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Review: Bowie on Bowie January 27, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Another Netgalley free advance read in exchange for a review!

David Bowie has been known for reinventing himself for decades, through personas like Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, and through less personified changes in style and substance, from the experimental Berlin trilogy to the commercial pop of Let’s Dance. This selection of interviews spans much of Bowie’s career, with a variety of sources talking to Bowie about his latest album, his latest movie, or whatever else may be happening at the time. Each is a snapshot of Bowie at a point in time, and it isn’t always clear whether the interviewer is talking to the real David Bowie or the image du jour. Even as one interview leads to another and there is discussion of what Bowie said back then, some of the contributors remark (at the time, or as quoted in brief introductions to the reprinted interviews) they’re still not sure whether he’s being open and sincere, or telling them what he thinks they want to here, or performing in accordance with his current facade.

So it isn’t easy to know what you’re actually learning here. There are some things you can be reasonably be sure of: Bowie is intelligent, creative, eloquent, and thinks a lot; he puts on a lot of poses; he can be a bit of a flake; he reassesses his past and reassesses it again. And it seems that, at least sometimes, when he’s being a character instead of himself he may be fooling himself as much as anyone else.

I’ve read other books that focus on specific periods in Bowie’s career — sometimes intentionally, sometimes because whoever’s writing the book was there for only part of the story. This book, fortunately, covers quite a few years, and when there are gaps it’s because Bowie wasn’t doing any interviews. The selection of interviews is also varied, sometimes going back to certain writers and publications to allow some revisiting of past sessions, sometimes going to more obscure sources for different perspectives. Each interview has an introduction of a few paragraphs, providing some context for the time of the interview, pointing out key moments, or allowing the interviewer to add an updated comment of their own.

A serious Bowie fan or scholar will still need a good, well-researched biography to learn more about the real David Bowie, as well as a book or two on the music. But this should really be part of the collection.

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Review: Star Trek Volume 9 January 24, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Star Trek.
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This review is based on a free electronic advance reading copy obtained through Netgalley, though I buy all the comics and graphic novels anyway.

If the “Volume 9” turns off casual readers concerned about long ongoing stories, relax. IDW’s ongoing Trek comic tends to do short arcs of a few issues, so any given collection like this will stand on its own fairly well. The key thing to know is that these comics build on the two JJ Abrams Star Trek movies.

All that said… this is a bit of a surprising diversion from most of the comics in the series, being a crossover story with elements from the Abrams movies, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The title and the cover give away the involvement of the powerful and enigmatic Q, who appeared a number of times in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. The Deep Space Nine crossover element comes as more of a surprise, not least because it’s set decades later in continuity. Blame Q. Without providing too many spoilers, I’ll just say that he’s decided to present James Kirk with a real no-win scenario in a possible future. The DS9 characters aren’t quite the same people we know from TV, living in a very different timeline, but the comic presents believable versions of them.

The art is strong here, with both character likenesses, settings, ships, etc, recognizable and cleanly depicted, with a distinctive use of colouring to enhance the imagery. The writing also works well, with obligatory cliffhangers or revelations every so many pages marking the points where individual issues ended.

This series hasn’t always thrilled or impressed me. I’m not a great fan of the Abrams version of Star Trek, nor do I care for the way the comics revisit original series episodes in ways that are supposed to demonstrate the differences between the two continuities but often simply seem arbitrary and poorly thought through. That’s not the case here. Bringing in DS9, even as alternate universe versions, gives this story a freshness I appreciated. Probably my favourite run of issues of this comic so far.

Review: Billy Lovecraft Saves the World January 17, 2015

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.
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Here’s another review of another book received as a free e-galley in exchange for a review. I’ve also posted versions of the review to Netgalley and Amazon.ca.

There are two ways to look at this book. The first is to assume the author is playing it straight, and that this is a book for young readers that happens to involve H.P. Lovecraft’s concepts instead of the more generic fantasy elements in the likes of Harry Potter. The other is to see it as part of the Lovecraft mashup trend of recent years, in which writers like Nick Mamatas and others cross Lovecraft with other writers or genres, like the Beats, Hunter S. Thompson, etc.

I started writing with the assumption that the book was indeed an attempt to do a middle grades book for kids that happens to be about the Cthulhu Mythos (in this case, more about Nyarlathotep, but anyway). I found myself gradually shifting to the second.

I’m a long way from 12 years old so I can’t judge how well this would play with a hypothetical younger audience. It’s trying to be more slangy and modern than the Harry Potter books, with a diverse young cast of characters, but the dialogue doesn’t always ring true and few of the characters are ever really developed all that much.

So think of it as a mashup between the kids’ books about kids with problems (dealing with dead parents, racism, social exclusion, bullying, etc) with a Lovecraftian novel. (And not just Lovecraft, there’s some Twilight Zone in there, too.) The tone’s too light and the challenge too easily defeated to be truly Lovecraftian (not a spoiler — check the title). On the kids’ books side, it seems to be ticking boxes at times. The prose is functional, much more to the breezy end of the breezy/purple prose spectrum. And yet the story moves, and I can visualize it actually working as a fun movie aimed at kids, if we lived in a world where kids were familiar with the mythos.

It’s a fun read for anyone who likes to see how H.P. Lovecraft’s influence can be twisted into unexpected new shapes, and much more enjoyable than I expected.