The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe – A Book Review

This particular book has been on my “to read” list for quite a while after I saw that Neil Gaiman recommended it.

The plot revolves around a man named Bax — a scholar many times over, a cheat, a sometimes fraud, and a recently released convict.  He has no money and so, after drifting a bit, takes up residence in what he presumes to be an abandoned house.  He soon discovers that the house has claimed him as its own, and so he must deal with all the sorcery, monsters, mystery, and family lineage that accompanies it.  The only question is to whom the title refers.  Is it the previous owner of the home … or Bax himself?

This book is unusual in that is is comprised of a series of letters written mostly by Bax himself.  Due to this method, we get to know Bax very well, or at least the persona he wishes to display to the recipients of his letters.  These letters make for a very fast, entertaining read.

However, because Bax is essentially a first-person narrator, I sometimes found myself distracted by his near omnipotence.  It’s a tricky thing to write a book in this manner, and, at times, Bax seemed to know too much which resulted in the letters feeling less like correspondence and more like actual chapters.

Even with that being said, I did enjoy the story’s trajectory.  It felt different in that it did not conform to the typical third act showdown.  Characters came and went without much fuss, which is how I would describe this book as a whole — it doesn’t make too much of a fuss.  It handles some rather epic concepts humbly and without much of a to-do.  I found that restraint rather charming, actually.

I’m glad Neil Gaiman, a literary hero of mine, thinks so highly of The Sorcerer’s House.  I apparently did not enjoy it as much as he, but if you think highly of Gaiman, I urge you to give it a try for yourself.

Image result for the sorcerer's house gene wolfe

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)


Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – A Book Review

As you know, I’m honored to be a teacher by day.  An esteemed student recommended this book to my class, and he made it sound so exciting, so imaginative, and so flat-out fun that we all wanted to read it.  I ran to my local library and picked up a copy as soon as I could.

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Snow Crash is that it debuted in 1992.  In many ways, this book is downright prophetic in regards to technology, specifically the internet.  It absolutely nailed what was then considered the near future.  I dare you to read this book and not see a world that came to realization.

The plot is … complicated.  Hmm.  How best to succinctly explain?  Okay, here goes: Hiro Protagonist is an underachieving hacker who spends his days delivering pizza for the Mafia.  However, he’s also a master swordsman responsible for much of what’s called the Metaverse, which is what we would call a world of virtual reality.  There’s a new virus attacking those most adept at coding, especially hackers.  It’s called Snow Crash.  However, this virus may not be new — it may be the remnant of something from Biblical times.  There’s so much more, but that’s the driving thread of the book.

Every single sentence in this book made me work, and I mean that as a compliment.  It’s so unique, so original that the reader cannot take a single word off — it demands your concentration at all times.

My only complaint is that the book seems to end rather abruptly compared to the epic tale preceding it.  Frankly, the ending struck me as almost anticlimactic, but that seems fairly consistent with the author’s sensibilities.  Mr. Stephenson seems like a writer that refuses to follow convention, especially when it comes to endings.

Some books require no necessary rereads.  Snow Crash is NOT one of those books.  I intend to read this book again, and probably a third time as well, in order to fully grasp it.

If you’re looking for something completely unique and unlike virtually anything else you’ve ever read, I suggest Snow Crash.  Though it will remind you of The Matrix and Ready Player One, you must remember that this came first.


Image result for snow crash by neal stephenson

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

East of West: Volume 7 by Hickman and Dragotta

East of West continues to be one of the most satisfying series that I’m following.  Even with the seventh volume, Jonathan Hickman engages the reader with innovative plot development and surprising character development.  I never know what’s coming next with this series, and that’s about the highest compliment that I can pay.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, the idea is that … I can’t even.  It’s far too complicated.  Just pick up volume one and you’ll catch on quickly enough.  Just know it’s a dazzling blend of fantasy, western, science fiction, military, alternate history, samurai, and religion.

Hickman utilizes an ever growing cast with grace and nuance — everyone gets a moment to shine in this series.  Furthermore, Hickman seems to know exactly where he’s going at all times.  At no point during this series have I felt as though Hickman is floundering — he never seems lost.  Every issue counts with this series.  Every scene serves a purpose.  There is no wasted time.  That’s rare for a title that has lasted as long as East of West.

