Robert’s #CBR5 Review 09: Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton

Just a Geek by Wil WheatonFor all the fandoms I follow and embrace, there are two large ones I have never been able to really get into. The first is Star Wars beyond the character design and Disney World ride. The second is Star Trek, which I enjoyed in the context of Futurama and Family Guy.

Wil Wheaton, for me, was that villain on The Guild that got his own show on Geek & Sundry playing tabletop games with other geeky celebrities. I was aware that he was connected to Star Trek and that his character wasn’t well liked (thanks, Family Guy). That was secondary to seeing a smart and funny actor having fun online.

Wheaton’s 2004 memoir Just a Geek is a combination of blog entries from wilwheaton.net (abbreviated WWDN) and narration connecting the stories. It tells the story of a man running away from his fame by any means necessary, even creating an alternate narrative of success spun out of half-truths and total fabrications.

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Robert’s #CBR5 Review #08: Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead

Succubus on Top by Richelle MeadThe second book in the Georgina Kincaid series by Richelle Mead takes the foundation of Succubus Blues and builds a strong and confident urban fantasy novel out of something far more labored and predictable. Mead avoids overplaying her hand by layering several plotlines together to disguise the various clues that add up to a very fun and rewarding read.

Georgina Kincaid, a succubus indebted to the forces of hell, is torn between her love for the mortal author Seth Mortensen and her duty and powers as a succubus. If she makes any intimate contact with the man she loves, she’ll sap away his lifespan and send him on the path to eternal damnation. If she tells him everything about her renewed efforts to condemn more souls, she might lose him forever. Of course this becomes a serious issue when her friends and coworkers begin to act irrationally and with heightened abilities. That’s also when the incubus she trained, Bastien, walks back into her life asking for help in the biggest target either has corrupted in centuries.

Richelle Mead improves upon the already enjoyable voice of Georgina Kincaid. The backstory–a succubus alive for over two millenia–allows Georgina to be far more knowledgeable and accomplished without automatically turning into a Mary Sue. Continue reading

Robert’s #CBR5 Review #07: White Trash Zombie Apocalypse by Diana Rowland

White Trash Zombie Apocalypse by Diana RowlandWhite Trash Zombie Apocalypse, the third book in Diana Rowland’s clever urban fantasy series about zombies who pass as human so long as they eat enough brains, shifts the series in a new direction. Angel Crawford, the former junkie turned zombie turned productive morgue worker turned zombie mob doll, is still recovering from the trauma of militarized zombie experiments. She begins to rely more on the zombie mob boss Pietro against the wishes of her boyfriend (son of Pietro) Marcus’ wishes. At least Pietro is willing to show her a little respect after the danger he inadvertently put her in. Something strange is going on during the filming of a zombie movie in town and Angel is more than willing to find out what’s happening for the good of her new zombie family.

Diana Rowland makes two huge changes in White Trash Zombie Apocalypse that change the premise of the series. First, she flips the intimidating zombie mob boss into a sympathetic father figure for Angel. It’s a radical but welcome shift in character that opens up far better narrative possibilities as the series goes on. Angel’s in with the mob now and she’s ready and willing to work with Pietro to reach both of their goals.

The second change is not as welcome. Continue reading

Robert’s #CBR5 Review #06: The Guild: The Official Companion

The book used for this review was provided by Titan Books.

Felicia Day has quietly become one of my biggest online inspirations. I greatly admire the media empire she has built around the Internet and geek culture. The largest factor in this success is her original web series The Guild, about a group of six online gamers forced to meet in real life when one character appears unannounced on game addict Codex’s doorstep.

The Guild: The Official CompanionNow, after six seasons and many well-deserved awards, The Guild takes another step into the real world with The Guild: The Official Companion. This book is a series of interviews with the cast, crew, and producers detailing the history of the show, casting, fan reaction, and spin-off projects that helped turn The Guild into a success. The interviews are woven into a chronological narrative exploring the development and growth of the show.

