The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

The Books I Read: September – October 2020

bookshelf books
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

A true sequel to the first–it’s a race against time to keep humanity alive after a meteor has crashed on Earth, giving it a much closer expiration date. The only solution is to travel to space. All of this was all in the first book.

Now that the space program’s been established, it’s time to put a colony on Mars. And our hero protagonist is part of the team making the year-long journey to the future with 1960’s technology.

It’s not a complicated plot, but it’s still very good. Better than the first. Since the majority of the book takes place on the ship, there’s less of the global cultural zeitgeist the first had. Like there’s no hemming and hawing over stage fright or anti-anxiety medication. Which is good — we dealt with that in the first book, and the character overcame those obstacles. No need to run that race again.

What we are dealing with is the products of those cultures bringing that baggage with them into space and the strife it causes. It’s civil rights on the smaller scale. The “women in the kitchen”, “screw your regulations, they’re dying out there”, “either have children or have a career” type stuff. The last book’s antagonist is now our protagonist’s captain, which makes for good drama.

And it’s all dealt with smartly, knowing you can’t win all the battles (especially in the 1960s). I realized it’s a little like The Hunger Games mixed with The Right Stuff. The conflict between the public image you have to present to gain the public’s favor so they support you and keep you progressing versus the gritty realism of the science, the hard work, and the fact that not all of us survive.

The prose is a little less technical, but that’s good. If you can understand Apollo 13, you can understand this. And I’m definitely going to pick up the next book in the series.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This is a collection of essays by Roxanne Gay, a teacher, Black woman, and political activist. Essay topics focus on race, LGBTQ, and women’s rights. They range from personal stories to opinions to “struggle” pieces.

I’m just not in a place for it. And I don’t know if I’d ever be in a place for it. I don’t need to feel ashamed for how I’m not “woke enough” these days. I get enough of that on Twitter. I get that being Black is hard, being a woman is hard, getting a Ph.D. while being impoverished is hard, teaching is hard, everything’s hard. I just didn’t get why I should care or why I should listen. Not because I don’t like the same things she likes (I don’t) but that I didn’t have a bond with the author. Does a non-fiction book need a “save the cat” moment?

This is the book that made me realize everyone has a different motivation for why they read. John Green said “I read because I am trapped in my one brain in my one body in this one place and I want to escape that prison.” Now you could interpret that to mean “I read to experience diversity” or “I read to live other people’s lives” or “to see worlds other than this one”. But for me, it means I read to feel less alone. I read to know there are other people out there like me who feel things like I do, in strange ways like I do, who see what’s wrong and right with the world in the same way I do. My favorite books are “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” and “Looking for Alaska” and “Eleanor and Park”. I like the books where I wish I was friends with the characters, so we could be less lonely together.

This is not that kind of book.

It’s obviously for the educated and meant to educate others. And I have no doubt I would be educated by reading it. But it’s missing the charm that makes me want to spend time with this person. W. Kamau Bell and Lindsey Stirling and Hannah Hart had that. The reasons I stopped reading are similar to why I stopped reading We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby. I have no need for critiques of “Gone Girl” and “Fifty Shades of Grey“. I’ve seen those to ad nauseum on YouTube. And when your beliefs are full of conflicts and you proudly proclaim that, that invalidates your thesis in my opinion. You can’t have it both ways–there has to be equivalent exchange.

Dead Star Park by Mark Hill

This is a horror-comedy a little in the vein of David Wong (John Dies at the End), but in Adventureland. Basically the same plot too–disaffected teenagers work an amusement park, socializing, relationships, coming of age. But at this park, something sinister’s going on after close. Something unworldly.

Casey (the main character) is an excellent character to read about. The wit is there, the characters are *chef’s kiss* well-rounded. But the horror is blah. It never goes anywhere. There’s no sense of a goal or of goalposts being pushed back. Her “big problem” is seeing confusing visions and cryptic words to create “mystery” and “intrigue”. While the narrative hangs a lampshade on this trope, it doesn’t change that the plot never feels like it’s moving forward. The story goal didn’t even get established until 40% through.

Despite that, it’s still funny, small, and sharp (like all the best horror fiction is, unless your name is Stephen King). And it deals with teen issues you don’t normally read about. Not like peer pressure and smoking, but headier things like nihilism. And not the fun “Big Lebowski” or “Rick & Morty” nihilism, but the “what’s the point of anything” and “what am I even doing here” kind.

