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4LN Book Review – Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

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Norse Mythology has been at the top of my “books-I-can’t-wait-to-read” list since it was first announced.  If you’ve been reading 4LN for a while, you are probably familiar with my love of The Lord of the Rings and Jason Aaron’s Thor: God of Thunder, so a book that dives into the lore that inspired Tolkien and Stan Lee, plus the fact that it is written by the great Neil Gaiman is definitely a must read.

Here’s a summary of the book from the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company:

Introducing an instant classic—master storyteller Neil Gaiman presents a dazzling version of the great Norse myths.

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Once, when Thor’s hammer is stolen, Thor must disguise himself as a woman—difficult with his beard and huge appetite—to steal it back. More poignant is the tale in which the blood of Kvasir—the most sagacious of gods—is turned into a mead that infuses drinkers with poetry. The work culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and rebirth of a new time and people.

Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerge these gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

 

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Norse Mythology is a fresh take on Norse myth pulled from various sources (mainly the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda, which date back over 900 years), told using modern language.  Gaiman then takes these myths and forms a, more or less, cohesive journey from the beginning to end.  Throughout the different tales we learn what Odin sacrificed for wisdom, how Loki’s mischievousness led to the creation of Thor’s hammer Mjölnir by the Dwarves, and how the children of Loki play a major role in Ragnarok, which is both the end and the beginning of the gods.  Oh, and we also learn why Loki tied his genitals to the beard of an angry goat – a story that my fellow 4LN writer Bill is quite fond of, for whatever reason…

 

Since I am a fan of themes, I drank this wine while I read.

Since I am a fan of themes, I drank this wine while I read.

 

Overall, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a well written, accessible story the gives the reader some insight into the epic tales of the Norseman. Before reading this book I had at least partial knowledge of several of the tales, mainly from Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series (which is outstanding), but reading several of the main stories in what is mostly a single narrative is a great way to not only learn about Norse myth, but enjoy a great book at the same time.  It’s an easy and informative read that is well worth the price of admission.  I grant Norse Mythology 5 out of 5 Golden Apples of Idunn.  Make sure to head to your local bookstore to pick it up when it hits shelves on February 7, 2017.

4LN Book Review – A Hundred Thousand Worlds, by Bob Proehl

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A Hundred Thousand Worlds hit the bookshelves June 28, 2016, or, right when I needed something to read that was a little more portable than my giant 50th Anniversary, one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings. I had been seeing the title popping up in different newsletters and Goodreads recommendations over the last few weeks, and decided that, even though I knew next to nothing about it outside of the setting (a road trip hitting several comic conventions across the US), I should give it a shot.

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Bob Proehl, bobproehl.com

Summary from Penguin Random House:

Valerie Torrey took her son, Alex, and fled Los Angeles six years ago—leaving both her role on a cult sci-fi TV show and her costar husband after a tragedy blew their small family apart. Now Val must reunite nine-year-old Alex with his estranged father, so they set out on a road trip from New York, Val making appearances at comic book conventions along the way.

As they travel west, encountering superheroes, monsters, time travelers, and robots, Val and Alex are drawn into the orbit of the comic-con regulars, from a hapless twentysomething illustrator to a brilliant corporate comics writer stuggling with her industry’s old-school ways to a group of cosplay women who provide a chorus of knowing commentary. For Alex, this world is a magical place where fiction becomes reality, but as they get closer to their destination, he begins to realize that the story his mother is telling him about their journey might have a very different ending than he imagined.

A knowing and affectionate portrait of the geeky pleasures of fandom, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is also a tribute to the fierce and complicated love between a mother and son—and to the way the stories we create come to shape us.

Let me start by saying that even though this is Bob Proehl’s debut novel, it was packed full of emotion, beautiful descriptions of the ordinary, and multiple plotlines that interweave into a fantastic, heartfelt story.  Oh, and it is also stuffed with references, Easter eggs, and nostalgia that only a fan of nerd culture could spin together.  It’s the kind of book that is hard to describe while you are reading it, but impossible to put down.

The story centers on nine year old Alex and his former TV star mom Valerie Torrey as they road trip across the country making stops at various comic conventions along the way.  Val starred in the show Anomaly, which is a stand in for popular shows like X-files or Firefly, and is stopping to make appearances on their way to LA, where her ex-husband/former costar still lives.  Along the way, they meet indie-artist Brett who works for Black Sheep (think Image or IDW), Gail, a writer for National Comics (DC), and a pack of professional cosplayers.  Proehl uses these side-characters to explore the inner workings of the comic industry, and fandom in general.

