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This Week’s Haul

  • Final Crisis #2 of 7, by Grant Morrison & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Madame Xanadu #1, by Matt Wagner & Amy Reeder Hadley (DC/Vertigo)
  • Hulk #4, by Jeph Loeb Ed McGuinness & Dexter Vines (Marvel)
  • Fire and Brimstone #1 of 3 (?), by Richard Moore (Antarctic)
  • The Clockwork Girl #4 of 4, by Sean O’Reilly, Kevin Hanna & Grant Bond (Arcana)
  • B.P.R.D.: The Ectoplasmic Man, by Mike Mignola, John Arcudi & Ben Stenbeck (Dark Horse)
  • Project Superpowers #4 of 6, by Alex Ross, Jim Krueger & Carlos Paul (Dynamite)
Final Crisis #2 Final Crisis #2 is getting some great reviews in the blogosphere. Which just goes to show how much tastes differ, since two issues in I’m pretty well bored with the series. Certainly the book being grounded in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World characters doesn’t help, since as I’ve said before I’ve never found them interesting, and this story has all the hallmarks of yet another scheme by Darkseid.

This issue opens with a tedious sequence in Japan, which nearly put me to sleep during the montage on pages 2 and 3. The rest of the scene felt like a warmed-over scene from one of Warren Ellis’ Stormwatch issues, truly a scene where it felt like Morrison was phoning it in, yet other bloggers enjoyed the scene immensely. This is followed by a series of 1- or 2-page scenes: Terrible Turpin on the trail of some missing kids, a completely pointless triptich page with the JLA at the funeral of the comrade who was killed in issue #1, the villain Libra trying to persuade other villains to join him, and concocting his next scheme.

Then we get to the other extended sequence, in which the JLA, Green Lanterns and an Alpha Lantern investigate the death of the New God Orion, in which the murderer is suggested (using the clichéd “You think you know who it is but their face is obscured you you can’t be sure” mechanism), followed by an encounter between Batman and the apparent link to Darkseid which goes badly for Bats. This sequence would be the high point of the issue if the Darkseid element hadn’t intruded on it, making me lose interest all over again. This leads into another Turpin scene in which he ends up at the villains’ base, which ties the Darkseid threads together, and then a scene with the execution of Libra’s new scheme.

The final scene involves the Flashes (Jay Garrick and Wally West) investigating a clue in Orion’s murder, which leads into the issue’s big reveal and cliffhanger, although one that’s been well-known on the Web for weeks. Unfortunately the natural reaction to this for anyone who’s read many DC comics over the last 15 years is, “What, this again???” A big shrug is in order at this point, along with the thought that there are only 5 issues left, which might be 3 too many.

Final Crisis so far could be summed up as “big ideas writ small”; it’s Morrison taking his “big threats for big heroes” approach to writing JLA and shrinking them down, sucking the drama and excitement and fun out of them, and sprinkling them in small scenes to rob them of any remaining sense of wonder they might have. Artist J.G. Jones is quite good, but his strength are his character renderings, which are far more suitable for a character-and-dialogue-driven book, not a superhero “event” series, which makes the book have a subdued look to go along with its low-impact story.

I can’t figure out what DC Editorial or Grant Morrison were thinking in putting this together. It seems like the best-case scenario for Final Crisis is that the first two issues turn out to be largely superfluous and that the series heads off in some different, more exciting direction for the last 5 issues. But so far this series is making its predecessor Infinite Crisis look like a well-written, well-considered landmark event. It’s bad stuff.

