Friday, January 30, 2009

The Colorado Option: John, Part 1


The Colorado Option: hard-boiled, low down, dirty stories of broken men, last-ditch efforts and guttered-out dreams. This is one of those stories...

John, Part 1 by Hooper McFinney

Note: Contains adult content.


***

Dreams stumbled away, and last night's revelry took their place. Last night....

It was the only thing that kept him going.

The rain battered the window and leaked in around the frame, puddling under the sill. An idle hand slapped him awake, and a voice screeched for money, where was her money. They were all the same, he thought for the hundredth time.

Eyes stuck shut with sleep and debauchery, he reached over and fumbled on the nightstand for his wallet. He pulled out a fifty. At least, he hoped it was a fifty. Didn't matter - his was an endless well of wadded up bills.

"Here, take it." At least, he meant to say that. "Huh, tuk ih" oozed out instead from between cracked, bleeding lips. Hell of a way to start a morning.

Father John found the handcuff key, undid himself and got ready for mass.

~To be continued~

Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Colorado Option: Fool Me Once...


The Colorado Option: hard-boiled, low down, dirty stories of broken men, last-ditch efforts and guttered-out dreams. This is one of those stories...

Fool Me Once... by Buck Spidero

Warning: This depraved tale contains content intended for mature audiences.

***

I reclined in the driver’s seat of my ancient Impala. The neon sign across the street mocked me with its cheerfulness: Flagstaff Arms Apartments. It made me want to puke. I downed the last of the fifth of whiskey I’d picked up. It dulled the pain, but didn’t kill it. It still lurked inside; an itch I couldn’t scratch. Where was he?


Headlights cast a better light on the building as Rasdower’s Buick pulled into the lot. It definitely cracked my top five shittiest flophouses. I watched him walk to the front door from the street. After he was inside, I pulled into the parking lot and backed into a space a couple of doors down.

I wanted the car facing out in case I had to make a quick exit.

I took the elevator up to Rasdower’s floor. Should have taken the stairs, you broken-down, out-of-shape old man. I found his door and gave it a once-over. Not nearly as sturdy as something in a newer building, though newer buildings tend to not smell like piss. I briefly considered knocking before deciding to just kick it in. It didn’t put up much of a fight. One good kick and it flew open. I gave the room a quick look.

Empty.

Then, from the bathroom, a muffled “What the hell?”

I smiled as I headed for the hallway. Rasdower came out still pulling his pants up, and I slammed him against the doorframe, my forearm pressing against his throat.

“Spidero!” He sputtered, gasping for air. “What the fuck is this?”

I loosened my arm a bit. “Sorry, Rasdower. Couldn’t sleep. Thought I’d stop by for a chat.”

He took a swing at my head. I saw it coming but still caught part of it. Before he could take another I kneed him in the groin, followed by a punch to his kidney. He started to go down, and I turned him around, bending him over the sink. He kept struggling until I put my .38 special to the back of his head.

“I know what you did to Mary, Rasdower. Mary. That angel. Why did she have to suffer like that? We all know.”

“What’s it to you?”

I pressed the gun harder. Just get it over with. “Explain why I shouldn’t just kill you right now.”

“Fuck you!”

I cocked the hammer back. Shoot him! “Wrong answer.”

“You won’t do it. You don’t have the balls. Cops’ll be all over you.”

“They can try. I don’t exist in half the states in this country.”

“You won’t do it.”

I kicked his feet out from under him. His chin cracked on the cheap porcelain and he went down in a heap. I put the gun to his head again. “Let’s try this one more time. Were you going to cut and run once you screwed me over? Were you going to try what you tried in St. Louis?”

He coughed and spat out a tooth. “It’s not like that. Besides, you need me. You know what I can do, and you don’t have the time to find someone else.”

The problem was, the bastard was right. “You try to run, and you won’t make it fifty feet.” I slammed the gun into the side of his head, knocking him out.

I stood up and walked out of the apartment. The hallway was quiet; it didn’t seem like anyone was reacting to the scuffle. I took the stairs down, slowly, trying to calm my shattered nerves. Why do you do these things? Why do you hurt people like this? I made it outside before I started dry-heaving. Took a few deep breaths of the Arizona air and took out my phone. I dialed McFinney.

“Yeah?”

“Hoop, it’s Buck. Rasdower’s going to play ball”

"Glad to hear it. See you at the rendezvous.”

I hung up and headed for my car. Rasdower said he wouldn’t try anything, and after what I’d just put him through, I doubted he would. He'd come through. We wouldn't end up like Mary, who got a pager and her name on a clipboard. We weren't going to go out like that. The next time we dined at the Flagstaff Bar & Grille, we wouldn’t have to wait for a table.

Read on, faithful few!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Buck Reviews 24: Day 7, 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM

The following review was typed in real time.


A much better episode than last week. Lots happening, and we're building towards some good stuff that will probably close out the first eight hours plot-wise. Will Jack and Tony recover the CIP device? Will Henry bring his son's killers to justice? Can two crazy kids like Jack and Renee find love in this crazy mixed-up world?



Jack and the Fantastic Four [That being Tony (Human Torch), Renee (Invisible Woman), Bill (Mr. Fantastic), and Chloe (The Thing--okay, so it's not a perfect analogy).]

• Bill and Chloe arrive at the construction site and dig Renee up. She needs to be revived, but otherwise, she's unharmed. Bill explains the situation to her. She says they can trust Moss, but Bill won’t let her contact him.
• Revelations! Christopher Henderson missed Tony’s artery on purpose when he injected him with poison back in Season 5. Emerson’s job was to revive Tony to use him as a weapon against Jack. Emerson listened to Tony’s pain when Jack wouldn’t, and that’s what sealed the deal for his turning.
• Jack, Tony, and Emerson arrive back at the hideout. Not being a big fool, Emerson realizes what’s going on and pulls a gun on Jack. Tony shoots him. Kind of a shame he’s dead (Or just dying. Looks like Tony’s shot nicked him in the throat.). For a 24 villain who was only around for a few episodes, he seemed to have some depth to him.
• Jack and Tony are going to give Matobo to Dubaku in order to get the CIP device. Matobo’s wife trusts Jack (women always seem to; he's like James Bond that way) and says they’ll do it.
• Whoop, guess Emerson really is dead after all. And Tony’s pretty broken up about it. Seems the two really formed a brothers-in-arms bond over the last few years. In the end, will they be able to count on Tony?
• Bill, Chloe, and Renee arrive. Renee’s understandably pissed at Jack, what with the whole burying-her-alive thing and all. But he says it was necessary, and she never would have believed him if he’d tried to explalin. Chloe wires Matobo so they can track him. “Are you with the FBI?” he asks. “No, I’m a stay-at-home mom," she replies. Oh, Chloe. Speaking of which, how's Morris doing? Guess he didn't mind watching the little tyke while you came to D.C. and went commando.
• Jack and Tony hand the Matobos over and begin tracking them towards Dubaku's stronghold.


President Taylor

• Dubaku is tired of Taylor refusing to acquiesce to his demands. He wants to look at what planes are currently in the air over D.C.…
• Kanin says to pull troops back to appear that they’ll withdraw in an attempt to stave off a cyber attack. Again, Taylor refuses to give into terrorist demands.
• Dubaku calls Taylor and demands she withdraw the troops. He tells her to look out the window as two planes collide in mid-air (270 dead). If they don’t withdraw within the hour, more Americans will die.
• Taylor convenes the cabinet. With 1300 planes still in the air, the Sec. of State urges pulling the troops out of Africa. She refuses as long as there’s a chance they can retrieve Matobo. The Sec. of State resigns in protest. Taylor gives a pretty impassioned speech about why she will not give in to the terrorists, but it’s pretty obvious she’s not sure it’s the right choice.

Henry Taylor

• Traitorous Secret Service agent Gedge has prepped his murder/suicide as Samantha arrives home. Henry’s paralyzed and can’t warn her. He watches in horror as Gedge stabs her (being the murder half of the murder/suicide). Gedge places the knife in Henry’s hand for prints. After he turns to finish staging the scene, Henry discovers he can move his hand.
• Gedge gets ready to hang Henry from Samantha’s loft (this being the suicide portion of the murder/suicide, for those of you playing along at home) when Henry makes his move. They go tumbling over the railing and crash onto the dining room table. Henry manages to strangle Gedge, but still can’t move very much. He may have been injured in the fall.

Closing moments

• Dubaku is going to crash a plane into a plant near Kidron, OH. I used to live near there! I can't think of any heavy manufacturing in the area off-hand, but there is definitely some industry around those parts. And not only will they be killing blue-collar Americans, they’re going to kill a whole lot of Amish people in the process. You damned African terrorists! What did the Amish ever do to you?


Thoughts

Things are really moving briskly, and I'm pretty engaged in each of the subplots. Trouble is, the brisk pace makes me wonder if we'll end up in one of those periods 24 seems to fall into from time to time where we'll have a great denouemont, only to spend three or four episodes treading water before kicking it into high gear again. Still, the hints that Tony may stray to the dark side again, along with some of the other subplot material gives me hope. (All these references to Season 5...could Charles Logan still be alive and be involved? Did we ever find out definitively if he died in Season 6?) Here's hoping the writers maintain this pace throughout the remaining 18 hours.


-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Colorado Option: The Black-Eyed Demon


The Colorado Option: hard-boiled, low down, dirty stories of broken men, last-ditch efforts and guttered-out dreams. This is one of those stories...

The Black-Eyed Demon by Hooper McFinney

***

My beeper chirps through my hangover, and I know the day is ruined. It's an emergency notification: the monkey got out of the cage. God dammit. Why can't they tell you anything straightforward?

