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Unexpected Simple Pleasure – Arrow

Been watching several episodes of Arrow, and several things came to mind:

  • It’s not a bad show. It starts off well enough, and is done in an interesting way with good action.
  • If you’re binge watching, as I was, especially several episodes in a row, you’ll notice some inconsistencies when it comes to the character’s behaviour, especially for Thea and Oliver.
  • Oliver comes back from the island all serious at first, but then deciding he needs a cover so as not to be suspected for a vigilante, attempts to play up his former playboyish tendencies. However the transition from irresponsible skirt-chasing brat to serious crimebuster and back again is not convincing, and his family seem like idiots not to pickup the fact that he’s super serious in one scene, and playing dumb in another. I suppose this wouldn’t be noticed as much if you watch the episodes in the way it was intended – with a week’s gap in between, time enough for your memory to glaze over minor details.
  • Thea is one of the most inconsistent character here – she seems centred and matured on episode, then brattish on another.
  • There’s a scene in one of the earlier episodes where Oliver fools Diggle to try locked door before gets him into a stranglehold, in order for him to escape Oliver’s own party to fight crime elsewhere. Amazingly, there was no explanation on the effect the stunt Oliver pulled had on Diggle, and the next time they both appeared on screen together it seemed as though nothing has happened. I’d have expected Diggle to have fought and gotten into Oliver’s face for that, because as at that time Oliver hasn’t yet revealed his secret to Diggle, but no. This was super strange and bugged me.
  • I’m not convinced on superheroes on TV. They’ve upped the smoothness factor by improving production quality, but if you take all that away it’s still almost campy. I wasn’t all in for Agents of SHIELD either, and stopped at Episode 5 for that one.

As I write this I seem to have broken the spell Arrow had on me. I’m on episode 10, and I think I’m pretty much done. I’ll move on to something else.

Review of Prince of Thorns


A short one on Prince of Thorns, Book 1 of the Broken Empire, by Mark Lawrence. The phrase ‘a fantasy with a twist’ is too often used nowadays. This one belongs to the new-fangled, no-holds-barred, in your face, gory fantasy with steaming guts, hacked limbs and bodies pierced this way and that. The hero is typically atypical, a person who does evil deeds but has a paper thin moral excuse. A Jamie Lannister-ish is-he-isn’t-he duality.

This book has a couple of interesting facets that distinguishes itself from other fantasy worlds, hinting at a world set in the very far future ala the Mistborn series, or A Canticle for Leibowitz, or the Book of the New Sun. Unlike its spiritual fantasy forebear, A Song of Ice and Fire (and the book pays homage to GRRM too, in the text), there are hints of our world beneath the one the Prince of Thorns inhabits, and there’s way more magic.

The story, a quest, is interesting enough, and the pages fly by, the action thick and fast. Not too shabby at all, if the ending a little rushed, and feels a tad unresolved. But then that’s what Books 2 and 3 are for.

A Strange Woolf, A Dead Wolf and A Strange Bookstore

My goodness. I understand maybe 5.32% of what’s happening. It doesn’t help that I’m listening to this on my commutes, which under normal circumstances loses maybe about 2.7% comprehension due to the fact that you can’t ‘see’ the names of people/places being pronounced. When tackling this book, however, the narrator, Juliet Stevenson (someone who performed ok on the Austen audiobooks that I’ve listened to) came across a little faint.

I’m determined to see this book through.

For some reason, I keep picturing Plath’s The Belljar whenever I think about this book. I don’t know where the association comes from.

On the other hand, I’m reading Robin Sloan’s delightful Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

I’ve actually read this in it’s 6000-word short fiction incarnation, so this work isn’t entirely new to me. There are parts, which were clever and memorably phrased, appear here verbatim from the shorter version. And it’s very interesting to note how an author might pad out a shorter work into a full-fledged novel.

I’ve not finished this yet, and I’m looking forward to see how this ends.

As for something I’ve actually finished, it’s the next volume of Bill Willingham’s Fable series, Volume 19 in fact. I’ve been following Fables for a while now (I read Volume 1 in 2005, which I reviewed here), and the series has it’s ups and down, but mainly ups. This was not his strongest volume, but it does have one of the strongest repercussions in the series thus far.

I love the dynamic between Bigby and Snow White. I love the mythology that Willingham has built here, and this particular volume sees this dynamic completely shattered (ahem). I’m hoping nothing permanent comes out of this turn of events. This highlights some of the inconsistencies about the characters that bug me – the belief in the fables by the mundies fuel their existence. There are characters that return from death by virtue of their popularity among humans, yet there are characters who are supposedly strong stay dead. I’m looking forward to learning what happens next, as I do for every volume.


Review of The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland


There is a sense of the mythical about this story. Rereading it after many years, I found the story very simple and direct, without the many-tentacled subplots that plague many other graphic novels that tries a little too hard. It conveniently starts with Batman, arriving in Arkham Asylum, intending to have a heart-to-heart with the Joker in order to reach some form of a closure in their very tenuous relationship. There wasn’t a sense as to why Batman wanted to do this out of the blue, it seems to me. Anyway, instead of the Joker, Batman finds that a decoy has been put in his Arkham cell. Joy.

