Nimona – 5/5 Stars
I really do love this book a lot. It’s so full of charm and joy and fun. It FEELS whimsical at times, and I generally do like whimsy, but it’s a much more tightly controlled and structured narrative than whimsy would suggest. I have owned three copies of this book and have had three copies get “borrowed” by students and never returned.
I feel like everyone knows what the book is, but a quick recap. We are in a far-off magical land that among other things is controlled by a good (evil) corporation and an evil (good) villain. One day while doing evil villain things Nimona, a fairly normal-looking red-headed girl, pops up and offers to be his assistant. Things progress from there and we quickly learn that the world and Nimona are a lot more than meets the eye.
This particular reading comes from the audiobook, and given that this is a graphic novel, it’s interesting how this changes things. For one, no pictures. I only listened to this. I’ve read it a few times so the art in general, and several panels in particular were pretty readily accessible to me, memory-wise. The voice-acting was great, and because it had a full cast and was treated like a play (and even read visual clues and the like) the whole thing was great. It would be a worthy audiobook to buy because it has a LOT of replay value.
The Armies of the Ones I Love – Ken Liu – 3/5 Stars
One of the hardest things I think a speculative fiction writer has to figure out is how to represent what a contemporary character or culture knows about the past in a post-apocalyptic story. Some of the best take it headling like Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow or various Ursula Le Guin, Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird, and especially Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz. In video games, sometimes that question is answered with either a foot in each world like in The Last of Us series or Far Cry: New Dawn, each of which handles it incredibly well. The Road works this way too, and obviously The Walking Dead. This story functions more like the video Horizon: Zero Dawn (and maybe is a little too close to the ways in which that video game tells the story and builds it world). The characters here have sketches from the past, but the most of it is lost to them. The resulting gaps mean a caught-between state where one can’t look solely to the future, because of a lingering sense of loss about the past. This is an interesting remnant perhaps of humanity’s own arrogance about our world, the absolute fear about having to start over. It’s something that’s interesting because history is full of cultures and civilizations that were just completely annihilated in one way or another, or even just died out more slowly, and had to rebuild, start over, or disappear completely. And while those civilizations are lost to us, some of them represent periods of time much longer than what I think is a fair representation of modern culture — post-industrial revolution. So this story spends most of its time in this caught between state with about a 90% footing in the future (or present) and only 10% in the past.
Miscellaneous 0125 – Berrie George – 2/5 Stars
An Amazon original play about two people who find themselves caught together unravelling mysteries and puzzles in the world around them, and about them. I often think about the conceits of mystery writing, science fiction, and adventure writing/movies. It’s something that kind of plagues our lives in some ways. Whether it’s spending my childhood watching movies like Goonies, Back to the Future, Indiana Jones, or The Explorers, there’s this easily held/developed belief that something in your life will take on an adventure. Obviously for some people that does happen, but honest stories about these kinds of adventures (and I think even genre movies and books are picking up on this more) helps us understand that such adventures are fraught with danger, and with danger usually comes violence, and of course trauma. This play steps into that realm a little, but less so with adding trauma into the mix, but using adventure to sort through the traumas in our lives and how they limit us in various ways.
Another funny thing that actually does make a lot more sense as an adult is where two people who’ve barely spent any time together in a movie “fall in love” by the end. That always felt so far-fetched as a kid, and of course as an adult, I learned that maybe, just maybe they weren’t so much falling in love, so much as decided to have sex, which they don’t usually explain in those movies.
Fashionably Undead – Meg Cabot – 1/5 Stars
This is some of mass writing event I think, because the “Twitterverse” (a truly horrid place, and even more horrid word) is credited on this one. The whole thing I kept thinking about how twitter was likely solicited in the writing here is how “and then” it feels throughout. It’s a zombie fighting story where our hero is working in her modeling agency when zombies attack, but instead of regular zombies it turns out to be models who are zombies. The joke here becomes about how “zombie-like” models are. Anyway, she joins forces with the hot new guy and the less hot other girl and she learns that her spit (where’s she part vampire) can be used to cure zombies. They have to go get the magical serum from Karl Lagerfeld and then go kill Coco Chanel.
