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Imagine if Wolverine from the X-Men had written a tell-all autobiography á la Rob Lowe's Stories I Only Tell My Friends or _The Kid Stays in the Picture_ by Robert Evans. You'll be pretty close to the overall flavor of _Prepare to Die!_. It dishes up action, existential ruminations, feel-good nostalgia, adolescent angst, and a few genuine surprises along the way.
Prepare to Die! imagines a superhero universe from the ground-up, replete with the internecine conflicts, epic battles, and agonizing betrayals that normally unfold over the run of a comic book series. The book is written in an in-universe, autobiographical voice. Its "author" is a superhero known as Reaver -- so-called because he can take a year off a person's life with each of his punches. Reaver is writing for an audience that already reads about superheroes in tabloids and watches them on TMZ. Superheroes are are as much a target of the paparazzi as they are of supervillains. The in-universe audience already knows the characters. They know their stories, but they don't know the _whole_ story.
The story starts off with our hero, Reaver, facing down his arch-nemesis Octagon. Reaver is losing badly. He's cornered, out of options, and has literally no fight left in him. As Octagon prepares to administer the coup de grâce, he delivers the bad guy boilerplate: "Prepare to Die!" Reaver ponders this and responds: "Ok. How long do I have to prepare?" Surprisingly, Octagon agrees to give him some time to prepare to die. This sets off an existential journey through Reaver's past. He examines the genesis of his superhero powers and persona. He takes a trip back to his childhood hometown to see the love he lost when he took up the superhero-ing life.
I'm not a comic book afficionado by any means. Case in point: I was completely unaware that Paul Tobin has a day job as a comic book writer, writing storylines for Spidey, the Fantastic Four, etc. He may be sticking to the writer's adage of "write what you know", but the book is much better for it. Tobin writes well, and uses the novel format to meander seamlessly from the present-day story through Reaver's past triumphs and tragedies.
Ray Chase's gravelly narration is a perfect fit for the world-weary Reaver. Great casting, and a great example of a book that should be listened to rather than read. Next story Chase narrates, I'm going to have a hard time separating him from the Reaver.
Criticisms? Well, the female characters tend towards the one-dimensional. Not entirely, and not in all cases, but more often than not. Also, the ending doesn't entirely make sense when you think about the book's intended in-universe audience. But, what the heck. This is a really, really fun book. By turns, it's thrilling, heartbreaking, and, above all, genuinely surprising. I came to it with no expectations, was hooked within a few chapters. By the end I was completely won over, and can't wait for Tobin's next book.
I didn't grow up in the duck and cover era, but I get the sense that Alas, Babylon is exactly the kind of "what if?" story that was lurking in the collective subconscious of Americans during the late 50's / early 60's.
Although it was written over 50 years ago and was, in fact, among the first post-apocalyptic/survivalist fiction novels, it never feels dated. One quickly forgets that we've moved from telegrams to text messages. Anyway, if we're imagining that society and infrastructure have collapsed, a post-apocalyptic 1959 probably wouldn't be that much different from a post-apocalyptic 2013.
This is a story about people in a small Floridian town struggling with the fallout (both figurative and literal) of a nuclear blitzkrieg that's wiped out most of America. The book's preface indicates that the idea for the story came from a conversation with an acquaintance who asked him what he though a sneak nuclear attack from "the Russkies" would look like. The author had worked as a government consultant and written on cold war-era military topics. He simply told the acquaintance that he imagined some 50-60 million American lives would be lost and left it at that. Alas, Babylon was his attempt to humanize what a loss of this magnitude would actually look like for those who survive. As a result, the story takes place on a smaller stage. It's about one man and his community trying to survive and cope with the loss of loved ones, the loss of infrastructure, and the loss of purpose they had in their former lives.
Will Patton is stellar as narrator, delivering a haunting performance. It's impossible to see the book without hearing him shout the novel's titular "Alas, Babylon!"
Highly recommended, and would make a great first listen for someone who's interested in post-apocalyptic fiction.
Riyira Revelations was undoubtedly my favorite Fantasy series from 2012. Sullivan clearly has a firm grasp on the series and where everyone's headed from the first pages of the novel. The result is a deeply engrossing tale with fleshed-out characters, a rich, imaginative setting, and plenty of swashbuckling roguery. It's a satisfying story from beginning to end.
I'm reminded of a notion from The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The frame of the Princess Bride is that it's actually an abridgment of a much longer, much more boring story. Goldman later discovered that his grandpa cut out a lot of this boring stuff when reading it to him as a kid. The version he heard was just the action, adventure, and fun stuff. You know, "the good parts". Well, Theft of Swords is very much a "just the good parts" novel.
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