Bill & Ted’s Triumphant Return – Brian Lynch

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The aspiring musicians Bill and Ted are the protagonists of two classic sci-fi comedies released around the time I was born. Something like a combination of Wayne’s World and Doctor Who, the films revolve around Bill and Ted using a time-travelling phone booth to guarantee their destiny as messianic rockstars who establish a bizarre future utopia. They’re great fun, though the bit where their evil robot doppelgangers open their skin seriously freaked me out as a kid. Last year Bill and Ted returned in Boom Studios’ comic called, er, Bill and Ted’s Triumphant Return.

Written by Brian Lynch, the main story begins after the conclusion of Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Bill and Ted are having trouble writing their second song, so they decide to visit their future utopia to plagiarize themselves. (I have no idea how ethical that is…) They get sidetracked when they encounter a younger version of someone who tried to murder them, and he’s so pathetic that they befriend him. From there, the duo have to deal with parallel timelines, depressed Martian scientists and a tyrannical society where all forms of music have been banned.

It’s a fun story. It builds from the concepts and characters introduced in the original film, but takes them in new directions that seem inevitable in hindsight.

There’s also a few short stories at the end. My favourite was one about Dante irritating the Bill and Ted version of death, but the Ryan North’s story about robots being affected by email spam was also excellent.

The art was bright and colourful, suiting the cartoony feel of the original series.

If Bill & Ted mean anything to you, you’ll enjoy to this comic. Now I need to go watch the originals.

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The Long Cosmos – Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

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The Long Cosmos is easily the best book in the whole Long Earth saga.

The premise of the series is that in the near future, people learn how to step into parallel Earths. None of these other worlds have humans on them, although they do have exotic new hominids with fantasy names like elves and trolls. This moves the focus away from speculating about historical what-ifs and onto encounters with bizarre animals, geography and the impact that all this extra space has on humanity. The Long Earth series is what you’d get if you mixed Sliders with David Attenborough. Lots of dramatic stuff went down in the previous four books, including Yellowstone erupting, an expedition across parallel Marses, the emergence of a typically patronising posthuman subspecies and an alien invasion of an alternate Earth, but the Long Cosmos tops them all with an interstellar message instructing mankind how to build a computer the size of a continent.

Speculative fiction that about travelling usually ends up presenting a series of increasingly cool and mind-blowing ideas. The one from The Long Cosmos that really stuck with me was the gigantic forest, with trees the size of skyscrapers supported by helium. Their reproduction strategy involves spreading seeds when they inevitably explode during bushfires. I also amazed by the sentient islands that sampled life while moving between worlds, and that ridiculously large computer.

The Long Cosmos felt more coherent and less disjointed than the previous books in the series. I can’t explain why I feel this way. Maybe it was because the plotlines felt more related, and came to a satisfactory conclusion?

What really intrigues me about the Long Earth series are the pop culture references. Two of the main protagonists watch the Blues Brothers, the Tim Allen comedy Galaxy Quest is mentioned far more often then you’d expect, and the interstellar signal plot draws from Contact. There’s also a nun who really, really likes Jim Steinman. At first I though there were so many of these references because this would’ve been the first time in a long while Pratchett could directly invoke them , without forcing them into a fantasy context. But after reading another Baxter book, where a cyborg remembers Cloudy with the Chance of Meatballs as a beloved childhood classic, I’m thinking he was also responsible. Either way, I need to see Galaxy Quest.

The Long Cosmos’ genre means that it feels more like a Baxter book than a Pratchett one, although there is a fair bit of whimsy about. And I really don’t think it would make much sense without reading the rest of the series. Look at it this way – if you’re a fan of these authors and you’ve never heard of the Long Earth before, today’s your lucky day.

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Mad Supersized #23

I’m having a hard time finding the cover issue of this particular issue, so just imagine Alfred E Neuman wearing a lab coat. The top third of his skull has been sawn open, and held within his right hand is a stick at the end of which is his brain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his brain is the size of a lollipop. Out of his empty skull echoes the words ‘BRAIN DROOL’, followed by a list of intellectual properties being parodied. As this Supersized edition seems to contain reprints of past parodies that have only just become relevant, these include Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Heroes, and Peanuts.

Mad magazine is either very funny, or very not funny. I suspect it represents a dialect of humour unrepresented in any other media that I consume. This was a Christmas present, and it wasn’t entirely a bad choice.

The Star Wars material was all on-point. We learn how Hanna-Barbara would handle the franchise, about C3-PO’s post film career in pornography, and an exchange at a Jet-Eye council that includes the claim that ‘Politics are not what they once were. The Senate’s full of greedy delegates only looking out for themselves.’ To which the puzzled answer is “I thought you said politics are not what they once were!

