Sunday, 25 November 2012


Been a while since the last post. Several reasons: I've been busy; I haven't been well; I'm splitting up from my wife; I'm in the process of buying a house; I couldn't get in the mood. I'm forcing myself to do this one even though it's easy as it's mostly already written. I did have plans for: an overview of the two DVDs and the official book of the London 2012 Olympics; a run through of books I've read, am reading, and am waiting to read; ditto for DVDs.

Why do I keep buying Grateful Dead albums?

 I'm certainly not a Deadhead; a Deadhead being the accepted name for die-hard fans of the band and who, if they can afford, buy every single (an inappropriate word given that most of their releases are multi-volume live sets) thing issued. I most certainly do not. I doubt if I own more than a quarter of their live output. True, I also have the two massive box sets of their official major label releases (with lots of extra tracks) but that doesn't make me a Deadhead. I most certainly have not nor have I any intention of buying any of the massive live sets (like the complete Europe 72 concerts or the one from which this collection is culled). But equally I can't deny that I'm a big fan and they are my favourite band.

I'd like to propose another class of GD fan called: (and ripping of shamelessly from Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead -I'm also a horror movie buff) The Deadite. The Deadite is an enthusiastic GD fan but not obsessively so. They're someone like, well, me who had to have this compilation but not the massive set from which it's compiled.

And, boy, am I glad I did. Clocking it at around 79 minutes on each of the two discs, you couldn't possibly get more for your money, and a reasonable price it is too. Later period Dead isn't as fashionable as their 70's heydays but this set goes some way to correcting the image of later period as somehow inferior. Let me tell, om these discs, the band are on fire. They are as tight and as sharp as I've ever heard them. Maybe it's the production or better quality drugs, I don't know. What I do know is that, because it's a well chosen compilation, there isn't a dud track here. You could even use it as a introduction to someone who's never heard the Dead before.

No question, this is one of their best live releases ever. 

 First off, I write this as a long time reader of SF and Fantasy novels, and of super-hero comics/graphic novels/whatever, and comics in general and review all of them regularly, often here on Amazon. Turning my head from the screen I can look at my bookshelves filled with dozens of super-hero graphic novels. Okay, credentials established, herewith the point of this review. Super-heroes don't work as prose fiction. Qualification: I'm talking about the costumed super-heroes who live in a common universe of the like of those established by DC and Marvel. You can have what are effectively non-costumed super-heroes disguised as, say magic users and it will work -see my recent review of Hard Magic- but mainstream costumed super-heroics don't.

They can, just about and albeit watered down, work on TV (Smallville and the recent Arrow), and work very well on film but even there it helps a lot if the director is Joss Whedon. But where they work perfectly is the place that they came from -comics. In comics the stylised dynamic art creates a convincing hyper-reality that transcends the essential silliness of the concept. Comics were made for super-heroes and it's their natural home.

But prose without pictures isn't. I've read a number of novels which attempt to transcribe costumed super-heroes from their home into another format and, with one glorious exception, they don't work. And Seven Wonders isn't the exception.

I can't go into too much detail because I'm assuming a few of you will be buying this book so I'll have to comment in more general terms as I don't want to write any form of spoilers. In the Californian city of San Ventura lives the world's last super-villain -The Cowl- and his nemeses, the superhero team known as Seven Wonders -probably because the wonder is why they can never catch him. The our hero suddenly discovers he's developing super-powers and battles the Cowl who attempts to rob a bank where he's cuing up for cash and defeats him. What follows is a multi-viewpoint story in which, if you can't guess most of the surprises, twists and turns, you haven't been reading comics (or any fiction) lately.

And what also follows is why the book doesn't work. The author hasn't attempted to create a prose form which describes super-hero battles, and other super-hero tropes, that actually works. "Avengers assemble!" works fine as a battle cry in a comic in big dynamic lettering and shouted out by Captain America but is just silly in text- "Seven Wonders, unite!" when spoken by a character we know little about. The descriptions of super-hero fights are ploddingly mundane without any accompanying images. But to be honest, the rest of the prose is competent at best and the real story, when we finally get to it, just isn't very interesting.

In short:it just doesn't work.

To be fair there are three pages of ringing endorsements from numerous people whose names I recognise and all of them are in the comics industry, most of them being comics writers, so I suppose they would say that, wouldn't they?