Of course, as good as the writing is, East of West would not be the same without Nick Dragotta.  This artist has put a particular stamp on this book; he’s given it an inimitable style.  He makes everyone one and everything in this series look cool.  That’s a great characteristic for a comic as eclectic as this.  Though the term is overused, his art is absolutely epic in nature.

Of particular note regarding Volume 7 — several major players die (or seem to, at least).  Wolf steps to the forefront.  Crow continues to steal every panel in which she appears.  Doma gets the girl.  Oh, and Archibald Chamberlain reveals a very special talent.

When people ask me what current comic book series is a must-read, East of West is always at the top of my recommended reading list.  I see no reason why that will change anytime soon as its excellence continues.

Image result for east of west volume 7

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – A Movie Review

The first half of this review will reveal no specific spoilers.  I will offer a warning and then a page break before I get into specifics situations.  However, I will generally address the tone and plot devices in the beginning of this review.  If you do not want any sort of preconceived notion before seeing the film, I suggest you to do not read this review.  Sound fair?  Okay, let’s go …


The Force Awakens got everything just right.  It introduced new, charismatic characters while allowing the established favorites to shine.  It utilized an action-packed pace while jumping from location to location to location as it revealed a plot that tickled our fancy in all the right — albeit familiar — ways.  It gave us spaceship chases involving, well, our favorite spaceships, lightsaber duels, witty banter, and real emotional stakes.  It focused on old relationships rekindling, new relationships bonding, and teased future relationships to come.  Best of all?  It set the scene for major revelations.  What would Luke Skywalker’s role be in this story?  Who are Rey’s parents?  Is Kylo Ren as evil as he would like us to believe?  Will Poe and Finn be the best new duo in Star Wars lore?  Will Captain Phasma have a defining moment?  How do Leia and Chewbacca move on after Han Solo’s death?  And just who is this Supreme Leader Snoke?  At the end of The Force Awakens, I not only felt extremely satisfied, but genuinely excited to discover all of these things with the next installment.

If I could choose one word to describe The Last Jedi, it would be “anticlimactic.”

The Last Jedi starts off with a bang, but then just kind of fizzles and fizzles and then disappears.  I actually found myself a little bored for quite a bit of this movie, which is something I thought I would NEVER say about a Star Wars film.  There’s so much talking.  Soooo much talking.  But nothing is really ever happening — nothing that felt substantial, at least.

And when something monumental did seem to be happening, it quickly turned out to be nothing.  It fizzled, like I said.  The Last Jedi would raise out hopes time and time again only to laugh in our face and run away.  It got a bit offensive, honestly.

Perhaps the greatest offense of all?  It did not get me excited at all for the next episode.  Just the opposite.  Again, I won’t get into specifics in this space, but The Last Jedi seemed intent to crush every cool thing The Force Awakens teased while leaving us with nothing to replace our anticipation.  The Force Awakens had me counting down the days until the next installment.  The Last Jedi left me ambivalent and, frankly, disappointed.

Want to know exactly why I feel this way?  Scroll past the below image and keep reading …

Image result for the last jedi movie poster

Spoilers coming in …

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Let’s run through my long list of grievances …

Kylo Ren – Is he good or evil?  Is he a plant by the Resistance?  Is that why he had such difficulty killing his father?  Is that how he got overpowered by a novice, the great new hope of the Resistance?  Yeah, he’s evil.  Or, at least, that’s what they tell us.  Because, you know, they mostly tell us stuff in this movie.  I really don’t buy him as this supremely evil person.  Worst of all?  He wore his mask for maybe five minutes.  Kylo Ren with the mask and voice?  Awesome.  Could watch him all day.  Kylo Ren without the mask?  No thanks.  Adam Driver’s face does not scream the kind of evil they would like us to believe.  Exactly the opposite.

Leia – Spent most of her time talking.  They showed us an amazing display of the Force.  Then she fell into a coma.  Then she talked some more.  Then she faded into the background.

