Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.
Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife Anne or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.
I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my reading results…
…okay, so this is supposed to be a recurring feature throughout the year. Instead it became among the many things I’ve let linger unattended in my life. Now my annual season of capsule reviews is upon me, and the large stack of finished books next to our PC looms over and demands a year-end catch-up. Let’s see if I can shorten these so I can get the complete list posted ASAP and move on to all the other year-in-review stuff…although every time I think to myself, “This will be a short review,” I am nearly always lying to myself. Wish me luck?
14. Wil Wheaton, Still Just a Geek (2022). The costar of Stand by Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation previously collected his earliest blog posts on paper in the 2004 tome Just a Geek. This extensively updated version (which he brought to sell at Star Trek: Mission Chicago a week before its street date) adds some previously un-hard-copied material, 2004 annotations he wrote to those posts, a new round of current-year annotations, and several annotations to the previous annotations. The self-analysis and meta-self-analysis stacks up to Inception-esque tiers as some pages contain more fine-print footnotes than full-size content, and run through the full gamut of every keyboard symbol ever used to tell a reader “see below”.
Topicality spans across his life experiences and interests that include child-stardom horrors, the many abuses he suffered at home, the funds his parents basically stole and squandered, geek stuff he likes, board games, YouTube show-making, the loving TNG cast who became a strongly bonded found-family circle, the awfulness of former Trek chief Rick Berman, what it’s like for an average-Joe actor in Hollywood who just wants to make a living but doesn’t have A-list clout and has to compete with scores of other talents for parts (great or wretched ones) even during those cherished times when he fell back in favor with viewers again (see: his Big Bang Theory years).
Many of the annotations are value-adding asides that reflect the vast levels of self-awareness and vulnerability it requires to put a warts-and-all volume out there like this, but a seriously large percentage is devoted to apologizing for many “jokes” and tossed-off comments that have aged poorly over the decades, ranging in offensiveness level from “deeply dudebro sexist” to just “falls short of 2022 top-shelf liberal standards”. I can sympathize with the impulse to grovel for forgiveness for the sins of one’s youth (I am eternally relieved I never had an internet connection before 1999), but reading the same apology dozens of times in a row gets tedious and weakens the impact. I appreciate the effort to reprint the original posts unabridged, but it might’ve been more efficient just to place a big, boldface “UGGGH” after every failed witticism, make the blanket apology that “UGGGH” stands for in the preface, and move on.
When he’s not climbing over hurdles of his own making, Wheaton is a great storyteller with a plethora of anecdotes at his disposable. His humble, ground-level approach to his behind-the-curtain insights remind us that, despite the hordes of trolls who drove him off Twitter and who still think it’s the height of comedy to tell him “Shut up, Wesley!”, the lifelong actor and famous personality is at his core One Of Us.
15. John Jackson Miller, Star Trek: Picard: Rogue Elements (2021). If you’re a Picard fan like us who’s disappointed that the story of Santiago Cabrera’s charismatically gruff Captain Cristóbal Rios ended with the second season, this prequel is an upstanding substitute, picking up where the show’s flashbacks to his catastrophic final days in Starfleet left off. We learn how Our Hero acquired the La Sirena, the total mess that the deal naturally became, the jobs he took to pay off the ship loan, and how his life went from its absolute nadir to his still-bitter debut in the pilot. Miller displays a knack for picking criminally overlooked canon characters and giving them a second chance, most awesomely in his choice of chief antagonist — Kivas Fajo, Saul Rubinek‘s amoral space-antiquities collector from the TNG episode “The Most Toys”. Other characters are nods to “A Piece of the Action”, “Tapestry”, “Captain’s Holiday”, the DS9 episode “Vortex”, and more, more, more. If that isn’t enough bang for your buck, how about an entire holodeck filled with famous dead Klingons? This is the most fun novel I read all year, no contest.
16. Ty Templeton, Stephen Molnar, and John Hunt, Star Trek: Mission’s End (2009). Months ago I realized 2022 was becoming one long Trek renaissance for myself and Anne, so I dug into my Vast Unread Pile to see if any Trek books had gotten lost in the shuffle so I could keep prolonging the magic. Lo and behold, I forgot I had this IDW graphic novel, which I’d found in a comic-con clearance box and was surprised to recognize the writer’s name, best known for his many contributions to DC’s animated-Batman comics (I’ve been a fan since Stig’s Inferno). Billed as the grand finale of the Enterprise‘s original five-year mission, this adventure takes place on a planet populated by two warring factions of giant bugs, a feud that would’ve been impossible to film in the ’60s but perfectly recaptures classic-Trek didacticism. We learn what convinced Kirk to accept an unthinkable promotion to admiralty, why McCoy retired (spoiler: it involves his utter disbelief at Kirk accepting a promotion), and why Spock walked away from Starfleet and had to be dragged back in The Motion Picture. Seeing the Big Three take on large, cost-prohibitive creatures feels incongruous but works, though a few characters’ choices feel forced to suit the plot’s fixed ending…but, again, that’s a thing the originals also tended to do.
17. Jason Lutes, Jar of Fools (2008). From the creator of Berlin (of which I’ve read the first volume but still need to return to someday), a standalone period-piece drama concerns a failed magician whose escape-artist brother died doing what he loved, his ex-girlfriend who’s done with all that, his elderly magician mentor whose deteriorating mental state won’t be up for teaching much longer, and a con artist dragging along a youngster protege. It’s a poetically awkward intersection of folks who made a lifetime of fooling others for profit, some of whom also spent a lifetime fooling themselves.