I slap a razor across my face to look respectable for the staff. You can hide a stench with some cologne and your broken shell of a body with a tweed coat, but the eyes. My eyes. Twin drill bits of grey-blue loss, boring into your soul.

You can't cover the mire at the heart of you with a pair of Ray-Bans.

Cinching up my tie, I hear the phone ring, a jarring bray that repeats and repeats until I give in and grumble something short of a curse.

"4987 Palm Sway Drive. SOC's already there." It's the familiar voice, the same one I've been slugging back booze with since before the days when I needed drink to make it through. To breathe.

"Who's on point?"

A laugh, like a coughing dog. "Who else? Rasdower."

I hang up the phone and hurricane out to the car, holstering the gun I ache to fire one last time, a single shot to find vengeance. It's for another day, one long coming and longer off. It's hard to kill a dead man twice.

But someday...I'm gonna try.

***

Blasting through the reds, I make it to the building, ground zero of this cockeyed venture.

"Ted, c'mere." Slamming my car door, I wave that walking slur, old Ted "Buckshot" Spidero, from the front door. He's got his uniform on, as crisp as a used condom. I smell gin. "What's it look like?"

"****ing staff are near gone-" he stumbles over the curb and recovers with a drunkard's grace. "Rasdower's waiting." He lurches, maybe throwing up a little in his mouth. Bringing up what, last night's liquid dinner? His pride?

His soul?

"Hell of a tie, McFinney," he sneers.

Spidero. He'll never get it.

We push through the slack-faced gapers and into the building. The walls - even here - are a mess, stains drying to that dull brown I know so well.

I'd seen a mess like this before. Zaire, back in '42. Ugly mother. Never thought I'd face the black-eyed demon again, not on my shores. Not on my watch. We built a cage, a four-by-four box of iron pride and bars of hubris. What wretched people we were. Not to suspect- but no. Regret is for those who have time.

And there's no time in Hell.

Hulking over some pointy-nosed pencil pusher is Rasdower. If a side of beef mounted a cement mixer, you might get Rasdower. Then again, you could end up with my second wife.

"You in charge?" I pull out a 100 and light it up. Pointy-nose scowls.

"Yes, I'm Mr. McGann and would you please extinguish that filth?" I chuckle as I stub the cigarette out in the muck underfoot. McGann grunts like a put-out tabby. "We don't know if he's still here, but we need to make this all go away before it gets out."

Creaking lower to the floor on knees that struggle with a handicap ramp, I examine the horror left behind by our target. The familiar whirls, the splatter's trajectory, the footprints...memories of Zaire come rushing back. I don't want to believe it. I saw him go down. Put him in that inhuman casket with my own two hands and we - all of us - brought it here. And for what? Our amusement. Nothing could come back from that.

"It's Johnny again, isn't it." Spidero's breathing heavier, checking his kit, making double-sure no surprise goes unanswered.

I push McGann behind me. Something - a scream? - echoes in the vents. "Get outside. Seal this place down." I hand him my jacket; where we're going, it can only get messy.

McGann hesitates.

"Man, are you dumb? Go!" He turns and squeaks his way to the door, slipping just once. With him out, I light another cigarette. Pull hard on the tar and tobacco and chemical trash. Get a little of that fire in me. I cough and blink back tears.

'Buckshot' hikes up his drooping, soiled pants. "Can't believe it. No ****ing way he's still kickin'. ****. Double ****." Spidero reaches into a pocket and pulls out a gun, checking the cartridges. Rasdower and I do the same, and we move on to face down the thunder.

Damn you, Johnny Two-Hawks. This ends today.

***

Two hours later and we're hip-deep in funk. The futility gets to Rasdower first. He kicks an empty can of paint across the utility room floor.

"He's not here, McFinney!" Over the rhythmic whump whump whump of the machinery, I can barely hear Rasdower's voice. "This mess - this damn crusade of yours - none of it's worth it. This is my last time cleaning up with you two. I'm going upstairs and getting out of here. You lunatics can handle-" He stops, cocking his head.

Spidero's face goes ashen and he raises a finger so grimy, so fouled that it looks like a well-chomped on cigar. "Over...**** ****-**** in my ****ing ***...over there."

I look to where he's pointing, a far shadowed corner of the room. The furnace. Tons of outdated iron works and tubing L.A.-hot to the touch. And beneath a low return, its vent clawed open, is Johnny.

Two pistols whip up quicker than a schoolboy at a strip club and we shoot our loads right at those soulless, animal eyes. The steel-jacketed rounds go high, our quarry ducking and scampering behind the bulk of the fiery heater.

Peaking around, he spots us and I can see his hand come up. He fires. Crying out, Rasdower goes down.

"Ted, dammit, circle round - cut him off. I'll try to help..." But my voice trails off as I see Rasdower rolling on the ground, moaning and clutching his face. It's his last time with us after all. Broken and beaten. No way for this man to go down, even if he lost the Roosevelt contract.

Faintly, I hear Ted yelling out a chain of profanity that winds to the ceiling and beyond, a tirade fit for Bacchus at his lowest. It ends with a crash and a thump.

Gripping my gun tighter, I realize it won't be enough. Not against Johnny. It took ten of us to corral him in Zaire. Ten men, two gone now. One never recovered. Boors, his name was Boors, and he has a daughter. Cute little chip of his wife. Well girlie, daddy ain't hugging you no more, not after Two-Hawks. And thinking of that drop of sunshine turned to rain I can't contain my rage. Hefting Rasdower's gun, I make sure one's in the chamber and make my move.

Shouting like the beasts of the jungle, a language Johnny can understand, I charge for the furnace, dodging another onslaught, passing Spidero's prone form on the ground, a broken crate lying around his head and a weighted net in his hand

"Johnny! Johnnyyyyy!!!" I dive forward, rolling under that open return vent and there he is. Staring at me. He smiles wide and slaps me hard across the face, drawing blood.

"This is for Mary, you son of a bitch!" I let loose with both barrels, each shot finding its way into Johnny's chest.

For a minute, seeing him stumble around, I almost feel sad. He knocks the tranquilizer darts off his chest, but the damage is done. He slumps to a knee, those powerful, hairy arms keeping him upright. One last time he pierces me with those eyes.

"Oo Oo Oo," he croaks. And then he's down, unconscious.

As I drag him back to the stairs I toe Spidero in the gut.

"We got him, Ted." There are tears streaming down my face. "We got that damn dirty little ape."

Rasdower's sitting up as I pass him, wiping feces off his face. And seeing Johnny Two-Hawks...he claps. The son of a bitch claps.

I've never been prouder to be a janitor for the Scholastic Organization of Cleaners than I am now. It was tough enough bagging this zoo escapee in Zaire, Florida, a few years back. I thought I'd killed the joy in him, saw that spark of enthusiasm die in his eyes as I stabbed the tranq dart into his neck and stuffed him in his cage.

I can see it will never be over, though, not for the two of us. The dance will continue, maybe not at this elementary school where he lives as mascot. Maybe it'll be out there in the neighborhoods of West Palm Beach or Jupiter or Orlando.

I am order to his chaos. Our fates our intertwined. But that's all for another day.

Now, I've got some monkey shit to clean up.


~Fin~



But wait - there's more! McFinney, Spidero, Rasdower and the rest will return in...The Colorado Option: Fresno Promises!


Read on, faithful few!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Buck Reviews 24: Day 7, 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM


The following review was typed in real time.



Not a truly eventful installment, but there were a few things worth talking about. So click through for the full post.


President Taylor/Henry Taylor


• Alison decides she is going to invade Sangala, regardless of Dubaku’s demands and her chief of staff's reservations.
• Henry’s Secret Service guard, Agent Gedge, says he knows someone who can unlock the data on the flash drive Samantha gave him last hour (The data that will prove son Roger didn’t commit suicide, and that he was onto to some dirty dealings between Sangala and people within the administration.). But surprise! Gedge is dirty (I knew it), and actually takes Henry to Samantha’s apartment, where he drugs the First Gentleman and prepares to stage what is probably going to be a murder/suicide, as a cohort is picking up Samantha at this very moment.

FBI


• Moss gets a visit from representatives of the Attorney General who want a word with Renee. Tanner’s lawyer has filed a complaint about her treatment of the prisoner. Moss, understandably, wants to protect Renee, but he’s also stonewalling the AG agents while he deals with the current situation. His continuing frustration is fun, as he finally shouts at the AG agent, “You’re really going to push this now, in the middle of an international crisis?” I half expected him to deck the smug AG guy.
• Sean’s wife’s plan was safely landed. There also seems to be something going on between him and a blond techie whose name I didn’t catch (Ah, a quick check of Wikipedia's 24 page tells me her name is Erica. It also says former Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce will return at some point this season, which is all sorts of awesome.). If one of them turns out to be the mole, I’m interested. If we’re throwing an inter-office affair into things, I could care less.

Jack
• Jack helps himself to some ammonia and bleach from the kitchen and gasses the Matobos out of their panic room. As they’re about to flee from the scene, Renee shows up, having obtained Jack and Tony’s location from her “questioning” of Tanner last hour. Emerson wants to just shoot her, but Jack and Tony talk him down from that, saying they need to know if anyone else at the FBI knows what she knows.
• Emerson’s superior calls him a bit later, after conferring with their FBI mole (we still don’t know who it is) and says that they’re clean. Renee didn’t get any more information from Tanner to pass on to her bosses, so just kill her. Emerson wants Jack to do it to continue to prove his loyalty to their group.
• They make a detour to an empty construction site. Jack walks Renee out of the truck. He manages to whisper to her “Just trust me and I’ll get you out of this alive.” He positions her perpendicular to the truck, and fires his gun just next to her head, creating the illusion that he’s executed her. She falls to the ground and Jack covers her with some plastic sheeting. But it’s not enough for Emerson. He wants her buried. Renee can only watch as Jack and Tony cover her with dirt and the clock silently records the end of the hour. (A silent clock is never good on 24. Please don’t be dead, Renee, because you're an interesting new character and you just might be Jack's soulmate. Granted, this second factor means you could likely end up insane or dead.)

