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Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#1
I've had enough of trying to do one of these 'one new book per week' things, so I'm merely going to have a dedicated thread to my reviews now.

I'm not going to bother doing any humorous comment here, so let's get on with the preamble.

The rules, as mentioned before, are simple:

*I have removed the rule regarding one book per week.

*If I have started, but not finished, a book prior to starting this thread, then I may include it, as long as I have not read it all the way through at any stage.

*I must write a review.

*The book has to be relatively substantial. That is, I will not read an individual issue of a comic or manga (though an individual collected volume is fine), or a screenplay, unless said screenplay is accompanied by a making-of book, or a children's picture book. In addition, I will not be reviewing webcomics (unless available in printed form) or fanfiction.

Now, some caveats...

*I will NOT take reading suggestions. Anyone who does so will find themselves being given a very rude answer. However, comments and dissenting opinions (NOT reviews: this is MY review thread) are welcome, as long as they are decent and well-thought out.

*One of the unofficial rules, albeit one I might break (as it is an unofficial rule) is that I don't review two things of the same sort back to back. That is, I don't read two graphic novels back to back, two Doctor Who books back to back...you get the idea. I may break it on rare occasion, depending on circumstances...

*I used to have a very skewed scoring system. A few of you may remember said system when I started a similar thread going back over the Discworld novels, as well as the dispute that followed. After some consideration, I have adopted a new, still skewed but far less so, scoring system based on five stars. The scores are still my business. Dispute with the scoring system at your peril. In this thread, I am Stephen Fry on QI, and you really don't want to be klaxoned. :p
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#2
BOOK 1

Weta Workshop: Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity, by Luke Hawker.


Weta Workshop has become one of the premiere special effects workshops in the world, coming to fame with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But its story is much older than that. Given my interest in the workshop, it’s inevitable that I read yet another book about it, this one more about Weta Workshop than Weta Digital…

Weta Workshop: Celebrating 20 Years of Creativity is a book written by one of Weta’s supervisors. Detailing the history of Weta from working on Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles, its ascension to fame with The Lord of the Rings, all the way to the modern day, we see how Weta brought together talent to create props, miniatures, and costumes. And more than that: creating collectables of all sorts, like special statuettes, or the Doctor Grordbort line of replica steampunk blasters.

Books like this are frequently a triumph of style over substance, and this one is hardly any exception. In trying to discuss everything, it glosses over quite a few things, leaving one frustrated and hungry for more. In addition, more than a few of the images, particularly from Brain Dead (though other movies have similar images), are highly disturbing in their gore, and not for the weak of heart.

Even so, there are plenty of items of interest, and while there’s not enough detail in some areas, there’s still more than enough to suffice. Fans of the Tolkien adaptations will find quite a lot, and there’s plenty to interest aficionados of special effects. Plus, there’s some insight into the corporate culture of Weta, amusing enough in of itself.

Overall, while not superlative, this book was an interesting look at the work of Weta. It’s certainly interesting enough for a fan of their work, and special effects in general.


****


FIRST WORDS:
This book was always going to be a massive undertaking.

LAST WORDS: Happy bleeding!
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#3
BOOK 2

Naruto volume 15: Naruto’s Ninja Handbook!, by Masashi Kishimoto
.

I don’t really have much to say in the way of pithy remarks about Naruto that I haven’t already. So, with that in mind, let’s get into this review of the 15th volume…

Sasuke’s battle with the transforming Gaara soon comes to an end, with the crazed Gaara becoming even more powerful. Soon, Naruto arrives on the scene, and begins to realise that Gaara and himself share more things in common than they care to realise. The battle between them becomes even more personal, with Gaara vowing to destroy everything Naruto holds dear, and Naruto intending to snap Gaara out of his madness, or die trying…

As is usual for shounen manga series, Naruto continues to be more action and less story. And yet, in this volume, we have an improved balance of action and story and character development, gaining insights into the past of Gaara, as well as comparisons to Naruto. We also get some more insight into Sasuke’s past, and the action scenes are quite thrilling.

