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Terrible Reviews: The Violence


I knew that this book had come out, and I was conflicted about it. On the one hand, I’m a fan of Delilah S. Dawson’s books that I’ve read before, so I kinda knew I was gonna read it … but the writeup made me nervous.

Three generations of abused women must navigate their chilling new reality as a mysterious epidemic of violence sweeps the nation in this compelling novel of self-discovery, legacy, and hope.

Now, nothing against stories with female protagonists, or anything like that … but I read “compelling novel of self-discovery, legacy, and hope” and I think “Eat, Pray, Love” and … that’s just not my thing, man.

But you can’t get to that last phrase without reading about the “mysterious epidemic of violence” and that very much *is* my thing, man.

Mild spoilers only for this review ahead. I’m going to do my best to talk about this delightful book without giving too much away, as it really does deserve to be experienced with its surprises intact.

Truthfully, I’ve not been reading as much as I would like this year (throw that in the bucket with everything else I’m not doing as much as I’d like in the past couple years…. let’s not talk about any of that) and even when I do, it’s a little bit here and a little bit there, and it kinda feels like a slog. But The Violence was, for me, that rare book that you legitimately do not want to put down.

From the first mini-climax where the main protagonist (yeah there are 3 main female characters but Chelsea, the wife and mother, is pretty obviously the central figure) escapes her abusive husband, I was glued to the pages and cheering on the inside … and then I realized I was only a quarter of the way into the book.

And it’s a wild ride for the rest of the story. Most of the book takes place in a wild hellscape where at any moment, the person sitting across from you could rage out and murder you for no particular reason, which is both extremely unsettling and extremely understandable in a post-COVID world (yeah, I know, we’re not exactly post-COVID because it’s here to stay, but because it’s here to stay and everybody has had the chance to get vaxxed or take whatever preventative measures they plan to, we’re essentially post-COVID, again, let’s not get sidetracked). On the one hand, it’s metaphorical — that person looks harmless but they could very well actually kill you, in the way anybody carrying a deadly communicable disease could. But here in The Violence, it’s terrifyingly literal and immediate. Dawson has somehow captured that uncertainty inherent in every personal interaction in 2022 (is this person a threat to me if I do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing?) and made it tangible, and that’s something.

What’s fascinating about this book is how the protagonists go from fearing this disease, to exploiting it, to coping with it in a way that’s safe for them and for everybody around them. The turns are unexpected, the payoffs are huge, and the climax is as satisfying as could be hoped for.

Look, I was about to wrap it up right there, and I know I said only mild spoilers, but I can’t help it. I can’t talk about this book without gushing a little bit. Each of the three central women faces an oppressive male figure, and each of them deals with her abuser in a creative, unexpected, and satisfying way, the central character actually doing so twice.

Damn, I just can’t. I just can’t with this book. It’s so good, and it’s so enjoyable, and I loved it, and I wish I could re-read it and be surprised again.

This is not your mom’s female empowerment novel; this one is bloody, and terrifying, and so, so good.

Five out of five pink plastic makeup cases, all splattered with blood.

For good measure, a couple of passages so good I had to yoink them for the ol’ quote book:

To think: Two huge, earth-shattering, terrifying things happened yesterday, and yet here she is at the breakfast table, pouring a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles.

“Never make yourself smaller to suit someone who wants to feel big.”

…she realizes that out of all of them, Brooklyn might make it to adulthood in one piece, not weighed down by the bullshit trauma they’ve been passing along hand-to-hand like a coveted recipe that always omits some important ingredient out of spite.

Do yourself a favor: head on down to the ol; bookstore, or your library, or your fancy clicky e-reader and give The Violence a try. And make sure your immediate area is clear of Yeti beverage tumblers … it turns out they can be lethal in close quarters.


How To Ruin a Movie with Just One Character


I’m gonna say it, all right? I love Wonder Woman.

