2014 Media in Review: My bookshelf is sad

Welcome to 2015! You know what that means: In addition to a whole new year of stuff, it’s time for the annual series of Media in Review posts. Let’s start by taking a look at the paltry number of books I read last year. Sadly, there are only two.

JANUARY
Redshirts by John Scalzi — I wrote fairly unkind words about this book last year. I had such high hopes, and not only did Redshirts fail to meet them, it actively dug itself into a hole. Technically, I suppose you could say I didn’t even finish it. After the main story are three supplementary codas. I got through one and a half. But that’s the beauty of supplementary content. It’s not necessary. With very nearly 12 months of distance, I’m beginning to wonder if I might view it more favorably on a re-read. I have absolutely no desire to do that, though. Maybe next year.

DECEMBER
The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern
— I was probably 12 when I first read this book. Twenty years later, it doesn’t quite hold up, but it’s not bad. It’s a novelization of the Superman Doomsday arc, which I’ve never read because while I like the art/design and I like the stories, I don’t actually like reading comic books. I was going to give this it’s own post, but since I can only count it as a book I finished in 2014 because it was still 2014 somewhere in the world, I figured I may as well just do it here.

The basic gist is that Superman is killed stopping the creature Doomsday, and the world is sad. New Supermen start popping up around Metropolis, none of them quite living up to the real deal. One is cruel, one is a cocky teenager, and one is a cyborg. Another is a regular guy reminiscent of Iron Man if he had Thor’s hammer and a fourth is a sweet old barkeep who rescues puppies and feeds the hungry. Unlike the other three, the latter two never claim to be the real Superman reborn nor possess any of his looks or natural abilities, but they’re probably the closest stand-ins of the bunch. There’s also a Lex Luthor clone (disguised as Luthor’s secret son, Lex Luthor II), a bad guy that shows up a little late to the party, and plenty of woe from Clark Kent’s friends and family.

It’s a good story, and not a bad read, but I had some issues with it this time around. One of them wasn’t really its fault, though.

When I first read this, I’m sure the only Clark Kent/Superman I really knew was Dean Cain from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Since then, I’ve grown to appreciate Christopher Reeve and George Reeves, seen some of the cartoons, watched Tom Welling off-and-on for 9 years on Smallville, and while I still haven’t seen Man of Steel, I do still remember Brandon Routh’s turn in Superman Returns.

Christopher Reeve ended up being my main mental image/voice for the character as I read, but that’s a lot of Supermen to sort through, and I wasn’t always consistent, which was distracting. My mental Lois never could decide if she wanted to be Terri Hatcher (Lois & Clark) or Erica Durance (Smallville). My Lexes were all over the place, too, between Gene Hackman, and Smallville’s Michael Rosenbaum and John Glover, whose Lionel Luthor is more fitting for Lex II’s description.

But that’s not really the book’s fault. My biggest complaint of the book is that it’s hard to get a feel for the time period. With its technology and references it walks a line between being set in the 90s or a future preconceived off the 90s and feeling like it stepped right out of the 40s. That’s ridiculously distracting, and I think the bulk of the blame lies in some questionable dialogue choices. Here’s a sample:

“Oh, you ‘know.’ Right!” Scrapper’s face was a study in disgust. “You can waltz right outta the Project any time you like! You get to pal aroun’ wit’ yer buddy Sooperman an’ help ‘im fight aliens, an’ have all kinda great adventures — an’ all wit’out us!”

There are a handful of characters who talk like this every time they show up, and I can tolerate it in small doses, but in general I just don’t think it’s necessary, and I don’t like it. Also “Scrapper” is a character’s nickname. And Big Words is another’s.

But, I guess in what could be seen as a blessing and a curse, there are so many characters in this 500-page book  that I don’t have to deal with the Newsboys, who are by far the worst offenders, all that often. Of course, the flipside of that coin is that there are so many characters, it was a little hard to keep track of everyone.

There’s a degree to which I can say that may have been my fault as well, since I did spend about three months on this book, reading in dribs and drabs. Maybe if I’d binged through it like I binge through any number of TV shows these days, the character count wouldn’t have been a problem. And they certainly did add richness to the story, providing a picture of Metropolis that we wouldn’t have seen if the book had just been loaded down with all the usual suspects.

In short, I’m glad I gave this another read. Maybe I’ll do it again in a decade or two.

2015 books
This year, my goal is to read a paltry one book every two months.Baby steps, you know. I’ve built up quite the list. Also, there’s one book of 2014 that I had to give up on disgust. I was going to write about it here, but it was just getting too long. So, I’ll save that for after the other Media in Review posts are up.

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