Hugos pre-read: Fables 11 and 12

Fables Vol 11: War and Pieces – Bill Willingham
This is it, the war between the Fables and the Adversary finally begins. It’s an intense, brilliant volume and I had to admire the ruthlessness and brilliance of the Fables’ plan. Prince Charming finally showed why he is a great tactician, all the elements of the last few volumes came together and I was gripped throughout. As always, Wallingham didn’t go where I expected him to go with some of the storylines and the final reveals surprised me. It is one of the things that I have been loving about Fables, the inability to predict what will happen next. Various characters were given their moments of glory – not always the ones that I expected – and it was both an intense and hopeful end to this arc of the Fables story.

Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages – Bill Willingham
The Adversary has been defeated but that isn’t the end of the story by a long way. This volume is dark, horrific in places, and sets up a number of threads that I think are going to be played out in the future. There is a lot to clean up after the war and we learn quite early on that although the Adversary was evil, he may have been doing some good after all by keeping much worse things at bay. I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting any of this and hadn’t been sure how the series could keep going after the last volume. None of this feels like stretching things out, more like the previous eleven volumes have been the prelude to something much bigger.

Hugo pre-read: Fables 9 and 10

Fables Vol 9: Sons of Empire – Bill Willingham
Most of this volume is dedicated to two plots: Bigby, Snow and family visiting Bigby’s estranged father and the Adversary holding a “what do we do next” summit. Both plots are equally fascinating. Although the Fables are a smaller, less powerful group in some ways it is becoming obvious that in many ways they are equally matched to the Adversary. War is coming and there is now a time-limit on when things will start. At the same time, finding out a bit more about Bigby’s background was very interesting. It gives us a better understanding of him and I’m starting to really enjoy watching the way that the cubs are growing. In all, a solid and compelling volume in the series.

Fables Vol 10: The Good Prince – Bill Willingham
Flycatcher has been kind of a running joke through much of the Fables series. He spends his life working off endless community service orders by acting as janitor for the Woodlands, mild mannered and often a bit clueless. This is the volume where we finally understand exactly what he is and I have to admit, I loved this. It maybe my favourite volume so far. His background before the Adversary, what he had done since and how the entire population of Fabletown have acted to protect him from his past was obvious once it was explained but I had no idea before this. His actions as he recovers his memories and finds a different way to combat the Adversary were just brilliant. It think that I was holding my breath with Blue Boy and the others each time his story was on the page. Willingham didn’t forget about the rest of Fabletown in the meantime and his solutions to the problems of how they can fight the Adversary are quite brilliant. The heart of the story, though, is Flycatcher and it was wonderful.

Hugo read: Leviathan Wakes

Leviathan Awakes – James S. A. Corey
This is one of the Hugo-nominated novels that has been in my stack and it is definitely one that I would not have picked up without the Hugo project. It’s more of a pure sci-fi novel than I usually read, lots of space ships and gravity wells and so forth. For the first half of the book, I could not really understand why it had been nominated. It felt very much like the kind of noir-ish mystery sci-fi that I’ve seen a lot of over the years. Then things took a turn for the different and I understand now why it is on the Hugo list. The central characters are not always likeable, but I found them sympathetic and understandable. It is a novel that is very much building towards an idea, contemplating the nature of humanity and change, but Corey does not forget to build a believable world populated by ‘real’ people. It is not my usual read, but it’s definitely a good one.

Hugo watch: Hugo (the movie)

When this film came out last year, I remember seeing the trailers for it and thinking “Hmm, lots of animation and it’s 3D, pass”.

That definitely was the wrong reaction!

The trailer looked ‘animated’ but I think that’s more down to the beautiful cinematography and the startlingly blue eyes of the lead actor. In fact, it’s mainly live-action with just a bit of CGI where necessary. I rented it from iTunes and found the entire thing absolutely gorgeous.

In addition to looking amazing, it was an interesting story that really caught both the mind and the heart. The young boy who lives in a train station, Hugo, is the center of things and it is through him that we see the world around him. The minor characters that fill the station are lovely and I discovered that I actually liked and had sympathy for Sacha Baron Cohen’s station inspector.

It is a film about films, specifically the man credited with the first science fiction film. I’ve seen tiny clips of that film in various documentaries over the years and the image of a man-in-the-moon with a rocket in his eye is fairly iconic. My knowledge of Hugo going in was minimal so I had no idea that it would reference real events – that was something I discovered afterwards.

Hugois definitely a film that I would recommend to people and I’d love to watch it again. It has the mix of plot, character and visuals just right so that it’s a film that pulls you in as you watch but also stays with you after it is over.

Hugo pre-read: Fables volumes 7 and 8

Fables Vol 7: Arabian Nights (and Days) – Bill Willingham
If most other fictional fairy tale-type creatures appear in Fables, then it is only appropriate that the characters from the Arabian Nights tales also make an appearance. This was a shorter volume that felt like a bit of a fill-in, but it did set up a number of interesting things for future volumes.

Fables Vol 8: Wolves – Bill Willingham
Bigby hasn’t been seen for a while and it is thankfully time to bring him back in this volume. It includes the 50th issue, which was a beautifully long one appropriate for such a milestone. Although a lot of this volume is about Bigby, Snow and their family there is still a lot going on in Fabletown and the battle with the Adversary isn’t forgotten. I really enjoyed the mixture of happy, good things happening against the background of big events. Bigby’s store is, as always, interesting and unexpected. Willingham is really building up a detailed, fascinating world in these books.

Hugo pre-read: Feed

I’m not normally a horror reader and as zombies are usually a horror thing, I can’t say that I’ve ever deliberately sat down to read a zombie book. I get the feeling that this one isn’t typical for the genre and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it.

Another book that I needed to read before I could read the Hugo nominated book, this time in preparation for Deadline by Mira Grant.

Feed – Mira Grant (review)

After the dark, slow pace of my previous read this was a refreshing change. I’m not normally a horror reader so I’ve never read zombie novels. This is the first part in the Newsflesh trilogy, the second part of which has been Hugo-nominated and so I felt that I needed to read this for completeness. The story moves along at a great pace and the characters – particularly George and Shaun – feel real and alive as you read about them. The reader is thrown into a world twenty years in the future, where a zombie plague has changed many of the ways that the world functions and is a part of daily life in more ways than I ever could have imagined. The focus of the novel, however, is on media and politics so it never felt like a traditional horror novel. It would not be possible to tell this story without the zombie element because it dictates so much about how and why the characters are doing what they are doing, but the zombie plague is not the main focus. Despite being an avowed horror and zombie avoider, I genuinely enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to reading the next one.

Hugo pre-read: A Storm of Swords

I’m still working my way through the Song of Ice and Fire books so that I can read the one that got nominated for a Hugo.

A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin (review)

I knew these books would slow down a bit eventually and this is the one that feels like I got a bit lost and overwhelmed. It’s the longest so far in this series (973 pages!) and it felt like it. That is not to say nothing happens: it’s packed with changes and events, Martin makes a good attempt at killing half the cast and the reveal in the epilogue is terrific. However, the sense of brooding darkness is so strong at times that it’s a difficult read and the length and periods of slow pacing only work to enhance that.

Hugo read: The Unwritten Volume 4

I’ve now officially read the first of the Hugo nominated graphic novels and I have to say, it was very good and I can see why it’s on the list.

45. Unwritten Vol. 4: Leviathan – Mike Carey
This may be my favourite volume yet of this series. It continues some of the plot points from previous issues, gives equal page time to all of our heroes and has some wonderful thoughts on where and how the characters can move between the different books they’re negotiating. I am particularly fond of the idea that the ocean is the same ocean in all books featuring oceans and so it can be used to travel between certain books. Tommy was initially a fairly selfish character but he’s grown a lot and I’m getting very intrigued about the hints that are coming through about his background and why he is Tommy Taylor. A couple of things were sort-of tied up but the volume left me itching for the next one to find out what happens next.