Conceptually, I mean. Like, she’s basically the answer to Superman, right? This broad, poorly designed skillset. She can basically do anything the situation calls for, as long as she “discovers the power within herself” and she’s doing it to save somebody, or save some institution, or you know, she feels like it or whatever. I mean, she flies in the new movie. Lassos bullets. Heck, she hookshots and Tarzan-swings off of friggin’ lightning in the new movie.

And it’s awesome. Who cares if it makes sense? I wasn’t a fan of the comic books or of the old school show or anything, but you know what? She’s a great girl-power character, the first movie is tons of fun, and it’s a harmless guilty pleasure. Is the first Wonder Woman a great movie? I dunno. But it’s definitely good enough to rank in the top half of the superhero movies out there, and it’s probably near the top of DC’s catalog. (Sorry, DC. You kind of suck.)

And there’s a new Wonder Woman out! Holy shnikes! Wonder Woman has this new badass gold armor with wings, oh my god. And it’s in this awesome 80’s aesthetic with that new-wave soundtrack? That was so cool in Thor: Ragnarok! This is gonna be amazing. I couldn’t wait.

See the source image

And I gave up on the movie about twenty minutes in.

I can’t even speak to how good the movie is generally, because I couldn’t get past this one thing. The movie went so horribly and stupidly off the rails before it even got out of the first act, it never got me back.

Mild spoilers here — I’m not going past the first act as I mentioned — but here’s your warning.

Her love interest from the first movie is back.

Was that in the trailers? I can’t remember. I remember seeing a trailer in the movie theatre back when we could still go to movie theatres, which was what, about seven years ago?

But he’s back. And I get it, he’s the big-name co-star in the franchise. He’s probably contractually obligated, fans maybe want to see him; this is Hollywood. Okay, fine. But if you saw the first movie, and if you have basic math skills, you recognize there’s a problem here.

The first Wonder Woman is set in the time of World War I, when Chris Pine plays a pilot. Wonder Woman 1984 is set in … 1984. So there’s some time passed there, and they can no longer (if they want to be story-consistent) have young, beautiful Chris Pine in the movie; that doesn’t make sense.

So instead, Gal Godot, young and immortal because Wonder Woman and all that, is approached by some rando at a public event. He hits her with something only Chris Pine would say. Slaps Chris Pine’s old wristwatch into her hand. It’s him. Her old flame. They go back to his room. We see the rando in the room, but there’s Chris Pine in the mirror, and from here on out, rando dude disappears and we only see our beautiful, rugged, contractually-obligated Chris Pine in the movie.

But like … how? I mean, I get it. Chris Pine’s soul or whatever has wound up in this random dude, but the movie has no interest in explaining how or why he got there. Wonder Woman literally asks him “how” and he’s all “I have no idea,” and that’s about as close as the movie gets to explaining this.

This is bad storytelling.

This is not in and of itself a bad plot idea — and certainly it’s been done in movies before, to better or worse effect. But here, it’s handled so badly that my eyebrows shot up to the top of my head and did not return to normal until hours after the movie was over and I had fallen asleep. I mean, explaining this thing away is easy, right? There is, literally, magic in the world when Wonder Woman is involved. The first movie’s big villain is the Greek God of War, for heck’s sake. Literally call on any god watching out for Diana, wanting to do her a favor, to squirt her old flame’s soul into this new husk like Cheez-Whiz into an olive, and bang, there’s your answer. But no, the movie just hand-waves it away and we’re expected to go along.

Or how about this? Start the movie not from Wonder Woman’s perspective (do we really need to go back to the island where the first movie started, aside from the super-obvious plant about not taking shortcuts from princess Buttercup?). Start instead from this rando’s perspective. Show his apartment. He’s obsessed with tracking Wonder Woman. He’s got newspaper clippings of this strange woman at the site of all these strange occurrences, pictures of Diana walking around town. The stereotypical red yarn zig-zagging across a big creepy stalker bulletin board. Dude is obsessed with her and we don’t know why. Feels creepy. Is he the villain? Is he gonna try to kill her? Then we go to the same big event. He’s got his collar pulled up, his hood hiding his face. He sees her. She moves away from the crowd. He makes his move — he’s gonna grab her, DANGIT WONDER WOMAN DON’T GET PUNKED BY THIS FOOL — and there’s the watch. And she knows it, and we know it, and okay, we haven’t explained any more what’s going on with this guy but we’re at least involved and we care about him.

