They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded by James Alan Gardner: The Newest Canadian Super-Heroes are Back in Action

 They Promised Me the Gun Wasn't Loaded They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark vs. Spark, #2

Paperback, 350 pg.
Tor Books, 2018

Read: November 26 – 27, 2018

When I read the first book in the series, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, back in January, I said “the sequel can’t get here fast enough.” I didn’t quite expect to be reading it 11 months later, but I’m okay with that.

It’s just a couple of weeks after the events of the previous book, and the newly formed team of superheroes has gone home for Christmas break. Now with just a few days before classes start up again, the team is coming back. In the last book we focused on Kim/Zircon, this time our protagonist is her roommate/teammate Jools/Ninety Nine.

Jools doesn’t even make it out of the airport before she’s dealing with the police and a powerful Darkling — and maybe a powerful Spark artifact.

(Quick reminder: In this world there are two super-powered groups: the Darks/Darklings and the Sparks. The Darks are all the supernatural-types you can think of (and some you can’t): vampires, weres, etc. The Sparks are Super-Heroes and the like (although some have gone astray))

Jools, with a little help from her friends, gets out of that mess — only to find herself signed up for more.

Soon, in an effort to keep this artifact from falling into the wrong hands — Jools finds herself cut off from her friends and in the secret-hideout with a very maverick group of Sparks — a modern-day Robin Hood and his Merry Men. This gives her an opportunity to watch other Sparks in action, to see how they live and think — and come up with some ways to evaluate her new lifestyle. Also, there’s a lot of fighting and nifty tech to read about.

I wasn’t crazy about how little time we got with the rest of the team because of this, but I think in the long run, it’ll work for the strength of the series. And when we get the team together again, it’s even better to see than it was before.

Again, I had a blast with this book. Gardner’s world is ripe with story-telling possibilities and I’m enjoying watching him develop these characters and this world. Jools is a great character — a solid combination of vulnerable and snarky, unwise and ridiculously intelligent — you’ll probably end up with her as your favorite character in the series (at least until book 3). Go grab this (and the other one, too) now.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

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Arsenal by Jeffery H. Haskell: A Fast, Fun Intro to the Southwest US’s Newest Superhero

ArsenalArsenal

by Jeffery H. Haskell
Series: Full Metal Superhero, #1

Paperback, 256 pg.
2017
Read: July 17 – 18, 2018

Amelia Lockheart lost her parents — and the use of her legs — in a horrible automobile accident when she was a child. However, she knows (or thinks she knows) that her parents survived, and that every adult and authority has been lying to her ever since. What’s a girl-genius to do? Become a metallurgist, engineer, computer designer and many, many other kinds of expert, patent a revolutionary aerospace tech — and become rich off the proceeds. Then you turn some of that wealth into developing an Iron Man-esque suit of armor and an AI to help you run it. Finally, using that armor, become a super hero so you can use the connections you’ll gain to investigate your parents’ disappearance. Double duh.

Amelia’s super-hero alter ego, Arsenal, gets recruited to join her state’s super-powered militia. This is one of the best parts about Haskell’s universe — the supers are regulated (but in a better way than DC or Marvel have ever managed to pull off), each state has militia, with certain laws governing the activities of the groups, and there’s a federal-level group as well — these would be the top of the top, the Justice League of almost every era, while the state groups are closer to the Giffen/DeMatteis run. They’re super, just not super.

Anyway, for the first time in her life, Amelia has friends — plural. She’s made one friend from her normal life, but she’s never found acceptance by more than him, between the super-intelligence and wheelchair. She has a job, friends, a dash of fame — and she gets to save the day.

Amelia has in infectious, energetic personality — it’s a first-person narration, so we get plenty of it — I can’t imagine a reader not enjoying the book just because of her. I enjoyed the rest of the characters, too (I’m going to be skimpy on names, because my copy is a few hundred miles away from me) — but I’m honestly not sure how many of them I trust (well, maybe the goofball from before she was Arsenal).

The action is fast, and plentiful. There’s not as much depth to these characters as I’d like, but I don’t think they qualify as shallow. There are also a four sequels thus far, so I think we’ll get there. The plot could be a bit tighter, the science is probably as accurate as, oh, I don’t know — the idea that exposure to gamma rays could make an angry wimp turn into a giant, unthinking monster. In other words, it’s a super-hero story — sit back and enjoy it. Which is really easy to do, Haskell’s prose is lean, the voice is charming and the you’ll find yourself grinning throughout.