Thoughts:
• Killing Renee this early would be a huge mistake, in my opinion. So despite the silent clock, I don’t think she’s dead. But to be honest, I did think for a minute that Jack might actually shoot her to maintain his cover, considering some of the things he’s done in the past.
• The change of venue has been nothing but a good thing for this show. Surrounding Jack with new characters and no CTU or Palmer presence (first time we’ve had a season that doesn’t have any member of the Palmer family involved) has helped remove a lot of the angst that was starting to bog the show down.
• Overall, this episode was a little light on “events.” Still, a lot happened, and all the plotlines are interesting, which is a little unusual this early into a season of 24. We normally get a B or C subplot that takes a while to ignite. This time, we’ve really hit the ground running.



-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Hooplah: Cover to Cover (A Literary 2008 Year in Review)

(We really just love using the phrase "Year in Review" in our posts. Expect 2009 Year in Review Previews to begin any day now!)

"The average American spends three minutes a day reading a book." -Dick Meyer, Why We Hate Us

I took in this sentence while racing against the clock, trying to complete a goal I've been after for a few years now: reading 52 books, cover to cover, in one year. Were Meyer's statistic to mean something to me, it'd be that I need to get out more.

As it stands, I defy the average with my love of reading. I'll tell you right now, I didn't finish Why We Hate Us in time, and can only say I finished 52 books during 2008, though the very first was started in late 2007.

And truthfully, two books were finished that I had started...oh...at least four years ago, if not more, but I didn't cross that 50% threshold, meaning I finished the majority in 2008, so I'd have cheated a little in counting them toward my goal.

But enough about what I didn't do, what I might've read or how sneakily I almost crossed the finish line. I still read thousands of pages and dozens of books, absorbing the full gamut of fiction's genre offerings and battling against the perception that non-fiction is for dry, old professors and grad students.

So read on, as we've been asking you to do since late 2007, and see what treasures (and trash) last year brought.

***

Figuring out what one read over the last year (or six months or week) can be difficult for some. As a highly organized reader (perhaps to make up for other organizational lackings), I track each book read on the bookmarks used. On the back of each bookmark, handmade from whatever random paper I have around (newspaper clipping, movie ticket, old baseball card, fridge post-it in the shape of a dog, etc.; if you want them, I'll make you some; if your friends want them, I promise a low price...), I jot down the title of the book I just finished, ten to a bookmark, with the ink used color-coded to the sort of book. Black ink = fiction; no grand literary value. Blue ink = fiction of literary value or non-fiction. Maybe 2009 will see a new color! (I'm a dork.)

I now have a handy record going back nearly six years. Can you remember what you read in the summer of 2005? Give me a few minutes and I can tell you, possibly to the week.

So in organizing this review, I've laid out the bookmarks affected and am overall happy with the material consumed. This list doesn't include comic book trades/collections or graphic novels; while many could be considered books (density, story structure, themes, pure length), I've got enough to review without bringing them into the mix.

Beginning with the last book started in 2007 (finished in 2008), here they are:



0. The Unburied by Charlies Palliser - I'll be brief, since this was technically an '07 book. An intriguing mystery set in the 19th century amid the scholarly world of a cathedral & its school, I'd recommend this to those who enjoy historical fiction and history in general. Much is to be said about the way it delves into our research in and impressions about the past.

1. Wicked by Gregory Maguire - I saw the musical version of the book on New Year's Eve 2007, with Mandy, Buck and his wife. This spurred both of us husbands to read the book our wives heartily enjoyed. For my part, I found it an excellent political satire, mixed with the "unknown" backstory of the witches of Oz. Just as good as everyone says, full of characters as realized as any "literary" fiction, it's turned into the first of a series (Son of a Witch; A Lion Among Men) that promises more hours of enjoyment. If you've seen the musical, you don't know half the story.

2. Congressional Anecdotes by Paul F. Bollers, Jr. - part of a series of anecdotal volumes dedicated to the US government, Congressional Anecdotes culls from over two hundred years of US political history, from the very first Congress to sometime in the early 90s, when this was published. An updated volume is sorely needed. These are stories, bits of gossip, confirmed rumor and, of coruse, anecdotes that've survived through the years because, in large part, you get a better idea of the character of the people we choose to lead us by their foibles, slip-ups, outrages and humor than any major speeches. You don't have to be a political junkie to enjoy these often-hilarious, always enlightening stories about those folks on the Hill.

3. True Grit by Charles Portis - seen the movie? Old John Wayne as the one-eyed Rooster Cogburn is a face seared into our collective memory, but the characters in this book come alive just as clearly as the best film. It's all about the narrator, a 14-yr-old girl, getting justice for the murder of her father; accompanying her is gruff US Marshall Rooster Cogburn. A western (and American) classic, take time to read this short novel that is best summed up by its title.

4. Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman - Also read by Buck (after my praise), Grossman's first novel is one of the best first novels I've read, and it's not the only one on this list. Switching between two narrators, the perennial-jailbird supervillain and the new, untested heroine, SIWBI manages to not just offer a tongue-in-cheek look at traditional comic book tropes, but also a crackling good story. The stories are simple: Dr. Impossible, supervillain, desires to conquer the world and, after breaking out of prison, sets to it; Fatale, new part-human/part-robot heroine, is asked to join the preeminent hero team and there her adventure (in part of self-discovery) begins. A humorous adventure yarn, I cannot recommend it enough. Very sharp writing.

5. Duma Key by Stephen King - the most recent novel by the most popular American novelist, this is a return to form for King, a horror story. Edgar loses an arm, gets divorced and moves to the Florida island Duma Key where, much to his surprise, he discovers he can paint. It might not sound riveting, but trust me when I say it is. King explores "phantom pain/sensation" to startling effect, providing first a ghost story (with a tinge of HP Lovecraft) that moves quickly to supernatural horror. Potentially the best horror novel King has written in years.

6. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill - the author's full name is Joe Hillstrom King, and yes, he is the son of #5's author. But we don't need to know that to enjoy this first novel, also a ghost story. As far as hauntings go, Hill knows the basics, how to get the chills going up your spine. If you have the cash, get this in paperback; if not, certainly a library read. The protagonist (aging rock star) is not always sympathetic (in fact isn't, for much of the book), but that doesn't matter when bad things are happening to him. A quick read for Halloween time.

7. Elantris by Brandon Sanderson - the best fantasy read in 2008 was not part of a sprawling epic or a revered classic. This first novel by Sanderson, the best first novel on the list, is a done-in-one fantasy that I tosses the familiar archetypes and stories right out the window. No Dark Lord to conquer, no elves, no wizened sorcerer leading a young farmer - this is the story of a prince who's been cursed (left for dead, but he refuses to say die); his betrothed (made a widow before she even met her prospective husband) left to fend for herself amid a scheming court; and a priest sent to convert the prince's country to the true faith, else it be put to the sword by his overlords. Sanderson was chosen to complete the late Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time epic (Jordan died writing the final, 12th, volume), and I picked up Elantris to see what the young gun was all about. Far from disappointed, I now purchase his novels in hardcover when the come out. In this economy. Without discount. That's the dedication I have to this amazing talent. If you were ever curious about fantasy as a genre, but were turned off by 1,000 page tomes or mammoth series, fear not: you can buy Elantris.

8. The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin - as a child of the Midwest, I love a good tale of inclement weather. Laskin here recounts the January 12, 1988, storm that killed over 500 souls, many of them schoolchildren trapped in single-room schools or trying to run home through the whiteout conditions and freezing temperatures. It is a tragic story, so don't expect a bunch of smiling faces, but some lived. And it's to remember the survivors and the dead that Laskin penned this well-researched account.

9. Mistborn I: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - the other book I picked up by Sanderson, The Final Empire is the first in a trilogy (just completed) that poses the question "What if the Dark Lord won?" Few fantasies have dealt with this concept as well as Sanderson, and the world he builds (along with a unique, metal-based magic system) is wholly realized and sound. I devoured this book in days. You can see how Sanderson improved his craft between this and Elantris, with tighter action and steadier pacing. Not to diminish his first work; both are the works of a great writer.

10. The Little Ice Age by Brian M. Fagan - Is Al Gore right? Are we in a global warming trend, or are we coming out of a little ice age that began some seven hundred years ago? Fagan's scholarly work is certainly for history buffs, and those interested in the environmental debate. It focuses far more on cultural impact, and there could've been a touch more on the eco-side of things, but the overall book works. A little dry at times.

11. Star Wars: Legacy of the Force II - Bloodlines by Karen Traviss -Star Wars holds a special place in my heart. I've read dozens of EU ("Expanded Universe" - stories beyond the movies) books and comics; they are what got me to read so many years ago. The "Legacy of the Force" series picks up over thirty years after the original movie, with original characters aging and the focus moving to their children. This series' main goal is to reintroduce the Sith as opposing agents to the Jedi, and to shake up the galactic order (hasn't that happened enough?). I read Betrayal, the first volume, in summer 2007. Good, not great; intriguing. I waited until I could read a larger chunk of the series (as evidenced below) and have mixed feelings. All of Karen Traviss' contributions were excellent explorations of secondary characters, the military and aspects not often touched on in the main Skywalker/Solo stories (like, families that fail). I can recommend her efforts, but not Denning's (Allston is always good for a yarn). Troy Denning's installments ruined the series for me. Most of you probably won't start a nine-book Star Wars series. The few who will should use the library or used book stores. It isn't worth full price. The promising elements (Han & Leia's son falling to the Dark Side, but for "teh greater good;" Boba Fett facing death and family; the Jedi order balancing ethics vs. governmental responsibility with Luke right in the middle) were never realized. Better I go through this than you.