You laugh, but to a smart teenager with a shaping mind and probably some mental illnesses, that’s the kind of thing that can really drive a nail through your hands. So the author gets that right. And especially in the dialogue to “thinking” ratio. This book is for anyone who likes horror-comedy or Zombieland or the deeper teen angst movies like The Chumscrubber.

Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky


The plot is fascinating and hard to summarize, but I’ll try. Basically, we tried to seed an Earth-like planet with a virus that would super-quick-evolve some apes so they would build a civilization for us to be waiting when our generational ship arrived. Two problems. One, the virus didn’t evolve the apes, it evolved the spiders. Two, the AI placed there to guard and watch the planet has gone rogue and isn’t letting our generational ship in.

There are twoish stories going on. One is the evolving spiders. Each scene break, the world develops a little more and you follow the descendant of “spider prime” through the centuries. There’s some incredible world-building as a collection of sentient spiders make a society. The second is the characters on the generational ship figuring out what to do, whether to force their way onto the planet they were promised or find somewhere else.

But I stopped reading because I realized I didn’t care about the characters. Interesting as the spiders are, it all reads like a documentary. The people on the spaceship are douchebags, hung up on their destroyed planet and generally being the worst human beings to each other. Not showing they’re worth saving.

It’s a little like “Leviathan Wakes” and “Wool” in terms of style, if you like that sort of thing. Me, I don’t. Long novels, multiple POVs, heavy on the hard science ideas, light on creating characters you want to spend time with. I had no one to root for. I guess some writers focus more on the concept than investment in a person.

Touch the Night by Max Booth III

A brutal thriller about two ghetto kids kidnapped by two “off” police officers. The elevator pitch alone strikes as Stephen King-like (From a Buick 8, Desperation) and that’s a compliment. But does the full novel follow through?

Yes, yes, it does. But only to a point. I was going to rate it four stars but the ending was unsatisfying. I don’t mind twist endings or hanging endings or even ambiguous endings. But there must be an ending. Endings mean resolution and there was no resolution about this. Being left with more questions than answers doesn’t equal a scary ending. Saw had a scary ending and it still answered everything. It Follows had a scary ending and it didn’t tie everything up, but it resolved the story. This is like “Well, I made my word count. Publish it.”

If not for that, it’s pretty good, and I looked forward to reading it each night. The characters are well-fleshed out and the relationships, both pre-existing and growing, are believable. It’s thematic of the boys’ friendship and motherhood-in-arms and being stymied by a system designed not to listen. That alone would be enough of an obstacle, but it’s combined with the vines of evil power controlling puppets from below.

The tagline calls it Stranger Things meets The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Maybe. I’d take out Stranger Things and substitute in Fresh (1992). Or the two kids from “The PJs” but without the funny. (Sorry, I don’t have a lot of selection.)

But given what I said about the ending, should you buy this book? I wish I could say. A bad ending can ruin a really good story (see Game of Thrones). I guess you’ll have to take a look for yourself and decide. Just preparing you for what you’ll get.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob) by Dennis E. Taylor

What if you could put your brain in a computer… and it was AWESOME?

I feel like this is the closest I’ve ever been to someone who can capture the same blend of snarky comedy and well-researched science fiction that John Scalzi can.

The biggest challenge in a novel like this is that there is only one character. Which is because the plot demands it — it’s one person traveling alone for a long time. And when more characters are added, they’re the same character, because he can make copies of himself . So not a lot of diversity or dynamics in relationships. But at least it’s not due to authorial incompetence.

The best thing is that the main character is a regular guy. He’s a trope-savvy software engineer who doesn’t shirk away from the pop culture reference. He’s aware he’s in a 1950’s Isaac Asimov novel. In fact, he’s the only one of his “graduating class” that doesn’t go insane because he’s a brain-in-a-box because he likes it. He gets to live inside his mind, solve technical problems, explore space, and he can make his own friends. Sounds ideal to me.

It’s fast-paced, it’s witty, it’s got a layman’s POV of hard space travel science. I highly recommend.

Conceal, Don’t Feel (A Twisted Tale) by Jen Calonita

What if Anna and Elsa never knew each other?

Answer: The same thing that happens in Frozen.

Why do I keep reading these Frozen books that are the same damn thing as the movie? Is it because it’s a perfect story as it is?

This feels like an unnecessary script doctoring somebody found in the Disney archives. Like some executive had a deadline so he gave it to his sister’s kid who just graduated film school and said “here, give me something I can bring to the board meeting on Thursday.”