I just had a blast with this — there are a couple of things I hope get improved in the books to come — I’d like to see some of Arsenal’s teammates do a bit more to save the day — they did a good job before she came around, it’d be good to see how she augments the team, not supersedes it. I’d like things to slow down a little bit and deepen with the relationships she’s developing with her new teammates — I like every bit of these, I would just like things to seem a bit more realistic on those fronts. I’m not saying I’m out if Haskell doesn’t do something along these lines, those are some thoughts I had while reading, y’know? It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Haskell found a different and better way to address those topics than I listed, too.

Solid super-hero story, filled with action and characters you won’t be able to stop yourself from liking (not that you’d want to). This was just scads and scads of fun. I’m not sure what else to say, really. Bring on the sequel!

Disclaimer: I had a very pleasant chat with Haskell at Boise’s first Wizard World where I bought this book and he convinced my daughter and I to read our first Spider-Man comic since the end of the “One More Day” debacle. So I guess you could say I’m biased. But I don’t think so (but I’m very glad he brought me back to Spidey!)

—–

3.5 Stars

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner

All Those Explosions Were Someone Else's FaultAll Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault

by James Alan Gardner
Series: The Dark vs. Spark, #1

Paperback, 382 pg.
Tor Books, 2017

Read: January 9 – 10, 2017

…paranoia is our friend. Paranoia is our sunscreen, our condom, our duct tape. Paranoia tells the truth nine times out of ten, and the tenth time is when you weren’t paranoid enough. We will never correctly anticipate what flavor of shit will hit the fan, but we can calculate the trajectory and attempt to avoid the splatter.

Let’s start with the title, shall we? Straight off you know this book is going to be action-oriented, heavy on the explosions and most likely offbeat in style.

This is one of those books that it almost doesn’t matter how good the novel itself is, because the set-up is so good. Thankfully, let me hasten to say, the book lives up to the setup. So here’s the setup: it’s a parallel universe to ours, exactly like it (down to the certainty of the existence of Elton John), but in the 1980s Vampires, Werewolves, etc. admit their existence and sell their services — what services? Being turned, in exchange for exorbitant rates, so that the newly supernatural could enjoy their riches and powers for extended lifespans. Before long, the 1% are essentially all monsters in some way (literally so, not just depicted as monsters in print, on film or in song). The haves are supernatural, the have-nots are human — literally, these groups are two different species.

Yeah, the imagery isn’t subtle. It’s not supposed to be.

A couple of decades later, Sparks show up — Sparks are, for lack of a better term super heroes. They battle the forces of Darkness, so are obviously called Light (both groups have a tendency to be a little on the nose). There’s a pseudo-scientific explanation/excuse fr the way their powers work (contrasted to the magic of the other side). Fast-forward to the present, four college students/housemates are in an almost-deserted engineering lab building on campus when one of the labs blows up. This results in these four being turned into Sparks and they are immediately compelled to defend their city and combat a scheme launched and directed by Darks.

While doing this, they need to come to grips with this new reality for them, their news powers, their new identities, and so on — not to mention coming up with costumes.

This book features THE (triple underscore) best explanation of/justification for simple masks being an adequate disguise and/or the efficacy of removing a pair of eyeglasses to hide a superheroes identity.

The writing is crisp, the characters are fully fleshed out and the kind of people you want to spend more time with. I’m not going to get more into it than that, because you really need to experience the relationships (and many other things) by yourself.

This looked like a fun read, and it is a blast (no pun intended, but fully embraced), but it’s more — there’s heart, humor, some meta-narrative, and strong super-heroic and magical action. I really liked this one — it’s one of the best super-hero novels I’ve read in the last few years and the sequel can’t get here fast enough. Grab a copy today and thank me tomorrow.

—–

4 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Double Lives by Matt Cowper

Double LivesDouble Lives

by Matt Cowper
Series: Johnny Wagner, Godlike PI, #1

Kindle Edition, 380 pg.
2017

Read: August 23 – 26, 2017


Double Lives takes place in a world as overloaded with super-heroes and super-villains as The Tick (comic or cartoon), Powers (comic) or Powerless (TV). But our protagonist isn’t a super-hero, at least not any more. Now, he’s a P. I. — with a twist. A minor deity (whose name I will not try to type), nicknamed Dak has been merged with him and acts as his right arm.

