narfna’s #CBR5 Review #57: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

side jobsSide Jobs is a collection of short stories and novellas published by Jim Butcher in various anthologies. Each story follows Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only Wizard for Hire, on smaller cases in between books (and one case that is from Thomas’s POV). The only exception is the last story, which is new for the collection, and takes place about two hours after the ending to Changes (and made me want to go out and read Ghost Story immediately . . . sidenote, this novella may also be indirectly responsible for me accidentally becoming a criminal).

I think it was very considerate of Butcher to publish these in one place so I don’t have to track them down myself (either that or his publisher wanted money and he gets my good will as a side bargain). I really resent when authors publish things in anthologies because it’s so hard for me to keep track of everything, which I realize is a horrible and stupid reaction, but I don’t care.

Most of these stories are fun little side trips (hence the name) that wouldn’t have fit elsewhere in the books (some are a bit shoehorned in, as there are thematic requirements to some of these anthologies, i.e. the star-crossed lovers one with Murphy and Harry). And the very first story of the collection is a bit shaky, not that I’ll hold it against it, as it was the very first bit of the Dresden Files Butcher ever wrote, and as he admits in the intro to the story, it’s at best an amateur effort and only included for funsies basically. That’s probably my favorite part of the collection, actually, is those introductions in front of each story. Well, that and the last story, which is told from Murphy’s POV.

If you’re a Dresden Files fan, this is a must read. Don’t pick this up as an intro to the series. You will be lost and/or not care. Or maybe I’m lying and I just want you to read things in order like a normal person. Wow, this review is weirdly angry. I think I need a snack or something. TOODLES.

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Tyburn Blossom’s #CBR 5 Review #11: Aberrations, edited by Jeremy C. Shipp

http://boldbookblog.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/aberrations.jpgI don’t remember buying this book. I suspect I stumbled across it during a time when it was free on Kindle, and it waited until I finished off one book and wasn’t in a place where I could look for another.

It’s been a few weeks since I read this, but a quick glance through the table of contents has refreshed my memory of most of the stories. The good thing and the bad thing about anthologies is the potential for extremely scattered results. It helps to find an editor whose preferences align well with your own, but even that’s never a guarantee.

These stories cover a lot of ground–among others, a hired assassin meets the mothman, a fighting couple runs afoul of bigfoot, there’s the requisite zombie story, and one very strange bus trip.

So how were they?

Read all about it at The Everyday Alchemy Lab.

Shucks Mahoney’s #CBRV Review #31: The Tango Collection edited by Bernard Caleo

A collection of over 50 Australian & New Zealand comics creamed from the alternative romance anthology Tango, this is a interesting gathering of talents. Uneven, to be sure, and widely variable in tone, but that’s the nature of the beast. Editor Caleo’s intention, to revive the idea of the romance comic, is an idea with plenty of meat on it, and these artists certainly chow down. One of the best sections is the ‘Love & Food’ chapter at the end. It’s full of all sorts of broken hearts, eaten hearts, lonely hearts, and inky dark hearts. Some of the art is superb, and some of the writing touching – or enjoyably daft, or surreal enough to make you think. There were only a handful of works here that made me want to chase down more of the creator’s stuff, but I can’t fault the spiffy black and white presentation and abundance of selection.

Tyburn Blossom’s #CBR 5 Review #9: Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

Steampunk-Lincoln-steampunk-1038417_600_750I love anthologies.

I live alone, and my house has two bedrooms. The extra bedroom could have been a guest room, but instead it’s full of bookshelves. An entire bookshelf is filled with nothing but anthologies, and I’ve read every one of them.

They’re easy to enjoy–after all, if a story really is terrible (and I don’t know if my luck is good, my standards are low, or what, but stories I’ve considered irredeemable have been few and far in between), it’s not much of a time commitment to finish, and the next will probably be better. That can make them rather hard to review, too.

Steampunk! is…surprisingly…filled with steampunk stories. I kind of hate to delve into definitions, if for no other reason than that steampunk has gotten notoriously difficult to pin down, but for the uninitiated, steampunk is basically a kind of Victorian retro-futurism. Science fiction by way of the age of steam. There are dozens of blurred edges with other subgenres that often fall under the same heading if for no other reason than that steampunk is just easier to say, but there’s gearpunk and clockpunk and dieselpunk and mannerspunk and gaslamp fantasy and…yeah. Jules Vern and HG Wells are frequently cited as inspirations, along with Shelley and Lewis and others. There’s a lot of crossover with Lovecraft and weird fiction.

I could go on, but I’m here about one anthology, not about an entire culture. So how did this one stack up?