Like other “Twisted Tales“, the plot hinges on a cruel spin. This time, the spell to remove Anna’s memories goes awry. Now, if Anna and Elsa are too close together, Anna will turn into ice, like in the ending. So Anna is sent to a different village.

Not a great difference, is it? Anna’s the same person–bubbly and social. Elsa’s still introverted and proper. And they both lived somewhat separated in the original movie.

Elsa still creates Olaf. She still meets the deceptive Hans. She still reveals her powers in a fit of emotion. She still builds an ice castle (there’s even a chapter that’s essentially “Let It Go” in prose form. Now that’s exciting stuff.) She’s still captured and taken to the dungeon. Anna still meets Kristoff who takes her to find Elsa (who she thinks is in trouble based on no evidence). She still goes to Oaken’s. She still has a chase with the wolves. She still rushes to save Elsa from Hans at the end and turns into a frozen statue that’s healed by love.

If you change one thing, you’ve got to change the entire story. It’s a butterfly effect. Anna may not have a different personality, but her goals should change. The plot should change. She shouldn’t be concerned about government machinations. It’d be like if I was Kamala Harris’s long lost brother, but didn’t know it, and I had to find her before Mitch McConnell took over. I have no investment in that scenario–I’m distant in both the physical sense and familiar sense. I’ve got my baked goods to worry about.

And if you’re going to make a twisted tale, then the point of the twisting should be to show us a completely different story, not the same. Straight on Till Morning and Part of Your World did that and it worked beautifully. The conclusion of the movie never took place, so the story is totally different and the characters evolve differently. Ariel is consumed with regret and Wendy becomes an action girl. If Anna and Elsa don’t know each other, why not have them meet at the beginning of the story? Then we can watch their relationship form while they have an adventure that has nothing to do with Prince Hans or Olaf or the Duke of Weselton.

But redoing the movie is lazy lazy lazy. It doesn’t give the reader what they want, which is an “alternate universe” Frozen. This is, beat for beat, the same story. Everything’s just in a different order. It’s a waste of your time. Don’t read this book.

Zoey Punches the Future in the Dick by David Wong

It’s nice to read something that’s just a cleanly written, fun story that’s not trying to be a five hundred page epic or engineered toward a movie option.

I think this one’s better than the first (“Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits”) because I found it hard to wrap my head around the world-building and who they characters were (they all play the same role). Maybe now I know what this world is and what platform we’re standing on. The first one had a high-ish learning curve. This one doesn’t.

The basics? We’ve still got Zoey Ashe, a no-name millennial who inherited a city (essentially) after her mob boss father died and left everything to her. That includes all his businesses (legit and illegit), employees, mansion, and personal entourage of elite black ops bodyguards.

And the enemy? This time it’s something a little harder to fight–a throng of anti-woman incel supremacists. That makes the threat sound trivial, but not in a world where they sell cybernetic implants and homing beacons at Walmart. It’s a timely theme–how long and how much are you going to let these cyberbullies control your life. How much power do they really have? How do you fight an enemy that’s essentially a swarm of wasps?

Wong calls this bizarro fiction, but I don’t think so. It’s wacky, with some surreal science-fiction elements. But nothing bizarre. Bizarro is a convention full of William Shatners attacking a cult of Bruce Campbell worshipers. Bizarro is a Santa made entirely of sausages and elves having sex through extra-dimensional panties. Bizarro is your zombie girlfriend taking off her breasts so you can use them as suction cups to scale a wall.

Women may not find this as amusing since seeing Zoey harassed and trolled and threatened when that’s their every day life. But for men, it’s an important step toward understanding what it’s like to be on the receiving end of online misogyny day after day. I highlighted one passage in particular.

“I want, for the first time in my life, to enter an elevator with a man and not stand there with the knowledge that he can overpower me anytime he feels like it. I want to be able to go jogging alone, at night. And when I enter a room, I want the people there to take me seriously, because they know they have to.”

Ranking the Disney Princesses

disney princesses ranked

Now I could be real fancy and do the same thing I did for the villains, using all kinds of nuanced criteria, calculated factors, and science theory. But fuck it, I’m just going with my heart. After all, that’s what the princesses did, right?

From bottom to top:

Princess Aurora

She only has seventeen minutes of screen time. And she spends that either in a trance or dancing with owls and other vermin. Maybe that’s why Maleficent gets all the reviews, because it’s so easy to overshadow the protagonist.


If it wasn’t for Aurora being such a piece of cardboard, she would get the award for worst. She’s preachy, hypocritical, and does nothing within her story arc. Her whole thing is “running from the steady path”, but she gets right back on it. Refusing the smoothest course gets people killed. Nice job breaking it, hero. People applaud her for her bravery, I call it not knowing risks, like playing with a bear cub, or getting right in front of a gun (or anything that happens in Wild). Oh, and Meeko’s a jerk too.

Snow White

She just looks like a creepy kewpie doll. I give a little credit that this was Disney’s first princess and she started many of the tropes (cleaning, woodland animals, singing, princes), but she looks like a mannequin and acts like a RealDoll. And the alabaster skin isn’t helping.


I give points for not falling into some of the more subtle trappings of the grouping. She’s not all sunshine and happiness with a kind word for everybody. She gets irritated at the clock, potshots the cat for ruining the clean floor, comments on her sisters’ “music lesson”, and broke the rules to get to the ball. (In my head canon, Cinderella pulled a Tyler Durden and actually coach-jacked someone to get there). She didn’t even go searching for a prince, she just wanted to have a good time.


Most people give Jasmine credit because he helped bloom their burgeoning sexuality. I don’t give points for that. It’s nice that she has enough self-worth to consider herself not a prize to be won… but she doesn’t do anything to distinguish herself to that end. She’s still the ball that Jafar and Aladdin are bouncing back and forth. A bare midriff does not a princess make.


She just had a Five Guys burder. “DAMN-DAMN-DAMN!”

The classic little sister. All hyper and plucky and clumsiness and adorkability. But after a while, wouldn’t that just grate on you? Yeah, she’s funny, but she can only accidentally hit you in the eye so many times. Thankfully, the point of Frozen is about her maturing, but her older sister makes us forget that she still exists.


A tight little warrior. She’s not good at being a marriageable girl, but she’s a fine knight-in-shiny-underpants. But her lack of self-confidence gets annoying. Along with her stupid donkey-dragon that won’t shut up. Why couldn’t her and Pocahontas have switched sidekicks? And, look, I’m just gonna say it — she’s not that pretty. I like her resourcefulness, but her arc still hinges on refusing the steady path. Is she just a Chinese Pocahontas?


I might have ranked her lower, but Doug Walker’s Top Ten Hottest Animated Women introduced me to a few factors I hadn’t thought of. Most of all that she’s such a workaholic (to the point of ridiculousness). And workaholics get shit done. I bet she’d still be baking beignets as a frog if she hadn’t changed back. And even though she has no relation to the bad guy, I like the Faustian bargain she’s faced with at the end. Plus her friend Lottie is hilarious.


I consider Rapunzel an artsy version of Tiana. Whereas the queen of New Orleans learned business and food services, Rapunzel honed her art skills. If they went to college, Rapunzel would have gotten a B.A. and Tiana a B.S. The long hair is cool, but it would have been cooler if it moved on its own like Spawn’s cape and chains (the first trailer implied this was going to happen — maybe I just feel lied to). She has some of the same adorkability and clumsiness that Anna has, but it’s not as obnoxious. Maybe because she’s got Flynn to temper her out.


It’s hard to say no to a Disney princess who encourages reading. She wants to escape from the tiny town she’s in and she gets just that and more. But she’s a little snooty about it, both in the town and the castle. Even when the Beast allows her access to the castle, she still gets waited on hand and foot. It’s the servants trying to manipulate the two of them to get together. She doesn’t feel like she’s the avenue of her success. Her “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere…” sounds so cheesy now, especially that her entire character arc takes place in not that.


I think she needs more time to simmer and let us all contemplate her place in the context of Disney’s animated canon. Right now, we’re being blinded by the fact we’ve got a princess that’s shiny and new.

No, I was not talking about you.

Anyway, I like her as a combinations of Elsa and Anna + a dash of Lilo. If she’s got the chops to get the respect of her village at her age, then she’s all right by me. But she’s also got a demigod in her pocket and an ocean helping her out. Oh, don’t mind me, I’ve only got three-quarters of the world with my back. My only quibble is with her “chosen one” saddle she keeps melancholy over. Not even Harry Potter was this maudlin.


I mean come on, can I say anything that hasn’t already been said? Sure you could make an argument that she’s a queen, not a princess. But she’s power and character flaws. All the adorkability of Anna plus all the struggle of a hero. She needs to find redemption. It’s her constant goal not to give into her power, her villainy, like the dark side of the force.