This is the smartest approach to take with a book like this for a web series. Felicia Day gets the largest portion of the book to herself since she created the series, wrote all the screenplays, and starred in the show. Producer Kim Evey and director of Seasons 2-5 Sean Becker fill in with a lot of the other details. Each major player is introduced with a full page dedicated to their role in the show. Then, their responses are edited into season, event, and side project descriptions to create a richer story about the series.

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Robert’s #CBR5 Review #05: Runaways Vol. 1: Pride & Joy by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona

Runaways Vol. 1: Pride & JoyImagine having a perfectly normal life as a teenager. Your parents provide for your every need and desire because of their immense wealth, but they also lay out strong boundaries for what you can and can’t do. You’re not spoiled because of the discipline but you are unable to appreciate what you have because of the level of control.

In Runaways, a comic series created by writer Brian K. Vaughn and penciler Adrian Alphona, six could-be perfectly content teenagers living the American dream see everything they thought they knew destroyed in one night. It turns out their benevolent, kind, charitable parents are all high-powered supervillains in a team called The Pride. The parents meet once a year to renegotiate their pact and prepare for their children’s ascension into the ranks at 18. When the six teens, ranging from 12 to 17, witness the end of the yearly ritual, they vow to take their parents down and make them pay for their crimes.

That’s before the teens even realize they all have superpowers. From super intelligence to telepathy, magical weapon casting to instinctive mastery of high tech weapons, the Runaways quickly realize the challenge they face. They’re brand new to their powers. Their parents have spent a lifetime honing the skills their children just discovered. The only advantage they teens have is receiving the strongest traits of a pair of supervillains, allowing their powers to blossom very quickly. Continue reading

Robert’s #CBR5 Review #04: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Another “oops, forgot to cross-post this review” from my blog. Only two months behind. It’s fine.

The trick to creating a successful dystopian novel is to convince the reader that the wild alternate future could occur. Margaret Atwood has done it three times now with the first two books in her Oryx and Crake trilogy and the modern sci-fi classic The Handmaid’s Tale. The novels are all meticulously researched, pulling from current events, culture, and science to connect to the present understanding of the world and society.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodIn the case of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood relies on historical research to drive the creation of the Republic of Gilead. Various governments and social structures are combined into a believable vision of a religious totalitarian regime where women have no power in their own lives. Atwood uses everything from the mythology of the Bible and actual military revolution to push a realistic worst case scenario to its uninterrupted conclusion.

The research helps make the novel believable. Research alone, however, cannot create a compelling read. The Handmaid’s Tale generates suspense by structuring the story like an upside down pyramid. We meet Offred (Of-Fred) after the government of the United States has been overthrown and turned into the Republic of Gilead. Offred recalls how the rights of women were taken away one by one until everyone who didn’t immediately flee the country was trapped within its borders.

The broad narrative of social revolution shifts to a slightly more focused slice of life story about a typical handmaid. Continue reading

Robert’s #CBR5 Review #03: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

Originally published at my blog months ago but not actually cross-posted here. Whoops.

Zombie by Joyce Carol OatesZombie by Joyce Carol Oates might be the most perfect horror novel ever written. It is a masterpiece of suspense that never tries to misdirect you. What you read is what you get and that’s what’s so terrifying about it.

Oates uses the Poe device of the self-proclaimed unreliable narrator to create a piece of Hitchcock-style suspense. We know the bomb is underneath the table and the narrator will not escape, but he doesn’t know that. He really believes his plans are not only foolproof but logical and just.

Quentin P. is a disturbed young man. He is already a registered sex offender for his previous attempts at sexual conquest. Quentin knows he likes teenage boys and will do anything within his power to create a perfect sex slave. He has a master plan that can’t possibly go wrong more than one time, right?

The genius of Zombie is Oates’ refusal to pull any punches. Continue reading