Madame Xanadu #1 Madame Xanadu is the new Vertigo title, whose heroine is an obscure DC character. I picked it up mainly because Matt Wagner is writing it, and because the art by Amy Reeder Hadley looks pretty nifty. I’d expected it would cover some of her backstory but otherwise work with the character in the present day and move her story (whatever it is) forward. However, the whole issue concerns the character’s earliest origins, in which she’s a figure in the King Arthur stories. It’s not a bad story, and the art is quite nice, but these days stories focusing on looking backwards at a character’s past don’t really interest me (I skip Wagner’s Grendel stories featuring the Hunter Rose character for much the same reason). So if that’s all this series is going to be, I’m not going to stick with it for long.
Fire and Brimstone #1 Fire and Brimstone is the new series by Richard Moore, who I guess is taking a break from Boneyard. The premise is that there’s an angel-and-devil due who have been tasked with bringing back to hell a host of demons they inadvertently released into the world millennia ago. Basically, a supernatural odd couple. Moore’s art is spot-on as always, and he’s always a charming writer, but this first issue feels like fluff. Amusing, but lacking the weight of Boneyard or his earlier series, Far West. But maybe Moore will surprise me with the rest of the series.
The Clockwork Girl #4 I was pretty enthusiastic about The Clockwork Girl when it started, but it ended up being much lighter than I’d expected. It focused far more on Huxley the “animal boy” than it did on Tesla the clockwork girl. The concluding issue of the mini-series features a clichéd life-threatening situation, a noble sacrifice, and an improbable reconciliation between the two main characters’ creators. It felt like a mid-grade Disney film, actually. I guess the book is really aimed at kids, and I can see that they might enjoy it, but it didn’t deliver much nuance for adult readers.

Really nice artwork by Grand Bond and Kevin Hanna, though.

George Carlin on Baseball vs. Football

This will come as no surprise to anyone, but my favorite routine by the late George Carlin is his bit on baseball vs. football.

This Week’s Haul

  • The Brave and the Bold #14, by Mark Waid & Scott Kolins (DC)
  • Ex Machina #37, by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Jim Clark (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Tangent: Superman’s Reign #4 of 12, by Dan Jurgens, Jamal Ingle & Robin Riggs, and Ron Marz, Fernando Pasarin & Matt Banning (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #2, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Paul Pelletier & Rick Magyar (Marvel)
  • RASL #2, by Jeff Smith (Cartoon Books)
  • Sparks #1 of 6, by Chris Folino & J.M. Ringuet (Catastrophic)
  • Dynamo 5: Moments of Truth vol 2 TPB, by Jay Faerber & Mahmud A. Asrar (Image)
Guardians of the Galaxy #2 Several clever things in Guardians of the Galaxy #2: First, a nice bit of redirection regarding what Captain America’s shield is doing in an ice meteor in the middle of space. Second, a nifty explanation of why the team is going to be named “Guardians of the Galaxy”, even though the term was originally applied to a team in the future. Ending up with a face-off with the guys I presume will be the main heavies in the title, at least to start with. Pretty good stuff, and not too heavy-handed. This title is looking better than I’d thought a month ago
RASL #2 If RASL #1 was disappointing for being nothing but set-up, issue #2 is a huge step forward in advancing the story and explaining what’s going on. We find out what RASL is (although not what it means), what the main character is doing (he’s moving between dimensions), and get some hints of both his backstory and who’s chasing him. So it’s got me hooked and I’m looking forward to where Smith takes all this. Bone was uneven at times, but ultimately it was a lot of fun even if it dragged in places. RASL is shaping up to be a completely different sort of story, and it’s exciting to see an artist as talented as Smith following up on his magnum opus with something that looks equally promising (quite different in that regard from Dave Sim’s Glamourpuss).
Sparks #1 Sparks is the first book from Catastrophic Comics, which seems like a “tempting fate” name for a company, but it’s also founded by William Katt, who played the title role in the old TV show The Greatest American Hero. Although it seems like Catastrophic’s publicity has mainly revolved around Katt’s name, he’s neither the writer nor the artist (nor, for that matter, the editor), although he is credited as the creator of the series, along with writer Chris Folino.. But it’s not clear what his involvement is beyond that. Still, small matter.