But we don’t get that. We get a rando who Diana recognizes immediately as her guy and we’re asked not to worry about it. And I can’t do it. If you’re gonna bring back a character who should be dead or at the very least aged into uselessness to go on an adventure with your heroine, you have to at least make an attempt at telling your audience how it’s possible. I mean, audiences maybe aren’t as tough to please now as they were a year or two ago? COVID has softened our hearts. We just want to be entertained. Take us on a journey.

But that doesn’t mean you get to pretend we’re stupid.

And the presence of Chris Pine in this movie says that we’re stupid. It feels like the movie studio throwing up the big middle finger to us, saying “whatever, it’s a Wonder Woman movie and Chris Pine comes with the Wonder Woman movies, so just shut up and sit on your couch and eat your popcorn.”

Is WW84 a good movie?

I really can’t tell you, because I never got past this crap.


Terrible Reviews: Endgame (Or, Why Fat Thor is All Of Us)


I always see myself in movies. I can’t help it — I’m always comparing myself to the characters, having the internal monologues of “I’d never do that” or “if it were me I’d…” which is part of the fun of the movies, and literature generally, innit? We get to live vicariously through the figures on the screen.

Which is why instead of doing a full-on review of Avengers: Endgame, I instead want to look at two things I absolutely loved about the movie.

Here’s your obligatory *MILD SPOILERS AHEAD* warning, but y’know, the movie has been out for two weeks, so avoiding spoilers is your lookout at this point.

Let’s start with the big one (pun intended): Fat Thor.

For my money, Thor has been the best thing about the MCU since the first Avengers movie. The best thing, by like, a lot. And since Ragnarok, the gap is only getting wider. Chris Hemsworth’s take on the character is so charming, so goofy, and so heartfelt that it’s hard not to love him. Also, he’s, y’know, the freaking god of thunder, so there’s that.

chris hemsworth GIF

And … actually, I need a detour here. Because what I really love about the Marvel universe — and what is giving its films such staying power, and what’s making its films resonate even with people (like me!) who not only aren’t comic book fans, but who might actually turn up their noses at the notion of being comic book fans — is that they really work hard at fleshing out their characters. Making sure that the movies are more than just beat-’em-up formulaic tripe of hero is the best at everything, hero gets his butt kicked by baddie, hero goes off to train and recruit buddies, hero kicks baddie’s butt, hero is the best at everything again but even better now. No, for a Marvel movie, if a hero wants to be successful in the end, they’re going to have to grow for it, learn for it, change for it.

The example springing to mind right now is in Spiderman: Homecoming where young Peter, just laid low by a failure to save the day, gets chastised by mentor-figure-doubling-as-surrogate-dad Tony Stark. Stark is taking his high-tech Spiderman kit back from Peter because he’s not ready for it. Peter protests that he’s nothing without the suit. Then, this from Tony: “If you’re nothing without the suit, you don’t deserve it.” Peter has to return to his un-souped-up heroing, takes a step back to work on his personal life, ends up saving the day by the skin of his teeth without the suit. He learns. He grows. And he becomes what we knew he was all along.

So — back to Thor. Thor has been laid low by the most recent slate of movies. Ragnarok saw the destruction of his home world and the loss of his hammer. Infinity War began with the death of his brother (and most of the rest of Asgard) and sent him on a quest to retrieve a weapon mighty enough to defeat Thanos — and he still fails. Loss after loss after loss. Thor, by the end of Infinity War, is way past due for a win.