Dak is a god of destruction, and will use power beams, super-strength and the like to achieve this destruction, as often as possible — even when it works against his host, Johnny Wagner, professionally or personally. He will also, at whim, start an argument with Johnny or anyone nearby, threaten them, or just sound off about whatever he wants to — again, even when it works against his host. Dak is really annoying, but will (mostly) grow on you. I did enjoy his origin story, I should add.

Johnny’s a typical down-on-his-luck P.I., there’s really nothing about him early on that will make you think hes anything but a comic book version of Marlowe-clone. Which is fine to start with, and thankfully Cowper doesn’t leave him that way. He is interesting enough to keep the reader engaged and interested.

The hero Captain Neptune has recently been killed by a laughable member of his rogues gallery, Gray Squirrel. The killing was very public, very definite, and very, very filmed. As such, Gray Squirrel is going away for a very long time. Until Neptune’s widow hires Johnny to investigate. She just doesn’t think that Gray Squirrel intended to kill him, and wants Johnny to uncover the truth about what happened.

Sadly, Johnny just doesn’t uncover that, but he unearths many things that people’d prefer were kept under wraps. There’s a decent bit of investigation that goes on, punctuated with some very well-written comic book fight scenes. I was less than impressed with the dialogue, which was frequently problematic, and the romantic storyline. The rest worked, in a heightened-comic book reality way. Which is not a slam, it’s a description — I’m a comic fan, I wish I could read more. I enjoyed the other characters — minor, allies, villains of various degrees of power, heroes (most of whom come across as real jerks), too.

The climactic battles were really well-executed, and even if I hadn’t been won over by the book by this time, I’d probably recommend the books just for them. Thankfully, I can say that there’s a lot more going for Double Lives than those two battles. It’s a lot of fun, and super-hero fans should find plenty to reward their time if they read this.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for this post. I appreciate the opportunity.

—–

3 Stars

Miles Morales (Audiobook) by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard

Miles MoralesMiles Morales

by Jason Reynolds, Guy Lockard (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 6 hrs. 53 min.
Listening Library, 2017

Read: August 7 – 8, 2017


It was Bendis/Bagley’s Ultimate Spider-Man that brought me back to comics after a decade-plus break, and no matter what else I read, it was one of my Top 2 titles on my pull-list. Financial concerns got me to stop reading/collecting about a year before Miles Morales showed up. I was able to deal with letting everything else go, but USM was tough — especially when I heard about this new kid. I never learned much about him, I know he’s Afro-Hispanic, that his uniform is the best one since Ditko’s original, I heard they did a good job showing Miles and his parents going through a Charter School lottery, I know he’s popular enough they brought him over from the Ultimate universe.

Still, I saw this cover floating around Twitter last week and thought it looked pretty cool, so grabbed it when I had a moment. There’s a lot of Miles, his family and his school, not a lot of Web Head. But when he shows up, it counts.

Miles is having some Spidey Sense problems, which is leading to problems at school — a suspension and some trouble with his History teacher. He’s not sleeping well — tormented by nightmares about his uncle’s death. Miles starts to wonder if people like him — descendants of criminals –should have super-powers, if he should be a super-hero. It’s hard to describe the threat that Miles and his alter-ego face, really it unveils itself slowly throughout the book. But it’s a doozy, and it’s not what it seems to be early on.

I think Miles is a great character, he’s Peter Parker-esque in the best sense of the word, while being his own guy. His parents are fun, his dad in particular is a wonderful character — a great dad, it seems. Miles’ best friend and roommate, Ganke is a hoot. There’s a girl, of course, because he’s 16. I don’t know if Alicia’s a fixture in the comic or not, but it’d be interesting to see how she is outside of this.

Oh, Miles having camouflage powers? That’s just cool.

I think Lockard went over the top occasionally with his narration. Maybe part of that is pandering to the 11-13 year-old audience that Audible tells me this is directed toward. Maybe he and the director are just excitable and/or excited. It didn’t detract from anything, it was just occasionally too much. By and large, his energy kept things moving, lively — just the way a Spider-Man story should be.

This isn’t for everyone, but for those who like the idea of a Spider-Man novel, for fans of Miles Morales, or those who are just curious about him — this’ll entertain. I won’t say I’ve read every Spider-Man novel printed in the last couple of decades — but I’m willing to be my percentage is pretty high. Miles Morales is among the best.

