Friday, February 20, 2015

All The Things I Did: 20th February 2015

Another week, another lot of things I read, played, watched and listened to.  As always, they're ranked from worst to best.

WORST: The Walking Dead season 5, episode 2: This wasn't exactly bad; it's still quite a well put together piece of television.  I'm just getting bored with the whole enterprise.  There's only so much I can take of the characters killing zombies and being depressed.  I also had to dock it some serious points for the moment where Rick declares that "we are the walking dead".  THANKS MATE, I HADN'T NOTICED THE SUBTEXT.

Thunderbolts #1-11 (2012 series) by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon: The Red Hulk has gathered some of Marvel's most ruthless characters (Deadpool, Elektra, the Punisher, Venom), and together they're taking on arms dealers in the Middle East and south-east Asia.  This book is really flat.  Daniel Way has assembled a cast of strong, silent types (except for Deadpool, but even he's a little bit subdued) and the result is a book seriously lacking in empathy and character interaction.  The plot is tedious, the villains barely have a presence in the story at all, and Way keeps to his usual sluggish pace.  Steve Dillon is the only saving grace, and I really wish that he would stop doing books with Daniel Way.

Resurrection season 2, episodes 7 to 10:  Things are starting to happen, although there's still far too much time spent on the cast talking about their feelings.  Still, on the whole I'm mildly engaged with it, although I am trepidatious about the religious iconography that's starting to take over.  Given the subject matter I expected it earlier, but the show has mercifully held off.  Now we're getting a sinister preacher and plagues of locusts, and I expect that the biblical overtones will only grow stronger.  I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

Pretties for You and Easy Action by Alice Cooper: In my ongoing quest to find more things like David Bowie, I've turned to the other great rock persona of the early 1970s, Alice Cooper.  As it turns out, the original Alice Cooper was not just a bloke but a whole band.  Their first two albums are unfocused and a bit wild, with a hint of psychedelia thrown in.  They're fun, but they're also a bit of a mess.  There are hints of the 'sinister rock fairground' approach that Cooper would take in later albums, but it's not quite there yet.

WWE Raw episode 1,134: This is the last episode before the Fast Lane pay-per-view, with the focus mostly on building the rivalry between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan.  There's some strange storytelling going on here.  Both of these characters are supposed to be good guys, but with this current feud they're both acting like massive tools to each other.  By the end, though, they had me buying how much they want to beat the hell out of each other, so good job even though it's not clear who the audience is supposed to support.  The rest of the segments were a mixed bag, with the Seth Rollins/Dolph Ziggler match probably being the highlight.

Love It To Death by Alice Cooper: The third album by Alice Cooper sheds the psychedelia in favour of short, focused rock songs, and it's altogether a stronger effort than their first two.  There aren't any stand-out tracks, but the album hangs together nicely, and it's starting to sound like the Alice Cooper that I recognise.

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: I've started reading the Sherlock Holmes books, and this is the first.  It's a solid mystery story, and Holmes is a fascinating character from the start.  I question the structure of the book, though.  The first half features Holmes and Watson investigating and solving a murder involving Mormons, and then the second half veers off into a flashback about said Mormons and the build-up to the murder.  I can understand why Doyle wrote it this way: he needed to present the murder as a righteous one, and to do that the reader needed to be shown what led to it.  But the result is that Holmes is absent for about six chapters, and I found myself impatient to return to him.  Sometimes the needs of the reader trump the needs of the narrative, I'm afraid.

Cyclops (2014 series) #1-5 by Greg Rucka and Russell Dauterman: This series follows the young version of Cyclops, who has discovered that his long-lost father is alive, and a space pirate.  The heart of the book is the touching father-son relationship, but there's plenty of space adventure to go around as well.  Greg Rucka is incapable of writing a bad comic, and Dauterman is a great find on the art.  It's a warm, fun book that never loses sight of the human story beneath all of the crazy alien shenanigans.

Billion Dollar Babies by Alice Cooper: This is the band's sixth album, and considered by many to be the best.  I'll echo that, because it really is a top-notch rock album.  Cooper's theatrics are in full effect, and the result is operatic and subversively tongue-in-cheek.  To be honest, the rebelliousness and shock tactics are kind of quaint, but they're always charming.