Of the characters, the ones who get the most development are Gaara and Naruto. We get an extended look into Gaara’s lonely past, and what turned him into the psychotic fighter he is. We also have Naruto in an uncharacteristically introspective series of scenes, mentally comparing himself to Gaara, and this helps actually improve the normally shallow character of Naruto significantly.

Overall, this volume of Naruto manages to stay above the norm for this series. Hopefully, the next few will continue to do so…


****


FIRST WORDS:
…It’s the same eye…

LAST WORDS: You fool!!
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#4
BOOK 3

The Compleat Discworld Atlas, by Terry Pratchett et al.


With Terry Pratchett dead, it seems that there will be no more Discworld books after The Shepherd’s Crown, though many books leading up to his death did have the feel of being an end of an era. But it still won’t mean that, to borrow and mangle a phrase from Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw, that someone won’t try to continue milking the blackened teats of the Discworld cashcow. So how would The Compleat Discworld Atlas, a spiritual successor to the recent The Compleat Ankh-Morpork and a considerably greater expansion of The Discworld Mapp, turn out?

The Compleat Discworld Atlas contains a compilation of facts and anecdotes about the Discworld, its geography, inhabitants, history and politics. Lavishly illustrated, it helps fill in the gaps about the Discworld. In addition, a lavish fold-out map is included, allowing one to pinpoint towns and locations anywhere using a reference index in the back. A collectable item marketed at Discworld fans.

Terry Pratchett once said that you cannot map a sense of humour, though Stephen Briggs and others did manage to map both Ankh-Morpork and the Discworld itself for earlier publications. Even so, this rather expensive book is clearly meant to make more money in the style of CMOT Dibbler. It’s a triumph of style over substance, with many not familiar with the Discworld unlikely to be interested in it, and those familiar with it more than likely hearing a lot of this before.

Even so, this book is clearly lavishly produced, as is the fold-out map (which was easily folded back up again, a veritable revelation!). Some elements and anecdotes are brand new, and it’s interesting to read how the disparate elements of the Discworld are brought together into one great whole. I just wish there was more.

While not brilliant, and I’m not so sure how worth the price it is, The Compleat Discworld Atlas nonetheless is a lavishly produced work. Admittedly, it’s there to get more money out of the series, but it’s still good all the same…


****


FIRST WORDS:
For the edification, diversion and, dare we say, delight of readers, this publication sets out a most complete audit of our world.

LAST WORDS: ‘Trulee a Knobby Savage.’
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#5
BOOK 4

Naruto volume 16: Eulogy, by Masashi Kishimoto.


Once more, I have no pithy comments to say about Naruto, save for the fact that I’m glad that the interminable Chunin Exams arc and the Konoha Invasion is almost over, and a new part of the story begins. So, let’s get on with it…

Naruto manages to stop Gaara’s rampage, persuading his fellow demon-holder to not give up on love. But the cost of stopping the invasion Orochimaru masterminded is high, with the Hokage dying in order to rob Orochimaru of his ability to use jutsu. As Sasuke broods over his failure in battle, and Jiraiya takes Naruto on a mission to retrieve the woman who will be the next Hokage, Tsunade, a new threat emerges, one targeting Naruto. And one of them is none other than the man responsible for the destruction of Sasuke’s family, his older brother Itachi Uchiha…

It’s a relief to finally get past the Brobdingnagian Chunin Exams Arc and the Konoha Invasion Arc, and after clearing away the aftermath, an intriguing new storyline and foe arrives. True, there is too little here of actual story development, and more action scenes, but even so, Naruto is beginning to get a higher standard by this point.

We get some insight into the darkening psyche of Sasuke. In addition, we finally get to meet Itachi Uchiha who, while not initially imposing (though doubtless sinister), soon proves himself to be a powerhouse, with a scarily effective technique, the Tsukuyomi, demonstrated, and the hints of a higher level of the Sharingan. Kisame, his partner, is also an intriguing new threat.

Overall, this volume of Naruto has managed to maintain the standard set by recent volumes. Here’s hoping it can continue, even improve…

****


FIRST WORDS:
Good, Naruto!

LAST WORDS: !
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#6
BOOK 5

The Essential Evangelion Chronicle: Side A, by Syunsou Porori, translated by M Kirie Hayashi.