Finn – Virtually no interaction with Poe or Rey, which, I think, were the crowning moments of The Force Awakens.  No background revelations.  He’s honestly not in the movie much at all.  On a mission to accomplish a goal that seemed forced.  No longer the fish out of water trying to make good.  Just kind of there.

Captain Phasma – Showed up for about three minutes near the end of the movie.  Fell down a hole.  On the plus side, we learned one of her eyes is blue.  Yes, that’s sarcasm.

Poe – In quite a bit of the movie, but now depicted as a mutinous, trigger-happy lunkhead.  No longer the selfless, hotshot pilot with awesome one-liners.  Now spends most of his time questioning leadership as he’s apparently being groomed to be the next leader of the Resistance.

Chewbacca – In maybe two total minutes of the movie.  Does not address his dead partner at all.

Supreme Leader Snoke – Killed in perhaps the most anticlimactic fashion in the history of movies.  Absolutely nothing revealed about his past.  We never find out who he is, where he’s from, or even if he’s Jedi, Sith, or something else.  Why did I care about this guy again?  Why did they put so much effort into making me care about this guy?

Rey – Given virtually nothing to do as she spends most of the movie on Luke’s island being ignored.  No real “heroic” moments to speak of other than moving some rocks.  Has one cool lightsaber fight that proved pointless.  Got to see Finn for the first time with only five minutes left in the movie.  Oh, and her parents?  Apparently, they were nobody.  Just sold her off as a slave.  They wasted so much potential with Rey’s character.  So much potential.

Luke Skywalker – Return Of the Jedi gave us perhaps the perfect sendoff for Luke Skywalker.  He rescued his friends.  He made things right with Yoda.  He got closure from Obi-Wan Kenobi.  He turned his father, the supposedly irredeemable Darth Vader, back to the good side.  He got to see all three of his father figures reunited in peace and harmony as the Empire fell at last.  If you bring him back for The Last Jedi, you damn well better outdo Return Of the Jedi.  They didn’t.  He spends most of his time actively trying to ignore Rey, being cranky with Rey, or being sarcastic with Rey.  He does not train her as a Jedi at all beyond a philosophical lecture about the Force.  However, at the end of the movie, he makes his lone stand against The First Order.  Kylo Ren faces him one-on-one.  We’re prepared for an epic lightsaber battle as Luke stalls so his sister and her Resistance can escape.  Perhaps he’ll gain a grand death, one that will make movie-history.  Or maybe he survives to team up with his sister and lead the Resistance for the next movie?  Nope.  He evades Kylo Ren’s attacks, and then it’s revealed he’s simply an astral projection of the Force, an illusion.  He wasn’t really even there at all.  The real Luke is sitting on a rock, sweating, back on his island.  And after his friends escape, he falls off the rock.  And then he gets back on the rock.  And then he dies.  So, yeah, that felt like a slap in the face.

Those are just the highlights of my disappointment, by the way.  I could go on and on.  But I won’t.  The creative minds behind The Last Jedi seemed to take into account everything we loved about A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return Of the Jedi, and The Force Awakens, and then do the exact opposite.  I don’t understand this rationale at all.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)


You Should Be Listening To Bullseye With Jesse Thorn

Last year I started getting more and more into podcasts.  This coincided directly with the download of NPR One.  Of course, Pop Culture Happy Hour became my must-hear event.  I grew to really enjoy Freakonomics Radio as well.  I tried a few others that didn’t do much for me.

Eventually, a friend recommended Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.  My friend said that Pop Culture Happy Hour got a little tired for him, but that Bullseye addressed some of the same topics in a far more interesting way.

I found Bullseye on the NPR One app and took a look at past titles.  They typically featured two public figures of some sort, usually actors, comedians, or musicians.  None of the names I saw really interested me.  I moved on.

Not too long after, I kept running out of podcasts to listen to.  I didn’t have a deep rotation, so within a few days of a new week I would already be searching for something fresh.  I remembered my friend’s recommendation.

I dove in and listened to a few Bullseye episodes a week, and I did this whether the interviewee appealed to me or not.  Finally, Bullseye found my sweet-spot.  The episode focused on interviewing interviewers.  Jesse spoke with Katie Couric, Marc Maron, and Audie Cornish.  I listened to Jesse asking the most interesting questions, and I found his interviewees being far more candid than I expected.  That’s when I realized the magic of Bullseye — Jesse Thorn makes everyone interesting.