Daredevil (2011 series) #22-36 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee: Waid's amazing run on Daredevil continues, barely losing steam at all as it enters its third year.  I said it last time, but it bears repeating: this is the best superhero comic of the last five years.  The pay-off for the first two years is a storyline with Bullseye that goes to some intense, disturbing places without ever compromising the lighter tone of the book.  The run concludes with a story about the Sons of the Serpent, basically the Marvel equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan, and their infiltration of the New York justice system.  The finale is surprising, and takes the character in an interesting new direction.  I can't wait to get to the next volume.

BEST: Tardis Eruditorum by Philip Sandifer: I almost forget this, because I haven't been writing about other blogs here, but this is one of the best.  Tardis Eruditorum is ostensibly a chronological journey through the fifty year history of Doctor Who, but it's so much more than that.  It's also a lens into British politics and society of the late 20th century and early 21st, with digressions into alchemy and radicalism and so many other things.  It's a masterful piece of work, and easily the best long-form blog I've ever read.  The final post went up during the week, and it's a doozy: a 100,000 word history of Doctor Who as a whole.  I'd recommend, though, that any Doctor Who fan go right to the beginning and take it from there.  It's really that good.  (And yes Phil, if you ever track this back here I admit that I totally stole the worst-to-best format from your comic reviews.  Mea culpa.)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What I Read in 2014

About this time last year I did a retrospective on the books I read in 2013, so I suppose I should do the same again.  This is nothing to do with me scraping for content.  I could write a meaningful post if I wanted to.  I'm just doing this now.  Here's the list.

About Time Vol. 6 by Tat Wood
Daredevil by Brian Michael Bendis Collection Vol. 1 by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
Marvel Masterworks: The Silver Surfer Vol. 1 & 2 by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Jungle Tales of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan the Untamed by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Tarzan the Terrible by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Thuvia, Maid of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
At the Earth's Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The People That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Out of Time's Abyss by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
The Marvel Timeline Project: Book 1 by Jeff Diescher & Murray Ward
The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan
The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan
King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I only managed to read 31 books last year, which is significantly down on 2013's total of 52.  I had set the goal of reading some more contemporary authors, but obviously I failed there; most of the things I read were written before I was born, and a decent number were written before my grandparents were born.  What can I say, I read a lot of audiobooks, and the ones in the public domain are free.

Edgar Rice Burroughs came out on top, as I read eleven of his books last year.  I'm pretty certain at this point that I've exhausted the good part of his catalogue, although I really would like to finish all of his John Carter books.  Second was J.K. Rowling.  About halfway through the year I got the itch to reread some of my favourite series now that they're done.  I got through Harry Potter (which holds up rather well) and the first three Wheel of Time books before moving on to some things I've never read before.  I'll get back to it, but The Wheel of Time is a hefty series.  Reading it all would eat up a lot of 2015.

The Worst Book I Read in 2014: This is a difficult category this year, because I didn't read anything I would classify as bad.  The award probably has to go to one of the many mediocre Edgar Rice Burroughs affairs I trudged through, but as those books tend to merge into one in my mind it's hard to differentiate. And let's be honest here: I enjoyed them all.  They ain't good, but I'm a sucker for a trashy pulp adventure novel.  In the end the one that sticks out is Tarzan the Untamed, for the sheer amount of anti-German vitriol that oozes from every page.  It may not be the worst, but it's the worst one I remember.

The Best Book I Read in 2014: No contest, hands down, it's Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  I read it before about 15 years ago, and it was one of the best damn books I'd ever read.  It still holds that distinction, and nothing else I read last year can touch it for inventiveness, humour and pathos.

Marvel Year By Year: How the Blog Works - In which I explain how my Marvel blog is going to work.  This post, like the blog, is a work in progress, so it might not be the most coherent thing I ever wrote.
AD&D Monster Manual part 52 - In which I dissect the entries for Sylphs, Su-Monsters and Thought Eaters.  You can't go wrong with a creepy psychic platypus, people.


What I'm Reading:
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov

What I'm Watching:
The Walking Dead season 5
Resurrection season 2

What I'm Playing:
Crossy Road on my phone
Orthanc on a PLATO emulator
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii


Friday, February 13, 2015

All The Things I Did: 13th February 2015

Here it is, for the third week running: everything I read, watched, played and listened to in the last week ranked from worst to best.  And here's a warning in advance: there are spoilers for The Walking Dead's latest episode.