While not at the top of my list, Neon Genesis Evangelion nonetheless remains one of my all-time favourite anime franchises of all time. A mecha series with a number of twists, it was groundbreaking when it was first introduced, having an influence on anime, and even Western media, to this very day. But how would the first half of a guidebook to the series turn out?

The Essential Evangelion Chronicle: Side A is a compilation digest of a partworks series done in Japan about Neon Genesis Evangelion. Covering not only key characters, but locations and concepts, along with episodes 1-13 of the TV series, it purports to be a guide to the series. With information, analyses of key moments in the episodes, and even guides to merchandise, it is meant to be a companion for the keen fan of Evangelion.

Even so, there’s some elements that are disappointing. At least one page had a mistake on the layout, with a screenshot obscuring part of the text. In addition, there was a particularly egregious mistranslation back from Japanese of the Angel Iruel, named ‘Yroul’ in this book. And like many books of this type, it’s rather glossy, and for many Evangelion fans, there is little new to justify the price. Not to mention it only covers half of the actual series, the half where less happens, story-wise.

Even so, it’s still a well-presented book, the aforementioned hiccups in presentation aside. Every nuance and interaction of significance in every episode is analysed and highlighted. And it does very well in bringing a lot of information to the fore, stuff even fans may have missed. I have to admit, it was an enjoyable read that helped refresh a lot of information in my mind about the series.

Overall, The Essential Evangelion Chronicle: Side A is a good companion to an excellent series, some flaws aside. I hope the second half is even better.


****


FIRST WORDS: The opening sequence introduces the viewers to the world of Evangelion through scattered images of key story elements.

LAST WORDS: These and other masterpiece figures led the way for this movement.
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#7
BOOK 6

Naruto volume 17: Itachi’s Power, by Masashi Kishimoto.


No pithy comments to be made about Naruto, so I’ll get on with it…

Naruto has been cornered by Itachi Uchiha and Kisame Hoshigaki, two brutal members of the Akatsuki organisation that is after the Tailed Beasts. But when Sasuke intervenes in a desperate attempt to save Naruto and kill his older brother to avenge his clan, things spiral out of control. In the aftermath, Naruto and Jiraiya begin travelling across the land in search of Tsunade, in order to convince her to take up the reins of the Hokage. But Naruto finds that travelling with Jiraiya is not easy, and neither is learning a new jutsu, the powerful Rasengan

After the high quality of the previous couple of volumes, Naruto, for this volume at least, has gone down in quality a little. Much of the volume dedicated to Naruto learning the Rasengan from Jiraiya is rather tedious. And I have to admit, Jiraiya is going down in my estimation as a frankly obnoxious character who seems to mooch off Naruto.

That being said, the opening parts of this volume, showing the confrontation between Itachi and Sasuke, are excellent, with flashbacks showing how badly their relationship degenerated, and giving some insight into why Sasuke is so screwed up. There’s some pretty amusing jokes, and there’s certainly an intriguing hook for future volumes, with a proper introduction of Tsunade, as well as Orochimaru having some interest in her.

Overall, this volume of Naruto was somewhat average, a decline in quality from prior volumes. A shame, but perhaps future volumes may turn out better…


*** ½


FIRST WORDS:
!

LAST WORDS: This just doesn’t feel right
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#8
BOOK 7

The Wizard of Oz: 75 Years Along the Yellow Brick Road, by LIFE Books.


The Wizard of Oz, in both its original book form and the famous 1939 movie, is a cornerstone of Western popculture. The story has spawned sequels, prequels, and alternate versions of the same story. I have to admit to having more interest in Gregory Maguire’s revisionist novel Wicked than in the film, but it was enough for me to at least give this book a go…

The Wizard of Oz: 75 Years Along the Yellow Brick Road is a look at how the 1939 film of The Wizard of Oz came into being, with a look into the life of its creator, L Frank Baum, as well as his original book. There’s a look at the various film versions that were brought to the screen before MGM embarked on its ambitious rendition. And finally, it looks at the curious afterlife of the movie and its stars, and how TV reruns assured the movie’s immortality, as well as the works inspired by it.