The story concerns the titular character, who grows up believing his calling is to be a superhero, but who has no superpowers. The issue also opens with Sparks showing up at a police station where he says, “I want to report my murder”, though it’s not clear whether he’s actually dead, or just very badly beaten. The rest of the issue is in flashback, where Sparks embarks on his heroing career, finding true love with a superheroine. And then things turn bad.

I’m not quite sure what prompted me to order this book, although I might have just been intrigued by the notion of a dead hero trying to find his own killer. The first issue is okay, though it’s entirely the set-up for the rest of the mini-series. f J.M. Ringuet’s art style is not my thing, I’m afraid; it’s dark and muddy and angular, just not polished or detailed enough for my tastes. So I think any chance this series has to be really good will rest on the story being surprising and fresh. We’ll see.

Another Brutal Heat Wave

The Bay Area is suffering through another brutal heat wave. It arrived on Thursday today it only lessened slightly; rather than hitting the high 90s, it peaked at around 92 and stayed there. The only respite has been the occasional cloud that passes over, but it’s still sweltering outside. I actually set ten pounds of ice in a big bowl and put it behind our box fan, and that helped a little bit, but even in our relatively-insulated downstairs it’s in the mid-80s. Upstairs it’s in the 90s, at least.

This would be bad enough, but on top of that Debbi’s still sick. She was laid low by a cold or something on Tuesday, missed two days of work, and although she’s got some of her energy back and her sore throat is gone, she’s now got a terrible cough along with some congestion. We’d though of going to see a movie today (to get their air conditioning), but Debbi was afraid she’d have a coughing fit in the theater. And she’s spent a chunk of the afternoon asleep on the couch.

To add insult to injury, I realized the Red Sox were on TV today, but Daisuke Matsuzaka melted down in the first two innings and the Sox lost to the Cardinals 9-3.

So, a pretty brutal Saturday. I’m hoping it will cool off a little earlier tonight, and that the heat wave will pass tomorrow. Of course, yesterday the weather report thought it would pass today, so I don’t know. Hopefully soon, though.

The VORP Flap

There’s a little controversy in the baseball blogosphere regarding the value of the statistic VORP. VORP is a sabermetric statistic which strives to provide a “single number” answer to the question “How good was this baseball player in this season?”

Prompted by an article in the Washington Post, J.C. Bradbury, whose blog Sabernomics I read and enjoy, doesn’t understand why it’s more useful than other metrics, and questions the need for the concept of “replacement level”. Moreover, he finds VORP to be socially exclusive:

I view VORP as an insider language, and by using it you can signal that you are insider. It’s like speaking Klingon at a Star Trek convention. I can signal to others who speak the language that I am one of you. But, the danger of VORP is that once you bring it up the discussion goes down the wrong path as the uninitiated have reason to feel they are being told they are not as smart as the person making the argument. It’s like constantly bringing up the fact that you only listen to NPR or watch the BBC news at dinner parties. The response is likely going to be the same, “well fuck you too, you pretentious asshole!”

I don’t really understand why he finds this such a big deal, especially since in the very same article he tosses out a couple of similarly-advanced concepts, OPS+ and MRP. OPS+ is a very useful stat, but I’d hazard that most people who know what OPS+ is will also be familiar with VORP. (Conversely, if your casual baseball fan doesn’t know what VORP is, it may be a stretch to expect him to know what OPS is, never mind OPS+.)

Like any stat, you don’t so much need to understand the finer points of VORP as just have a feel for what it represents and what its values mean. The key concept is that a VORP of 0 indicates that a player’s hitting is only minimally valuable at his position, and if it were any lower his team would be better off releasing him and calling up practically anyone from the minors instead.

Others have written some excellent posts in response to Bradbury. I especially liked this one by Tangotiger, but this one by Phil Birnbaum has an excellent perspective by putting VORP in economic terms, which is Bradbury’s stock-in-trade.