The Wheel of Time: Winter Dragon TV Pilot:  Okay.  This may take some explaining.

The Wheel of Time is a series of fantasy novels/paving slabs by Robert Jordan.  It's immensely popular, and in the wake of Game of Thrones there has apparently been some interest from TV and movie studios.  Unfortunately, many years ago Jordan sold the licensing rights to a company called Red Eagle, which has done nothing but cock things up ever since.  The rights were set to return to Jordan's estate on February 11th, but lo and behold, look what showed up at 1.30 am on the FXX channel, right in the middle of the infomercials: a completely unheralded TV pilot.  In other words, a hastily slapped together bit of telly made so that Red Eagle can retain the rights to the series.

This show has to be seen to be believed.  It's one of the worst things I've seen in years, and I watch wrestling.  Billy Zane is in this, playing one of the major villains of the series.  Billy freaking Zane!  It's a delight watching him attempt to deliver dialogue about "the nine Rods of Dominion" and the "One Power", all while smiling affably.  Here's a link:  Check it out, Wheel of Time fans, and see just how bad an adaptation can be.  This may be the worst thing on my list, but to be honest it's one of the things I enjoyed the most.

A Beard of Stars by Tyrannosaurus Rex: Okay, so bear with me: I'm going to write about some music here.  This is not something I know how to do, so forgive me if I make even less sense than usual.  I'm in uncharted waters.

With that out of the way, can we all agree that A Beard of Stars is an amazing, incredible album name?  Okay?  Good, because understanding how radical that name is will help you to know how let down I felt by this album.  A few years ago I went through David Bowie's entire catalogue, and that was a positive life decision.  T Rex is a band that often gets mentioned in the same breath as Bowie, so long as we're talking about his glam albums, so I thought I'd check them out.  I went with A Beard of Stars because it had the best title (it was a toss-up between that and Futuristic Dragon), and I think I may have gone a little too early in their chronology.  Instead of glam I got psychedelic folk rock, which is a genre I have an affinity for, but I didn't exactly warm to this album.  Most of the melodies felt awkward, and I found Bolan's voice grating.  Don't hate me, Bolan fans, I'll probably give one of their later albums a spin at some point.

Resurrection season 2, episodes 2 to 6:  I'm still not loving this show, but I am getting a little more invested in it.  Some of this is the growing focus on the conspiracy angle, which is more interesting than how such-and-such or so-and-so is feeling about their emotions this week, but mostly it comes down to Michelle Fairley, and her portrayal of the newly revived family grandmother.  She's the most heinous character I've seen on TV in a while (and yes, I do watch Game of Thrones).  Basically, I'm sticking with this to see her get set on fire or something.

The Walking Dead season 5, episode 9:  The Walking Dead is back from its mid-season break, and it's also back to its old trick of killing off all the black men.  Seriously, it's absurd how many have pegged it at this point.  Have the creators not noticed, or are they taking the piss?  There are still two left in the cast, but one has a gammy leg and the other is a nervous priest.  The odds don't look good for either of them.

As for the episode itself, it was decent enough, but it still feels like the show is treading water, and has been since half-way through season 4.  Rick and co. have decided to go to Washington, and see what's there, which I guess is a direction, but it's not really a compelling one.  I think I know what's in Washington, anyway.  I'll give you a hint: more zombies.

All-New X-Men #18-21 by Brian Michael Bendis and various artists: In the aftermath of Battle of the Atom (which I reviewed last week) the original X-Men have defected, and are now living with Cyclops and his team of revolutionaries.  It's a move that makes sense, as it gives the core cast a whole new set of characters to interact with, and that's what Bendis does well.  That's not the focus here, though.  Instead we have the introduction of X-23 to the team (she's a female clone of Wolverine.  Don't ask.), and a battle with the Purifiers, a group of militant religious mutant-haters.  Bendis gets good material out of X-23, and particularly her rapport with the young Scott Summers.  Not so much the religious fanatics, but those stories tend to be pretty one-note anyway.  The series is holding up quite well so far.  (I hate the new costumes, though.  So much uglier than the 1960s designs.)