My friend, once again, was right.

Thorn has such an ease about him.  His voice is incredibly pleasant; he’s got a fantastic radio voice.  He’s warm and unafraid to laugh.  Yet, he’s bold in what he decides to ask.  He’s direct.  I’ve heard him forge ahead with difficult questions despite trepidation.  I’ve also heard him pump the brakes and check on his guest’s comfort when the conversation’s direction became a little too intense.  Sometimes he barely speaks at all because his guest gets going on such a roll.

Thorn has an innate ability to ask about things that his guests often want to discuss.  However, those questions are also things he knows his listeners will find interesting.  This seems to be a rare instinct in his field.

That’s why Bullseye works.  It took me too long to discover this.  I had several starts and stops with Bullseye, but it eventually dawned on me that every interview, no matter who the guest, will entertain and prove educational.  I’d never heard of Beth Ditto, yet Jesse’s interview with her is among my favorites.  Jesse showed me a whole new side to Julia Louis-Dreyfus.  He made me realize Rick Moranis is probably a genius.  He and Louie Anderson damn near made me cry while I mowed my lawn.  Every episode touches me in some way — there are no wasted moments.

Honestly, though, it’s Jesse himself who keeps me coming back.  I’ve listened to enough installments now to piece together a bit of the man himself, and he’s someone I want to support.  His life has not always been easy, and I love that he is willing to share that with his audience and guests.  I started following him on Twitter and I find him wise, funny, blunt, and receptive.  In fact, he’s actually interacted with me on occasion, which is always a thrill.  (The folks at Pop Culture Happy Hour?  Not so much as a “like.”  Not even once.  But, who’s keeping score?  [I guess I am … apparently.])

So if you’re looking for a new podcast, I completely recommend Bullseye with Jesse Thorn.  Keep in mind it will take a few episodes to really win you over, but once you get a feel for it, you will look forward to it every week.  You can find the show at NPR One or Maximum Fun.  Let’s go.

Image result for bullseye with jesse thorn

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)



Doctor Aphra: Volume 1 by Kieron Gillen and Kev Walker – A Book Review

First appearing in Darth Vader, Doctor Aphra quickly became a personal favorite of mine.  In fact, along with Rey and Ahsoka Tano, I’d say she’s one of the most significant Star Wars characters to appear within the last ten years.

Consequently, because she regularly stole the spotlight in Darth Vader and even Star Wars, Marvel gave the good doctor her own series.

If you’re unfamiliar with Doctor Aphra, she is amoral, brilliant, and snarky as can be.  An archaeologist by trade, Aphra is not bound by such things as decency and preserving life.  She does what it takes, usually with a smile on her face.  Make no mistake, though — she is not insane.  She’s perhaps a sociopath, but of the really charming sort.

The beginning of this volume, titled Aphra, gets us off to the perfect start.  The first several pages succinctly establish Aphra’s character.  We immediately meet her hilarious supporting cast: the murderous astromech droid designated BT-1, the protocol droid specializing in torture named Triple 0, and the seriously disgruntled Wookie called Black Krrsantan.  Why does such a delinquent crew tolerate one another?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

However, soon enough, Aphra became less enjoyable for me.  I hesitated to write this review for a few weeks because I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, and then, last night, it hit me.

Doctor Aphra had a really tragic father figure in Darth Vader.  Their bond, though completely toxic, also had an element of fun in that you could tell, somewhere deep within their crooked souls, they actually cared for one another in a strange familial aspect.  Since we know Darth Vader one day will actually live up to his role as a father, it proved ironically endearing to watch him with Aphra.

I feel that Aprha takes a serious misstep when it introduces her actual birth father.  After such a long story arc with Vader, it struck me as far too soon to put Aphra back in this role.  Yes, she is clearly her father’s better and often puts him in his place, which was an interesting juxtaposition with what we’ve seen previously, but by the book’s end you realize she does care for her father, just as you realize Vader cared for her.  In my mind, this plot would have worked far better further down the road after we got to see more of Doctor Aphra as character devoid of any paternal influence.