The Joker wants to corrupt Commissioner Gordon and drive him insane to ‘prove a point’. The point here apparently being that a perfectly good person can on a turn of a hat turn into a bad one by virtue of being prodded in the wrong way ‘on a bad day’. I find this conceit problematic, but then Joker is supposed to be insane, so maybe that’s the point. The problem isn’t just there. In the subsequent pages immediately after it was discovered that the Joker has escaped Akham, it was established that the Joker has escaped from Arkham before.  You’d think they’d do a little more to prevent this from happening more than once, but no. They couldn’t prevent a person who can’t wash off the white off his skin, unlike the decoy, from escaping a prison designed to hold super-criminals.

By far the resonating, rippling effect of this piece of work is not the story itself, but what happens to a pretty major character. [MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD – DON’T PROCEED IF YOU HAVE ANY INTENTION OF READING THIS]. It seems to me what happened to Barbara Gordon is the main reason why this story is so infamous, and not anything at all with either Joker’s origin story or his tendency to turn crime-fighting heroes insane. The book was originally published in 1988, and I think more than anything the act of violence against Barbara was really unlike anything that was seen in those days, and certainly not to a major character – an irreversible injury to a mainstream superhero. Moore already did his genre-busting turn on The Watchmen two years prior to this, but this one perhaps had some mileage because of Barbara’s goodness, and in a major comics universe to boot.

If you take out the implications of the Barbara scene, the story’s totally average. The chutzpah of the events leading up to the final showdown, however, elevate it just a little more about the average. Certainly the climate of the superheroes comicdom nowadays is so saturated with violence that something like this, a story touted as a major superhero tour-de-force or some blockbuster equivalent, such an event is not only common but expected. How very cynical the audience nowadays have become.

Art is excellent. Very 90s comics-art, but very well done.

Review of Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

My word, this book is dull. I had high hopes for this one, seeing that it appears in so many best-of lists. Even a Jeremy Irons performance on the audiobook (who was pretty awesome, I must say) could not detract from the extremely plodding storyline.

In summary, there’s this chap, Charles Ryder, who whilst studying in Oxford, befriended Sebastian Flyte, and then spends the novel basking in his friendship with Sebastian, meeting Sebastian’s rich, upperclass and staunchly Roman Catholic family and the goings in and out of the Flyte family mansion, Brideshead. The novel recounts Charles life as it revolves around Sebastian’s family, a story of reflection on family ties, expectations, religion and memories. In fact, the whole book is a retrospection of Ryder’s earlier life, as the novel starts with him, a middle-aged military man who in the course of his duties with his tour came across Brideshead almost inadvertently.

The writing is crisp, and the dialogue can be pretty funny in parts. The best part I have to say is the dry wit of Charles’s father, who spends some effort in tormenting Charles when he returns home to stay with father when he exhausted his funds during his study break.

Of course I’m simplifying the novel. There are parts of the novel that are complex, the relationships that are explored are complex, the sentimentality that’s evident throughout the book and the motivations of the characters, particularly between Charles and Sebastian’s sister Julia, are complex. But the story doesn’t move me in a way that generates excitement or urgency. This reminds me of a sequence in Robin Hobbs’s Farseer Trilogy, where in the second book, Royal Assassin, the bloody book seemed to roll along *but nothing bloody hell happens*!

(There, try to find another review that compares Waugh with a fantasy trilogy!)

If I’m pressed to find something to say about the book that’s intriguing, it’s the ambiguity in the exact nature of the relations between the main characters, Charles and Sebastian. This isn’t something that I considered while reading the book – in fact this because interesting after I was looking at reviews of the novels after I finished it. There were some odd (misplaced, I thought) passages where I raised an eyebrow, but nothing that explicitly said they were more than platonic. There was a scene where Charles was spending the summer in Brideshead with Sebastian, but their frolicking involved some stage of undress. At one point Sebastian calls out to Cordelia, his younger sister, to refrain from entering the area of the house where they were apparently lazing about without their shirts on. Like I said, I did not think much about this during the reading, but I was surprised and fascinated that this was so much in the front and centre in discussions of the book.

I considered for a time whether knowing if they really were physically getting it on affected my feelings about the book, and I decided in the end that this does not change anything at all. The book was still dull, the story did not burst forth in new understanding for me. The physical relationship between them, even if it were true, evidently wasn’t something Waugh wanted to dwell on, since Sebastian pretty much all but disappears from the story somewhere in the middle of the novel, and flitting in and out as Charles began to be described and defined by his relationship with first his wife, then with Julia.

Here’s another perspective from an Asian reader – the name Evelyn normally has been more associated with the fairer sex for the longest time. I’ve heard of Waugh for a long time, of course, but I’ve only within the last few years realized that Waugh was actually a man. I was just watching an episode of Downton Abbey where the love interest of the eldest daughter of the patriarch in the drama is named Evelyn, and I thought ‘how very English this name is’.