Hugo pre-read: Fables (volumes 2 to 4)

Um, I’m still stuck on the Avengers squee. So have some Fables reviews that I wrote over the last couple of weeks. Having to read most of the Fables back catalogue in order to read the Hugo nominated volume is definitely not a chore!

Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm – Bill Willingham
Revolution is fomenting on the Farm and at the same time, Snow White decides that Rose Red’s punishment for her scam in the first volume is that she will have to accompany Snow on her annual Farm inspection. The Farm is where all the fairy tales that cannot easily blend into the city live and they are fed up. The prominent involvement of the pigs – and their communist leanings – echoed the George Orwell book but this is definitely a Fables story. I enjoyed the glimpses that I got of the different non-human societies and it was fun to play spot the fairy tale as I read. The deeper ideas were handled well, there was some great humour, and the final resolution was satisfying and fun.

Fables Vol 3: Storybook Love – Bill Willingham
This volume collects a couple of stand-alone stories along with the Storybook Love arc. It was the main arc that I enjoyed most and I think that is because it focused heavily on Bigby and Snow, two characters that I’ve quickly grown to love. Bluebeard has finally had enough of their interference and with one character from Animal Farm still on the run, puts together a plan to quietly get rid of Bigby and Snow. As with any cunning plan it backfires somewhat and Prince Charming, oddly enough, also becomes involved in protecting Snow. Charming is rapidly growing into a character that you love to loathe: he’s selfish, vain and greedy. At the same time it’s easy to see how he fooled beautiful princesses into marrying him! One of the things that I’m enjoying about this series is the way that our expectations for fairy tale characters are turned upside down regularly It’s fun installment in a series that gets better as it goes on.

Fables Vol 4: March of the Wooden Soldiers – Bill Willingham
War comes to the Fables in this book and the reader gets some more hints about the Adversary and how he/it operates. There are a couple of seemingly disconnected stories at the beginning of the volume and they pay off midway through. This was a more serious story than the previous one and it left a lot of questions unanswered. I found the final two or three ‘chapters’ completely compelling and I couldn’t put it down as I worried for the characters I’ve become attached to. Willingham is not afraid to kill his characters when necessary for a story.

Hugo nomination watch: Captain America

The new Avengers movie comes out in less than a week and somehow I had managed not to see any of the lead-in movies, so over the last month I’ve watched Ironman 1 and 2, Thor and Captain America. I was assured by many people that the Hulk movies were unnecessary so I skipped them 🙂

Of them all, Captain America was the one I was least excited about. A movie about a hugely patriotic American comic book character? Yeah, no. Not for me.

Then I saw that it had been Hugo nominated and I started to think that maybe it wouldn’t be too bad. Hugo voters are relatively sensible people, they wouldn’t nominate something terrible. OK, somehow X-Men: First Class didn’t get nominated and I thought it was a great film, but I figured that Captain America couldn’t be that bad.

Honest opinion: I enjoyed it a lot and I think that I liked it better than Thor. The Ironman ones are still definitely my favourite of these movies, but Captain America was a lot better than I expected. The main character was likeable and definitely not overtly “Hoo yeah, America!”. The secondary characters – particularly Bucky, the assorted other sidekicks and the sort-of love interest – were developed nicely and I could have quite happily watched another movie with that group having adventures. The villain was over the top in a uniquely comic-book way (well done, Hugo Weaving) and it was a lot of fun spotting all the ways that the 1940s action and characters fitted into the continuity with the modern characters.

It even had an origin story that vaguely made sense and I didn’t spot that pre-Cap Steve Rogers was CGI’d to eight stone wimpiness until I started working it out in my head afterwards. Well done that FX team!

It’s not perfect: the ending felt rather awkward, a way to get Steve Rogers into modern times for the Avengers movie rather than a coherent part of the story, and there was some uneven pacing at times.

It is definitely a better movie than I expected, though, and I had a lot of fun with it.

I still think X-Men: First Class is a better movie, though 😀

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