titles I would give a DIY sundial with French instructions to when asked for the time of day) is supposed to be about not really subverting American high school romance stereotypes, but looking like it should so it actually does subvert them. Make sense? No, not to me either. In my book, slightly lampshading the tropes one uses while still playing them extremely straight does not excuse said trope’s appearance. So pooh-pooh to that

Never Always Sometimes was published in 2015 by Harlequin Teen. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review -Never Always Sometimes – Ali Alsaid

Review – Sword Art Online – Reki Kawahara

Sword Art Online.jpg

Hello Internet. Welcome back for Review #46. This light novel series and eventual, inevitable anime adaption has a recognizably large fanbase in both Japan and around the globe. With good reason.

Now, I’m not going to begin to justify myself when I shamelessly say that originally I saw this series as an anime, and have since then watched all of the first season and about 11 episodes of SAO 2, then stopped, complaining it was getting rather crummy. So when I realised I was missing an experience by not reading the light novels, I was quick to snap up the few copies of the series I could find. And, while the story and character development were exceptional in the anime (well, at least they were in the first 14 episodes), one thing I can say about the light novels is that the writing style is something completely mind-blowing. I mean, really, honestly astounding. I managed to scrounge up a copy of the first novel, eagerly finding a nice corner with an hour to kill and some fond memories to relive, and in one two-and-a-half hour sitting I was left hungering for more. One lightning-fast uber-speed-reading session was all it took and I was blown away. And it felt like I was only sitting there for 15 minutes.

This kind of style is something inspiring. Kawahara (is that his last name? Japanese surname-first name structure confuses me) manages to paint the picture of a world as vivid and visually inspiring as the anime adaptation while keeping the audience hooked on his every word. And, thanks to the fact I cannot speak nor read Japanese (always wanted to learn, along with Spanish) I have to give no small amount of credit to the translator, who is probably diligently transforming specific metaphors and references into ones which a western audience would understand (the lack of the use of honorifics caught me at first, because I read more manga than I should, but…).

A little needs to be mentioned about the plot of SAO, though I tread timidly into this area as I was first introduced to it by the more chronologically-accurate anime series. In a nutshell, new “full-dive” virtual reality has become the latest craze, and through the use of a fully immersive VR helmet that hacks into your nervous system and simulates actual feelings, you can literally live in the virtual world. But when a new MMO released for VR consoles overrides the safety mechanisms and ensures that when you die in the game, you die IRL, a lone swordsman begins his fight to the end of the game and his freedom. And so the first arc of SAO begins, which is wrapped up in the first book and followed with a bunch of short stories collected in a second volume which explain some smaller “side quests” the protagonist goes on throughout his time trapped in the game.

Reading SAO (one of the first light novel series I have read) has been an enlightening experience. I’m no stranger to translated novels, but the pace and turn of phrase this book has kept throughout the novels I have read is amazing. I tip my hat to both he author and the translator here, for the umpteenth time. Nice work.

SAO Volume 1 was published in 2009 by ASCII Media Works. It can be found on Amazon here.

Yours: J.M. Pear

Review – Sword Art Online – Reki Kawahara