—–

3.5 Stars

Book Blitz: Love, Murder & Mayhem

~ Book Blitz ~
Love, Murder & Mayhem
 


About the Book
Love science fiction stories that all include
elements of Love, Murder & Mayhem?

 
Then welcome to the latest anthology from Crazy 8 Press! This amazing collection from 15 all-star authors will delight you with superheros and supervillains. AIs, off-worlders, and space cruisers. We’ve also got private eyes, sleep surrogates, time travelers, aliens and monsters—and one DuckBob!
 
With tales ranging from wild and wacky to dark
and gritty to heartbreaking and fun, take the deadly leap with authors Meriah
Crawford, Paige Daniels, Peter David, Mary Fan, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert
Greenberger, Glenn Hauman Paul Kupperberg, Karissa Laurel, Kelly Meding, Aaron
Rosenberg, Hildy Silverman, Lois Spangler, Patrick Thomas, and editor Russ
Colchamiro.

 
You’ll never look at Love,
Murder & Mayhem
 the
same way again—and that’s just the way we like it.
 
 
About the Editor
Russ Colchamiro is the author of
the rollicking space adventure, Crossline, the hilarious sci-fi backpacking
comedy series, Finders Keepers, Genius de Milo, and Astropalooza, and is editor
of the new anthology, Love, Murder & Mayhem, all with Crazy 8 Press.
Russ lives in New Jersey with his
wife, two children, and crazy dog, Simon, who may in fact be an alien himself.
Russ has also contributed to several other anthologies, including Tales of the
Crimson Keep, Pangaea, and Altered States of the Union, and TV Gods 2. He is
now at work on a top-secret project, and a Finders Keepers spin-off.
As a matter of full disclosure,
readers should not be surprised if Russ spontaneously teleports in a blast of
white light followed by screaming fluorescent color and the feeling of being
sucked through a tornado. It’s just how he gets around — windier than the bus,
for sure, but much quicker.
 
 
 

 

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine ComplexHeroine Complex

by Sarah Kuhn
Series: Heroine Complex, #1

Paperback, 375 pg.
DAW, 2016

Read: April 6 – 8, 2017


A few years back, the city of San Francisco was visited by trans-dimensional demons — they were unable to stay long before being driven back, but in their wake certain individuals were left with superpowers. Some powers were impressive, others were . . . well, let’s just say less-so. Most didn’t use their powers much, but some heeded the call of Ben Parker and used their abilities to serve the common good. Chief among them was Aveda Jupiter — who spends her days defending SF from further demon incursions as well as more mundane menaces.

Aveda is helped in her quest for justice (and good PR) by a fighting coach, a scientist studying demons and a PA. Her PA, Evie Tanaka, is her childhood best-friend and the only one who can weather her mood swings, demands for affirmation and schedule with good humor and grace (at least externally).

Events transpire, and Evie has to pose as Aveda at an event — and things go awry in a pretty significant way. Demons attack (while displaying some new characteristics that require a new long-term strategy for battling them) and Evie demonstrates a super-power of her own. In the next few weeks, Evie has to continue the ruse while learning how to use (and hopefully lose) her own power and learning how to adjust to a newfound confidence, level of esteem, a change in her friendship with Aveda, and even a love life — while trying to beat back the invasion force once and for all.

I’ll be honest — the plot was okay, but almost entirely predictable by page 50 or so. But name the super-hero story that’s not, right? Especially origin stories. What matters is how Kuhn told the story — with heart, charm, and wit. So that you aren’t getting to various story beats saying, “Yup, right on time,” (or whatever unintentionally pompous thing you say to yourself when you get to a point in a book like this), rather you’re saying, “Oh, I like how she did that,” or “that’s a great take on X.”

The characters and the relationships between them are the key to this — none of them act their best, none of them are really hero-material, all of them ring true. These could be your friends (not my friends, mind you — there’s not enough book talk, and a whole lot of things that happen outside of a house), or at least the friends of someone you know. If, you know, your friends are known for dressing in leather, beating up inanimate objects inhabited by pan-dimensional beings, and fending off the prying and gossiping eyes of a fashion/lifestyle blogger.

I don’t think I’ve done the best sales job on this, but I’m not sure what else to say. Heroine Complex is light, breezy and fun — a quick and enjoyable read with characters you want to spend time with. A great way to kill a couple of hours — I’m looking forward to Book 2.

—–

3 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge