Reviews by eknapp
Not spectacular. But solid.
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Four college students vacationing in Cancun trek out to an archaeological dig in the jungle and are trapped by Mayan villagers on a hill covered by a strange, deadly plant.

My first impression of The Ruins was that it was written by a high school student. It read for a while like a simple, endless series of declarative sentences.

This feeling gradually faded as I got to know the characters. They--the English-speaking ones anyways--made the book for me. The point-of-view cycles amongst all four of the students--sometimes switching mid-event--allowing them each to be drawn quite well. The details of the characters, their idiosyncrasies and insecurities, felt very real.

The one part of the characterizations that gave me pause: while the girls were weak, helpless, and mostly useless, the guys were all at some point heroic. I'm not one of those folks who think women and minorities in fiction should only be drawn as brain surgeons and starship captains (to paraphrase Scott Adams) but the hard line between feminine helplessness and masculine resourcefulness was too stark. It's a minor complaint though.

I liked the mystery behind the setting and the antagonist; I loved that Smith addressed some of the questions that had already been running through my mind but didn't try to answer them. This was one of those cases where the questions are more interesting, more fun than the answers.

The gore toward the end of the book was almost-but-not-quite too much for me; the tension at that point was so high that I couldn't put the book down. The ending felt right. Solidly 4 stars.
Engineer as puppet-master. Good stuff.
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An engineer in a technologically advanced city-state is sentenced to death for the crime of improving upon the design of one of that city-state's products. When he learns that his family will be stripped of his pension, he escapes, then constructs an unimaginably massive and complex "machine", using people and politics as materials and his desire to be reunited with his wife and daughter as its power source. He engineers a war to save his family.

Devices and Desires is fascinating to read. The author CLEARLY has extensive experience with craftsmanship and fabrication, and possibly with hunting, corporate politics, international politics, and noble decorum as well. It's that convincing (to a know-nothing like me, at least).

I did find a bit tiresome the protagonist's infallibility. He correctly divines the aspirations and frustrations of people he's never met based on the sketchiest of information; he predicts their actions without fail. This is justified simply by his treatment of them as "materials". It would have read better if he'd had to make more adjustments to his "machine", if he'd been more reactive and less...well, omniscient. He even wins several combats--despite having no training whatsoever--by treating them as problems of engineering; it's an interesting concept but lacks plausibility on paper.

The many character perspectives were wonderfully differentiated. Motives aren't generally "good" or "bad", they're quite complex. Methods also vary: the main character treats everything like an engineering problem; another character approaches everything as if it's a hunt and the goal is the quarry. It works surprisingly well.

A theme of institutional stupidity ties everything together. Several nations' inner workings are explored. They're each stupid and destructive in different ways and the contrast is interesting.

Devices and Desires is the first of a completed trilogy, and I cannot wait to start book 2.
It's no Watchmen. But it's pretty good.
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"Roses are red. Violets are blue. Everything's possible. Nothing is true."

One of Alan Moore's earliest works. In an alternate history Earth, England has gone full-bore WWII Nazi fascism. A nutter in a Guy Fawkes mask takes on the oppressive regime single-handedly.

I loved V for Vendetta the first time I read it. My second time through, the cracks started to show. It's heavy-handed and over-earnest in a way that is commonly seen with teenaged writers. Moore is free about conflating order with fascism and disturbingly infatuated with anarchism. That said, it's adventurous, clever, well-paced, grand. The "V" symbolism runs rampant throughout the book and is quite slick at times, though it's occasionally a bit forced.

The pixelly six-color art looks dated, but it's probably not fair to hold that against it; it is a product of its time.
The best graphic novel series currently in production.
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Egad, this series is good. Gabriel Rodriguez is hands down my favorite illustrator anywhere anywhen. His perspectives are weird and fascinating and always appropriate and informative. Little things that advance the story or hint at things to come are always popping up barely noticeable in the background. Panel shapes and sizes are used to full effect. Homages to other writers and artists are entertaining. Amazing.

Joe Hill's story is magical. A mansion full of magic keys and secrets and strange delights. A family devastated by tragedy, valiantly pulling together. And somehow Hill conveys a sense of reassuring life-goes-on normalcy amidst all the wonder and horror. I wish I could give Locke and Key a sixth star somehow.
A solid debut for the son of Stephen King.
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Jude Coyne, an aging heavy metal frontman with a bizarre occult collection, buys a ghost at an online auction. Unfortunately the ghost--a recently deceased hypnotist and dowser--bears a grudge against Coyne and is bent on making him murder his girlfriend and kill himself.

Before I read it, most of what I've heard about this book was pretty polarized, either "OMG BEST BOOK EVAR!!!1!1" or else "why was this talentless hack trying to write a book." In a nutshell: Heart-Shaped Box wasn't a revelation or anything but I did quite enjoy it.

Coyne makes for one of the more unsympathetic protagonists I've encountered. He's not a BAD man...but he is just kind of a dick. Because of that it took me a while before I started to relate. And the way his girlfriend was introduced--an off-camera hanger-on who was trying to passive-aggressively provoke a fight--was even weirder; I was honestly surprised when I FINALLY understood that I was supposed to care about what happened to her. I'm glad I stuck with it though, the payoff was worth it.

It was relatively low on gore (which is neither good or bad, necessarily) for a product of Stephen King Jr. That was fine by me as there was plenty of horror to be found in the utter loss of control experienced by the good guys.

The climax was serviceable, nothing special. The windup was actually quite good, wrapping up a lot of interesting plot points without running into LotR-style endlessness. All in all, very satisfying.