18. Raina Telgemeier, Drama (2012). I’m miles behind the millions of YA readers who are often swifter on the uptake than I am. Thanks to my local comic shop ordering shelf copies of this during the pandemic, my collection of Telgemeier’s OGNs is now 50% complete after previously reading and loving Smile and Guts. (I’m not counting her Baby-Sitters Club GNs, which I’m sure are also way-above-average in their own ways.) Diverging from those two memoirs, Drama is fictional yet equally lovable, about a love triangle amid backstage hi-jinks in a middle-school drama club. At times when Marvel and DC crossovers and gimmicks are irritating me, sometimes I wonder if I should just give up on singles and start shopping more in YA bookstore sections for stories of this quality. (Don’t tell my shop I said that.)
19. John Shirley, Borderlands: The Fallen (2011). At long last I finished reading the onetime cyberpunk author’s based-on-the-popular-video-game novel trilogy, though this one was actually published first. Thankfully they don’t connect and the reading order didn’t matter. It’s tauter than the other two (Unconquered and Gunsight) and felt truer to the games in my head. Once again the main cast are original characters — a family of three stranded in different parts of planet Pandora (no relation to other planets Pandora now in theaters) — but taciturn antihero-leader Roland is fairly prevalent here. Mom has to do awful things to survive that I might’ve turned off if this were a TV show, but one of the fun parts of prose is you can skim some parts more quickly than others and/or pretend they didn’t happen. The action sequences crackle, so there’s that.
20. Mikey Neumann, Agustin Padilla, and Esther Sanz, Borderlands: Tannis and the Vault (2015). Also, there was a trilogy of graphic novels! Granted, they were trades collecting singles, but still. All were written by one of the game’s top contributors and consequently better capture the games’ self-aware blend of tongue-in-cheek antiheroics, black humor, monsters and EXPLOSIONS. The games are heavier on the pop culture references, but to be fair, books don’t have side quests or tasks to complete for skill points, so there’re fewer opportunities for giving jokey names to things.
21. Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch (1992). I knew this rather British book had been loosely turned into an American film starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore, but I didn’t know how loosely. This isn’t a fictional meet-cute, but rather a memoir of Hornby’s years as a hardcore soccer fan. It tracks a similar path alongside his music-obsessed High Fidelity, which was likewise a post-geek cautionary tale of how a superfan can make poor personal and moral choices in the pursuit of their singularly passionately hobby-focused tunnel vision. I know next to nothing about soccer except what they taught us scantly and poorly in gym class, but I hung in there the best I could through all the jargon and stats, and occasionally Googled details for corroboration, especially the mentions of real events when entire crowds of soccer fans have been injured or killed. At least that’s never happened to vinyl collectors, to my knowledge.
22. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (2006 reissue). I read 1984 decades ago but until now I’d never gotten around to its major influence that preceded it in 1932, when early SF authors were already daydreaming of our dystopian possibilities well before WWII intensified that fear beyond humanity’s coping capabilities. Things that struck me:
- Now I get the titular reference to The Tempest, of which I’ve only read portions. Someday I really need to finish that, then go back and reread The Sandman #75 so I can also appreciate that more.
- Now I recognize things that took their names from the book’s myriad concepts, such as an old band called the Feelies and a short-lived Fantagraphics anthology called Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy.
- In some ways Mustapha Mond’s big speech reminds me a lot of the bloviating Architect in The Matrix Reloaded as well as He Who Remains in the Loki finale. In other ways it reminds me of the ways some societies are today, with an underlying assumption that they have to have inequality to function, because everyone being truly mathematical equals (in Mond’s opinion and evil observational evidence) would turn society into a hypercompetitive mess and be impossible to manage, which is supremely creepy on multiple levels, not just in the classist sense. I could imagine Rod Serling reading this way back when and taking lots of notes.
- With John’s rebellion at the end, co-opted into yet another form of mindless entertainment and fueling more of the same, 90 years later the analogy holds up amazingly, depressingly well.
This particular edition comes with a few extras in the back, such as a 1949 letter from Huxley to George Orwellm thanking him for the free copy of his new book and admitting that with the dawn of the nuclear age, Orwell’s satire might end up closer to future reality than his own, and at twice the speed.
23. Daniel Warren Johnson and Mike Spicer, Extremity, Vol. 1: Artist (2017). In a future world where one clan has ravaged another, the leader vows payback by any means necessary and insists that his daughter Thea must also fight and commit wartime atrocities by his side as revenge. Thea is a teenage artist whose drawing hand was amputated and is struggling to train her weaker hand to take over, with mixed results. And it’s hard to make time for practice when you have to be on the warpath all the time. The back cover describes this as “Studio Ghibli meets the intensity of Mad Max“, which is so apt that I’m at a loss to write a high-concept comparison in my own words, although you cannot look at that cover without recognizing the Akira influence. The powerfully orchestrated carnage is real and pervasive, and Thea’s inner struggle — especially when contrasted in arguments with her more pacifistic brother — comes from a giant-sized, aching heart that you normally can’t hear beating in over-the-top action comics like this one. I’m definitely on board for more.
24. Andrew Maclean, Head Lopper & the Crimson Tower (2018). The second adventure of the sword-slinging barbarian hero (the sequel to a previous read) is once again Hellboy-meets-Adventure Time as Our Hero, the nattering witch’s head hanging from his belt, and a bevy of other fighters and questers compete in a contained dungeon-ish environment for a MacGuffin. There’s treachery, sword fights, creepy monsters, and, to be honest, several panels in which the close-ups are so jam-packed with such odd shapes that I have no idea what people, places or things I’m looking at.
…still not 100% caught up. More to come!