In fact, I think Doctor Aphra shines best in Star Wars: Rebel Jail.  In that volume, Aprha is mostly interacting with Princess Leia and Sana Starros (who also has great potential).  These three women are all about the same age and have differing perspectives on life, priorities, and laws.  It was an absolute blast to read their story when forced to work together.

I’d hoped that we’d get more of that sort of thing with Doctor Aphra’s first solo outing.  I really wanted to see her fully in charge of her adventure without, frankly, any sort of patriarchal influence.  I will, of course, continue to read Doctor Aphra, by no means is this volume a deal-breaker.  She’s an incredibly charismatic character who can fit into virtually any spot of the Star Wars universe, and I can’t wait to see her further cement her place in the vast mythology.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye by Gerard Way, Jon Rivera, and Michael Avon Oeming – A Book Review

You may remember from last November that I loved Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #1 (click HERE if you want to read that particular review).  Life got in the way of reading subsequent issues, but I made a point to purchase the collected edition of the first six episodes which has been titled “Going Underground.”

Everything I adored about the first issue continues with each additional installment.  Yes, this title gets weirder and weirder (which is a total compliment), but it also gets funnier, more sentimental, and even more full of action.

Way and Rivera pack this volume full of everything a reader could want.  There’s melancholy and loss regarding Cave’s wife, Eileen.  There’s science fiction and mystery regarding his cybernetic eye.  There’s a family dynamic and father/daughter tension regarding his college-aged daughter, Chloe.  There’s intrigue and corporate turmoil regarding his former employer, EBX.  There’s fantasy and philosophical conflict regarding the underground kingdom known as Muldroog.  And there’s lots and lots of gunfire regarding Cave’s unlikely friend and obscure blast from the past, Wild Dog (a personal favorite of mine).

But, even with all of these different things going on, Way and Rivera deliver a cohesive story that seems to be going somewhere specific.  I won’t lie — this book travels to some strange places and doesn’t always make obvious sense.  That’s part of what I love about it.  However, the authors have revealed enough to make me trust their vision and skill.  I suspect this will be an epic story that unfolds slowly amidst more immediate action, and that’s just the way I like it.  Best of all?  There is a dark humor always present, one that is sometimes delightful, sometimes disturbing, but always funny.

Michael Avon Oeming’s art suits this story perfectly.  At times, this book gets really, really violent.  Oeming’s art is a little on the cartoonish side, so it’s always shocking when he depicts one of those intense moments.  However, even though his art has a simplified look, his characters are always in motion, his panels flow smoothly, and the implied movement is always conveyed interestingly.  In other words, he’s very good at this medium.  I particularly enjoy the angles he chooses and his creative use of space upon the page.  At times he employs the traditional panel grid, but he is also unafraid to subvert that convention and do something more experimental.

We can’t appreciate Michael Avon Oeming without also crediting Nick Filardi’s coloring.  There are certain teams in the industry that enhance each other’s talents to create something incredibly special.  Oeming and Filardi are such a duo.  Filardi’s colors in this book are subdued yet extreme, strange yet beautiful, traditional yet innovative.  His use of the dot matrix looks customary but feels revolutionary, which is probably a great way to describe Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye as a whole.

It’s also a great way to describe another element of this book — Tom Scioli’s Super Powers.  Allow me to take a trip down memory lane … Once upon a time, I enjoyed a cartoon called Super Friends.   The Super Friends had a few kid members, particularly Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  That cartoon eventually evolved into Super Powers, which also had a comic book and a toy line that I still revere to this day.  Finally, comic books used to have backup stories featuring less popular characters that couldn’t always support their own series.

Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye features such a backup story called Super Powers by Tom Scioli that features Zan and Jayna — The Wonder Twins.  It is absolutely bonkers and marvelous.  It embraces beloved elements and designs of that era, yet it also undermines those elements to create something mutinous and captivating.  It is unorthodox, daring, and strangely charming.  In an industry where we seem to keep getting the same stories over and over, Super Powers defies established methodology.

By now you’ve probably guessed this, but I highly recommend you add Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye: Going Underground to your bookshelves.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)