Admittedly, VORP and other advanced stats are relatively geeky, in that you’re not likely to care unless you’re pretty seriously interested in baseball research. But then, Bradbury’s blog is all about baseball research, so it seems to me that he ought to be comfortable using the more common advanced stats. I guess we all have our limits of how far down the path we want to go – my own eyes start to lose focus when we get around to WXRL – but picking on VORP seems silly to me, since I think it’s a pretty straightforward and intuitive stat. It has its flaws, but then, they all do.

Wednesday Gaming

With Subrata busy being a new Dad, we haven’t had gaming for a few weeks. So Monday I sent e-mail to the gang offering to host, and tonight Josh, Ziggy and Valerie came by for our first post-baby gaming session. We played a game of Antike which Josh won, followed by a game of Res Publica which Josh and Ziggy tied at.

I realized as I was bringing down Res Publica that these two games are sort of the two halves of Civilization: Antike is the building-cities-and-moving-armies part, while Res Publica is the acquiring-cards-and-trading part. I find the trading to be the most interesting part of the game, so I have a preference for Res Publica; I think I’d like Antike a little more if it featured a little more conflict than it does. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never really cared for Civilization.)

Whump came by later in the evening to say hi since he was heading home after hitting the comic book store. And the cats came down and said hi to people, especially Josh, whom they know has fed them in the past. So a good time was had by all. I might try hosting every other week for a while, barring other commitments.

On the down side, Debbi has been hit with a nasty illness, with a sore throat and a bad cough, and has been laid up for a couple of days. It really sucks, she’s been miserable. (Though she did get a few hours of Roulette lying on her lap, which is a rarity indeed!) Hopefully another good night’s sleep and she’ll be just about back to normal, but unfortunately it might be a couple more days.

Good Time to be a Boston Sports Fan

Last November I had dinner with my friend Bruce, and he told me that he’d bought a 5-game package of Celtics tickets. He said his friends asked him, “What the heck did you go and do that for?” The Celtics have been a mediocre team for a long time, and didn’t seem to have prospects of getting much better anytime soon.

By the time I saw Bruce, the Celtics had already completed the trade for Kevin Garnett, and Bruce said his friends then were saying, “You know, if you don’t think you’re going to use all those tickets, I could take some of them off your hands…” Bruce assured them that he’d be just fine with them.

Seven months later, the Celtics are NBA champs, ending a 22-year drought. I know Bruce got to at least one playoff game, and that he’s a happy guy, a true Boston sports fan. No doubt my friend Rob is a happy camper, too.

I’m not a basketball fan, but when we saw the Celtics were up 30 points (!!) in the third quarter, we ended up watching most of the rest of the game. Even if it’s not your sport, you don’t often get a chance to see a team from your city win a championship.

Well, unless it’s the 21st century and you’re from Boston. With 6 titles among the 4 major sports in this century, it’s a good time to be a Boston sports fan.

Now it’s time for the Bruins to represent, right?

Gunnerkrigg Court

I’m really digging the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell. Despite its dark mood, it’s got a great blend of warmth and humor along with some imaginative storylines.

It’s the story of Antimony Carver, a girl who starts school at Gunnerkrigg Court, and the adventures she has. It has robots, ghosts, gods, heroes, faeries, and schoolwork. Annie’s laid-back demeanor is an effective counterpoint to the fantastic things she witnesses. At first I was a little doubtful about Siddell’s artistic chops due to the prdominantly simplistic art style, but this sequence put those concerns to rest. Creepy!

It’s also going to be collected in hardcover, assuming the publisher’s financial problems don’t deep-six it.

A few of my favorite pages in the strip:

Anyway, fun stuff. Check it out.