Like many books of its kind, this one is a triumph of style over substance. Even more so, in fact, than usual. Most of the book is given over to various photos (most of them in black and white, ironic as it was a Technicolour film) relating to The Wizard of Oz, rather than detailed discussion of the making of the film, as well as its predecessors and its afterlife. There’s very little substance, I have to confess, and it doesn’t draw me in to a subject I’m actually only marginally interested in.

That being said, there are still things of interest, like a discussion of earlier adaptations. There’s some interesting anecdotes about some of the darker and lighter aspects of the filming as well. And there was enough to interest me long enough to finish the book at least.

That being said, I have to confess to being disappointed by The Wizard of Oz: 75 Years Along the Yellow Brick Road. A shame, really. It could have been so much more…


***


FIRST WORDS:
First on the pages of one special book and then on the screen in a very special movie, this story gained-earned-immortality.

LAST WORDS: Follow the Yellow Brick Road…
 

Jack Remillard

Lance-Corporal
Oct 27, 2009
439
0
2,275
#9
Quatermass said:
I have to admit to having more interest in Gregory Maguire’s revisionist novel Wicked than in the film, but it was enough for me to at least give this book a go…
I read the first Wicked book a while ago, then saw the musical. The book is so much darker! I haven't got round to reading the rest of the 'Wicked' books yet.
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#10
Jack Remillard said:
Quatermass said:
I have to admit to having more interest in Gregory Maguire’s revisionist novel Wicked than in the film, but it was enough for me to at least give this book a go…
I read the first Wicked book a while ago, then saw the musical. The book is so much darker! I haven't got round to reading the rest of the 'Wicked' books yet.
They're pretty dark and disturbing. They're interesting books, but not for the faint-hearted. The musical is the lighter and softer version.
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#11
BOOK 8

Naruto volume 18: Tsunade’s Choice, by Masashi Kishimoto.


I’ve got nothing further to say about Naruto that I haven’t said before. So, on with the motley…

Tsunade, the famous shinobi medic, reunites with two of her former comrades and their protégés. One is the vile Orochimaru and his aide, Kabuto, and Orochimaru wants her to fix his arms. In exchange, he will bring her lover Dan and her younger brother Nawaki back to life, giving her a week to decide. Later, Jiraiya and Naruto meet Tsunade, only for Tsunade to refuse the request to become the next Hokage. But her insults towards the previous Hokages inflames Naruto’s temper, and they end up in a battle, followed by Tsunade making Naruto a wager for him to master the Rasengan in a week. But caught between memories of Konoha, and seeing her loved ones again, will Tsunade make the right choice?

As usual, Naruto is more action and goofy comedy than actual substantial story. But while I was initially afraid that the first main introduction of Tsunade would make her unlikeable (from what I read in fanfic), this, thankfully, was not the case. Indeed, her tragedy was actually quite well-written, and how she approached the choices given to her was pretty well-done. The tension was ratcheting up, especially towards the end of the volume.

Obviously, the key character here in this volume is Tsunade. Her past, and the traumas of losing her lover Dan and her brother Nawaki are well written. I found myself enjoying this volume more than the prior one.

Overall, after a more average prior volume, this one managed to claw its way back up into being a better instalment of Naruto. Here’s hoping that the next one is as good…


****


FIRST WORDS:
What’s wrong?

LAST WORDS: Now…
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#12
BOOK 9

Historic Heston Blumenthal, by Heston Blumenthal.


I tend not to really have much interest in celebrity chefs. However, Heston Blumenthal is a notable exception. Given how he fuses a scientific and empirical approach to cooking with a whimsical and strong imagination, I guess he appeals to both the scientist in me, and the kid. So, with that in mind, I approached the book Historic Heston Blumenthal with high expectations…

Historic Heston Blumenthal documents a number of recipes that Heston based upon recipes of yore. From Rice and Flesh, based on a recipe from the 14th century, all the way to a variation of the Mock Turtle Soup of Victorian times, Heston not only demonstrates his thinking process on how to create these various dishes, but also the historical context behind them. Illustrated by Dave McKean, and with lavish photos by Romas Foord, Historic Heston Blumenthal is less a recipe book than an odyssey.