Morning Phase by Beck: Like everyone I saw Kanye making a knob of himself at the Grammys, but it did have the positive effect of reminding me that Beck is a thing that exists.  His latest album is a mellow acoustic affair, with a lot of heartfelt, slightly melancholy tracks.  I can see why Kanye dissed it: it's an album for introspective middle-aged white people.  I liked it a lot.

Daredevil (2011 series) #1-21 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee: I'm revisiting this run of comics before I read Waid's final issues, and I feel pretty safe in saying that this is the best super-hero comic of the last five years.  Waid took the character back to his swashbuckling roots after a decade of unrelenting noirish misery, while never ignoring the many terrible traumas that exist in Matt Murdock's backstory.  The action is sharp and inventive, the emotional beats hit hard, and the art is crisp and sublime.  If you want to read some Daredevil before the TV series begins, this is the one.  (Oh, okay, there's also the Frank Miller runs.  And the Bendis run.  And Brubaker.  But I like this one the best.  It has Stilt-Man.)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Goals for 2015

Last year I made a list of goals that was, dare I say it, a little ambitious.  I was fresh off of self-publishing my first novel, full if vim and vigour and ready to take on everything life could throw at me.  Unfortunately, the one thing I wasn't ready to take on was myself, and my own tendencies toward laziness and defeatism.  As you can see, I didn't to so hot.

So this year I'm setting my sights a bit lower.  Basically, I just want to finish up all of the things I'm already working on.  Which means I get to make a list!  I do love a good list.

Goal 1: Finish The Lightless Labyrinth:  I'm already a good two-thirds of the way through the first draft, so I have a much more realistic shot at this than I did in 2014.  At the very least I'll be able to get the first draft done; whether I can publish it or not depends on how much rewriting I need to do.  So far it's turning out to be much tighter than Jack Manley was at a similar stage.

Goal 2: Get Ug and the Giant's Backyard republished: I'm not sure whether I've mentioned this before on the blog, but I had a children's picture book published through a small press.  (Okay, so it was a small press run through the school I attended, for which I was part of the editorial staff.  Nepotism is a hell of a thing.)  I did the writing and the illustrations, and I have all of the rights, so there's no reason I shouldn't get it back out there.  The main stumbling block is that I want it to be in colour this time around, which is a lot of extra work.

Goal 3: Maintain a regular blogging schedule:  I have a load of blogs on a variety of subjects: writing, computer games, gamebooks, Dungeons & Dragons, Marvel comics...  Anyone who has followed my blogging career will know that I am, at best, an erratic poster.  This year I'd like to keep up the pace a little better, and post to each of my blogs once a week.

So that's it.  Three goals, none of which are out of the realm of possibility (though that blogging one may be stretching things a bit).  Join me in 2016, when I once again recount my failures.

Marvel Year By Year: The Beginning - The introductory post of a new blogging project about the Marvel Universe.  It doesn't reveal what the blog's about just yet, but it does detail my first brush with Marvel.  I'm really looking forward to continuing with this one.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual part 51 - In this blog I'm reading through every D&D product in chronological order, and attempting to craft a cohesive game world using everything I find therein.  It's an exercise in folly, basically, but D&D nerds may enjoy it.


What I'm Watching
Resurrection season 2

What I'm Reading
Foundation's Edge by Isaac Asimov
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Daredevil by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin

What I'm Playing
Orthanc on a PLATO emulator
Crossy Road on my phone
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii

Friday, February 6, 2015

All The Things I Did: 6th February 2015

Here we go again, with all of the media I finished in the last week, ranked from worst to best:

WORST: Resurrection season 2, episode 1:  Now, technically this isn't a bad show.  It's a perfectly well-executed mix of small-town drama and government conspiracy, revolving around the premise of dead people returning to life.  It's decent, but it's exactly the sort of thing I dislike.  Mostly it involves miserable people standing around and talking about their emotions, and let's just say that's not something I go to for entertainment.  It's especially not something I ever wanted to see from Kurtwood Smith, aka That 70s Dad aka the villain from Robocop.  Still, my wife likes it, and I don't find it offensively bad.  For me, it's filler until Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead return.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs: This is the ninth Tarzan book by Burroughs, and it doesn't bring anything new to the table.  Like most of Burroughs' work it's plotted rather shambolically, though I must say it hangs together better than many of his other books.  The main story involves a group of ruthless treasure seekers who come to Africa with a Tarzan impersonator.  In typical Burroughs fashion there's a lengthy sequence in which Tarzan finds a hidden valley ruled by sentient gorillas and overthrows their society, and it has no bearing on the main storyline at all.  Still, despite its shortcomings its a diverting adventure yarn that doesn't outstay its welcome.  It's exactly the sort of unchallenging material that I find perfect for audiobooks.