This Week’s Haul

A little late this week:

  • Action Comics #866, by Geoff Johns, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal (DC)
  • Booster Gold #10, by Geoff Johns, Jeff Katz, Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Salvation Run #7 of 7, by Matt Stuirges, Sean Chen, Walden Wong & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • ClanDestine #5 of 5, by Alan Davis & Mark Farmer (Marvel)
  • newuniversal: shockfront #2 of 6, by Warren Ellis, Steve Kuth & Andrew Hennessey (Marvel)
  • The Twelve #6 of 12, by J. Michael Straczynski, Chris Weston & Garry Leach (Marvel)
  • B.P.R.D.: War on Frogs #1, by John Arcudi, Herb Trimpe & Guy Davis (Dark Horse)
  • Locke & Key #5 of 6, by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (IDW)
  • Invincible #50, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
Action Comics #866 Geoff Johns’ next major story in Action Comics is “Brainiac” – but which one? Honestly I gave up reading Superman in the early 90s before they had really figured out who the post-Crisis Brainiac was. But it seems like Johns’ goal with his run on this book is to redefine some elements of the Superman mythos. So it looks like Brainiac is back to being an alien who captured the Kryptonian city of Kandor years ago. He appears to be a green alien who operates out of a skull-shaped metal ship. But he also appears to have tangled with Superman before, and operates through robot proxies.

My bet? That the alien in the ship isn’t really Brainiac – he’s probably been captured by the ship itself. Who has Superman fought before? Beats me. Maybe offshoots or other instances of the ship – if it’s a machine who says there has to be only one?

The issue has a fun interlude in which the Daily Planet staff has a meeting. Some of it feels a little forced (okay, mostly I haven’t really liked any portrayals of Steve Lombard since Julie Schwartz retired), but has some funny moments, especially the interplay between Lois and Clark afterwards. (I’m also really glad Lois is back to having black hair; I thought it was ridiculous when John Byrne turned her hair brown.) Superhero comics spend so much time on the action and so little on the characters these days, especially the ones who have secret identities.

As usual, Gary Frank’s art is nifty, although also as usual the backgrounds feel rather sparse. I enjoyed his renditions of the Brainiac robots the most, he’s taken the old Gil Kane designs to a new level.

Salvation Run #7 Salvation Run ends – not really a surprise – with a whimper and not a bang. Several fourth-string super-villains bite the dust, Luthor gets his mad on, and the status quo is restored, except for one character who’s left hanging at the end. It doesn’t mesh very well with Final Crisis, but it also slipped until it shipped after the first issue of that series. Grant Morrison pretty much says that he didn’t factor Countdown or its spin-offs into Final Crisis, which mostly makes DC editorial look like a bunch of chumps, although it’s difficult to shed any tears over Countdown, which as I’ve said was pretty much a complete disaster of a series. It makes the end of Salvation Run seem even more superfluous.

I’ve been an admirer of Sean Chen’s artwork in the past, but his work on this series was pretty mediocre: Not much detail, and I don’t think his renditions of Luthor and the Joker are very true. I don’t know if he was rushed, of if his inkers were just not good matches for him, but it was pretty disappointing. Especially since he left Nova to do this series. Sadly, with the art factored in, this series ended up being pretty much a waste of time.

ClanDestine vol 2 #5 This ClanDestine mini-series felt like a straightforward continuation of the old series, which is awkward since it’s been over a decade since the first series came out, and it didn’t last very long, so I imagine there weren’t many people scrambling on board to read it. And I guess it didn’t do very well in the sales department. Moreover, it brought back the old Alan Davis X-Men team Excalibur and otherwise rehashed a villain from the first series, and also the background of Adam Destine, complete with the requisite deus-ex-machina (since Adam is pretty much a walking deus-ex-machina).

All of which made this series something of a “shrug”, albeit an extremely well-drawn “shrug”. It ends with a teaser for a third series which I’d be much more interested in reading, but I bet the sales won’t cause Marvel to rush out to publish it. Alas, I think the time for ClanDestine passed some time ago.