Poor Merida suffered from a clash of directors and production companies, but still managed to become a memorable character. I could watch her curly red hair fly around all day, it’s so beautifully animated. There’s bears, three little brothers, thick Scottish accents, swords, differing relationships with mothers and fathers, and independence.


I had a “Little Mermaid”-themed party for my ninth birthday. And need I remind you I’m a boy. Nuff said.

Oh, you want more? She’s got it all: free-spirited, bright, pretty, young, curious, artistic, musical, selfless, protective, loyal. She’s got great sidekicks, great theme song, high intelligence, high relatability. If she was a D&D character she’d be overpowered.

Still not enough? Fine then, let me show you Exhibit A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and most damning — I. You ain’t gonna convince me otherwise.

Reprise: A Disney Princess Adventure

reprise cover ariel elsa rapunzel princesses disney

So today is the premiere of what I was working on writing-wise for the past year/year-and-a-half.



by Eric J. Juneau

A Frozen/Tangled/The Little Mermaid crossover

Three princesses. Three curses. One adventure.

Rapunzel’s magic hair spontaneously grows back, Ariel regains her mermaid tail, and winter returns to Arendelle. One year after their most meaningful trials and triumphs, something has taken away what they worked so hard to gain. As they leave the safety of their own kingdoms, fate is about to drive these strangers together across oceans, over mountains, into the depths of the sea, and even through the river of time itself. But will their differences stop them before the curse can?

Pick your poison:

So you know that fan theory that Tangled, Frozen, and The Little Mermaid take place in the same world? Well, I ran with it.

The plot proper came to me when I was watching Frozen for the fifth time with my daughter. All of the sudden, the ideas came fast and furious. The problem? It’s fan fiction, and I need to be writing something publishable. But in the end, I thought “writing should be fun. It would be fun to write this. If it’s not fun, what’s the point?”

I intended to let it just be something I tinkered with between downtimes at work (like Gatecrash) but suddenly I was dedicating my lunch hour to it. Why? I guess after finishing “Defender” and trying so hard to make it publish-worthy, I needed something where I didn’t have to care what the world thought of it. I could just write like I wanted and not have to worry about rejection-resistance. Plus I wasn’t jonesing about any of my other novel ideas at the time.

The first draft was 200,000 words, so in the interest of time, I only did two drafts. I usually do four, with critiques in the middle (even when it’s fan fiction). As a result, it’s not as polished as it would usually be (see above comment about keeping it fun). I can’t name any off the top of my head, but I’m sure there are plot holes and continuity errors left in there. And that ending I was struggling with to the very end. It’s not 100% cohesive or ironclad, but it’s a serial. It’s more about the journey than the destination, n’est pas? (I don’t know what that phrase means, but it sounded right.)

So now what? Onto regular stuff. Publishable stuff, I mean. (At least writing with the intent to be published). It was nice not to have to think about “the Industry” for a while. And like I said, I’ve been in a slump lately. But I’m hoping that slump was burnout from this beast. Now that it’s in the world, let’s see what happens.

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Prince Hans

prince hans frozen
Origin: Frozen (2013)
prince hans motivation frozen

Motivation: Most antagonists are driven by hurt feelings or misunderstandings. Hans is a true sociopath. Yes, Prince Charming is the bad guy. And it’s just what I wanted to see. Hans falls under the sin of avarice — he’s too far down the line of succession to ever inherit his own throne, so he’s looking to marry into one. He even explains this in song (before he takes off his hollow mask of concern). What I’m wondering is — most marriages were arranged (in this time period) for the purposes of gaining land, title, or alliances. Happens all the time in Game of Thrones. Why did he have to lie about it? And was this the only kingdom Hans could find?

charstrengths prince hans frozen

Character Strengths: Deception. One hundred percent. Hey, he fooled me. I was busy analyzing the Duke of Weselton when I was in the theater. Hans only reveals his true nature when Anna is teetering between life and death. And Hans nudges the scales towards death (in a totally ineffectual James Bond-villain way, but more on that later). It’s the convincing flaws that pull you over. He’s clumsy. He can fake true love like an actor. Sheep’s clothing in a winter shawl.

