Books

Killing Commendatore

Written by:  Murakami Haruki

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Fantasy

Score:  3/5

Murakami Haruki is one of those few authors whose every book is worth reading; I don’t enjoy all his works to the same degree, but I would feel comfortable recommending any and every title as an introduction to him as a writer, as he has a knack for avoiding let-downs. He has novels, non-fiction, short story collections, all while changing genres yet retaining his unique themes and tone of the fantastical within reality. He is an all-time great author destined to be remembered with the likes of Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who has penned multiple masterpieces beloved regardless of translation or language. Still, I’m unsure how I feel about Killing Commendatore.

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Batman:  Universe #2

Written by:  Michael Brian Bendis

Illustrated by:  Nick Derington

Colored by:  Dave Stewart

Lettered by:  Josh Reed

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Comic books

Score:  3.5/5

The second issue of this mini-series greatly improves upon the first issue, delivering a fast paced and humorous story. Batman:  Universe #2 contains parts three and four of a story originally printed in the WalMart exclusive Batman Giant.

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An Ode to Iain M. Banks

Written by:  Brad Williamson

Topic:  Critique / Biography / Essay

As a huge fan of science-fiction, Iain M. Banks is one of my favorite writers, but it wasn’t always this way. That is because, for some unidentifiable reason, he doesn’t receive enough credit outside of England and Germany (why this recognition from German panels?) and is less well-known than many of the other so-called greats of the genre, a category in which he most certainly belongs. Sure, people know him, and in certain circles he’s rightfully respected, but I can think of hundreds of books commonly cited ahead of his Culture novels as Books You Should Read. Why is this?

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Permanent Record

Written by:  Edward Snowden

Reviewed by:  Rob Leicht

Genre:  Autobiography

Score:  4.5/5

By now we are all familiar with Edward Snowden and the government documents that he turned over to the press in 2013. We have heard his story in many permutations—the government version, the press version, the Hollywood version, etc. But we haven’t heard the story from the man himself, until now. Permanent Record does not contain any bombshells or new revelations, and if that is what you are expecting then you are likely to be disappointed. This book is about more than that. It is how the act came to be, the choices, the ethics, the technology, and, most importantly, the people.

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Trample an Empire Down

Written by:  Mack Reynolds

Reviewed by:  Rob Leicht

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Score:  0.5/5

I first discovered Mack Reynolds about six years ago while browsing the sci-fi/fantasy section at a local used bookstore. Reynolds (1917-1983) was a writer of science fiction and was most popular in the 1950s and 60s. Starting in the mid 70s his works began to decline in popularity until Reynolds fell of the map completely. This helps explain why neither I nor any of my science fiction reading comrades had heard of him until that point. After reading the back covers of a few paperbacks, it was soon apparent that Reynolds commonly wrote about alternative socioeconomic systems, futuristic utopias, and revolutions, within a traditional science fiction framework that included alien encounters, intergalactic adventures, and time travel. From the start I was intrigued as all of these themes resonate with me, my reading preferences, and my political ideology.

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Joe’s Bone to Pick:  The Killing Joke

Written by:  Joe Bones

Topic:  Comics

Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke has been the center of many different discussions since it was published in 1988. It is often considered the definitive Batman vs. Joker story. There are those who argue that it’s Moore’s best work, some even say it surpasses The Watchmen. Whole Reddit threads have been devoted to the final panels of this graphic novel. There are fans who support Moore’s treatment of the Joker’s origin and those who think revealing any origin for the Clown Prince of Crime is a travesty. However, none of those topics are what I want to discuss today. I’ve got a take on this classic graphic novel that I personally have never seen enter into the discussions of this work. I believe The Killing Joke is the definitive Commissioner Gordon story.

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Red Moon

Written by:  Kim Stanley Robinson

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Score:  3.5/5

Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest book is about colonizing the moon. That should be enough information for everyone to want to go read it, but if it’s not, here’s my review:

If there’s one thing Mr. Robinson does with each new book at this point in his career, it’s ensuring that he writes a fresh story while staying true to his values. His themes and motifs have remained remarkably consistent ever since way back to the Three Californias trilogy, but he still finds slightly new plots and protagonists to put spins on his tales. Red Moon is no different.