X-Men: Battle of the Atom by Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Aaron, Brian Wood (writers) and Frank Cho, Stuart Immonen, Chris Bachalo (artists), among others: This story was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the X-Men in 2013, but in many ways it's decided to celebrate the worst aspects of the franchise.  The premise is pretty gonzo, but I'll try to outline it as simply as I can: the original X-Men have been brought forward from the past, which is causing damage to the timestream.  Two rival X-Men teams come from the future with opposing views on how to solve the problem, while the X-Men from the present are caught in the middle.  Not too hard to figure out the problem with this story, is it?  Surprisingly there are quite a lot of good character moments, and it begins well with the original X-Men on the run, but by the end it gets swamped by the sheer number of characters, many of whom only exist for this story.  The number of characters isn't the only problem, as the constant switching between writers and artists results in a jarring read at times.  That said, this is exactly the kind of story I love.  I didn't care for the execution so much, but the madcap scope of it is right in my wheelhouse.

WWE Raw episode 1,132: It's that rare gem, a really rather good episode of Raw.  The matches were mostly high quality, the storyline segments made sense, and there was nothing that left me shaking my head in disbelief.  It's a low bar to clear, but it's shocking how often the WWE fails to do just that.  Special props to Damien Sandow, for making me laugh simply by standing still.

All-New X-Men #1-15 by Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen and others:  These are the comics that set up the premise of Battle of the Atom (described above).  With the X-Men in an ideological split, the Beast decides to bring the original team from the past to show Cyclops the error of his ways.  What results is some quality interpersonal drama, as the original teenage X-Men react to all the terrible things that have happened to them over the course of five decades worth of comics, and everyone else reacts to having these kids around.  Bendis excels at this kind of stuff, even if I do find his pacing a little too slow at times.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

A Look Back On My Unrealistic Goals for 2014

I had some new content on Friday, but now it's back to the same-old same-old: ruminating on my failures.  I set some goals for last year, and now that I'm ramping up for 2015 it's time to look back and see how poorly I did.

Goal 1: Get Jack Manley and the Warlord Infinity onto Smashwords, and promote the thing.

I'm calling this half a success.  Jack Manley is on Smashwords - go and look! - but I didn't do any promotional work.  I have neither the time, the money nor the inclination.

Goal 2: Finish The Lightless Labyrinth.

Is this where I'm supposed to burst out laughing at myself?  No, I didn't finish the book, and I knew it was an unrealistic goal when I set it.  I got about two-thirds of the way through the first draft, though, so at least I made some progress.

Goal 3: Start Jack Manley and the Interchronal Deathmatch Tournament.

Once upon a time I had the grand idea to write a serialised Jack Manley novel, which would be released a chapter at a time for free, then collected later for cash money.  I've scrapped that idea, I think.  I'll still be writing the book, because I really like what I've got outlined, but I will probably release it all in one hit.

Goal 4: Release Volume 1 of a Marvel Comics Guidebook.

Aaaaaand NOPE.   Not even close.  I'm in the process of getting this up and running as a blogging project, though, so we'll see what happens.

Goal 5: Write every day.

I probably managed to write every third day or so, which is a marked improvement on my life to date.

Goal 6: Stop writing about being a lazy writer.

See the rest of this post.  How do you think I did?

So that's my last year as a writer summed up, I think.  Make no mistake, though, 2014 was probably the most productive year I've ever had.  It was only a failure by the standards I set for myself, and the standards of actual dedicated people.  I have the feeling I'll do even better in 2015; I'm nearing forty, and I'd like to become at least a mild success before I have to call myself middle-aged.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, part 50


What I'm Reading:
Tarzan and the Golden Lion by Edgar Rice Burroughs
All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen

What I'm Watching:
Guardians of the Galaxy

What I'm Playing:
WWE Supercard on my phone
Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on the Wii
Orthanc on a PLATO emulator