Tag Archives: 1990-1999

The Atrocity Archives

Author:Charles  Stross

Laundry Files, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

At first glance, Bob Howard seems like a pretty typical IT guy–smart, sardonic, harried by the incompetence of the computer-illiterate in his organization and the demands of his managers. That is, until you consider the fact that he works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is to protect the world from eldritch entities invading from alternate realities. And Bob’s life is about to take a turn for the weirder as he, bored with desk duty, volunteers to be put on active service. There’s no telling what horrors he’ll run into next.

So, I’ve heard some really mixed reviews about this book, and honestly the author in general. I have to say, for myself, I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives a great deal and plan to read at least more of this series–probably some of Stross’s other series as well. It’s this delightful cross of eldritch horror, office politics, techno-thriller, and spy story, all told with this delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Personally, I enjoyed Bob’s outlook and found him an interesting character to read. And just the ideas behind this story are fascinating . . . higher maths being summoning rituals and opening doorways into other realities, programmers accidentally stumbling on said summonings, secret organizations specifically designed to deal with these. Plus just the whole office drama of the organization and Stross’s presentation of it. I have heard some folks complain about the “technobabble” used in this story, and yes absolutely this book makes me wish I actually understood more higher math and programming . . . but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much more sense it would make even if I did have more context for all the terms. It seems kind of like magic spells used in fantasy novels; like, if you understand Latin, you’ll get a bit of a heads up on what the spell does, but it’s mostly flavor text, and even if you don’t understand, the effects will become pretty clear pretty quickly. I never felt lost because I didn’t understand a term, put it that way. In any case, I found The Atrocity Archives to be a truly engaging and enjoyable book–recommended for those who enjoy something a bit more off the beaten path.

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My Life as Alien Monster Bait

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

It’s every kid’s dream, right? Get chosen to be in a movie, and instantly transform from all-school reject to everyone’s new best friend? When uber-klutz Wally McDoogle manages to land a role in an up-and-coming monster movie, his life certainly undergoes an extreme transformation. About the only person who doesn’t treat him differently is his best friend Opera . . . only Wally’s pretty sure he’s too cool to be seen around Opera anymore. The nerdiness may be catching, after all. But when the filming goes haywire (as it is so prone to do around him), Wally finds out just how valuable true friendship is–and how fleeting  those “friendships” based on fame.

As with the first book in this series (My Life as a Smashed Burrito with Extra Hot Sauce), My Life as Alien Monster Bait is a great Christian middle-grade story that manages to teach important lessons without being stuffy or “preachy” in the slightest. Between Wally’s escapades, the offbeat stories he writes, and the quirky first-person writing, you’ve got a story that’s absurdly funny (even to an adult, but even more so as a kid). But in the midst of the humor, you’ve got some excellent lessons on pride, true friendship, and that more challenging concept to nail down–not treating people differently just because they have more fame or money or coolness points or whatever. Myers brings us a blatantly Christian story with solid life lessons . . . that’s also immensely enjoyable and laugh-inducing. Definitely recommended.

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My Life as a Smashed Burrito With Extra Hot Sauce

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Wally knew his summer was going downhill as soon as his dad started throwing around phrases like “great outdoors” and “think manly thoughts.” He just didn’t know how bad it was going to get until he stumbled onto the bus to “Camp Whacko” (as it was fondly nicknamed) and into the bad graces of notorious bully Gary the Gorilla. Somehow (yes, his ego tends to be his undoing), his fellow campers convince Wally to stand up to Gary in an all-out camp war–pranks in the middle of the night, traps on the trail, that sort of thing. Only, all of that doesn’t go very well with all this teaching on wisdom that Wally’s been hearing from his camp leader, and at some point he’s going to have to make a defining choice.

I discovered Bill Myers’ Wally McDoogle books back when I was still in, like, middle school. They were fabulous then, and they continue to be a joy even today. They manage to be distinctively Christian middle-grade fiction, with solid teaching (in this volume, focusing on making wise choices, choosing good friends, and even loving your enemy), while still being relatable and impossibly funny. Wally is just so utterly clumsy and has such an over-the-top sarcastic sense of humor (and yes, everything’s told from a first-person perspective, which in this story definitely works), that you can’t help but laugh. The collection of circumstances as a whole is so improbable as to be basically implausible. And yet, the attitudes Wally has, the bad choices he makes, and the hard decisions he’s faced with, are completely realistic–they’re the sort of challenges that real people are faced with on a everyday basis. Which (besides the gut-wrenching laughter) is what makes this story so great; it equips kids to face real choices and helps them think through things so that they are more ready when they’re faced with this stuff in real life. Definitely recommended.