Luckily, the Marvel gods know a good story arc when they see one, and in the opening of Endgame, Thor gets to make good on what he failed to do at the end of Infinity War: he lops Thanos’s head off with his fancy new thunderstick. (Mid-sentence, if I remember properly, for extra effect.)

But when the Marvel gods giveth, the Marvel gods also taketh away. Decapitating the biggest of bads feels good — damned good — for about five seconds, but it’s not actually a win. The stones are lost, Thanos’s evil 50% population downsizing can’t be reversed, everything is awful. Thor’s friends are still ashes, and Thanos wasn’t a threat to anybody anymore. The victory is entirely hollow. Still, it’s early in the film — lots of time for that character arc to swing upward. And that’s what we expect — the hero gets laid low, and he pops back up onto his feet and keeps fighting.

Except, no, that’s not what we get. Instead, our favorite thunder god goes into hiding like a spooked turtle retreating into its shell. Five years pass, and when we next see Thor, not only is he not bouncing back like a good superhero should (Cap is heading up support groups, Black Widow is running a global security system, Iron Man has embraced his family side and moved on), he’s wallowing in his despair. He’s put on weight, he’s stopped shaving, he’s wasting his days sucking down brewskis and playing video games with online trolls.

Man of the Year, right here. Pass the beer.

Now, here’s where the controversy comes in (because for goodness’s sake we can’t have a thing without spinning up a jolly good controversy about it) because apparently a lot of people are upset about Fat Thor. It’s fat-shaming, they cry, it’s an overweight character played for laughs, they moan, it’s cheap and hurtful, they warble.

Bollocks, I say. Yes, Fat Thor is played for laughs, but everything in the MCU is up for becoming a punchline — why should one of the most beloved butts of the brickiest brick jokes suddenly be immune? Just because he put on some pounds? Nonsense. Fat Thor is funny because Chris Hemsworth is a funny guy, and because we expect Thor to be chiseled and slinging lightning and hammers around, not pudgy and parked in a Barcalounger shouting at noobs on Call of Duty.

In my not-so-humble opinion as a somewhat overweight guy myself, I’m going to say that Fat Thor’s portrayal is absolutely not fat-shaming — in fact it’s just the opposite. For one thing, there’s no training montage, no blast of lightning that burns the fat away and gives us Chiseled Thor anew. No, Fat Thor goes through the entire movie as Fat Thor, squeezes into the jumpsuit as Fat Thor, saves the world as Fat Thor. Sure, we laugh at him along the way, but we also love him for who he is, as we always have.

Also — I’m gonna go ahead and say the controversial thing — when people get upset, sad, depressed even — sometimes? They let themselves go. It happens. And again, I’m saying this to you as a guy who has packed on a solid twenty-five pounds over the past several months myself. For some people, that’s a natural response to stress. It’s not shaming to point that out — it’s also not shaming, I’d argue, for that guy’s buddies to rib him a little bit about it. But (and here’s the heroic thing) Thor lets himself be talked out of his funk … sort of. He suits up and goes to work even though he’s not really feeling it, because he knows his buddies need him.

And that brings me to the second thing I love about the movie — really an offshoot of the first. Which is that Thor — Fat Thor, by this point, but still God-of-Thunder-Thor — struggles not against a foe, but against doubt. Because of his recent spate of failures, Thor — literally capable of almost anything Thor — falls into inaction, packs on the pounds and hides from the world, because of his own feelings of inadequacy.

Thor suffers from Impostor Syndrome. And a healthy dose of anxiety and probably depression to boot.

He has a panic attack, for goodness’s sake. The God of Thunder is literally struck helpless by the imagined gremlins running amok inside his brain.

thor i cant GIF

So while I absolutely adored Thor before, I double-dang-diggity-love him now, because, like I was saying way back at the beginning of this post that’s quickly getting away from me (WordPress for some reason removed the word count from the editor and it leaves me absolutely rudderless), in Endgame, Thor’s suffering is my suffering. And — as I always tell my students — the world is large. If you’re feeling it (or thinking it or wondering it), other people are feeling it, too.

Luckily Marvel has an answer for us — for the problem of one of the most powerful beings in the universe struck helpless by the feeling that he isn’t as much of a superhero as he thought. (And, by extension, for that existential doubt worrying away in all our hearts that we aren’t gonna be able to do the things we want to do, or that we need to do. Cuz, y’know. Thor is us.) And the answer is delivered by, who else, but his mother.

Frigga (Norse mythology has the best friggin’ names, I don’t care what anybody says): Everyone fails at who they’re supposed to be, Thor. The measure of a person — of a hero — is how well they succeed at being what they are.

And I can’t get over that. I’ve been hearing it in my head ever since. It’s the perfectest advice you could give to somebody suffering the way Thor is suffering.

Thor goes on from there to help save the universe. He’s still fat, of course. He saves the universe as he is, not as the idealized version of what he’s supposed to be.

This is why I am loving Marvel movies, still, so many years down the line, and even though there are, admittedly, way too many of them. Because their heroes are us — just, y’know, with better abs and magic hammers and stuff.

Until now. Now they’re just us.

thor GIF

All images are obviously the property of Marvel, except for the fact that Thor belongs to all of us.


Terrible Reviews: Spoiler-Free Thoughts on “Solo”


Solo!

Here’s a few non-spoilerific thoughts on the new movie. Not that you need them.

I mean, you could basically write your own review of the thing without even seeing it at this point, right? You look at reviews for The Last Jedi and it becomes pretty clear to you that people decided to hate it or love it often for reasons entirely outside of what happens on film, and I’d wager the same could be said for Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Something-something jaded review here.

Blah-blah-blah overdone tropes here.

Yadda-yadda cashing in on nostalgia here.

You can say all of those cynical things, and you’d probably be right. The onslaught of Star Wars since the new saga was announced several years ago has gone from a refreshing shower to an outright deluge and now, maybe, probably, to a stagnating pool of scummy water that the waterlogged soil can’t drain away anymore. They’re putting out a new film a year, and the new films are formulaic, even if they’re sometimes clever (or maybe TOO clever) about how they thwart those formulas. (I’ll circle back to that.)

I mean, you could say the same for Marvel’s offerings, too, only more so — they’re dropping more than a movie a year, after all.

It’s true, though. The tropes are overdone. Young Han is cocky and brash, the cyborg partner is plucky and sassy and slightly malfunctional, the mentor is grizzled and grumpy and disapproving … on and on down the list. And the franchise is no doubt cashing in on nostalgia, more so I think with Solo than with Rogue One. Han Solo, after all, is basically the most universally liked character from the original trilogy, and his untimely (or all too timely, depending on your point of view ) sendoff in The Force Awakens left some fans wanting more. Everybody loves Han, so let’s give them more Han. More is better, right? Right???

Put aside all that. The problem with the recent slew of movies and people’s reactions to them is a failure to meet the movies on their own terms. Star Wars Owes You Nothing, after all. And loading down a film with expectations — be they positive or negative! — is a good way to short-circuit an objective viewing of a film. (“xxx will never measure up to the original” is a common refrain, here.) You saddle that donkey with all your personal hopes and dreams and “I woulda done”s, and it’s no wonder the thing drowns before it gets halfway across the river.

Meet the movie on its own terms, though, and it’s fine. No, not awesome. No, not terrible. It’s fine. Han is, appropriately, cocky and brash, as we expect. His mentor, as we expect, is grizzled and grumpy. And his assorted cohorts are equal parts swindlery, wise-cracky, and heart-of-goldy. It’s all fine.

But what it ain’t is a necessary addition to the series. There’s nothing, in other words, in this two-and-a-half hour adventure that you can’t live without — no revealed knowledge, no breathtaking secret that changes everything we thought we knew about the galaxy’s favorite scamp. You end the movie in the same place as you started it — knowing that Han is a swaggering, boastful nerf-herder headed to Tattoine for a rendezvous with destiny.