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Like most good novels, A Hundred Thousand Worlds is tinged with a little sadness.
It is full of measured tension, but broken up with up with nostalgia and comic relief.  Proehl does a good job with Alex as a protagonist.  He is wise for a nine year old, but never seems too wise for his years.  His burgeoning friendship and “co-mission” with Brett is a fun side-story, and his commentary on life in general is fascinating.

In the Acknowledgements section, Proehl describes A Hundred Thousand Worlds as a love-letter to a medium that has been dear to his heart since he was a kid, and it really shows.  Proehl’s commentary on the culture of fandom is unique and interesting, and his story is one that will resonate with people.  Few books leave me with a book hangover, but this one certainly did.  I wholeheartedly recommend A Hundred Thousand Worlds to anyone looking for a captivating summer read.

Time Machine Book Review – Plan B, by Jonathan Tropper

Today we go back in time to look at Jonathan Tropper’s novel Plan B.  If you have ever seen the brilliant movie This is Where I Leave You, then you are at least partially familiar with author Tropper’s work.  After realizing This is Where I Leave You was based on a novel, I immediately decided that Mr. Tropper had earned himself a top slot in the “To-Read” pile, though I decided I wanted to read something other than the book the film was based on.  I decided to pick up Plan B, Tropper’s debut novel, both because it was his first book, and because the book centered on a group of friends turning 30 and trying to hold onto youth and the close-knit friendship they developed in their college years.  Being that I am certainly nearer to 30 than I am 20… or 25 for that matter, and I also look back at my college experience fondly, this book basically jumped off the shelf at me.

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Synopsis from Jonathan Tropper’s website:

A novel about Friendship, Love, Celebrity, Addiction, Kidnapping and Turning Thirty.

Turning thirty was never supposed to be like this.

Ten years ago, Ben, Lindsey, Chuck, Alison, and Jack graduated from NYU and went out into the world, fresh-faced and full of dreams for the future. But now Ben’s getting a divorce, Lindsey’s unemployed, Alison and Chuck seem stuck in ruts of their own making, and Jack is getting more publicity for his cocaine addiction than his multimillion-dollar Hollywood successes.

It seems that the one thing they’ve learned since graduation is that nothing turned out the way they planned it. Suddenly, turning thirty- past the age their parents were when they were born, older than every current star athlete or pop music sensation – seems to be both more meaningful and less than they’d imagined ten years ago.

There’s no time to contemplate this milestone, however; life is intervening, especially for Jack. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and though the bold plan the friends devise to save Jack from himself may not be the best way, once again, going with Plan B seems to be the only choice they have.

Jonathan Tropper’s wonderful debut novel is about more than friendship, love, celebrity, addiction, kidnapping or even turning thirty- it’s a heartfelt, sharply written comic riff on what it means to be an adult against your will, to be single when you thought you’d have a family, to realize nothing in life happens like you planned it, to discover you are not, in fact, immortal, and to learn that Star Wars is as good a life lesson today as it was when you were six years old.

As I mentioned earlier, Plan B centers on four decade-long friends who get into all sorts of shenanigans as they try to save their movie star friend from his cocaine addiction. I found all of the characters to be very well thought out.  The kind of characters that feel “lived in,” if that makes sense.  Despite having vastly different life experiences from these characters, I could still see some of me and my close college friends in them. Like most good fiction, these people are likable, but flawed, which adds to the charm.  Ben, the book’s main character/narrator, is struggling in a dead-end job (if you can call writing for Esquire “dead-end,” even as a lowly list-maker), in the middle of an amiable divorce, and has been in love with his best friend Lindsey since college.  Ben along with Lindsey, Alice (the lawyer who has an almost maternal instinct towards Jack the moviestar), and Chuck the possibly sex-addicted surgeon get the band back together in an attempt to save their friendships and their friend Jack Shaw, action star.   The imperfection of these people feels real and the ridiculous situations these characters find themselves in adds a layer in which we see how these relatable personalities work out their shit with each other and life in general.