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Exhalation

Written by:  Ted Chiang

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Score:  4.5/5

Other than, perhaps, J.D. Salinger and Susanna Clarke, no author has made such literary waves with such meager output as Mr. Chiang. Every sentence, every word, the titles themselves, even the cover art, all these add significance to his work. Nothing about a Ted Chiang collection is superfluous, yet they remain as varied and colorful as any epic.

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The Hydrogen Sonata, Culture Volume IX

Written by:  Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Score:  3.5/5

How would the human race be different if one of the major holy books had begun predicting the future instead of retelling the past? If one of them contained instructions for making technology or the locations of sentient life that we subsequently discovered, how would the popular opinion of said holy book change among scientists and other academics? In other words, would such a reality bond science and religion together? And what would the ramifications of this be?

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Surface Detail, Culture Volume VIII

Written by:  Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Score:  4.5/5

This may not be Banks’s best work or his most entertaining, or even most thoughtful, but this is where his writing style and playfulness shines the most, and it may be my favorite of all his novels. He found a balance in this book that he began searching for in Use of Weapons and utilized in every subsequent offering, but only perfected it here. I will keep this focused on Surface Detail, but I would like to take a moment to honor Banks’s memory and consider what greatness he might have written with additional years.

While many fans and critics laud Use of Weapons, I think it is one of Banks’s most flawed works; not to say it was bad (see my review elsewhere on the site) but there was a lot he tried to do and failed, and the book felt confused instead of complex. However, Surface Detail represents the work of his closest to a successful Use of Weapons.

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Batman: Universe #1

Written by:  Brian Michael Bendis

Illustrated by:  Nick Derington

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Comic Books, Superhero

Score:  1/5

This may be a bit blasphemous, but I have found Brian Michael Bendis to be a bit overrated. I just haven’t been enjoying a lot of the work Bendis has been doing since starting at DC Comics. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the guy as a writer. Jessica Jones is an amazing character, and Miles Morales is an awesome take on Spiderman. The descriptions of his creator owned titles, though they haven’t interested me enough to pick them up yet, sound thoughtful and engaging. However, everything I’ve read so far that he has written for DC just hasn’t grabbed me. I find his stories in Superman/Action Comics to be a bit boring. I made it through the first three issues of Young Justice before giving up and removing it from my pull list. Despite that, because of my love for Batman, I decided to pick up Batman: Universe. After reading the first issue, I was very disappointed.

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Longitude:  The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time

Written by:  Dava Sobel

Reviewed by:  Rob Leicht

Genre:  History, Biography

Score:  4/5

In the modern age, where we can pinpoint our precise location via a smartphone, very few people think in terms of longitude and latitude, the lines that crisscross our globe and form the geographic coordinate system. I, for one, haven’t given the idea much thought since elementary school geography class. Yet, just a few hundred years ago, a solution to the problem of accurately finding longitude, especially at sea, was one worth millions of dollars and could save an untold number of lives. Dava Sobel tells of this centuries long quest for longitude, and it is filled with fascinating tales of shipwrecks, political intrigue, intellectual theft, and wild inventions. Sobel’s account is educational and easy to sink into. But it is also short, coming in at under 200 pages, and some readers may be turned off by this. Longitude is well-researched, but an in depth scholarly work it is not.

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Matter, Culture Volume VII

Written by:  Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Science-Fiction / Adventure

Score: 4.5/5

Matter at first seems one of the largest and most complex of the Culture novels, but it’s actually one of the simplest in structure. Harkening back to Inversions (and, to a lesser extent, even Dune), Banks explores for most of the book, an upstart society not yet on par with the Culture.

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Look to Windward, Culture Volume VI

Written by:  Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by: Brad Williamson

Genre:  Soft Science-Fiction

Score: 4/5

One of the simplest of the Culture novels and also a semi-sequel to Consider Phlebas, which you can also see reviewed elsewhere on our site, Look to Windward is one of the more purely entertaining books of the series.