If I had to choose a complaint about this book, it’s that you’d be hard pressed to do any of these recipes in the average kitchen. Even so, that is pretty much the only complaint, for the book proper is more about the history of cooking and how these dishes came to be. Heston, while elucidating how he modernised many of these dishes for his restaurants, is a captivating author on the history of cuisine, a subject that would normally bore me.

Fascinating and engrossing, Heston points out many of the political, religious, and economical influence on the dishes he reinvented. The prose is engaging, Romas Foord’s photos are beautiful, and Dave McKean’s surreal art-style works well with the subject matter, something I noticed with The Fat Duck Cookbook. It is, in short, a masterpiece that intrigues and entrances.

Overall, Historic Heston Blumenthal is not so much a cookbook as it is a wonderful look at historical cuisine, and how Heston reinvented it. Get it for that, and not for the recipes…


*****


FIRST WORDS
: My eyes were opened to the potential of historical cuisine a decade ago, when I first delved into an extraordinary fifteenth-century manuscript known as The Viviender.

LAST WORDS: Thank you all.
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#13
BOOK 10

Naruto volume 19: Successor, by Masashi Kishimoto.


Again, I haven’t got any pithy little comments to make about Naruto. So, let’s get on with it…

At the last moment, Tsunade decides to kill Orochimaru rather than heal her former comrade. But her fight against Orochimaru’s assistant Kabuto soon goes disastrously when Kabuto exploits her haemophobia. And even when Jiraiya, Naruto, and Shizune arrive on the scene, victory is still not clear. While Jiraiya struggles with the drugs Tsunade gave him and Tsunade struggles to overcome her fear of blood, Naruto must step up to face Kabuto, even if it means dying. And soon, it will be a three-way fight between Tsunade, Jiraiya and Orochimaru, former comrades now bitter enemies…

Once again, Naruto, like many a shounen manga, proves to be more action than plot. But we have at least a lot of elements even in the action, with Naruto finally using the Rasengan, and Tsunade overcoming her haemophobia. And the end of the volume concludes this arc of the manga, thankfully, without it dragging on too much.

Of the characters, it is Tsunade who, understandably, goes through the most development. We even get to see her impressive abilities in action, as well as the properties that make her a good Hokage prospect, of self-sacrifice and tenacity. We also have a look into the conflicting ideals of Orochimaru and Jiraiya, showing how alike they are to Sasuke and Naruto.

Overall, this volume of Naruto (which will probably be the last I read and review for a while) managed to keep to the high standards that the series recently achieved, for which I’m glad.


****


FIRST WORDS:
Well…

LAST WORDS: …IS HERE!!
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#14
After a long hiatus, I'm back...

BOOK 11

The World of Ice and Fire, by George RR Martin, with Elio M Garcia Jr and Linda Antonsson
.

There are many fantasy series in the world, but one of the most famous of modern times is George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Recently adapted by HBO into the series Game of Thrones, named after the first book in the series (minus an ‘A’ at the beginning of the title), the book series spans five volumes to date, with two more currently planned, and the TV series is, of the time of writing, six seasons in, with two more planned to conclude it. The rich history and culture of the series puts it on a par with the worldbuilding of Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. So it’s hardly surprising that a compendium of sorts sets out to show much of that world that has only been hinted at in the novels…

During the reign of Robert Baratheon, Maester Yandel begins the writing of a history of Westeros, Essos, and the world. Now, in the reign of Tommen, Yandel finally finishes a work that spans history. From the ancient histories where giants and the children of the forest roamed the lands, to the end of the reign of the Targaryens, Yandel also chronicles the origins, real or not, of many of the places and noble lines of Westeros.

If I have to make any complaint about this, and I do, it’s that I find this, if anything, not as informative as it could have been, particularly about places outside Westeros. Inside Westeros, it is very informative, and, in the case of chronicling the Targaryen monarchs, perhaps needlessly so. But these are mere annoyances more than anything else, my attempt at nitpicking.

Martin and his collaborators are to be commended in not only giving a more comprehensive history to Westeros than is even mentioned in the books, but also giving tantalising glimpses into worlds we barely see in the books. In addition, they even mention contradictory stories involving the same events in a manner similar to history books, giving this book a certain air of gravitas and self-awareness. Tantalising information is supplemented with frequently beautiful images, making the presentation of this book lavish.

Overall, The World of Ice and Fire is an excellent work. Not quite on the same level as the best of the books it is derived from, but certainly something no fan of either the books or the TV series should be without.


****½


FIRST WORDS
: To his most esteemed and gracious lord, (Robert and Joffrey are crossed out here) Tommen the First of His Name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, Yandel, humble Maester of the Citadel, wishes thousandfold prosperity, now and forever, and wisdom unmatched.

LAST WORDS: In such times of trouble, we must all pray that good King Tommen shall see a long reign, and a just one, to usher us again out of the darkness and into the light.
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#15
BOOK 12

One-Punch Man volume 1, by One and Yusuke Marata.


While I enjoy superhero stories, I generally tend to enjoy those with a new and unusual take on them. True, I like the stuff DC and Marvel does, but I also like some of the more unusual superhero stories that look a little deeper into what it means. Titles like Watchmen, Miracleman and the like. So when I heard of a satirical manga series called One-Punch Man, originally a webcomic series, I found myself intrigued, and decided to try my luck…

Saitama is a fairly mediocre-looking superhero. He’s got no physique to speak of, he’s prematurely bald in his twenties, much to his dismay, he has a rather staid, even dull expression on his face most of the time, and he causes collateral damage. But Saitama is so powerful, he can kill any opponent with a single punch. Unfortunately, that’s part of the problem: he’s a bored part-time hero with no enemies that prove a challenge. But perhaps things might change when the cyborg Genos sees him in action, and wants Saitama to train him…

Like many a shounen manga, One-Punch Man, especially in its early stages before any story arcs come up, if mostly action sequences with humour. Indeed, it takes until halfway through the volume for any actual plot to begin, beyond Saitama defeating a monstrous opponent with a single punch and an origin story. The overtly humorous tone and surprisingly explicit gore, usually in the aftermath of one of Saitama’s punches, may turn others off, and Genos, while a moderately interesting character, doesn’t really do it for me.

And yet, despite the faults of the story, it’s a decent enough satire on how boring being an action hero gets when you’re practically invincible and have the strength of a deity. Saitama is clearly the star of the show, aside from the fact that he’s the titular character, and he’s frequently hilarious, not least of which is the bizarre way he is drawn, especially in contrast to the rest of the artwork, a deliberate artistic choice that actually helps things.

Overall, One-Punch Man’s first volume was an enjoyable enough beginning to the series, though I don’t know whether I will continue beyond it…


***½


FIRST WORDS:
?!

LAST WORDS: IT’S GARBAGE DAY, BUT I FORGOT TO PUT OUT THE TRASH!!!
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#16
BOOK 13

Bowie: Album by Album, by Paolo Hewitt.


I’ve been on a bit of a Bowie kick since last year, but it has intensified since the death of the famous musician. Without David Bowie, we wouldn’t have the likes of Madonna or Lady Gaga. His songs have been covered endlessly. Given my mild curiosity about his life and career, I want to read some books about his career. But would Bowie: Album by Album satisfy that?

Bowie: Album by Album is both an overview of David Bowie’s career from the beginning up to 2013, covering the albums from his eponymous album in 1967, all the way to The Next Day. Critiquing the albums and songs, it also examines his career, from the rise and fall of Ziggy Stardust, to his career in acting on stage and the screen, and the nadirs and zeniths of his life. In short, it is a compendium of Bowie’s life and times.

I have to confess, after the near-messianic insanity of Ziggyology, this book was actually a disappointment. True, it was actually quite informative, covering more of Bowie’s career than Ziggyology did (which covered Bowie’s early life and his time as Ziggy Stardust), it didn’t have the insane semi-fictional style, and the presentation is nothing to sneeze at at all. It’s a good book anyway.

But books like this are frequently triumphs of presentation over substance, and this one is no exception. Indeed, there’s less here than in Ziggyology. I wanted something slightly meatier, and came away disappointed, with the book not going into Bowie’s life enough.

Overall, Bowie: Album by Album, while a well-presented and informative book, was marred by what I see as wasted opportunities. It’s a good book, but it could have been superlative.


***½


FIRST WORDS
: From the moment he appeared on Top of the Pops performing ‘Starman’ on that fateful Thursday evening in July, 1972 – skinny and skin-tight, pale and pretty, hair vivid orange and teased to the heavens, acoustic guitar slung over his back, arm draped around Mick Ronson in a gesture that took your teenage breath away – everything and everybody was Bowie.

LAST WORDS: Question is, what would he do with it now?
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#17
BOOK 14

Fate/Zero volume 1, by Shinjiro, based on the novels by Gen Urobochi and the Fate/Stay Night franchise by Type-Moon.


I’m on a bit of a Fate/Stay Night kick at the moment. This Japanese franchise looks very closely at what it means to be a hero, and the psychological problems that entails. I recently obtained the first volume of the manga adaptation of the prequel, Fate/Zero, which tells of the events of the prior Holy Grail War. But how would it do?

Ten years ago, the Fourth Holy Grail War was fought in Fuyuki City. Set up centuries ago by a trio of families with an obsession with the mysteries of magic, the latest, fought in the shadows, hidden from those unaware of magic’s existence, promises to be as bloody as ever. Each war is fought between seven Mages commanding Servants, heroes from history and myth bound to their service. The von Einzbern family, one of the founders of the Grail Wars, believe they have trump cards. They have Kiritsugu Emiya, an infamous assassin married to one of their Homunculi, the beautiful Irisviel. And through their contacts, they have given Kiritsugu the means to summon King Arthur himself…or rather, King Arturia herself. But Arturia and Kiritsugu are far from allies, and Arturia is paired with Irisviel as Kiritsugu works from the shadows. Meanwhile, young Master Waver Velvet soon finds himself out of his depth as he summons the mighty Rider once known as Iskander, aka Alexander the Great, while a man from the Holy Church, Kirei Kotomine, struggles with his own reasons to fight in the Grail War...

As is frequently the case with the first volume of any manga, this volume of Fate/Zero takes some time to get to the plot. Indeed, we only get to see a few of the Masters in this story, not to mention only a few of the Servants. And while the heavy exposition will doubtless be helpful to those new to the story, it also does slow the story down a little.

That being said, there’s a lot to recommend Fate/Zero’s first volume. Leaving aside a few interesting twists and turns, and some surprising humour given the dark tone (much of it involving Iskander’s interactions with his Master, Waver Velvet, though there’s some involving Irisviel and Arturia), there’s also some surprisingly deep examination of heroism, even in this volume, as well as dark foreshadowing of things to come. In addition, most of the characters are interesting, including the brooding Kiritsugu, the flighty Irisviel, the determined Arturia, the boisterous Iskander, the nervous Waver, and the arrogant Gilgamesh.

Overall, I actually enjoyed the first volume of Fate/Zero, enough that I want to give the next volume a good look at when I can get it…

****


FIRST WORDS:
KIRITSUGU!

LAST WORDS: Saber, I presume?
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#18
BOOK 15

Breath of Fire: Official Complete Works, by Capcom.


I have to confess, I actually know little about the Breath of Fire series, compared to other JRPGs, especially the Final Fantasy games. That being said, I was intrigued enough to read a making of book I found in the local library. But would it be any good?

From the series’ beginnings in 1993 to the fifth instalment, Breath of Fire: Official Complete Works examines the making of the popular video games series. Charting the evolution of characters both within the development of a single game, and over the course of the series, this book shows what went into making these games.

Then again, it doesn’t show much. True, there’s some interesting artwork and commentary, and it does go into some detail for the latter two games. Sadly, it isn’t enough. Books like these are frequently a triumph of style over substance, but there isn’t much substance at all.

The first three games have very little information about their making of, if at all, and I’m sure fans would know this already. Indeed, this book seems like a blatant cash grab against fans of the series. I personally am glad I got it from the library instead of thinking of buying it, because in my opinion, even for fans, it wouldn’t be worth it.

Overall, I was deeply disappointed with this book. It could have been so much better, in a manner like the far superior Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia. Instead, it’s mediocre, at best.

**½


FIRST WORDS:
The first “Breath of Fire” game was released on April 3, 1993 in Japan.

LAST WORDS: (Not recorded due to spoilers)
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#19
BOOK 16

Small Gods: A Discworld Graphic Novel, by Ray Friesen, based on the novel by Terry Pratchett.


While I have many favourites in the Discworld series, Small Gods does make it close to the top. A standalone story about the nature of religion and belief, it certainly makes it into many fans’ top lists. It was recently adapted into a graphic novel form, however, and I have to wonder, did the adaptation do the story justice?

Long ago, in the land of Omnia, the time of the Eighth Prophet of the God Om has come. Unfortunately for Om, thanks to the fact that he only has one believer left, he’s now stuck in the form of a tortoise. And his only believer, Brutha, is a novice who can’t read or write, though he has a gentle demeanour and an eidetic memory. These two unlikely partners get embroiled in a plot by Vorbis, ruthless head of the Quisition, who is trying to quell a rebellious movement in Om, and cut it off at the source in Ephebe. Between philosophers, rebels, and torturers, Om and Brutha have their work cut out for them…

I have to confess, I’m not exactly a fan of the art style. It’s not that it’s bad, it just doesn’t quite work for me with this story. And by necessity of stripping it down and adapting it to fit in this format, more than a few plotlines seem to come virtually out of nowhere, or at least aren’t given enough foreshadowing.

That being said, Friesen does manage to do a good job. The core precepts of the original novel are still present and very much correct, and for all my mild dislike of the art style, the character design, especially for the three key characters of Brutha, Om, and Vorbis, work very well. It’s certainly does its job well enough.

Overall, this adaptation of Small Gods was good. It could have been superlative, just like the original novel, but it does pretty damn well anyway.


****


FIRST WORDS:
Let us consider the eagle and the tortoise.

LAST WORDS: Yes.
 

Quatermass

Sergeant-at-Arms
Dec 7, 2010
6,246
11
2,850
#20
BOOK 17

Weird Al: The Book, by Nathan Rabin, with Al Yankovic.


I have to confess, until recently, I knew very little about Weird Al Yankovic, a man whose name seems to come from one of Terry Pratchett’s books. I vaguely remembered his comedic mash-up of Don McLean’s American Pie and Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, The Saga Begins, though I did later come to enjoy one of his works later, Everything You Know Is Wrong, for it being used at the end of an episode of Yu-Gi-Oh! Season Zero Abridged. So it was on something of a whim that I borrowed a book about him from the library, but would it be a whim I regret?

Weird Al: The Book is, well, pretty much what it says on the cover. It is a look at the life and career of Alfred Yankovic, aka Weird Al, famous parody musician, from humble beginnings to his increasing fame. Including lyrics from selected songs, tweets and commentary from the man himself, it’s an affectionate look at one of the top comedy musicians of our time.

I have to confess, like many books of this type, there’s not enough substance and more presentation. In addition, some of Weird Al’s humour doesn’t click with me. Certainly, I don’t like the song lyrics presented, for the most part. And the writing is clearly done by a fan.

And yet, for all the fact that I am not actually interested in Weird Al, I have to confess, this book was both interesting and entertaining. The humour, both by Rabin and Weird Al, hits more often than it misses, and it’s an intriguing insight into the life and career of one of America’s premiere humourists. And it was presented very well, I have to admit.

Overall, Weird Al: The Book was an enjoyable enough read, considering I was dipping my toe into a relative unknown. A good read.


****


FIRST WORDS
: Welcome to Weird Al: The Book.

LAST WORDS: Yankovic’s unlikely but brilliant career is an enduring testament that a life spent wearing ridiculous costumes and singing crazy songs can be – and in Al’s case, most assuredly is – a life well spent.
 

Book of the Month

Moving Pictures

"Pratchett’s wackiness collaborates with Gaiman’s morbid humour; the result is a humanist delight to be savoured and read again and again."

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