So why is it so bad? Well for one, mass writing events like a lot of similar events are probably fun to be a part of, but not so fun to hear the results. So the plot is so arbitrary and the writing so perfunctory it’s very limited. The bad part is that the story falls into some gross places. For one, the misogyny of the whole concept is gross. And worse, there’s a part where the main character has to kiss Coco Chanel, and it’s described “gross on so many levels” — dead, zombie — that’s two, how more levels before it’s homophobic?
The Zeta Family – Gretchen Enders – 3/5 Stars
Another Amazon Original, again like an audioplay, written by Gretchen Enders, who is a writer and producer for WandaVision among other things. A writer looking for a story goes to where she’s found out a cult has formed. She plans to infiltrate the cult and expose it from the inside. She’s a bit too much of a goof and a screwup to really pull it off of course. Worse, her life is a mess and she begins to fall in with it. Luckily for her the cult seems harmless for the most and is full of earnest interesting people. The cult itself is on a big farm in the middle of nowhere and centers around Zeta Doug, played by Kevin Nealon, who seems to receive incoming transmissions and report on them. Obviously not everything is what it seems.
This playlet is really entertaining and clever. It has a real “Maniac Mansion” feel to it at times with off-beat humor and other things, and the performances are solid throughout. It’s one of the more worthwhile Amazon Originals I’ve read in a while that is in this format.
Temporary – Hilary Leichter – 3/5 Stars
We are treated to a series of jobs in a bizarre take on the working world (bizarre like maybe a little George Saunders, but a lot of Donald Barthelme and Ben Marcus). Don’t look for this one to have a salient “point” to it though as there’s a ton of irreverence and absurdity going on here, and less of an incisive stab at the modern world. It’s not dada, but it’s also not satire really. This short novel is sometimes a blast, and sometimes deeply weird. It’s funny too, which I don’t always find novels all that funny.
Escape from Virtual Island – Jon Lutz – 2/5 Stars
This is another Audible brought to you this time by half the cast of 30 Rock and big chunks of Parks and Rec. It’s an R-rated affair, but I will come back to that. This production is presented as a long radio show (4.5 hours in 30 minute episodes) and is about a theme park island in which guests can experience intense, immersive virtual reality simulations. It’s 2038, by the way, and the show is presented as a murder investigation in which the park’s owner, played by Paul Rudd, is being grilled by an international tribunal. Additional voices here by Amber Ruffin, Scott Adsit, Paula Pell, Jane Krakowski, Jason Sudeikis, Jack Brayer, and a few other familiar voices. The show is written by Jon Lutz, of Lutz fame.
The tone of the show is very inconsistent throughout, it streaks from earnest and sentimental to farcical and outlandish. The writing can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be satire, screwball, or light and fun, while also at times being maudlin and other sappy feelings. The jokes are either obvious and direct or absurd. The absurd ones land better, but the whole thing is over all pretty weak.
The Fool Who Thought too Much – Ishmael Reed – 2/5 Stars
This is a fable written by Ishmael Reed and involves a fool, living in a kingdom nearing a great upheaval. The fool is looking to move to the castle and be in line to possibly take over the highest rank of court jester, but is leery of the dangers therein. The kingdom is on the cusp of possible revolution (it’s kind of the time of the French Revolution, but also entirely fantasy) and the encroaching ideas of the Enlightenment threaten to destroy the traditional ways of the kingdom. If you’ve read Ishmael Reed much, there’s nothing much new here in terms of form. Mythos and fable being spun up into a story, mixed with contemporary history and politics and a few landing jabs on things that annoy Ishmael Reed. Nothing is sacred, and nothing is safe, but as is too often the case, nothing much is said either. The ways in which this works is that it’s trying to work along classic lines, but the contemporary references threaten it, but don’t sink it. The relatively emptiness of the form itself is less safe.
Bedtime Stories for Cynics – Various – 2/5 Stars
I guess I read this one and really started thinking about how I feel about the Millennial (but often paying Gen X actors and writers) middle-browness of Podcasts in general, but Audible Originals and their ilk in particular. The other day I was like, ok what’s new on Audible that I could listen to for free and not have to think much about….oh, a sponsored interview with Sting. Cool.
So this Audible production has that exact same quality. It’s not even that funny! Though sometimes it is. Having a parody of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day taking place on Hitler’s last day and told from a minor officer at least shows promise. But then having retreads of retreads of retreads of fake fairy tales and fables told with cheap jokes is well, blegh. I hope someone enjoyed this.