12. SW: LotF III - Tempest by Troy Denning - shame on you Troy Denning! A competent author, I just don't think the man works in the Star Wars universe. His stories feel written for middle-aged women, specifically those gunning for Harlequin romances. He also plays over favorites with characters, not terrible in itself, but awful when you force everyone else to act out of character to justify your favorites' actions. Not good. Poor writing!

13. SW: LotF IV - Exile by Aaron Allston - he's a work horse, that Aaron Allston. He turns in competent writing with each of his installments in the series, burdened as he is by Denning's characters (Traviss ignores them). For good Allston Star Wars EU, check out the Wraith Squadron series.

14. Ghosts of the Fireground by Peter M. Leschak - it's dry like kindling, but unfortunately it rarely catches fire (horrible metaphor!). If you can get past the first 50 pages and into the actual firefighting (and the counterpoint story of the Great Peshtigo Fire, the best part of the whole book), it'll hold your attention. But this is a magazine article about Peshtigo ballooned into a self-important memoir.

15. SW: LotF V - Sacrifice by Karen Traviss - as always, great work, Karen.

16. No Heroes by Chris Offutt - this book has a stuffed possum on the cover. Buy it for that, stay for the Appalachian portrait of life at the turn of the 20th Century. Offutt's memoir is endearing and informative of his past, though suffers from a poor ending. But, until the last few pages (where's my epilogue?!), it's a keeper. His prose is clear and original in describing his early life in these hollows and on the ridges and coming "home" again to teach at Morehead State University, trying to "fit in" with a crowd he hadn't been a part of for 20 years. Running parallel is the story of his in-laws, telling their Holocaust survival story; the title is most significant with their tragic recollections. If you ever worked the Appalachian Service Project (you know who you are), it might be very informative about the people you're helping.

17. SW: LotF VI - Inferno by Troy Denning - boo!

18. The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy - I started this and got bored about twelve years ago. How young I was. Most of you know the story, about a renegade Russian defecting with his experimental sub (and officers). The book is known for introducing Clancy hero Jack Ryan, who has been the lead character almost without fail in all of Clancy's subsequent techno-military thrillers. It's also a first book! Another! While the jargon can get you, and the technical exposition is unnecessary at times, it's a lot tighter than it has any right to be. Rent the movie, enjoy it's brisk pace and suspense. Then read the book, and discover a master fiction writer developing his craft. (This is the first of a series of books I read this year that I had previously started and set aside. For this one, I began from page one again.)

19. SW: LotF VII - Fury by Aaron Allston - sort of yay.

20. The Size of Thoughts: Essays and Other Lumber by Nicholson Baker - okay, who here reads essays for fun? Anyone? Nicholson Baker is an essayist at heart, a humorist second and a fiction writer third. This collection covers the first two, including the massive exploration of the world "Lumber" and all its historical contexts (such as, lumber meaning the thoughts collecting dust in our head). This section is a researcher's dream, as he's scoured hundreds of sources to discover one word's curious past. The preceding essays, including one memorable work on the dying card-catalog system, are in the least quirky & well-written, if not also intellectual and humorous. A note: he's like Seinfeld, in that he chooses small things to write about, minutiae, and this can seem a waste of paper to some. I wouldn't give up the time I spent reading about movie projectors here for the world. Some great stuff. I started this one about four or so years ago, got a hundred pages in and stopped (that's about a third); finishing it felt good.

21. The Good Brother by Chris Offutt - this was originally a school read, and introduced me to Chris Offutt. I haven't always been a diligent student, and stopped after a few chapters, as I didn't need to finish it for a good grade. I went back and started over, happy that I did. Virgil's brother Boyd is murdered in rural Kentucky as part of a larger (but ultimately meaningless) kin feud; it cannot stand, but Virgil isn't the violent type. His choices (and eventual flight to Montana) spur a dynamic story that rightly won praise. However, the ending almost comes from left field, and may be a bit intense for the preceding 250+ pages, but this portrait of a man driven to murder to avenge his brother, and the ramifications that send him a thousand miles from home, has stuck with me. There's no doubt I'll check out Offutt's work again.

22. Shadow by Bob Woodward - started while Clinton was still in Office, this book looks at how all Presidents have lived in the shadow of Watergate, with everyone on the lookout for a scandal or smear. How this impacted each of the five subsequent Presidents depends on the man and the problem(s). Although it needs an update either through Clinton's full second term (nothing about his pardons) or into GW Bush's tenure, as it stands, it's a very evenhanded look at a political office fraught with stress, animosity and little relief. I can recommend it, for the political-minded among you (all you Political Hoedown readers), but it may be a little dry for the average Joe. Still, Clinton's chapters read like a mix between soap opera, farce and legal drama.

23. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson - technically not a novel, but a collection of short stories that tells a larger tale, it's held in some regard by literary historians. I found it more/less engaging, but it is dated in its writing style. But thinking back, I do want to recommend it, and I shall. It might not be extremely adventurous, but the themes of loneliness and despair - the desire of these small-town Ohioans to escape both - rise above the period and hold a timeless quality. It's American at a changing time, early 20th Century, the age of progress, innovation and upheaval still ahead. But these folks can't cope. All tell their stories to a young man who dreams of leaving, to become Something Different in a bigger world.

24. Fitzpatrick's War by Theodore Judson - best science fiction novel of the year; this one is amazing. I don't know if it's the style of writing, the characters or the setting (a few hundred years hence, with the world order completely turned on its head after mass riots, genocide, WMD-type attack, the elimination of the capacity to produce electricity, the return of steam power, and world war threatened at every turn); everything clicked for me. The novel's conceit is that it's a reprinting of the annotated autobiography of a controversial (and in academic circles, despised) former military and political leader, the right hand of the revered (and late) king/emperor/dictator, Fitzpatrick. Through his eyes, we see the young Fitzpatrick move from military academy and frivolity to take his hereditary place as head of the Yukon Confederacy, the world power at this point. From there, mass war (for the betterment of all) is waged, the tragedies that came before are revisited and we understand why the truths in this "autobiography" have been censored for so long. Much is taken from real history (Fitzpatrick is modeled after Alexander the Great; his military campaigns mirror Alexander's to a degree), altered to fit the story. In that, it underscores what we've always known: history repeats itself. At times grim and tragic, I was never disappointed by the narrative drive or the emotional core of this achievement.

25. Stick To Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain by Scott Adams - it's a (near) daily blog by Dilbert-writer/artist Scott Adams, reprinted in book form. So, that makes it by default funny, easy to read (with one or two page entries, the time commitment is loooow) and full of snark. You may not agree with every socio-cultural stance he takes, but I can assure you there'll be a few belly laughs to be had.

26. The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier - a great romance, wonderful speculative fiction, very introspective. I don't want to say much, but it deals with a plague, a city of the dead and (potentially) the last woman alive on earth, trekking across the Antarctic to find someone - anyone. The two narratives working off each other form a great dissertation on enduring memory. Now in paperback, and widely available due to great reviews, there is no excuse not to read this.

27. A Year at the Movies by Kevin Murphy - his task was to watch a movie a day for a full calendar year, not always as easy as it sounds. Kevin Murphy is best known as a writer and actor on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (he was Tom Servo) and this book is nothing else but a continued love note to the movies. He can be very pretentious at times, snobby even about what he considers to be "good cinema," but art is subjective. So on balance, good. I'd have liked more reviews of the movies he sees instead of asides or stories about how he saw them (which aren't always interesting). Why does he think this is great and that is trash?

28. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber - set in Victorian-era England, and featuring a cast as varied as it gets, this sprawling epic follows the life of the highly intelligent Sugar, a sought-after prostitute, and her rise from the gutter to high society. She takes up with the flaky, aimless William Rackham, a perfume baron whose own wife is full of infirmities both mental and physical (and mainly due to her isolated upbringing in prim Victorian Society) and sees her life change, not always for the best. Raucous, raunchy, insightful and a biting social satire, it "dares to go where...the works of Charles Dickens would not," to quote Amazon.com's review. While Dickens looked at the lower strata of society, you get the grittiest detail with Faber (and a caveat to gentle readers, we're dealing with hookers; it can get graphic). Dickens poked at the elite, but Faber stabs holes through them. It's also about 900+ pages long, so be prepared. What time you give it, it gives back in highly crafted story and exemplary writing.

29. The Brethren by John Grisham - another good legal thriller (featuring three crooked judges in jail, plotting a way to get out or get even) from a respected author. Widely considered one of his better books, and I won't disagree. A beach read for me.

30. The Black Echo by Michael Connelly - his first novel, and therefore the first appearance of his famous detective Harry Bosch, The Black Echo is a well-constructed murder mystery that balloons, as these things will, into a far larger plot. As it turns out, the murder victim is known to the wild card Det. Bosch, in fact was a former Vietnam tunnel rat who deserves more than he got. During the investigation, Bosch tries to unravel who would want to kill the man - making it look like an overdose - and what they could be after. The writing is fresh and eager; you can tell this is a "young" fiction writer (though Connelly was not exactly a kid when he wrote this) aiming to please and avoid sameness. Followed by...gosh, a dozen more books, roughly.

31. Hawke by Ted Bell - do you like action? Gun fights and lithe beauties? Secret agents and dastardly plots? This is an action super-secret agent movie in book form. A little trite at times, and the characters are hardly three-dimensional, but that's not the sort of book this is. It's light, entertaining fluff. Three sequels follow.