The Twelve #6 The Twelve is shaping up to be one of J. Michael Straczynski’s best comics works, behind Midnight Nation. This is not strong praise on its own, since you may have noticed that I’ve been lukewarm-at-best towards all the other Straczynski comics I’ve read, but in this case I’m actually enjoying the book quite a bit. It helps that the art team of Weston and Leach have given the book a visual look unlike most other mainstream comics, with details and character designs few other artists at the big two can match.

The first six issues of the series have mostly been character spotlights, showing what makes each member of the Twelve tick, and how they react to being thrown from the end days of World War II to the 21st century. Not all of the characters are interesting – Mister E, for instance, is pretty much a nonentity – but some of them are quite good, and Straczynski has thrown in a few enjoyable twists, especially regarding Dynamic Man and – in this issue – Rockman. I was also satisfied with the explanation for my concern about Electro, which I expressed in my review of issue #1.

I think these first six issues have set the tone for the series and put all the pieces in place, and now I expect the second six will bring things together into a unified story, presumably as one or more of the characters either end up being a threat, or being not what they seem to be. Or maybe in some other way. Regardless, pulling everyone into a single story and not leaving them with twelve separate threads will be the difference between the success or the failure of this series, I think. Although admittedly Straczynski could surprise us all and do something unexpected yet still fascinating. His track record in comics writing doesn’t suggest that that’s likely, however.

Really, The Twelve is the latest series to follow the Watchmen approach to super-team storytelling: Take us through the backgrounds and circumstances of a group of individual characters, and then bring them together at the end. James Robinson’s The Golden Age worked in a similar manner. Even after 20 years, it’s still not a very common approach to superhero comics, so it still feels relatively fresh whenever it pops up. That’s probably a big part of why I’m enjoying The Twelve.

Invincible #50 Invincible really might be the best superhero comic being published – as it pretty much claims on the cover – even on the erratic schedule it’s been on recently. It reaches #50 this month, marking another turning point in a series which has had plenty of them, as Invincible cuts ties with his government boss in a rather bloody manner.

Invincible is great for so many reason: The main character is a through-and-through hero, which is refreshing these days, even if he does have his flaws and foibles. He means well, and he usually does well, and people respect him for that. The supporting cast vary widely, and few of them are out-and-out villains, usually with personal motivations which make them sometimes do good, and sometimes behave suspiciously. Alliances shift, and characters change and develop. And that’s the best thing: Even though it’s an ongoing, open-ended story, there’s a definite sense of change and progress unlike almost any other superhero book out there. You never know what’s going to happen next, but when it does it’s usually both exciting and it makes sense.

Artist Ryan Ottley keeps up with Kirkman’s script wonderfully, with dramatic action sequences, different-looking characters, and a colorful world. In some ways his art reminds me of Michael Avon Oeming (of Powers), but I think Ottley balances the realistic and the cartoony much better.

50 issues under their belt, and Kirkman still has plenty of irons in the fire for this character. Here’s hoping the next 50 are just as much fun.

Alastair Reynolds: House of Suns

Another year, another novel from Alastair Reynolds – which would be a blithe comment without also mentioning that whenever he publishes a new book, I buy the UK hardcover and drop whatever else I’m reading to read it. Yes, he’s that good: Even his weakest novels are packed with evocative settings and cool ideas. House of Suns is one of his better novels.

A framing sequence (of sorts) set hundreds of years in the future sets the backdrop, in which some rich and inquisitive humans cloned themselves a thousand times and set up family “lines” by sending each clone (“shatterling”) out on their own starship, in advance of the rest of humanity reaching the stars. The bulk of the novel takes place millions of years in the future: There’s no faster-than-light travel, but ships can near lightspeed, which combined with life-extension and hibernation technologies means that the members of the lines have lived for centuries (maybe millennia) of personal time, stretched to those millions of years via their travels.