Which is sort of the curse of the prequel, really. You already know how the story ends, the adventure is in getting there — and for me, the problem is that there’s nothing really shocking along the way. Han starts the movie as a thief, and, well … he ends it as a slightly more jaded thief.

Problem is, there’s nowhere to be surprised in there, not really, except for a couple of (actually rather lovely) reversals that are really only delays on the payoffs you know are coming. Han tells us in the original series how he won the Falcon — how much do we gain by watching it happen? The argument can be made that we’re better off when we get to fill in the details ourselves rather than being led around by the nose, the way this film seems to do. “Look here at this thing you already suspected, isn’t it nifty?” “And this, you knew there would be something like this in the story; well, here it is.” “Yep, the Falcon has always broken down at inopportune times but it always comes through in the end; why wouldn’t it do the same when it’s new?”

In that way, then, Solo is less about telling you a new story and more about affirming things you already know.

Here’s the thing, though: affirming your suspicions is a thing this movie does really well. The performers are all excellent in their roles (Daniel Glover’s portrayal of Lando, in particular, is bloody inspired), the story clips right along at that breakneck pace Disney has decided Star Wars should run at (seriously, I watched A New Hope after TFA came out and it’s basically comparing a teenager on a Saturday morning to a spooked cheetah), and the visuals and the action sequences are just beautiful.

Is Solo a life-altering piece of cinema? Hell no. But it ain’t a bad way to spend a few hours and a few bucks.

 


Terrible Reviews: Otherworld


Here’s a book with a concept you’ve heard before: *a video game that’s realer than real life.* Do Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller freshen it up or drag its corpse behind the jalopy for a few cheap miles? Let’s find out!

Otherworld (Otherworld, #1)

Summary:

We’ve got this immersive VR world created by a shadowy company literally called “The Company” (which is an attempt at a joke every bit as disappointing as it seems) and piloted by this Elon Musk-ish figure. Owing to recent advances in technology, the game — which was failing monetarily — is rebranded and re-opened as a virtual reality world-substitute — an “other world,” GET IT? — for people suffering from disabilities who are otherwise unable to function in the real world. Of course, to open such a venture on the large stage requires lots of beta testing, and since living, breathing human test subjects are difficult to come by and legally problematic (the technology might-or-might-not kill people in the real world when their avatars die in the game world), The Company opts to make its own human subjects by staging accidents that send hapless victims into comas, and then administering chemical cocktails to keep them locked-in.

(If that sounds a bit mustache-twirling and far-fetched, well, just buckle in.)

The novel centers on Simon, a protagonist you’re going to hate, but not, I think, in that love-to-hate-them way. (More on that in a moment.) He’s enchanted with the idea of the Otherworld game but becomes obsessed with it when his kind-of-but-not-really girlfriend, Kat, becomes one of The Company’s victims and finds herself trapped in the game. His quest to save her and blow the lid off The Company’s secrets leads him through the immense and twisted Otherworld.

Critique (not exactly constructive):

I’ll keep my spoilers vague, since this book is fairly new, but much like my other recent read (Stephen and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties), the overwhelming feeling I’m left with is: meh. Otherworld is a softer take on The Matrix, a harder take on Tron, and it wants to be a gamer-geek’s take on The Hunger Games. The setup is fine, the premise is good; it just never seems to deliver in any satisfying way.

The biggest problem: the characters are a let down. The protagonist, Simon, is a jerk of the highest order. Not a jerk that you love to hate, a la House or Frank Underwood or Loki, but a jerk who you really wish would just go away. He’s rude to absolutely everybody he encounters in the real world with the exception of Kat, the girl who makes the mistake of giving him some attention (naturally, he’s completely in love with her). And there’s no good explanation for this ball of hate rolling around in his guts; he’s the child of fabulously wealthy parents whose only complaint is that his parents don’t pay attention to him. So he goes out sunbathing on his lawn in the nude to make his neighbors angry, knowing they’ll call his mother at work (…really?) to kick up a fuss. The authors want him to be an anti-hero, but he’s really just an a-hole.