32. Killing Floor by Lee Child - Child's first Jack Reacher novel (and first novel); I read this on Buck's recommendation and there was no looking back! It's a 1st person narration, looking at a murder that leads to more sinister (and clever) scheme. Wrongly arrested Reacher, fresh from a career as a military policeman, has to navigate the "good old boys" small town south while trying to prove absolutely his innocence and find the killer, all without getting killed or sleeping alone...if you catch my drift. It's a bit hard-boiled, sometimes over-serious, but I have two more Reacher installments on my shelf to be read this year. A solid start.

33. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova - so...Dracula's real? And still alive?! That's the conceit, hinted at, of this astounding literary horror event. A woman tells of her and her father's exploits trying to follow the real-life trail of Vlad the Impaler, thought to be Dracula the immortal vampire. Far-fetched? In Kostova's hands, we get a thoroughly researched novel that crosses thousands of miles in eastern Europe, England, Spain and Turkey, all painstakingly described. In fact, the settings are as much characters as not. You can read it for the surface Search, or delve deeper into the notions of continuing violence and war, how we try to stop it and yet never seem to; or maybe you find an appreciation of history itself, the delicate string that adds depth and qualification to our modern lives. Whatever you choose to look for, still read the book (which is yet another first novel).

34. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - any edition of this short novel comes with a few short stories, FYI. The title tale, of an average man surviving a vampire apocalypse until he (supposedly) becomes that last man living, is quiet and terrifying. If you saw the movie, you missed the subtlety and crippling frustration that grips the main character; against the latter he fights every day. This is a survivor's story as much as about "vampires." And the ending, nothing like the movie, is truly chilling. The back-up short stories range from top-notch to forgettable. Matheson is prolific, especially with shorter work, so you're going to get some chaff with the wheat.

35. Rock On: An Office Power Ballad by Dan Kennedy - Kennedy is a humorist with the best of them. His self-deprecating musings carry all the snark and eye-rolling we've come to expect from the Not Exactly Greatest Generation, Gen X. In his second "memoir" (and I use that term loosely), he recounts his days at a fading record label working the Dream: he actually gets to meet the rockers, be a part of the music process, interact with the raw creativity...from behind his desk and at marketing meetings, and through the veil of management and product placement. Oh, and by "fading," I mean the label is about two steps from a buy-out or bankruptcy. So he picked the wrong time to join up. Bust a gut laughing as I did and get this slim volume.

36. America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It by Mark Steyn - while more serious in subject than Rock On, Steyn writes with no less humor. Addressing the spread of "Islamofacism" and Islam as a faith - and all the cultural, political and demographic shifts that entails - he posits that "Western Society" has turned the corner to extinction, or minority-status within its own countries. Only America, strangely immune to the siren song of the iman, hasn't shown a trend to Islamification. Now, whether you agree or not on the merit of this (demographically, the shift in Europe is real, with most countries' native populations not procreating at replacement levels, while Islamic immigrants are virtual baby factories), the book is very intriguing. It'll make you think and bring you smack dab in the middle of this ongoing and vital conversation.

37. City of Tiny Lights by Patrick Neate - it's a murder mystery told by a Pakistani ex-mujihadeen slacker detective set in London. It's funny, original and I'd even go so far as to say bold, in that it tackles Islamic extremism not from a political point-of-view, but from the street-level. And really, that's a side note to the overall story, the half-comedic struggle of the detective to Make Something of Himself for his Dad. To read the book, it helps to have a passing familiarity to British slang.

38. SW: LotF VIII - Revelation by Karen Traviss - my only regret when reading this was that I had to follow it up with a Denning book to finish the story. Other than that, Traviss has become a favorite author of mine.

39. SW: LotF IX - Invincible by Troy Denning - I have posted a review of this book. Read it, to be entertained. To summarize: it sucks hard, long and without shame. This is bad writing at its finest (worst?).

40. Devils on the Deep Blue Sea by Kristoffer A. Garrin - Raise your hand if you've 1) been on a cruise, 2) thought about going on a cruise or 3) watched "The Love Boat." Lots of hands! This book is for you, and everyone else. It's a rollicking history of the cruise boat industry (what we have now, post-WWII, not Titanic-era), spiritedly mixing fact and anecdote, personal history and boardroom battles and including all the warts, lawsuits and infractions along with the successes. Rarely gets dry (docked...ba-dum ching!) or muddled in the epic cast of real-life characters. And yes, if you are a fit, attractive (and legal) gal, your activities director wants to sleep with you.

41. Farewell, Summer by Ray Bradbury - this is a companion novel to Dandelion Wine and was originally the second half of that book. Where as the former deals with summer without end and the citizens of a small Illinois farm town north of Chicago (circa 1910), this volume brings the characters to autum and fall, with school approaching and, for the children, maturity. I'd read both books together for full affect; they really are parts 1 & 2 of a story, not separate books. Individually, adults (especially those moving through and past middle age), will get more out of this than kids.

42. 1912 by James Chace - this final book by the late Chace makes me want to hunt down everything else he's written. Following President William Howard Taft (R; lazily running for reelection), Woodrow Wilson (D; determined to snag victory), Teddy Roosevelt (Progressive/Bull Moose; bounding for the victory line with all the machismo he can muster) and Eugene Debs (Socialist; illuminating a fairer, less revolutionary view than his socialist successors), 1912 gives us the year-and-change campaign that changed American politics. First, it broke the stranglehold on the White House Republicans had enjoyed for most of the previous fifty years. Second, it is a stunning reminder that third parties can work, when backed by ideas and personality. Finally, it started the true liberal/conservative deathmatch that's been going on every since. Anyone with even the slightest interest in politics will find this tome priceless. You can also see that current President-Elect Obama borrows more from Republican/Progressive history from this time than Democratic.

43. The FairTax Book by Neal Boortz & John Linder - no one likes taxes, right? These guys don't. Linder's a Georgian Congressman who's been pushing a flat national sales tax for years. With Boortz, he's put together the best explanation for why such a tax is needed/would benefit the average guy/isn't a way to reward the Top 1%. With another round of tax cuts imminent, it's vital to understand this revenue stream for the government and where the money comes from. I urge you to check this out from your library (or buy it new or used) to at least get some more insight on another aspect of this debate. Regressive tax, flat tax, no tax - we all have heard the terms, but rarely understand the nature of each side.

44. Girl With Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace - Wallace, recently deceased (by his own hand), wrote with astonishing complexity and great wit. Here are presented a collection of early stories and a novella that remind us why he was considered one of the best writers of his generation. Not for the "light" reader; he can be funny, but he's also post-modern or whatever wacky tag you want to give such deconstructive work. Challenging? That might be better. But rewarding, too.

45. The Teammates by David Halberstam - a short book that covers sixty years of baseball history, seen through the friendship of four Red Sox: Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Peske, Bobby Doerr and the tempestuous Ted Williams. You don't have to love baseball to appreciate this story of four friends and the game they loved. It's short, so that helps.

46. Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley - funnier than the movie, with a similar story, read this if you like satire, poking fun at Washington DC and/or political correctness, good ficton or the bizarre nature of the smoking debate. It's one of his earliest novels and probably sharpest. For the movie-watchers: his son plays a smaller role, the kidnapping makes more sense and the main character's workplace is more than just a set. Nick Naylor is a "smokesman," the main PR guy for Big Tobacco's lobbying firm, and he's good at what he does. He can take most insults and turn them right back around with a smile on his face, but he'll admit to being rattled after an appearance on the Larry King Show when a caller threatens to kill him. A kidnapping a near-death experience only highlight his growing unease with his job, with what he is as a person.

47. The Inheritance by Samuel G. Freedman - following three families from the FDR-era through the 1994 mid-term election, we see the American political majority move from left to right. It's slow at times, but so is history. These stories serve as an example of how politics can both empower and enfeeble our great country. Ambitious for the "light" reader, with some dedication it can bring a greater understanding of the polarization facing our country. A decent follow-up to 1912.

48. Timeline by Michael Crichton - Crichton, like Grisham or King, is a master of popular fiction. This techno-thriller is a time-travel adventure/mystery/rescue, featuring wild scientific theory, medieval combat and just enough grounding in reality to make you think it might all be possible (as with most Crichton novels). I enjoyed it and recommend it; one of his bests. It's a shame that he passed away late last year, but we still have one more book to look forward to around mid-Year.

49. Sarum by Edward Rutherford - 1,000+ pages, dozens of characters, a ten thousand-year-long story, Stonehenge(!): This is Rutherford's first book, roughly the size five books by a normal author, but who cares? It's the sort of book you settle in to read for a month or two, preferably in winter and with lots of tea present. In Sarum, we follow five families over many generations, from the dim prehistoric hunter/gatherer years through the pagan Celtic times to Roman, medieval, Renaissance, revolution, and colonization finally to land in the mid-1980s. The binding tie for these families, at times friendly but often hostile to each other, is their location - the Sarum region in south-central England (which boasts Stonehenge). We follow their lives and those of their kin through the veil of time, as they work the land into farms, towns cities, etc. If you're a fan of James Michener, his mix of familial- and historical-epic entwined - I highly recommend this book. If you just like a ripping good story that will engross you each time you pick the book up ("I just read how many pages?!"), read this book.

50. The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler - hey, the last "first novel" in the list! Cussler is, thirty-four years after penning this adventure, a go-to name for action & treasure-huntin' fiction. The Mediterranean Caper introduces us to Dirk Pitt, hero of more than a dozen tales by Cussler (and more recently, his own son...Dirk Cussler). He's a hard man, but fair; not unwilling to slap a woman, but just as likely to bed her for her own good. Wait.... Ok, he's a little rough by today's standards, but this is a pulp novel and those archetypes are normal. Indiana Jones is comparable, and Dirk comes off by novel's end as a character you want to revisit. It's a by-the-numbers action mystery, trussed up with fresh characters and plenty of energy. A solid beginning for Dirk Pitt's adventures and Clive Cussler's blockbuster career.