The protagonists of the story are two members of the Gentian Line, Campion and Purslane, who have violated their line’s conventions by travelling together and becoming romantically involved (heterosexual – the clones are not exact). Campion is impulsive while Purslane is more measured and thoughtful. The Gentian Line travels the galaxy gathering information, and meets once every galactic cycle (!) to exchange that data. In between they accumulate wealth by constructing “stardams” – manipulating ringworlds left by the Priors – an extinct earlier civilization – to enclose dangerous objects – like exploding suns – for the protection of others. The backdrop also includes the Vigilance – a computer swarm observing the galaxy on its own – and the Absence – a black spot where the Andromeda Galaxy used to be.

Campion and Purslane are late to the line’s next gathering, which is good for them since someone else decided to come in and obliterate the Gentian Line. The survivors retreat to a world called Neume. Campion and Purslane had taken on a robot companion named Hesperus who had helped them during the disaster, but who was badly damaged. Two other robots, Cadence and Cascade, are also present as guests of the Line, and are doubtful he can be repaired, but Hesperus had left a final request to be given to the Spirit of the Air, a powerful machine entity which lives on Neume.

Their personal considerations aside, Campion and Purslane also get caught up in the Line’s family politics, which have become especially messy in the wake of the disaster, especially with prisoners to interrogate. Their only clues are the name “House of Suns”, a reference to a Line no one’s ever heard of, and the indication that Campion is somehow the catalyst of the attack, though no one can understand how.

As you can see, House of Suns starts out big and just gets bigger from there, with massive technology at the hands of the heroes, but even more massive technology out there to be discovered. Little of this tech is particularly new to a science fiction reader, but Reynolds deploys it in new combinations and in interesting ways; the wonder in the novel is much more about scale than about kind, and a reminder that sheer scale can still be amazing even after all the SF that’s been written before. (Of course, this does beg the question: After using ringworlds as merely materials in a larger project, and making galaxies disappear, can Reynolds come up with an encore in the theme of scale? It might be wiser if he doesn’t try.)

The “framing sequence” which opens each of the book’s parts is eerie but somewhat disappointing. It provides some insight into how the Gentian Line got started, and is also an allegory of sorts for the main story, but I found the connection between the two to be too tenuous to be really satisfying. I’d hoped for something more concrete linking the two stories.

But that sequence is a small part of the whole book, and the main story is much more rewarding. The focus is on political machinations and the mystery and suspense of the attack on the Line rather than on depth of character, but I also felt there was enough characterization to feel realistic. In particular, the loyalty of Campion and Purslane to Hesperus was at times touching, and Campion’s friction with the other shatterlings feels realistic. Although the narration alternates between the two, Campion always feels like the more interesting of the pair, probably because he has more foibles in his personality. The book might have had additional depth had it been written as a rite of passage or growth for Campion’s character, although that would have left out many excellent scenes which are seen only by Purslane.

The world building is excellent, as it usually is in a Reynolds novel: The sense of history and of a myriad of human cultures, and of their comings and goings as perceived by the Shatterlings is all very well portrayed. The Lines naturally feel a little superior to everyone else since they tend to outlive them, but are occasionally reminded that they’re not the only sharks in the sea, and they’re not perfect either. Though it takes a while for the mystery to draw out, there’s plenty of stuff happening and being revealed to keep the reader entertained; although the book is long, it’s rarely dull.

I found the ending to be a satisfying wrapping up of all the various threads, even if the final chapter did end rather abruptly. Reynolds also comes up with a satisfying rationale for the actions of some of the superhuman entities flying around, one which suggests that sometimes our fears are worse than the reality, but that we’re rarely willing to go out on a limb and risk finding out if that’s really true.

Although I didn’t find House of Suns to be quite as good as Chasm City, or its universe to be quite as richly textured as the Revelation Space universe, I still think it lands in the upper echelon of Reynolds’ novels. Although the sheer sense of wonder is its big selling point, it holds together as a story, too.