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Superman:  Up in the Sky #1

Written by:  Tom King

Art by:  Andy Kuber and Sandra Hope

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Comic Book/Superhero

Score:  3.5/5

Superman: Up In The Sky is a very interesting comic book in and of itself. It was originally published in a collection of Wal-Mart exclusive books called Superman Giant. These exclusive books were each a one-hundred page volume featuring part of a new Superman story and a collection of stories from the Man of Steel’s long history. In July, DC began printing the original story as a six part mini-series.

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Inversions, Culture Volume V

Written by: Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Science-Fiction / Pastoral

Score: 4/5

Unique among the series in that it deals entirely with a planet-bound race, and also in how few characters there are, Inversions in many ways is the simplest of all the Culture novels; that said, it has a complex spirit with deep, introspective themes and multifaceted personalities.

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Excession, Culture Volume IV

Written by: Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Soft Science-Fiction / Mystery

Score: 4/5

Yet another foray into experimentation, Excession is a mindtrip of perspective. Much of the novel, though not all, is dialogue amongst a group of sophisticated ship AIs, known as Minds. The reader is forced to consider things from outside a human’s experience because the ships’ logic, motivations, abilities, and desires propel the story forward, while it is understood within the context of the universe that the ships have humanity’s best interests in mind. So while the decisions and trains of logic at many times make no sense, one is compelled to consider everything from a fresh point of view from which maybe they do make sense. And this is all done fluidly and naturally, as the reader comes to know the AIs as true individuals, a deep look into the individuality of true sentience outside humanity that few books have accomplished before or since.

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Heart-Shaped Box

Written by:  Joe Hill

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Horror

Score: 3/5

I recently became aware of Joe Hill after AMC announced they are making a television show out of one of his other novels, NOS4A2. Having never read anything by this author, I decided to check him out. I listened to the audio book of NOS4A2, and although I enjoyed it, I wasn’t really that impressed. However, I did like his style of prose so I decided to give one of his other works a try. That’s when I stumbled across Heart-Shaped Box, which happens to the first full novel Hill ever wrote. 

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Use of Weapons, Culture Volume III

Written by:  Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by: Brad Williamson

Genre:  Soft Science-Fiction / Mystery

Score: 3.5/5

In an oeuvre full of complex and at times difficult plots and structures, this is the most jarring and dizzying, which, in an exceedingly rare occurrence, Banks fails to completely pull off.

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Orr:  My Story

Written By:  Bobby Orr

Reviewed by:  Rob Leicht

Genre:  Sports, Autobiography

Score:  3/5

Bobby Orr is widely considered one of the greatest hockey players of all time. For a decade long stretch in the 60s and 70s Orr dominated the game. There were things he could do on the ice that no player had done before or has been able to do since. His career ended well before my time, but I’ve always enjoyed watching Bobby Orr highlights and have great respect for what he achieved. As great as a hockey player that Orr was, he is an even better human being. His modesty and aversion to criticizing others helps to make him an exemplary person, but it does not always make for an exciting autobiography.

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Rob’s Most Anticipated Books of Fall 2019

By:  Rob Leicht

Topic:  Books, New Releases

The last four months of 2019 are filled with new releases to be excited about. From fantasy favorites and science fiction masters to the apocalyptic and strange, there is something for every reader. Without further ado, here are my most anticipated books for the rest of 2019.

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The Redemption of Time

Written by:  Baoshu

Translated by:  Ken Liu

Reviewed by:  Rob Leicht

Genre:  Science Fiction

Score: 3/5

Liu Cixin’s The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy was completed with the release of Death’s End in 2016 and instantly became must read science fiction for the modern age. In the preface to this novel, Baoshu explains that he was a huge fan of Cixin’s work and was left bereft when the trilogy concluded. Like many others, Baoshu continued the series through fan fiction. When he posted his fan fiction, then called Three Body X, online for public consumption, it went viral. Baoshu wasn’t the only one desperate to spend more time in Liu Cixin’s invented universe. Eventually the book was published with Cixin’s approval under the name The Redemption of Time, and here we are.