51. Why Do Men Fall Asleep After Sex? by Mark Leyner and Billy Goldberg, MD - the follow-up to the informative and side-splitting Why Do Men Have Nipples?, this collection of mundane, bizarre and important questions about our health and bodies doesn't quite satisfy like the first volume, but for the price you can get it at used or new (bestsellers are cheap!), that's OK. The authors include a lot of IM discussions they had, describing the writing of this book and the comedy it entailed; that part could've been trimmed. But the questions are still oddly compelling in their simplicity and the answers satisfactory. Thus, I can say I got more out of it than not.

52. (or 51 1/2). Why We Hate Us by Dick Meyer - do you think the US is self-loathing? Do we despise our culture even as we feed it with our attention, or think our public figures are mockeries of good morals, yet can't get enough? What about our government and politics - do you sleep at night thinking they're all on the level, that everything is being done for the better good? Meyer looks at why there's a perception among many that the US is in the pooper - culturally, morally and politically. Ideas about community, pluralism, decency and shared responsibility permeate this not-overlong discourse. One critique: he should've spent more time on solutions than problems. Oh, but that's the end of the book, and I didn't finish it until many hours after the stroke of Midnight on Dec. 31, 2008. Ah well. I've loaned the book out once already, and have another few customers waiting for its return.


Almost made it.

I started the (relatively) short Why We Hate Us the evening of the 29th through the New Year, and just couldn't find time on the 30th and 31st to finish. Between traveling back from seeing the in-laws in OH (30th) and work & a New Year's Eve party (31st), it wasn't in the cards.

But I came close, and over the course of 2008 I read a number of great books, many purchased on a whim or read on recommendation. We don't always have to choose our reading list from the New York Times bestseller list or whatever Oprah fancies. Between the million-selling blockbuster and the (melo)dramatic memoir are the foundations of good literature, the vast unsung catalog that supports libraries, bookstores and readers like me. As you can see, I am not opposed to the popular, but also do not let myself be dictated to by BookScan's weekly numbers.

2009 sees me reading C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, a series I have yet to read, in a wonderful boxed edition of small paperbacks from the 70s that Mandy got for me two Christmases (?) ago. Next on the shelf? The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury; Stephen Lawhead's Song of Albion trilogy; Devil's Cape by Rob Rogers; Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan; The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton by Fawn Brodie; Maps and Legends by Michael Chabon; City of Pearl by Karen Traviss (something good came out of "Legacy of the Force!"); Civility and Integrity by Stephen L. Carter; and quite literally hundreds more.

I hope you enjoyed following me over the last year's worth of reading. Love of the printed word is a passion I enjoy sharing with everyone I meet; you readers are no different.

So I release you! Print this out and head to the bookstore - your Barnes and Nobles, Borders, Books-a-Millions, Andersons, Brent's; Half-Priced, Frugal Muse, Myopic Books, etc. Amble up and down the aisles as you pick an armload of books that threatens to rob you of the mortgage payment. And if that's an issue, everyone that reads this has access to a local library, still the best way for the prolific reader not to become the destitute, well-read vagrant.

An added treat from all of this: I will begin reviewing the books I read, in clumps of ten (per bookmark, remember). If I get time, I'll go back and see what good reads lurk under the stones of previous years.

Until next time.

-Hooper

For many great book reviews, check out Bookgasm: Reading Material to Get Excited About.




Read on, faithful few!

Buckshot: Farewell, Khan and Number 6.

Two men who created iconic science fiction characters, in addition to their many other fine performances.


Ricardo Montalban, 1920-2009


Wrath of Khan is not just the best Star Trek film, it's one of the great science fiction films of all time.


Patrick McGoohan, 1928-2009


I am, sadly, only now discovering The Prisoner, thanks to AMC featuring every episode on their website. It's a fascinating show, and truly ahead of its time.

-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Hooplah Reviews "Star Wars: Legacy of the Force - Invincible"


The Star Wars Expanded Universe is my security blanket.

Seventeen years ago, when Timothy Zahn released the first EU novel (or what we know as the EU), I was a poor reader at best, uninterested in anything but those old kid Indiana Jones books. My mom and dad got Heir to the Empire and blah blah blah great reader loves books English major.

It was the books and not the prequels that got me to keep returning to a galaxy far, far away. Through the long Bantam years to the turbulent Del Rey series, I've kept the faith with few doubts that at the end, the adventure of these immortalized characters will always keep me coming back.

Alas, alas...

I didn't lose faith after The Crystal Star, because the weirdness was bad, but not awful, and it stands as a poor SW novel, but not a poor novel. Likewise, the narrative standstill that was Dark Journey didn't stop me from finishing New Jedi Order; it was a bump in the road. Planet of Twilight was a bad novel and a bad SW novel, but just one story amid dozens more.

But Invincible, the final book of a nine-book series, might just be the killing doubt...at least for a while. Star Wars is an addiction, and one bad hit isn't going to keep me from picking it up again.

So to the review of this dreck.

For the overall ranking, I give it a 2.5/10. Factor that in as you will; I know it doesn't affect the overall that much.

The book was not well assembled. The main criticism - and it is a harsh one - is that Invincible was cobbled together as more of an outline than an actual book. Hastily written, rushed to press, editorially mandated - whatever the reason, the finished product is not good. The eight books that came before it are not ignored, but set aside, as are the numerous stories and characters mentioned. Denning did a bad job of wrapping up an eight-book series. He instead wrote a quick third of a book that sorely needed the meatier other part to succeed.

***

My first problem (and this starts a list) with his writing is the humor. Some have written it's great gallows humor, but it's not. It's regular humor written into tense spots to give the appearance of black humor, but not the context, the awareness. Much like how endless sight gags can ruin a good movie, these sort of jokes break you out of the "vivid and continuous dream" that is a work of fiction. But I have other issues, and this is just the first and least offensive.

***

As I mentioned before, this is the last of eight books. It is forced to carry the weight of eight books' worth of contained story, as well as a through-line that ties it all together. In this case, we have Jacen Solo's decent to the dark side, overthrow from within of the Galactic Alliance to bring order through dominance, attempt to reestablish a Sith Rule-of-Two order, and the attempt to stand against this tide of evil that threatens once again to engulf the galaxy. That's all right. We know it's a retread of the Prequel Trilogy with a different ending (Kenobi killing Anakin, instead of just assuming he died), but that doesn't mean we have to rush to the finish line.

And in the rush, critical story and character beats are left hanging: what happens to Niathal, the Mandalorians, the citizens of any of the major worlds affected, Lando, the Korriban Sith, etc.? We touch on these briefly or not at all in the last book. Boba Fett and his people are used just because Denning was forced to, probably because Karen Traviss made them so prominent. But what about Niathal or the Michael Stackpole-helmed characters from the X-Wing books? What about Lando?!

I'm not saying we need a Lord of the Rings style hundred-page conclusion. It's not that sort of series. What we're left with, however, is unsatisfying and abrupt, like Denning got the barest pounded out before he absolutely had to send in the manuscript.

***

Talking about other characters for a minute, what happened to characterization? Maybe it was the poor attempt at gallows humor that made Han and Leia seem mis-written. I know it's his dislike or unfamiliarity with the Fett family of characters that made their scene unbearable. But Luke? Ben? Jacen and Jaina? None of them felt like the characters we had read before.

Ben was a cardboard cutout of his Revelation character, absent the new skills and understanding he was learning, missing anything but a need to be a plot device and an after school special.

Luke is a nebulous character, written differently in almost every book. Here, his utilitarian politicking separates all humanity from his actions, erases all trace of justice from the Jedi order.

Jaina I have not liked since the NJO started and made her a brash ace pilot Han rip-off. So it was with surprise that I found myself enjoying her scenes as written by Traviss and Aaron Allston; she was being allowed to grow. That was all ruined by a hamfisted attempt to mesh the set pieces she needed to participate in with her Denning characterization and her Traviss Mando-trained one. Gone are the lessons from the latter, though she mentions them enough in her head. Maybe it was the whole concept of the asteroid (and later Anakin Solo) insertion that rubbed me wrong, but I just couldn't imagine Fett-trained Jaina getting into those tactical messes. She fought well, in her brief, jumbled fight scenes with Jacen.

And Jacen! He lost focus as a character here, left to suffer an ignored Skywalker-trademark limb-lopping that resonated not at all, shackled with a poorly-chosen apprentice (wasn't her chocie foreshadowed in Inferno by Denning?) and a sudden lack of grand strategy. Where is Sith Battle Meditation? Speaking of powers, where the hell does the shatterpoint ability come from? It's a shameless attempt to insert Prequel Trilogy-EU into post-Return of the Jedi-EU and it fails. I hope no one mentions it again. The character of Jacen was a tragic one, but here, I'm not sure what I was reading, and I certainly didn't get a tragic read. The Shakespearean built-up was erased for a few Batman-like black-caped glimpses, some shoddy cut scenes and again, lackluster, jumbled fights.

***

Star Wars hinges on it's sense of the hero, the recognition of a true, driving force for goodness in the galaxy.

Where is it? Is Jacen's influence so all-pervasive that in less than a year's time he's able to spread an inky cloud of mistrust and anger through all living beings? Personally, I think it was stretched to the breaking how much evil he could inject into society. But since society as a whole was ignored in the closing chapter, I don't think it matters.

***

In a series reflection, I think the political and military origins of the second civil war were ok, but not too stellar. If the conflict were allowed a slower boil - a cold war with a few sparks here and there - spy missions, suicide runs, assassinations, the occasional capital ship skirmish - over the first three or four books, not really breaking out until Jacen also broke out into his role as (co-)head of the GA, there would've been a better parallel. Let the galaxy burn when he rises to the stage, but don't ignore it after he's come up. His ascension ended the tension, the strife, and made it a background affair.