What I wonder is, even if he is a psycho, could he be a good king? We never really see a demonstration of his abuse of power (although I’m almost certain that would come later, much like Scar). He demonstrates competent leadership. And although his concern for the people was false, he did provide for them (a blanket on every bed and hot glogg in every cup). But then he’s like The Stepfather – a guy doing good things with bad means.

evilness prince hans frozen

Evilness: It’s rare a Disney movie provides someone genuinely terrifying, at least for an adult. It’s okay if it goes over the kid’s head. But imagine being a father and this guy comes in wanting to date your daughter. This is a real concern of women with wealth — marrying a man who turns out to be a gold digger. His acts of heroism are only to convince those around him. He saves Elsa from the Duke boys, only to condemn her later when he can look more heroic. He’s playing the long game.

The sad part is how many women/girls remain loyal to him DESPITE all this. There are countless Hans/Elsa fan fiction and fan art. My daughter’s best friend has a Hans doll but no others because she likes him. Fans have started a petition that in the Frozen sequel, Hans should be redeemed. That’s just the power these men have over women. Even when they plainly show their true colors, they’re still loved. Eww.

tools prince hans frozen

Tools: Prince Hans has no henchmen. No big guns. No navy backing him. No allies. He works on his own, with only his words and actions to aid him. Personally, I think this makes him scarier. Imagine what he could do with some tangible strength behind him. Unlike a lot of villains, he knows how to pick his targets. I bet he wasn’t even going to say “sandwiches”.

complement prince hans anna frozen

Complement to the Hero: Before his big reveal, he’s just as adorkable as Princess Anna. Even though you know she’s going to learn not to fall in love so quickly, you don’t think Hans is going to a bad guy. He’s like the fiancee in every romantic comedy that the main character breaks up with to be with the other. That’s how all these Disney movies work, right? They’re both young, maybe a little naive, royalty, quick and impulsive. But that’s Hans’s strength. He’s a chameleon. He changes to whatever he needs to be. That’s the mark of a sociopath.

fatal flaw prince hans frozen

Fatal Flaw: Oh, Hans. Haven’t you learned anything from the mistakes of others? First you reveal your whole plan, then you lock the hero in a room without actually killing them. You just couldn’t resist showing off how smart you are. It’s a common downfall of his kind. It’s how they caught the BTK killer. But no, all you had to do was stay in the room and make sure she froze to death. That’s all you had to do. Would have taken ten minutes.

But to be fair, even I didn’t know about the lock-picking capabilities of snowman noses.

method of death prince hans frozen elsa

Method of Defeat/Death: The blizzard gets worse after Elsa escapes jail. Hans finds her on the frozen fjord and tells her that Anna died from her Sub-Zero ice blast. Elsa collapses on the ice, and when her back is turned, Hans pulls out his sword (where did that come from?) But Anna’s not quite dead yet. She must choose between saving her own life or saving Elsa’s. She chooses her sister, and as John Woo time starts, Anna steps in front of Hans’s swinging sword. In that instant, she freezes solid. So solid, Hans’s sword shatters and the blast knocks him out. When he regains consciousness, everything’s thawed and both sisters are alive. In a crowning moment of awesome, Anna punches him in the face. A diplomat takes him back to the Southern Isles, where he’ll presumably get the business from his brothers.

method of death prince hans frozen

Bonus Defeat: In Frozen Fever, Hans is shoveling manure when a giant snowball, created by Elsa sneezing into the royal Birthday Bugle Horn, sails about two hundred miles over the ocean and crashes into him. I believe his bones should be crushed instantly from impact at that velocity but, you know, it’s a cartoon.

prince hans final frozen punch anna

Final Rating: Five stars

Shere Khan (The Jungle Book)
Aunt Sarah (Lady and the Tramp)
Yzma (The Emperor’s New Groove)
Percival C. McLeach (The Rescuers Down Under)
Ichabod Crane (The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad)
Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)
Governor Ratcliffe (Pocahontas)
Pinocchio’s Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

The Books I Read: May – June 2016

bookshelf books
The Second Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

So I never read a dungeon crawl before.

Certainly not what I was expecting — not from something written in 1984 (I thought fantasy authors were better than that) — but it’s the best way to describe it. It’s straight out of Dungeons & Dragons. The main characters start by going to a town. They meet some supporting cast who are on their way to a quest. There’s negotiations and debates and arbitrary motivations. One of the characters drops out and is never seen again, like she stopped coming to the meetings. And then they break into this vault guarded by a dragon, and descend one floor at a time to get the priceless treasure, ending with a confrontation with a hell-demon and a god. That’s the whole book. And it’s not really thrilling. Just a paint-by-numbers.