Read all about it at The Everyday Alchemy Lab.

mandasarah’s #CBR5 Review #6: After: Ninteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

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In general, I prefer stories (short, epically long, and in between) that are hopeful. Where people see a way out of bad situations and are generally decent human beings despite their bad lots. Bleak and hopeless Is Not My Bag, Baby. (Shut up, like you’ve never quoted Austin Powers before.) Some of the stories in After definitely fall into the “bleak and hopeless” category. Some of them managed to be good despite that, but mostly those stories just made me weary. Your mileage may vary.

cuteNugly’s #CBR5 Review #1: Zombies vs. Unicorns by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier

ImageA dear friend of mine, knowing my love of mythical creatures and whimsy gave me the collection of short stories, Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. The start the anthology by asking the question “Which makes for a better story? Unicorns? or Zombies?.” Every other chapter is marked with a Zombie or Unicorn symbol. There’s also small dialogues of banter between the two editors vying for their side which I actually could have done with out, although it is really the whole point of the book. Also, even though its considered a YA book it has cussing, sex, and even hinted beastiality. So beware if you plan on handing this to someone younger then high school. The overall reading level is on par with YA books, but the content is a little heavy. Though it was kind of strange that all but one of the authors were women. The only male writter is Larbalestier’s husband. So the stories tend to be a little female heavy on the protagonists. (Not that I’m complaining! Its nice to see kick-ass female leads!) But recommending this to a teenage boy might be hard to do.

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TheGreatUnstainer #CBR5 Review #02 The Adventures of Dr McNinja Vol 2: Timefist

 Two years ago, I bought my younger brother a box set of Gumby DVDs.  When we were kids, we would watch it with that gawpish look in our faces.  It would mesmerise us, hold us transfixed and enthralled.  For half an hour each day, it was the best thing ever.

Watching the set again as an adult, the magic had faded.  The sunset clause in the contract the creators had with the Devil had come into effect long ago, and now we could all see Gumby for the preachy, screechy, painful mess that it is.

It was the first sign of a coming wave of realisation: so many things I love have an expiry date.  The giddy joy of watching only lasts once.  Now that I know Bruce Willis is dead, The Sixth Sense is mostly unwatchable.  Now that I know that Marion Cotillard is playing Talia al Ghul, there isn’t much point left in The Dark Knight Rises.  Now that I know Snape kills Dumblesnore, there’s even less reason to read Harry Potter and the Something of That Thing. 

So when the Internet’s best webcomic is released in trade paperback (TPB) form by Dark Horse there is a hesitation tinged with morbid curiousity: will the adventure be as thrilling the second time around?

Dr McNinja is a frequently-regularly produced webcomic by Chris Hastings about a doctor who is from a family of Irish-American ninjas.  Despite being called ‘volume 2’, it’s more accurately a third volume.  The first volume was the original series of black and white comics, but it wasn’t published by Dark Horse.  Instead, it will be published in June 2013 by Dark Horse as part of an omnibus edition.  The first volume published by Dark Horse, Dr McNinja: Night Powers, collected all the stories beginning with the first colour episode, ‘Monster Mart’.

If you coped with that baffling paragraph, you will be fine with Timefist, which is something of an unrelenting tidal wave of confusing narrative and surrealist parody.  Why does that boy have a giant moustache?  Why is Benjamin Franklin a university lecturer in the ’90s?  Aztec tennis players?  Dinosau….?

Selling a person on the merits of Dr McNinja is not difficult.  It is clever, witty, and fun.  Given the webcomic format, each page is punchy and beautifully crafted.  Indeed, it’s so easy to sell the concept of Dr McNinja to people that it’s something of a gateway drug to the genre of surrealist parody comedy.  It’s a short bounce from here to, say, The Venture Bros. or Danger 5.

The difficulty is selling a person on the merits of buying the TPB when it’s available for free online.  Even more difficult when they have already read the series, laughed at the twists and turns, and are now faced with what I am now calling The Gumby Problem: will it be as much fun the second time around?

Format changes the way we read things.  When you wait a few days between pages, you expect each page to be a complete package in its own right.  Books of greater length can afford to have a bit of flab.  Pages where, for example, the protagonist does nothing but sulk in a forest, having a bit of a sook, and thinking fruitlessly about horcruxes.

What is surprising — and it’s more noticeable in Timefist than in Night Powers — is that this discipline translates particularly well to the TPB format.  The pacing is quick, the key parts of the story are highlighted on each page, and nothing feels lost.  In surrealist parody, it is easy for the story to get out of control.  Dr McNinja has a plethora of supporting characters, and the temptation to let things go off leash must drive Hastings wild.  Despite that, things are kept under expert control.

But it’s not all beer and skittles.  In TPB, the weaknesses of the series are a little bit harder to ignore.  Hastings really loves Chekhov’s Gun.  Really loves it.  When the same technique is repeated a few times in a row, it starts to get in the way of enjoying the story because the reader is expecting the weirdly emphasised detail to make a return in the resolution.  The TPB format also distorts the tone: ‘relentless’ is a double-edged adjective.  After smashing through a dozen pages, I felt the desperate need for a break.

All of that said, it is still extremely fun the second time through and it comes highly recommended for people who are already fans of the webcomic.

4/5.