Tropper seems to have a knack for perfectly describing the minor existential crisis that comes with life just not ending up like you’d expect.  A lot of the narrator’s introspection put words to what I experienced after leaving the close-knit society that is college life.  While in school I lived with two good friends while my girlfriend and some of my other close friends lived just down the stairs.  Living that close to your friends ensures that you will constantly be in contact with the people you want to hang out with.  Nothing to do?  Walk 10 steps away and find your friends.  When you move away, that immediacy of friendships dissipates and it’s hard to figure out how to fill those gaps, while also figuring out your direction in the adult world.   Needless to say, I appreciated a novel that both brought my nostalgia to the forefront, but also managed to tell a great tale of friendship, adulthood, and settling down.

I rarely read modern fiction (I mostly stick to science-fiction, fantasy, comics, and boring nonfiction books), but I bought this novel on the January 2nd and had it finished by January 5th.  That’s with kids, a job, and an irritating inability to speed-read.  I either really liked it or I am a literary sadomasochist.  Plan B is available at major book retailers and, of course, on Amazon, just make sure you specify “books” or you will end up in the digital birth control aisle.

 

4LN Book Review – Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: and Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt is the role model I didn’t know I needed.  I would end the review there, but then I couldn’t really call it a review which is kind of the whole reason I got the book early in the first place.  Nor would I be able to let you know why this book was so good.  Now before we get into what made this book so enjoyable, lets take a look at the summary from the publisher:

Pop Culture and sci-fi guru Ryan Britt has never met a monster, alien, wizard, or superhero that didn’t need further analysis.

Essayist Ryan Britt got a sex education from dirty pictures of dinosaurs, made out with Jar-Jar Binks at midnight, and figured out how to kick depression with a Doctor Who Netflix-binge. Alternating between personal anecdote, hilarious insight, and smart analysis, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read contends that Barbarella is good for you, that monster movies are just romantic comedies with commitment issues, that Dracula and Sherlock Holmes are total hipsters, and, most shockingly, shows how virtually everyone in the Star Wars universe is functionally illiterate.

Romp through time and space, from the circus sideshows of 100 years ago to the Comic Cons of today, from darkest corners of the Galaxy to the comfort of your couch. For anyone who pretended their flashlight was a lightsaber, stood in line for a movie at midnight, or dreamed they were abducted by aliens, Luke Skywalker Can’t Read is full of answers to questions you haven’t thought to ask, and perfect for readers of Chuck Klosterman, Rob Sheffield, and Ernest Cline.

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Ryan Britt, the author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: and Other Geeky Truths, has been published by the likes of like The New York Times and VICE, and was also a staff writer for sci-fi super-site Tor.com, where he remains a contributor.  The book itself is essentially a collection of nerdy thoughts in the form of essays that run the gamut from Star Wars (obviously) to Sherlock Holmes with Lord of the Rings and Back to the Future thrown in for good measure, which means it’s right in my wheelhouse.

This book was great.  Each essay was a fun read whether you know a lot about the subject matter (in my case Star Wars) or no next to nothing about it (Doctor Who).  Britt does a good job providing enough expository information about the topics to make the humorous point of his essays make sense.  Each essay offers a unique perspective on some of nerd cultures most popular franchises.  In Regeneration No. 9, Britt talks about how the idea of regeneration in Doctor Who helped him deal with a bout of depression.

Ryan Britt

Ryan Britt

In the titular essay Luke Skywalker Can’t Read he argues that everyone in the Star Wars universe is illiterate because we are never shown anyone actually reading.  Instead, they almost always use holograms to pass information along.  He does point out that there is some reading in Star Wars, but these letters are task-oriented.  For instance, the pilots in Star Wars appear to be literate because they have to read the labels in their cockpits as well as the translation of the beeps and boops of their R2 units, but a vast majority of the different societies throughout the galaxy are out of luck.  From there we get a look at the paradoxes of Back to the Future, and an essay about how J. R. R. Tolkien originally only planned on writing The Hobbit and not Lord of the Rings and what the world would be like if he followed through and never wrote one of the most popular works of fantasy ever.

Overall, Ryan Britt is putting out a really fun and interesting collection of essays that nerd culture fans of all types can get something out of it.  I was familiar with about three quarters of the subjects and enjoyed each essay.  All of the essays have some personal stories intertwined that give you a sense that you are just hanging out with this guy who ponders the great mysteries of the fictional realm and is sharing his insights.  Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: and Other Geeky Truths hits the shelves on November 24, 2015, and I highly recommend picking up a copy.