The Final Episodes of PEANUTS You Never Saw was also very satisfying. These Mad people get that Peanuts is rarely any funny. In these ‘final episodes’, Linus replaces his security blanket with a nicotene addiction, Charlie Brown admits to throwing his baseball games and puts down Snoopy. With all the sickly-sweet nostalgia that is bound to brought up by the Peanuts movie, I’m certain that at least a few readers will find these strips cathartic.

My favourite segment was a 1955 piece by Wally Wood called Julius Caesar. At first glance a parody of the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar describes the various techniques and cliches Mad uses to satirise things, including anachronism, slapstick, and ‘Marilyn Monroe… Whenever possible!‘ There’s plenty of good stuff in this issue, but Julius Caesar is my main reason to keep it.

I don’t know if I like Mad magazine enough to get a subscription, although it’s usually the best thing in my local newsagent. Whenever I’m trapped in a public library for an indefinite period of time, it’s the first place I turned. I think that if you’re interested in graphic storytelling or satire, you should read at least one copy. It will surprise you.

Diary of a Wimpy Vampire – Tim Collins

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Nigel Mullet is a teenage vampire. He has been for almost a century. But his condition doesn’t give him stunning good looks or superpowers, and talking to girls is as difficult for him as it for any awkward teenage boy. Will he be able to win the heart of Chloe, the girl of his dreams?

If the cover hadn’t clued you in, Diary of the Wimpy Vampire is a comedy, and pretty funny one at that. Nigel Mullet’s earnestly self-pitying narration brings to mind the pathetic hippy Neil from The Young Ones. Much of the book’s humour relies on the fact that sucking blood is like sex for Nigel Mullet. An example of this is his extreme irritation at his mother entering his bedroom while he stares at a picture of the human heart. His fangs also come out whenever he is aroused by the thought of blood. Other sources of comedy are Nigel Mullet’s angry reactions to the vampire stereotypes he sees on television, and his poetry is so terrible that it would put Cairo Jim to shame. My favourite was The Hunter on Page 24.

At first glance, the most noticeable thing about Diary of a Wimpy Vampire is its somewhat unconventional page design. Under all the writing there are faint horizontal lines, like in an exercise book, and there are also pen illustrations drawn by Andrew Pinder. I don’t know if we’re meant to think that Nigel Mullet drew these pictures into his diary, but either way they nicely provide some excellent characterisation. This book draws heavily from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which I’ve never actually read, but the page design is good even if it is derivative.

The thing that bothered me the most about Diary of a Wimpy Vampire was the bit where Nigel Mullet listed the way in which his experience of vampirism differed from its popular media portrayals. Every single vampire in literature seems to do this sooner or later, expositing to the reader whether or not they can go outdoors during daytime, turn into a bat, and eat garlic before calling Dracula silly. While I appreciate that authors need the freedom to tweak the rules in order to tell an effective story, I think that by now most readers are familiar enough with vampires that they can be shown which particular rules apply, not explicitly told. But seeing how overtly expository vampires are a problem in the entire vampire genre, it’s unfair to hold it against this particular book.

I also caught two typos, and I’ll demonstrate how uncharmingly pendantic I can be by describing them. The book’s back cover contains an excerpt that refers to the object of Nigel Mullet’s affection as Della, while within the book the same scene plays out with Chloe. The second was a page break inside the word ‘I’ll’, which I guess is excusable seeing how it’s meant to be teenager’s diary. Neither typo significantly disrupted my reading experience, so I’m really just mentioning them to show that I’m a perceptive reviewer.

Diary of a Wimpy Vampire is a perfect book for lovers of Twilight who have a sense of humour, horror fans who are sick of vampires and kids who love Halloween. For some reason, I’m convinced that this would be the perfect book for anyone who is too sick to go to school today. This a great little novel for readers of all ages.

To Say Nothing Of The Dog – Connie Willis

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When time-travelling historians working on a futuristic cathedral restoration project inadvertently change history, allowing Hitler to win the Second World War, persistent Ned Henry and beautiful Verity Kindle must infiltrate a Victorian household to set things right by uniting destined lovers. Such is my overwrought attempt to write a blurb for Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing Of The Dog, which could also be described as a mashup of Back To The Future with The Importance of Being Earnest.

There was a fair bit to like about the book. Time travel allows for a variety of settings, from the London blitz to medieval times. The characters are well-drawn, likeable and distinct. (My favourite was Cyril the bull dog.) The humour is genuinely likeable, the funniest moment being a little girl’s determination to win a treasure-hunting game at a féte despite lacking the necessary penny.

Willis makes several literary allusions. Your ability to comprehend them will partially determine your enjoyment of the novel. I recognised Lady Shrapnel, the tyrannical leader of the restoration project, as an echo of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell, but I had no idea that the book’s title comes from that of a more famous one, apparently a comedic classic. And the author clearly has a love of detective fiction, with Verity frequently invoking Agatha Christie when dealing with the novel’s central dilemma.  Willis also spoils the ending of The Moonstone, so watch out for that one.