His love interest, Kat, seems at first like this tough, troubled girl — you know, that elusive Strong Female Character type — but after the first third of the book, she’s relegated to the damsel in distress. Simon chases her into Otherworld, but there she’s just a mirage; always just out of reach, just out of sight. Further, upon reflection, I’m not sure we see a genuine interaction between her and another character in the book. She hangs around with some people Simon hates (yeah, I know, that narrows it down exactly zero) and seems like she might be dating some deadbeat (when she could have Simon, the … not deadbeat?), but don’t worry — she’s playing a long con, and they spend the final fifth of the book kissing every chance they get. Often when it’s totally inappropriate. (It’s gross.)

Their love story, by the way, is as ludicrous as you could hope. Never mind the ridiculous flippance and disdain Simon flings at everybody else he meets or the fact that Simon tells us, again and again, that he’d destroy all of Otherworld and everybody (real people, too!) living in it for her. They’re literally driven apart by an evil stepfather. I just … yeah. I’m moving on.

The continuity is suspect. Simon and his crew flit from one locale to another with no explanation of how they did it or how long it took. Sure, they’re in a video game so the rules could be bent, but there’s also very much the sense of — much like your average video game — okay, here’s the ice level, here’s the desert level, here’s the jungle level. At one point, Simon gets whipped away from his companions and beamed, Star Trek-style, to the other side of the world to die. But before long, one of his companions finds him. How? Don’t ask, she just does; and just in time to save him from certain death, besides. How fortuitous!

And of course, there’s the issue that most of the book takes place in the game world. Well, what about your body in the real world? To its credit, the book deals with this issue on the one hand — every time our hero wakes up in the real world, he finds he’s soiled himself and he’s starving. (Somebody in the real world even gives him diapers to help himself with this problem, which is actually pretty funny. But because he’s a class-A jerk, he doesn’t bother using them so that he can deliberately run around smelling of urine and feces.) But at the same time, he is somehow able to dip in and out of the game for days at a time, and his physical body is never found, never disturbed. This beggars belief.

Then, there’s the ending. Without spoiling it, the ending is a non-ending; a straight cliffhanger leading into the next book (as yet unreleased). Not a resolution to the conflicts opened by this book, but a continuation of them. Wholly unsatisfying.

Finally, I don’t know who the book is really aimed at. The premise and execution have a decidedly YA flair to them — Simon is of high school age, after all, going on a grand (virtual) adventure so save the (virtual) world. But the tone of the book is not at all YA. The main character’s thoughts and speech are littered with profanity, and it’s regularly intimated (and here and there outright stated) that Otherworld is a haven for orgies and all manner of devilish perversions. Not that I have a problem with that stuff, but I’m not sure a YA novel is the right place for it.

Verdict:

So — is the book any good? Well, despite my laundry list of complaints, I didn’t hate it. To be fair, I don’t think I liked it all that much, though it did tickle my geek-bone well enough to keep me turning the pages. And this concept alone is entertaining enough to me that I’m willing to dip my toes in just about any waters that explore the idea. The novel does try to explore some themes about the dark side of human nature. But it’s a bit like tossing frogs into boiling water rather than trying to cook them properly. There’s no wading in, there’s no gradual transition; we just find ourselves in the midst of cannibals and gladiators. The end result is less “oh, wow, that’s deep” and more “what the hell am I reading?”

Still, I can’t help feeling like *Otherworld* is trying to ride on the coattails of some other recent successes *cough Ready Player One cough* rather than trying to forge its own way. It’s a decent enough bit of escapist literature (and goodness knows we need that these days), but that’s about all it is.

The verdict: Two out of five smelly, peed-in pants legs.


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