And the one glorious exception to super-heroes in prose -it's the Wild Cards series, a shared world created by George R R Martin (Games of Thrones) a few years ago with the help of many other talented writers. Try and get the original series but avoid a more recent attempt to revive it. 

(NB. Since writing the last half of the final sentence I've discovered there have been three more Wild Cards titles since the unnamed two which didn't impress me and I've ordered all three.)

 Promising start to a tough alternate magical mystery history series.

Despite the cover, it isn't hard-boiled fantasy but good secret society vs bad secret society. It's also more of an ensemble character piece with frequent shifts of viewpoint between the various characters. Despite the emphasis being on magic -it exists and an individual can (supposedly) only have one magical power- it reads to me more like secret societies of superheroes.

Whatever. Basically history has been changed by the existence of people with magical/super powers and public reaction has varied. But that's just the background. The story is the recruitment of (really, really, really) tough guy Jake Sullivan to the cause of the good guys magical secret society and their hidden war with the bad guys magical secret society. It's about 20% too long but it still kept me reading and I'll be back for the sequel. 

Pleasantly surprised.

While not without its flaws, this is actually quite a good reworking of the old Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of A Princess Of Mars, providing a semi-rational explanation of how Carter gets to Mars in the first place -which is more than old ERB did.

On the acting side is solid work from hero Taylor Kitsch who is outshone by a feisty Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, with solid support from the supporting cast including Dominic West, Ciaran Hinds, and Mark Strong. The special effects are convincing, especially the four-armed Tharks led by Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe). The airships are good to look at and it usually moves along at a fair pace.

I can't understand the downpour of heavy criticism the film engendered as it's a solid and entertaining genre piece. Sadly this means there won't be any sequels or other movies set in exotic alien landscapes with two-fisted lantern-jawed blaster-wielding heroes, beautiful mysterious heroines and ancient and deadly secrets from the heady days of Pulp SF and written (at its best) by Leigh Brackett. Alas.

A likeable subtitled Spanish horror-comedy.

This is a low budget pleasant time-passer in which the humour comes out of the characters rather than being forced, which is always a good thing. To save money, rather than film the prologue which sets the scene, we get an illustrated one which resembles racy comic book art and is quite effective.

Once that's over, the film itself is set in and around an isolated and cursed Spanish village. Removing the curse (a wolfman) depends on our hero getting eaten on a specific day by the wolfman and if he isn't a worse curse descends on the village. Needless to say, this happens and the English title sort of gives away any surprise as to its nature. The gore is moderate and often undercut by humour. The monster is quite good and accurately depicted on the 3-D cover and a very effective 3-D cover at that.

Approach it with moderate expectations and a couple of beers and you'll have a reasonably good time. 

 I have mixed feelings about this book as there is a lot to like about it but I also have one major gripe.

The good stuff includes an interesting premise which sets this apart from other Urban Fantasy (of which I've been reading a lot lately) as three mismatched coppers (police to our overseas friends) and a researcher are forced together to use police procedures to investigate a crime involving the supernatural. It's more complicated than that but I do try to avoid spoilers. It also involves a major football club (West Ham) and Anne Boleyn, and a really vile villain who commits certain acts which are truly shocking and horrifying to even the most hardened reader. It builds well to a climax and sets the scene for a sequel.

Cornell is a competent writer of growing experience but one who lacks a talent able to deliver the groin-gripping prose of, say, the current maestra Kate Griffin.

My gripe is that the characters are never vivid or distinctive enough, particularly in the beginning and it took me a while to get any sort of handle on them and I never really did with one. Eventually the sheer power of the story does overcome this and it kept me reading right to the end but it's still a misjudgment on my part. Or maybe it's just me.

Worth reading at a rating of three and half stars for fans of the genre but be prepared to persevere at first. 

Post Script.

There's another couple of CDs I'd like to have reviewed but I haven't listened to them enough to do them justice (though I know I like them a lot). They are: Emeli Sande's Our Version of Events (special edition) and Neil Young's Psychedelic Pill and you can't get much more diverse than that. The Young ( with Crazy Horse) CD begins with a 27 minute long track which is longer than some famous artists entire albums.

No comments: