Thursday, September 17, 2009

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read the Yiddish Policeman's Union first, and I really didn't want to like Kavalier & Clay better. Because I loved the Yiddish Policeman's Union, and because people said I had to. I'm so contrarian. They tie. For first place.

Both books deal with the Holocaust from an American perspective. This one deals with two Jewish wiseguys who help start the comic book business from offices in the Empire State Building. One wiseguy, Clay, is American, the other, Kavalier, a Czech refugee from Nazi occupied Prague.

The book is about many things. Secrets, love, the Holocaust, the Empire State Building, magic, Jews, Harry Houdini, the Golem of Prague, sex, and Comics. It is written as history, with fake footnotes and all. As if the Escapist, the comic book the characters create, was real and has fans and collectors today.

After the Yiddish Policeman's Union came out, much was made of Chabon writing genre fiction. After being awarded a Pulitzer for Kavalier and Clay and everything! Some people were upset. They obviously didn't read Kavalier & Clay closely. It drips with love of comics, magic, science fiction, and their fans. There are a few brief moments of magical realism in Kavalier and Clay, and references to Lovecraft pop up in the oddest of places.


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Monday, September 14, 2009

RPG: Mouse Guard Impressions

I GM'd Mouse Guard for my old Seattle RPG group this past weekend. On the whole it was a great success. It took about an hour for all of us to get into it, and understand the rules.

When GMing, the rules tell you to find two challenges for the party, and just go for it. What they don't mention is what if the party succeeds? On failures, you can add all sorts of fun twists, but successes just succeed. Keeping the GM turn rolling for two hours could require a lot more than two encounters.

I used the sample mission "Find the Grain Merchant," and the sample characters. I used two others from other missions as I had six players. I added a lot more complications, as the game would have been over (the GM part) in about 30 minutes otherwise.

The Player Turn was interesting. Using the examples in the book, I could see that the players could keep the adventure going by spending points, but I'm still unsure how many points they would need to go and get into trouble and find the conspirators. The rules are very clear on how to spend points to heal. They need work on how the players can go off and create story.

All six players enjoyed the game and wanted to play more. Always a good sign. I suspect a rereading of the rules and some searches on forums will be in order before I play again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Book Review: Light by M. John Harrison

Light Light by M. John Harrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Good: M. John Harrison's descriptions are so evocative, so immediate, they thrust me headlong into the scene. The pacing continually picked up as I read the novel, by the end I found myself hitting the next page button on my kindle before I finished the last line or two on the page. Pacing was relentless. The ending was a knockout, and brought revelations that astounded me. Wow.

The Bad: If I hadn't read this for my book club (Other Worlds Book Group, in Lake Oswego, Oregon), I probably would have put it down and never finished it. It's an ensemble book, and of all the point of view characters, I found it a slog to read all but one: Seria Mau Genlicher. A serious anti-hero, she grabbed my attention from the start. The others made my eyes blur, and wonder why I wasn't doing something productive, like playing World of Warcraft. Thank god for Harrison's stunning descriptions, that's all I had to hang on to. About a fifth of the way through the book, the slog stopped and real enjoyment took over. Rebeca, from my book group, didn't get to that point until midway through the book.

The Ugly: What could be more boring than sex or serial killing? In this book, not much. An alien race that looks like Irish junkies who masturbate every 20 minutes sounds like a set-up for some edgier version of Douglas Addams, but in Light it's just more evidence of how dreary everything is. We get a serial killer who claims he's driven to kill, but really seems unconnected.
Do women exist who don't greet men with an offer/demand of instant sex? It's hard to find them in this book, and given how distant, gray, and emotionless almost all the sex is depicted as, you have to wonder why they bother.

And Yet: I ended up loving this book. The ensemble starts to work, often by the introduction of minor characters, like Anna, who bring focus and insight into characters who failed to grab me at the start.
The structure of the book is a real strength, with jumps from the present day to 400 years in the future, that tie together seemlessly.
The cloud of despair lifts as the pace throttles up to full tilt, and by the end the book is awash in a gonzo intensity.

If you start this book and find yourself wavering, keep going. If you're going to go into Light, go deep.

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