By Invincible, there was no GA or Confederation except as words used to describe something not important to finishing this damn story.

***

Setting up Daala as the new Chief of State was a bold move, one not without its precedent, but she should've been introduced before Revelation. Placing Fel at the head of the Empire was just dumb. There is little diplomatic or military precedent for it, and certainly better ways to write in that his family name becomes associated with "emperor" a hundred years down the line. Maybe, Daala should've been placed as head of a new Empire, with Fel a co-Regent of some sort or a prime minister in place of the Moff council. New characters could be brought up to lead the GA, perhaps as a triumvirate, until special elections were held. REALISM. It all smacked of forced set-up.

***

The dialogue was tin-eared and the quality you'd expect from middling fanfic.

I also object to virtually all of the expletive-placeholders they had, including the Denning favorite "borked." It's a blatant political reference, furthering a smear campaign two decades old that is best left to the denigrating politics of yesteryear. It has no place in Star Wars and out of all the issues with this book most threw me out of the story by reminding me I was reading as story.

***

I think overall what misses the mark for me is just the overall lack: lack of page count for the narrative necessity, lack of a convincing plot, lack of narrative closure (though as we all know, you don't have to shut the door to or conclude a storyline to bring closure to its characters), lack of series-awareness, lack of editorial oversight that let something so obviously deficient see publication as a hardcover. I could go on.

This book ruined the series for me. I can look back at Allston's entries and, while not as good as past work, come away satisfied. Betrayal was a great, simmering start. In Karen Traviss I've found an author that brings a fresh, clear voice to Star Wars uncluttered with Original Trilogy romance but not forgetting the mythic qualities of it all. I'll get her books in the future.

I do not see myself getting Fate of the Jedi, unless the reviews of the new author's and Denning's contributions are bouncing-off-the-wall excellent. Denning best not be concluding the series, or it's a deal breaker. I won't buy any more of his solo works in hardcover or possibly new. Until this, I haven't considered getting SW books used, but he doesn't make me want to risk the few bucks on such a potential letdown.

This was that bad, people. Zekk and Isolder killed off because Denning couldn't figure out how to write them better, or further their stories; Fett punished so harshly despite the few glimmers of distant, deathbed hope offered in Revelation; the broader theatre of war ignored for a few hours' glimpse at action; total ignorance of the galaxy-wide civil war; bad dialogue, bad jokes, bad structure-

***

I must interrupt with another criticism. The structure, the plot itself, was faulty. If this was an outline fleshed into a thin novel, how did the outline get approved? Everything felt dropped in without connection, as thought we needed to get a limb cut off of Jacen and Ben captured and Jaina rattled and Luke more haggard and emotionally sterilized and Tenel Ka here and Moffs there and some shadowy Hapan nonsense wedged in because because because - it's too much. Too much reliance on plot devices, on characters essentially throwing their hands up and going "Whatever the hell I'm doing that doesn't make sense, I don't care. It must be part of a Plan."

Return of the Jedi has Luke deciding on a course of action once he realizes Vader is over Endor. He will get his people to safety, not tell them anything (except Leia), get captured and hope for his father's redemption. So Luke drives a chunk of characters around, perhaps subtly manipulating things in the Force - Han, Leia and the strike team; Vader, and by extension, the Emperor and his attention - all so he can get to the point of giving his father a choice to save the galaxy.

The same thing is attempted here. Luke is playing chess master again, wielding characters around, but imperfectly. It would've been enough for him to tell Jaina, "I've clouded Caedus' vision of the future. Go to Coruscant, or wherever the heck Jacen Solo is. Hunt him down like you've been trained. Bring the war to the end. We'll be praying for you." What does he do instead but fight Jacen using the bodies of friends, family and strangers as weapons and that feels wrong for him to do, and wrong in the context of the story that Revelation set up.

***

I won't go on more. The EU is still my security blanket, a welcome friend when all other fiction seems written by angsty English majors looking to tell me What Went Wrong, because in a tapestry so large, sewn by so many hands, one can ignore the brown muddling stitches on the side that form the words "Troy Denning Hates You."

Invincible: 2.5/10 - given that much because I found some good qualities amid the sludge.

-Hooper

Read on, faithful few!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Buck Reviews 24: Day 7, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

The following post was typed in real time.


Now that's what I'm talkin' about. Things really kicked into gear last night, as more was revealed about Tony's role in the crisis and Jack made some hard choices. I like where this is going.

Much more after the jump.

The best way to recap a show like 24 is probably to break it down by subplots and do it that way. So let's try that, shall we?

Jack/Tony

* We start out with Jack questioning Tony. He can't believe how far his old friend has fallen. Tony says they're not that different, and brings up how crappy Jack's life is. A dead wife slain by his former lover (Terri), a daughter that wants nothing to do with him (Kim), and a girlfriend who was tortured and had her mind broken by the Chinese in an effort to protect him (Audrey). Jack loses it and starts to choke Tony, demanding to know where the CIP device is (That's what they're calling the module doohickey Latham whipped up last night. I missed exactly what CIP stands for. Regardless, looks like it's the MacGuffin for the first chunk of the season.)

* Tony gurgles out two words, "Deep Sky," and Jack recognizes it: It's an old CTU emergency code for a specific phone number. When Jack dials the number, he's connected with none other than former CTU director (and my favorite 24 supporting character) Bill Buchanan. When Bill finds out Tony's been arrested, he tells Jack he'll call him back in ten minutes with more info. After he hangs up, we see that Bill's not alone: Chloe's there too! She questions whether Jack will help them get Tony back into deep cover (A-ha! So he's not really a terrorist! Kind of a shame though, since such a radical character change was really shaking things up.).

* Bill tells Jack there's a faction inside the government aiding the Juma regime, and may have ties as deep as inside the president's cabinet. Tony was supposed to stay near the module to keep it safe, but now that plan's gone to hell. Looks like Jack's going to have to break Tony out of federal custody, going rogue...again.

* Jack wants to bring in Renee, and tells Bill they can trust her. Bill argues against it, so Jack settles for choking her into unconsciousness. With an able assist from Chloe, who hacks into the security system of the federal building, Jack and Tony bust out and make for Bill's hideout. (In the midst of things, Jack hotwires a car and drives it off the second floor of the parking garage. Way to keep the crazy alive, Jack.) Jack apologizes to Tony for nearly snapping his neck during the interrogation.

* We find out that Tony was dead for nearly ten minutes. Emerson had been watching Tony, thinking he could turn him, and paid someone at CTU to revive him so they could use him. And in his anger (and remorse over Michelle's death), Tony did turn. He worked with Emerson for 3 years until the CIP device was built. At this point he decided the bad guys had gone too far and contacted Bill.

* The plan is for Tony to bring jack into Emerson's organization under the reasoning that he's also bitter towards the government, and wants to avoid jail time. Jack proves his resolve to Emerson (mostly by almost killing two of his men), and he gains the villain's confidence. Emerson's plan is to kidnap Matobo, the president of Sangala, who has been meeting with President Taylor about how to best regain control of his country. It's a dicey situation, and Bill's willing to let Matobo die in order to find Juma's right-hand man, Dubaku, and get the CIP device back. Jack, Tony, and Emerson storm Matobo's compound and he flees to a panic room.


President Taylor

* Dubaku sends his demands to the president: Troops out of Africa or they'll start crashing planes for real.

* President Taylor gives Moss (Renee's commanding officer) a verbal smackdown for letting Tony escape. They have less than two hours to withdraw their troops and meet Dubaku's deadline. She's worried she can't appear weak this soon into her term.

* Matobo won't help Taylor stop the invasion He wants his country back. Chief of Staff Kanin recommends postponing the invasion.


The late First Son, Roger Taylor

* Kanin tells Henry that First Son Roger was about to be investigated by the SEC, and that's why he committed suicide.

* Roger's ex says he was murdered after finding a connection between the financial firm he worked for and Juma's organization. This ties in to some things we saw in November's Redemption.


Renee Walker/FBI

* Janice (Garofalo) initially suspects Sean, one of the other techs, of being the intelligence leak. Turns out his wife is on a plane, and he's trying to make sure she's all right given the threats Dubaku has made. Sean ends up misrepresenting Moss by impersonating him to get his wife's plan moved up in the landing queue. The review at TV Squad pointed out (and rightly so) that Sean's subplot is basically the same thing Sylar Adam Kaufman went through in Season 3, when his sister was in one of the quarantined zones.

* Renee and Janice go to the hospital to question Tanner (the sniper that took out Schecter last night) and Renee goes over the edge, nearly killing him. But she gets the info she wants. I was going to say she's She-Jack, but I like TV Squad's nickname for her better: Renee is Jill Bauer.

Thoughts:

I was initially turned off to the idea that Tony was on the side of the angels, as I thought making him a villain was a good change in status quo. But this works, and I like that he was truly a villain, at least for a short time. And it's nice to see Bill and Chloe again. I like the idea of this new CTU: A quartet of old friends who have ended up as sort of a guerilla group to root out a corrupt group within the government. Season 5 dealt with Jack uncovering a lot of corruption, and it was one of (if not the) best seasons of this show.

Again, I really like the character of Renee Walker, and I suspect it won't be too long before she (and possibly Janice) are working with Jack and his crew. Their characters are too good to waste them as obstacles for Jack to overcome.

Things are shaping up nicely for Day 7. I'm looking forward to seeing where we go from here.


-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Buck Reviews 24: Day 7, 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM

The following post was typed in real time.