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Love Hina (Manga)

Mangaka: Ken Akamatsu

Status: Complete (14 volumes/5 omnibus volumes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for fanservice/nudity

Keitaro Urashima has devoted himself to attending Tokyo University in order to fulfill a half-remembered promise he made with a girl when he was just a little kid. But, being a bit hopeless in general, he’s managed to fail the entrance exams twice now. What’s more, his parents have kicked him out of the house. Lucky for him, his family owns Hinata Inn, which is actually fairly near the university, and he is able to stay on there as the manager . . . only it’s not actually being used as an inn anymore, but rather as a girls’ dormitory. So now, poor Keitaro–who has trouble even speaking with girls–finds himself living in the same building as five girls . . . which should be a dream come true, but with his luck, it’s likely to be more trouble than anything else.

By the author of Negima (which I love), Love Hina is also something of a classic shounen manga, although (in my mind) not nearly so much so as NegimaLove Hina is essentially a new adult romcom, at its core. And yes, the love story between Keitaro and Naru is cute and sweet and funny . . . but a huge part of the manga is these two trying to actually figure out how to tell each other their feelings. It’s kind of too much, especially with all the back and forth about Keitaro’s childhood promise and his insistence on making it into Tokyo University, even without really knowing what he wants to study or anything. Keitaro himself becomes a more interesting character as the story progresses, somewhat, but at the beginning he’s honestly a pretty stereotypical self-insert sort of character. Which I guess fits the ecchi harem sort of story that we have at the beginning. And fair warning, this is definitely an ecchi, fanservice-filled sort of story with lots of hot springs nudity . . . not particularly more graphic than is typical of a shounen manga, just lots of it. The girls in this story are what really makes it shine, though. They are quite the group of characters, with larger-than-life personalities and all sorts of quirks. They’re a lovable group though, and certainly fun to read. I would love to call this a slice-of-life story, and it really is at the beginning; however, the further in we get, the more fantastical things become. You’ve got island princesses and flying turtles and secret sword techniques . . . let’s just say that it gets more bizarre the further you get into the story. And yet, there is definitely content that makes this a proper new adult story as well–the challenges of dealing with complicated emotions, trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, accepting responsibility. These are the sort of things that make this story not just a self-insert harem fest or a quirky fantasy but also a relatable story about growing up. So yes, Love Hina has things about it that I don’t love, but at the same time, it’s still a really good story that’s worth the read.

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My Bloody Valentine (2009 Movie)

Lionsgate

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/Rated R for all the reasons–sex, language, nudity, blood and gore, violence, you name it, you’ve been warned

Tom Warden returns to the small mining town of Harmony after nearly ten years away to settle things following his father’s death. But it seems the past is coming back to haunt him as a series of violent murders sweeps across the rural community . . . murders that parallel closely those that devastated the town on Valentine’s Day ten years ago. And people can’t help but wonder, since Tom was in a way responsible for the previous murders, or at least for the mining accident that created the monster responsible for them.

My Bloody Valentine is a great reminder of why I don’t watch slasher films–but I couldn’t resist the awesomeness that is Jensen Ackles anymore, I just couldn’t. And I have to say that if this were my kind of movie, I would likely have given it quite a high rating. There’s more story to it that just a random collection of bodies building up, so points for that. The casting and acting are well done, too–and yes, I have to gush a bit over the great job Jensen did with this role. There’s a lot of subtlety and suggestion that goes into this part, and he pulls it off with his typical aplomb. But I have to say that the other actors did a great job with their parts, too, which again made the whole thing much more enjoyable. Having said that, there’s a lot of violence and just cringe-worthy, graphic murders–kudos on the CG, by the way–that are just kind of awful, even though they’re executed well. So yeah, fair warning and all that; this is likely to induce nightmares. I did enjoy the twist at the ending, even if it was a bit predictable. Of note, this is a remake of the 1981 movie of the same title, which I haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on any comparisons between the two. Recommended for Ackles fans and for slasher fans, but probably not otherwise. And I’ll always love Ten Inch Hero waaaaay more.