Romance is another key theme of To Say Nothing of the Dog. As far as I’m concerned, the seeming inevitability of heterosexual relationships in fiction is one of the dullest things about it, but the love stories in this book weren’t too bad. They were plausible, all parties involved were warm and likeable, it was all very nice. Looking back I was somewhat surprised that our protagonists didn’t have a big fight in the second act, but I guess that saving history leaves little time to adhere to rom-com clichés.

I enjoyed To Say Nothing Of The Dog. If you know your Hercule Poirot from your Lord Peter Wimsey, you’ll enjoy it more. Same if you actually like romance. All round, good stuff that will appeal to more than just sci-fi readers.

‘The inevitability of heterosexual relationships in fiction is one of the dullest things about it.’ Feel free to quote me on that.

Would I Lie To you? Presents The 100* Most Popular Lies Of All Time – Peter Holmes, Ben Caudell and Saul Wordsworth

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I read this entire book in one day. All 328 pages. Do not ask about the circumstances in which this literary feat occurred, because they simply aren’t relevant to this review.

You should know that Would I Lie To You is the funniest panel show to come out of Britain. The format is simple: one person makes a ridiculous statement and six others argue about whether it is true. Despite my reservations about how well such a format would translate into a book, Would I Lie To you? Presents The 100* Most Popular Lies Of All TIme, or as I think of it, WILTY?PTCMPLOAT, is the best bit of merchandise I’ve seen since the critically underrated Harry Potter games for Gameboy Color.

Instead of novelizing an episode of the show, the three authors have listed ninety-nine common lies and written a charming anecdote for each one, many of which mention Twitter. Lies include ‘I’m feeling tired’, ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I’m sick’. My two favourites were the plumber’s lie about not having the right part and ‘Merry Christmas’, which segues into a hauntingly accurate Yuletide moan. There’s also little segments that appear to be transcriptions of interviews done with the show’s host and team captains, nicely described by the blurb as ‘interjections’. The lack of any real continuity means this book is ideal for flipping through and killing almost any amount of time you may have on your hit list.

At this point in the review I usually end up recommending whatever book I’m jabbering on about, and while this time will be no exception I will also give my recommendation a context. WILTY?PTCMPLOAT would make a brilliant gift. If I received this for my birthday or Christmas in two years I’d be happy, and I’d be equally smug to give it as a present if I found it in a charity shop. So don’t just read this book, buy it for someone else, borrow it from them and read it, and than lie about losing it.

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure – Various Authors

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is a book written by twenty authors. The story is about two circus orphans searching for the remains of a Top-Secret Robot, who can retrieve their parents from another dimension. From that synopsis alone you can see why I read this book.

The title refers to a game invented by the surrealist Andre Breton. A person writes a line on a piece of paper, folds the paper so that only their line can be seen, and passes the paper onto the person next to them. They write their piece, fold it so the next person can only see the line they wrote, and so the game goes on. It’s a bit like Chinese Whispers, really. I remember doing it once in Secondary School, I was the charming kid who wrote the bit where everyone died. (In another life I could have been a troll…)

The Exquisite Corpse in the book’s title also refers to the Top-Secret Robot, obviously.

According to the book’s website, The Exquisite Corpse Adventure was was written on a slight variation on Breton’s method. The authors were allowed to read all the previous chapters. The illustrators could only read the chapters their reading. There are pictures, and they’re pretty good.

As you’d expect the adventure is spotty, inconsistent and surreal. Baby rollerskating in a boxing rink surreal. In TvTrope terminology the book is on some sort of Genre Roulette. There’s science-fiction, fantasy, family drama, comedy and even cosmic horror in here. It’s never too early for a bit of cosmic horror, I reckon.

Susan Cooper was a standout author for me. I was familiar with her writing creepy stuff like The Dark Is Rising, but here she was really funny. She introduces a talking elephant called Hathi.

Daniel Handler, who writes under the name of Lemony Snicket, was another big surprise. I never got into his Series of  Unfortunate Events franchise. I started reading the first book, but the events were too silly and the narration too contrived for me. The Jim Carrey film was good, though. Handler writes the best chapter in The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, about a depressed railway safety worker.

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure would make a suitable present for a child who already likes reading, and the blurb says it’s suitable for ages nine to five. This might also be a good book to read to a class of children.

The purpose of the book is to encourage children to read, but it isn’t a good representation of the world of literature. Books are great when you’re a kid. It’s all Captain Underpants, scatology, wonder, adventure and novelty. Interesting fiction tends to peter out in the Young Adult years, when the focus switches to tedious romance and other social minutiae. The adult section of your local library can be fairly dire place, a wasteland of red-heart and green-castle stickers. Still, I’ve never seen a Robert Silverberg marketed towards children or teenagers. It’s a pity that the books that get kids passionate about reading are rarely replicated for teenagers or adults.