The highly anticipated seventh season of 24 got underway last night. And what could be better for our country during these trying times than to watch Jack Bauer running around our nation's capital beating the snot out of people?

I’ve been a fan of the show from the start, and am going to attempt to recap and review each episode this season. I can’t guarantee reviews will be posted the very next morning, but I can guarantee they’ll be up before the next installment.

So how did season 7 start? Fairly low-key, actually; more of a slow burn. And that’s fine with me. And honestly, when season 6 started with Jack tearing a man's throat out with his teeth (which out-crazies Swayze's glorious throat-ripping in Roadhouse) and part of L.A. getting nuked, how do you top it?

Considering the bad taste season 6 left in most fans’ mouths, this was probably the best way to kick things off.


We open, as seasons of 24 usually do, with a glimpse of the villains as they kidnap Dr. Phlox Michael Latham off the streets of Washington D.C. Latham was the lead designer of Homeland Security’s new nationwide firewall project, and the men in black hats have nefarious plans for him.

Meanwhile, our hero, Jack Bauer, is also in Washington, having recently arrived following the events of November’s 24: Redemption prequel movie. Jack is testifying before the U.S. Senate about his…how do I put this delicately…overly-enthusiastic approach towards questioning suspects. He’s just given a speech to Red Forman Sen. Blaine Meyer about the fact that he feels no remorse for his actions given that they helped save American lives when FBI Agent Renee Walker interrupts the hearings. Seems she needs Jack’s help on a matter of national security.

We soon learn that a domestic terror cell is behind Latham’s kidnapping, and that they’ve been stealing technology to have him build a device that will let them infiltrate the national firewall. They want Jack because a surveillance camera at one of the thefts captured one of the terrorists: former CTU agent (and former dead person) Tony Almeida.

Jack can’t believe Tony’s still alive (And neither can I at the moment. I’ll buy the producers’ reasoning of “We always have the on-screen clock go silent when a major character dies, and it wasn’t silent during Tony’s Season 5 death scene,” but there’d better be a decent explanation coming, because I’m pretty sure the last time we saw Tony he was being zipped into a body bag.) Jack agrees to help Walker track down Tony and his associates, though he clings to the hope that Tony is working some sort of inside job to take down the terrorists.

I’ll just hit the major story beats from this point on, along with comments:

• Jack and Renee go to question a man Jack and Tony used to get illegal items under-the-table when they were working CTU ops. Before they can get much info out of him, a sniper takes him out. They give chase, and manage to trap him in the building he shot from. Walker says Tony must have been watching the thief; Jack argues that it’s more likely there’s an inside man in her office that told Tony where they were going. (Because it just wouldn’t be 24 without a traitor or two.) Jack turns out to be right, as the traitor lets the shooter go during a search of the building. Jack spots the shooter due to his wearing different shoes than the rest of the feds, and he and Walker give chase.

• The conflict in Sangala that was set up in Redemption is heating up, and new President Allison Taylor (First a black president, now a woman. Say what you will about this show; it’s equal-opportunity.) is preparing to send in U.S. troops to stop the ethnic cleansing by General Benjamin Juma.

• Tony and his crew use Latham’s device to pull a Die Hard 2 cause a near-collision of two planes as they land at JFK. He tells the air traffic controllers it was merely a demonstration, and their demands will soon be made.

• First Gentleman Andre Linoge Henry Taylor is (unbeknownst to his wife) running an investigation into the death of their son, who died sometime between the events of Redemption and now. It was ruled a suicide, but Henry refuses to believe it. Given that this is 24, where nothing is coincidence, and that the son knew some people who were involved in the Sangala conflict, it was likely murder.

• Tony is not the head of the organization, as we were led to believe at first. Methos from Highlander A man named Emerson shows up and takes Latham’s device, and in turn delivers it to a representative of General Juma. Ah, it all starts to come together…

• Jack and Renee trail the shooter to Tony’s hideout. A firefight breaks out and Tony makes a break for it. Jack tries to shoot him but can’t. After some fisticuffs, Jack takes Tony down.

Thoughts on Season 7 so far:

• I like that we’re done with Los Angeles and that CTU has been disbanded. The show was ready for something new.

• I like Renee Walker. Mostly because I think she may be as crazy as Jack. It’s also nice to see Jack with a partner again, something we haven’t seen since Chase Edmunds in Season 3. Jack’s been too lone wolf since then; with Walker being responsible for him, he’s a pit bull on a leash, and it’s a nice change of pace.

• Surprisingly, I like Janeane Garofalo as Walker’s version of Chloe O'Brian (even though I know we’ll see Chloe at some point this season).

• President Taylor’s got a pair on her, and Cherry Jones does a nice job with the role so far.

• Okay, I know there’s a suspension of disbelief inherent with the show’s “real-time” format, but Latham got that device put together way too fast.

• Didn’t expect Tony to get captured so early in the day. Way to surprise me, show.

The 4-hour premiere continues tonight, so I should have more up sometime Tuesday.

-Buck

Read on, faithful few!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Buckshot Reviews "New Avengers/Transformers: Man & Machine"


Summer 2007. A little film called Transformers is ruling the box office and Marvel Comics and IDW Publishing decide to strike while the iron is hot: A four-issue miniseries combining two of their hottest properties.

And thus, we were given New Avengers/Transformers: Man & Machine.

Being a lifelong Transformers fan, I was interested when the series was announced, but as I was giving up buying single issues at the time, I didn't purchase it. I recently picked it up from my local library, eager to see how it turned out.

And by the hammer of Thor, is this thing awful.

We open with a quartet of Avengers (Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Luke Cage, reflecting the team’s pre-Civil War lineup) infiltrating the nation of Latveria in an effort to determine why the country is sending airstrikes into its neighbor, Symkaria. Except something’s wrong (well, besides two fictional European nations teetering on the brink of war). Something is causing our heroes to act very aggressively towards each other. Even Captain America, who is normally the very picture of calm and collected in the fact of danger, is on the verge of opening a can of whoopass on his teammates.

We soon learn that the amped-up aggression is due to a brain-altering device created by Latveria’s ruler, the villainous Dr. Doom. The device is now in the hands of the Decepticons, who are using it to goad the nations of the world into all-out war. I’m going to assume Megatron’s plan is to somehow harvest the energies unleashed by a nuclear war, because it’s never explained why they stole the device from Doom.

The Decepticons kidnap Spider-Man when the Avengers stumble across their location, and…discover his irradiated blood will enhance their power. Look, I’m all for comic book superscience, but they hook Spider-Man up to a machine, take samples of his blood, somehow harness the radiation present in said blood, and then juice themselves with it. Sound stupid? It is!

While all this is going on, the Avengers (who have been joined by Iron Man, Falcon and Ms. Marvel) have been pushed outside the Decepticon stronghold and are joined by the heroic Autobots. Still under the influence of the Aggress-O-Matic, Captain America promptly tells his fellow heroes to annihilate them. Wackiness ensues. The Autobots fend off this attack and manage to calm down the heroes. The two groups join forces and take the battle to Megatron.

And here’s where I give away the ending: They win, Megatron gets his ass handed to him and the Decepticons flee Earth. I tell you all of this because there is no reason why you should read this.

Here’s the best part of the entire mess:



There. If you see it on the shelf of your local bookstore or library, take a minute to look at the very nice cover artwork by Jim Cheung, and then put the book down, knowing you’ve seen the only part of it that has any value.

More complaints? I thought you’d never ask!

The series was written by Stuart Moore. He’s not a veteran writer of either group of characters, and it shows. Characterization is off all across the board, and the dialogue is wretched. I mean, Spider-Man’s known for his bad puns, but this is just…painful.

Logic is also thrown out the window. Iron Man has conveniently heard rumors of giant alien robots hiding among us, so he decided to build a Transformer-sized version of his armor, just in case he ran across them. Exactly why this was a good idea is not explained.

And what is Dr. Doom’s motivation throughout the whole ordeal? If you can figure it out, please let me know, because he's all over the map in this. He serves no real purpose, story-wise, and I suspect he's only here so that the story has both a Transformers villain and a Marvel villain. First he’s pissed at Megatron for stealing his tech, and leaves to broker a cease-fire with Symkaria. Then he’s back in the fortress, working with the Decepticons. Later, he turns on them again. When asked by Spider-Man whose side he’s on, he replies, “Doom does not need to explain his actions.” An appropriate response, since I'm not sure even Doom knows what the hell he's doing.

And is this supposed to be in continuity? Marvel’s said it takes place between the first and second story arcs of New Avengers, which I suppose it could (But if it does, where’s Spider-Woman?). But it doesn’t seem to jive with what I’ve read of IDW’s new Transformers continuity. There is a bit of characterization with Ramjet, a minor Decepticon character, that seems to match up with his IDW Spotlight issue, but other than that, it seemed like it could have been an out-of-continuity story.

The art side is almost as bad. Tyler Kirkham turns in passable work, but you have to question decisions he makes (and possibly wonder how much time he was given to finish the project). Transformers go from robot mode to vehicle mode back to robot mode in the space of three sequential panels, even if all they’re doing is standing around talking. Size scale is an issue as well, with Autobots and Decepticons going from towering over the Avengers, to being only slightly larger than them, and back again. The only bit of art that really stands out is a splash page of Spider-Man webbing up Megatron, in an homage to the cover of Transformers #3 from 1984. I searched the interwebs, but couldn't find a scan of the page, so enjoy the 1984 cover:



So much like Hooper’s opinion regarding Spider-Man: One More Day, if you must read New Avengers/Transformers, find it at your local library. You needn’t spend hard-earned money on something like this.

If you want to read a good Avengers or Transformers story, Buck recommends:
Marvel Adventures Avengers Vol. 1: Heroes Assembled
Transformers: Infiltration



-Buck

Read on, faithful few!