Directed by Patrick Lussier/Produced by Jack L. Murray/Screenplay by Zane Smith, Todd Farmer, & John Beaird (1981 screenplay)/Story by Stephen Miller (1981 story)/Based on My Bloody Valentine by George Mihalka/Starring Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, & Kevin Tighe/Music by Michael Wandmacher

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Psychic in the City (Psych/White Collar Crossover Fanfic)

Author: DTS

FanFiction ID: 10162083

Status: Complete (8 Chapters)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Shawn Spencer and Neal Caffrey first met in a museum in Chicago when they were both still just teenagers, striking up an unusual but lasting friendship. Nearly a decade later, Shawn finds himself in New York, pulled into the FBI’s White Collar division as a consultant in the search for an international art thief, forger, and con man–only to quickly discover that the man in question is his old friend, at which point, Shawn quickly removes himself from the case. Years later, Shawn and Gus are once again in New York, and Shawn stops by the White Collar office to say hi, finding himself unexpectedly face to face with none other than Neal Caffrey, now a CI for the FBI! Happy reunions are had, new friendships are made, and stories are told all around . . . but it appears that these friends aren’t the only old acquaintances in New York, and someone has ill intentions towards Shawn and Neal.

These two stories are ones I’ve wanted to see a crossover fic for basically since I first discovered the shows. And DTS does a great job melding these stories in Psychic in the City. I love the way the author builds up this backstory, using a series of unrelated encounters that inevitably bring them all together in the end–the history and the time factor add a nice touch to the story. The author does a good job with the characters as well, although in some ways I wish they had been a bit more strongly characterized, if that makes any sense at all. Shawn and Neal are a lot alike, but they’re also really different, and although I can see them bonding over their similarities, I can also see them exasperated/baffled by their differences. But I guess I also like the idea of them finding someone in each other that they can be themselves with, sans all the acting and the fronts they both put up generally. What I’m trying to say is that, although the characterizations weren’t exactly what I expected or would have done myself, I liked them and found them to be credible and in-character–and what more can I ask than that? The plot was also interesting and entirely plausible for these guys, but warnings for a major cliffhanger ending. There’s a sequel, though, which will probably be reviewed here shortly. Psychic in the City is definitely a recommended story for those who enjoy these two shows.

Note: You can find Psychic in the City at https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10162083/1/Psychic-in-the-City.

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Captive Hearts (manga)

Mangaka: Matsuri Hino/Translator: Andria Cheng

Status: Complete (5 volumes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Megumi Kuroishi has been living the unconcerned life of a rich boy in the mansion bequeathed to his father when the masters of the house, the Kogami family, disappeared somewhere in China when Megumi was just a little boy. But his life is turned upside down when it is discovered that the young heiress Suzuki, the Kogamis’ daughter, survived and has been found–and is returning to the house in Japan. Because there’s something Megumi’s father has neglected to mention to him . . . the entire Kuroishi family has been cursed ages ago by the Dragon God to always serve the Kogami family. Let’s just say that he finds out most awkwardly, finding himself strangely drawn to Suzuka and going into weird, protective “manservant fits” if he looks into her eyes too long. Awkward for everyone concerned, especially since Suzuka is not the “young mistress” sort, having lived as a commoner in China for most of her life. As the two spend more time together, however, they are drawn to ask–is there something more than an ancient curse going on between the two of them? Because it sure seems like they’re falling in love.

Here in Captive Hearts we have the very first serialized manga by the author of the esteemed Vampire Knight. And yeah, it’s pretty obvious that this is a first manga. It’s relatively unplanned feeling, and the art goes through some pretty massive changes (improvements) over the course of the series. Having said that, it’s also pretty obviously the work of Hino-sensei, and if you like her work, there really is a lot to appreciate here. The art, while still developing, is still her distinctive style, and by the end of the series, it’s actually quite pretty. She does a great job of playing with themes in the chapter covers and manages to craft a style for the panels themselves that fits the shoujo yet goofy style of the story. And that’s where this story is so unique and likely to produce either a love or a hate reaction in its readers. Because it’s distinctly a shoujo romance story–fate, forbidden love, master/servant relationship, unlikely heroine, the whole gamut. But at the same time, even the mangaka acknowledges that it’s a silly story. It was really intended as a one-shot to begin with, so the whole premise is pretty absurd. And while you do get some solid character and plot development (including some nice flashbacks to the whole Dragon God story), the unlikeliness and silliness do continue firmly throughout the story. But it’s a comedic romance, so it kind of works. I enjoy the story, in any case. I would mostly recommend Captive Hearts to those who enjoy comedy/romance shoujo stories or Hino-sensei’s works in particular. (Although again, in some ways this is pretty different from Vampire Knight. More similar to Meru Puri, although even that has a lot more maturity to the writing.)

Note: It’s notable that the Shojo Beat physical copies of this manga also include several interesting one-shots of Hino’s, mostly, again, cute romance stories.

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