You’d think the second book of a trilogy would focus more on bridging the first book and the second. Nope — here we’re just getting more swords. Adventuring in a hole while exploring nooks and crannies, occasionally losing redshirts. There isn’t any greater sense of what’s at stake. No new character development. No changes to the world. In fact, it seemed the whole purpose was to warp the characters closer to collecting all the swords (although who knows what happens when they do that). If this is supposed to be the “defining moment” for the character, it’s not a very explicit one. Everyone’s still bland, and worse, there is zero female presence. It’s no wonder I stopped reading here years ago.

beast within serena valentino
The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince by Serena Valentino

Some people called this the “Grey” (the book from the abusive male’s POV in “50 Shades of Grey”) of Beauty & the Beast. This is not really true, except for the styling. It’s Gothic, overwritten, and changes the canon. It can’t even get lines from the movie right. And this is not forgivable for its primary audience — people like me who have the movie memorized after seeing it so many times. I may not be able to recite the script from beginning to end, but I know when it’s wrong. And I know when the author’s being lazy. Christ, just watch the movie again.

You don’t find out anything useful or entertaining about the prince or his life from this story. Barely anyone from the castle shows up, missing an opportunity to show why the British Cogsworth is here in France or how the castle conducts business with the town. And the main character doesn’t get a name — he’s always “The Prince”. He doesn’t even act within the theme of the movie — that one should not judge by exterior appearances, to look beyond what you see. He used to be friends with Gaston, was engaged to another woman but broke it off because he got bored, and the enchantress isn’t actually one person but three, like the Weird Sisters. And the primary plot has more to do with the conflict between them than anything to do with Beauty & the Beast.

It doesn’t provide explanations for certain trivia — like that the prince must have been eleven when he was cursed, and his parents were likely deceased. That’s the kind of book I look for in those “untold stories” — filling in the gaps. And I know you can do so, and I know you can do it creatively. I’ve done it myself. Maybe you can get away with this kind of thing for a character with zero to know backstory (e.g. The Wicked Queen), but not someone like the Beast. This is just capitalizing on nostalgia.

And this book is not a standalone. There seems to be some kind of thread to the other “the villain’s story” books from Disney Press, meaning you have to read the series to understand it. This kind of commercialism is the final straw that puts the book in the garbage pile for me.

masters of doom david kushner
Masters of Doom by David Kushner

Loved it, loved it, loved it. Maybe it’s because these are the games I grew up with. This is the story of how John Romero and John Carmack got together and defined a decade of PC gaming. The rise and fall of the first person shooter. And there’s nothing better than reading behind the scenes of something you grew up with and played over and over. Finding out about their methods, their personalities — the conflicts between employees, where the ideas came from, and how the little guy gained success in the world.

This is a nonfiction must read for any nineties kid, computer gamer, or new past historian. Forget all those Steve Jobs biopics — this is the movie they should make. There’s enough plot twists and colorful characters to make it like a zippy version of Spotlight. The narrative crackles with true facts and incentivizes with cliffhangers and drama. You may not like what you see, but it’s impossible not to be drawn in.

a frozen heart elizabeth rudnick
A Frozen Heart by Elizabeth Rudnick

This tells (unnecessarily) the story of Frozen from Anna’s and Hans’s perspectives (minus the singing). No Elsa, except for the scenes she shares with either of those two. Anna’s chapters — except where she’s presented in a fan fiction, overthinking style — are the movie word-for-word. And did we really need to know Hans’s thoughts? Here he’s presented WAY too sympathetically, which I think is dangerous for young girls. Making him a victim of circumstance undermines his actions, which are truly dangerous and a cautionary tale for young women (see TricksterBelle’s Report on Misogynistic Disney Characters).

The most original part is the prologue that spends a little time on his life with his twelve brothers (while Anna would be in the middle of her “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” sequence). But it skips over the three years where he’s truly formed — when his father orders him to go to a village and “ensure their loyalty”. That’s the Hannibal Lecter/Ramsay Bolton origin story I was expecting. But nope, it’s still squishy. It even tries to paint him such that he wasn’t going to take over until someone said “Arendelle looks to you”.

You’re better off just watching the movie. Frozen doesn’t translate to a good novelization. It needs the songs, the animation, the quick-wit, and the comedic timing to make it the phenomenon it deserves to be. Some novels can become great movies (like Lord of the Rings and Gone with the Wind). But a movie into a good novel? I’ve never heard of such a thing. The mediums are too different. Olaf’s face melting when he gets close to the fire doesn’t come across the same way. Although Rudnick gets more points than Serena Valentino for not outright contradicting the source material.

If you want to read a Frozen book, you are *way* better off reading the “Sisterhood is the Strongest Magic” middle-grade series.

tithe holly black
Tithe by Holly Black

This book was not for me. I think it’s target audience is alternative teen girls into fey/bad boy romances. It’s too concerned with imagery and doesn’t explain enough of the backstory. We suddenly jump into a mysterious murder and no one bats an eye. The author keeps the audience in the dark when the POV character knows something and we don’t. It’s drama through obfuscation.

the boy in the black suit jason reynolds
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

I was worried this was going to be like Kendra, full of ghetto culture and irredeemable/unsympathetic characters, like a literary YA Boyz N Tha Hood/Menace 2 Society, which, while realistic, gave us poor morals and convenient conclusions for the sake of a happy ending.

This is not like that. In fact, this is the first book I’ve read with a black main character who I could relate to. And he’s not just black in name only.

This boy is getting over the death of his mother, and in doing so, takes a job at a funeral parlor. Watching the funerals becomes his way of coping, hence the black suit. But ironically this doesn’t have much to do with the story. It’s actually more of a romance. At least it turns into one partway through, which is where it loses the initiating thread. It seems like the author started with a high concept and then didn’t know how to end it. It’s an okay book. It’s a quiet and unassuming that won’t knock your socks off but gives a few hours of entertainment.

modern romance aziz ansari
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg

For those worried this is more Klinenberg with flavors of Ansari spread out to sell the book, rest assured this is not. It’s Aziz Ansari front and center, doing something I’ve never seen a comedian do — write a book that’s not just a memoir or replication of their stand-up. This is a sociological study in the same vein as Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, but with the humor backing it up. Like The Daily Show. And I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with presenting facts and truth in an entertaining way.

And it’s not just reports and findings one after the other. But it’s also instructional to young singles for what works and what doesn’t. Or what tools to use to accomplish your goals. What kind of profile picture gets the best results in online dating? Where do I go to meet people post-college? What is wrong with women/men these days? A whole chapter is dedicated to the text message. What’s the difference between texting back right away or waiting a while? I recommend this whether you’re single or married. Especially people who are “tired of the whole bar scene”.

homer simpson computer i will never tire of the bar scene
island of the blue dolphins scott o'dell
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell

I read this to my daughter to completion, so I added it to my collection, though I would never have chosen to read it myself. This is book is supposed to be a classic, but I did not find it interesting. But I’m sure that’s just me — I’m not into survival stories like Hatchet and White Fang. In this case, it’s a native girl who was left behind on an island when everyone else fled to somewhere more mainland. She builds shelters, finds water, harvests fish and seafood, makes friends with the wildlife, all typical survival stuff.

My problem is that it doesn’t really build toward something. There’s no rising action. There’s a teensy amount of dialogue. The action is frontloaded to the beginning. And at some point, you wonder why this story is important (and you don’t find out until the end that it’s because this was a true story — hence the dullness).

stephen king roadwork
Roadwork by Stephen King

Every time I look at my list of Stephen King books I want to read, I whittle it down a little more and a little more. This one survived the stack, but I wish it didn’t. Maybe because I liked the theme of it, like Rage and The Long Walk. Written around the same time too, and published under the Bachman pseudonym. Like Rage, there is nothing supernatural and it’s about a guy getting his revenge Charles Bronson style. Or at least it was supposed to be.

From the beginning there is a promise that this is going to end in tremendous violence. In a one-man standoff against the government, standing up for what he believes in. The little guy who won’t be pushed off his land, who won’t be evicted from his memories in the face of progress. But it takes WAY too long to get there. And then it’s only fifteen pages at the end. The part you came to see is buried under overwritten prose, Maine catechisms, and wool-gathering. The book is more about the main character toodling around while he doesn’t make plans to evacuate his place of work and home in lieu of a new freeway they are building. Not to mention the content is outdated now (the energy crisis, making a big deal of buying a TV, laundry facilities).

The tension is so strung out by the end the climax sags like a Las Vegas showgirl’s chest. The main character doesn’t do anything but gripe and drink — two Stephen King staples — letting the time until 90,000 words are written expire. His wife leaves him, his friends abandon him. It brings up interesting issues, but I can recall at least two Star Trek episodes that dealt with this exact issue in a much more entertaining way.