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Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye: Volume 1

Written by:  Gerard Way & Jon Rivera

Illustrated by:  Michael Avon Oeming

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Comic

Score: 3.5/5

In 2016, DC Comics launched a new “pop-up” imprint called Young Animal. It was curated by Gerard Way of the band My Chemical Romance. He is also the author of Umbrella Academy for those of you who enjoyed the Netflix series based on those comic books. Young Animal’s focus was to explore characters from the DC Universe through an experimental approach. This line was targeted for mature readers and overseen by Vertigo group editor Jamie S. Rich. Young Animal launched with four titles, one of which was Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye.

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Consider Phlebas, Culture Volume I

Written By:  Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Soft Science-Fiction / Space Opera

Score: 4/5

Introducing one of the most clearly realized science-fiction universes in the pantheon of the genre with an all-time great scene, Consider Phlebas opens with a jaw-dropping and mesmerizing first chapter.

Quickly thereafter—immediately, in fact—in typical Banks fashion, the reader is slingshotted from place and perspective and hauled to a completely new and unknown situation in a way that would be utterly jarring if attempted by almost any other writer; Banks, however, forces one to hold and juggle the current scene along with everything written before because every moment is too full of potential and mystery to turn away from

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Heroes In Crisis

Written by:  Tom King

lllustrated by:  Clay Mann

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Comic

Score: 4/5

Trade Paperback releases on October 1st, 2019

I’ve got to start out by saying that Heroes in Crisis isn’t for everyone. It is at its core a character study that examines PTSD through the lens of superheroes. People like to poke fun at comic books because the deaths are often meaningless. A deceased character will be back as soon as the next reboot or continuity-shifting crisis/event. What most people don’t think about, and what most comic book writers often only explore for a few filler issues before moving on to the next big event, is the effect the deaths of the characters within a comic book series would have on the other characters in that title.

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Player of Games, Culture Volume II

Written By:  Iain M. Banks

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Soft Science-Fiction / Space Opera

Score: 4/5

In this volume, Banks makes his premise abundantly clear: each Culture novel will expand the universe while remaining independent of the previous titles. This, while not an original tactic by any means, is something Banks pulls off possibly better than anyone else. Player of Games is probably the most focused and easily read of all the Culture novels, and also one of the shortest, but so too is it one of the very best, most enjoyable, and absolutely rewarding

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Station Eleven

Written By:  Emily St. John Mandel

Reviewed by:  Brad Williamson

Genre:  Post-Apocalyptic / Suspense

Score: 4/5

With an opening scene that leaves one wondering how the book is post-apocalyptic, as advertised, yet still marveling at Mandel’s simple yet elegant prose and willing to read on anyway, she certainly hooks you.

You immediately fall in love with Jeevan and the setting rapidly evolves, but then we leave him and leap ahead. And while these abrupt jumps through time, place, and perspective become all too common through the book, the reader is never left feeling confused or disappointed.

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The Harrowing

Written by:  Alexandra Sokoloff

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Horror

Score: 3/5

Really enjoyed this book. This horror novel is like ‘The Breakfast Club” meets “The Haunting.” It takes the best elements of those two stories and mixes them into a great piece of horror fiction. The narrative has great pacing that simultaneously keeps you riveted while never going so fast that the end loses the same flow as the beginning. I personally had trouble relating to the characters but that didn’t limit my enjoyment. Sometimes with this kind of book it’s fun to root for the supernatural element to win.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts

Written by:  Rivers Solomon

Reviewed by:  Joe Bones

Genre:  Science-Fiction

Score: 3.5/5

Full disclosure: I went into An Unkindness of Ghosts with some trepidation. I chose to read this book as part of the 2019 Read Harder Challenge. It fit two different tasks, ‘a book by a Trans or non-binary author’ and ‘a book about or set in space by an Author of Color.’ I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this sci-fi character study.

This novel’s premise is quite sophisticated. The story takes place on a spaceship traveling to a new world. The spaceship is fleeing a decimated planet and its crew and passengers have been traveling through space for generations. The population of the ship is divided into a caste system based on the share-cropper system of the Antebellum South.

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