Soulless by Christopher Golden

Do you ever worry that you will wake up one morning and discover zombies walking the streets, and you won’t be sure how to survive, where to go, or how to save the world from them?  Yeah, neither do I.  Not often, anyway.  But that’s the situation in which characters find themselves in the book I’m reviewing today: Soulless by Christopher Golden.

The story of Soulless begins in a television studio, where three psychics are gathering to bridge a new connection with the spirit world.  If the plan succeeds, ghosts will be able to cross into the living world and communicate directly to their loved ones.  Of course, the seance quickly goes awry, with the spirits returning to their own dead bodies and climbing out their graves.

Zombies are an idea that have been done over and over again, especially in recent years, but Christopher Golden includes enough twists on the concept to make Soulless worth reading.  The origin and behaviour of his zombies differ from the undead of other stories, yet they make sense and remain consistent with the internal logic of the novel.  I don’t want to explain everything because one of the best parts of the book for me was finding out how the zombies behave and why, but needless to say, I haven’t seen another story or film that uses zombies in quite the same, interesting way.  In addition, zombies are not the only enemy in Soulless; the novel also explores the horrors that regular humans can do in terrible circumstances.

I have read several books by Christopher Golden and one of his greatest strengths as a writer is his use of characters.  He has written many tie-in books for films and television shows, Buffy the Vampire Slayer in particular.  Many people might not consider those kinds of books artistic, but he always elevates the material because he portrays characters accurately and fully.  In his own original books, he takes the same care, creating characters who are diverse and complex.  One of the joys of reading Soulless was watching the eclectic cast of characters come together in an attempt to stop the zombies.

Some gore is expected when dealing with the genre of Soulless, and people who don’t like it should still beware.  That said, Golden never uses gore excessively, but rather saves it for when it is most effective or important.

I should also mention that the novel is considered a young adult book.  I don’t believe that the young adult label is a completely negative one and there are plenty of books meant for that audience that I enjoy.  However, I don’t think anything in Soulless really limits it to a younger age group.  The plot seemingly focuses on a lot of young people, but the questions that arise from the situation are relevant to people of all ages.  I recommend this to anyone who likes horror fiction, regardless of age.

I give Soulless a 4.5 out of 5.  The book will never be considered high literature, but Golden takes the genre and raises it to a new level, using the undead to explore the morality of the living and creating a very entertaining story in the process.

Summer Reading

A beach on the cover. Seems like a good summer read to me.

Summer might not officially start for another month, so this post could seem premature.  However, my classes ended weeks ago, so I’ve already began my summer reading.  The free time during the summer is a welcome respite after the stress of another year of school.  Being an English major, I read plenty of good books in my classes, but summer is a time when I can finally choose which books I read.

Of course, this summer is a bit more busy than last year.  I have to finish my Honours thesis in the fall, so I’m trying to work on that as much as possible before the fall semester begins.  Similarly, I started Latin classes this past school year, and I need to make sure I don’t forget the entire language over the summer.  Also, I made the mistake of starting Atlas Shrugged and A Game of Thrones right after my semester ended, so I need to finish those gigantic books before I can move down my reading list.

Speaking of my list, I thought I would post some books that I plan on reading.  Some of these I have had for quite some time, because my list constantly grows before I have a chance to finish all of the books, but these are the ones I want to read this summer:

  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  • Duma Key by Stephen King
  • The Guardians of Ga’Hoole books 2 to 4 by Kathryn Lasky
  • Uncharted:  The Fourth Labyrinth by Christopher Golden
  • The Who By Numbers:  The Story of the Who Through Their Music by Alan G. Parker and Steve Grantley
  • Unfinished Tales by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Mr. Bliss by J.R.R. Tolkien

Then I plan on reading this book, which comes out in July:

  • The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer

So, that’s my list; what’s yours? Do you read more in the summer?  Do you make summer reading lists?  What books do you want to read this summer?  Reply and/or vote in the poll below:

The Avengers

Perhaps you have heard of The Avengers.  This little film is breaking box office records all over the place and has reached a billion dollars in only 19 days.  The superhero film is also a critical success, with 93% of critics approving of the movie.

In The Avengers, the “Earth’s mightiest heroes” must gather together to fight a villain bent on world domination.  The group consists of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the Hulk, who have each had their own movie, but they are joined by Black Widow and Hawkeye, who made small appearances in Iron Man 2 and Thor.  Their antagonist is Loki, Thor’s brother, who wants to use an Asgardian device called the Tesseract to rule over Earth.  The Avengers was a risky experiment because no other superhero film has tried to balance such big characters in the same way, but luckily the film works.

The Avengers was written and directed by Joss Whedon, a fact that made me extremely excited right from the beginning.  Whedon has never been a huge name in Hollywood, but he has a dedicated fan base due to his under-appreciated television shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse.  I have been a fan of Whedon for the past ten years, which means that I have had the frustrating experience of enjoying his works while watching others ignore them.  That all changes with The Avengers, however.  With the popularity of the movie, mainstream audiences finally have the opportunity to see his talent.

I wouldn’t be wrong to say that Joss Whedon is responsible for everything that works about the Avengers.  Whedon has always been good when dealing with large ensemble casts, which is what the film needed.  Each superhero has his or her own unique personality and whoever makes the film needs to provide equal time for each character.  Whedon succeeds in this regard; each character has scenes where he or she can shine emotionally or in battle.  Also, the best scenes in the movie for me were when the superheroes gathered and we could see their personalities bounce off each other.

Another one of Whedon’s skills that he brings to The Avengers is his humour.  His shows and movies often make me laugh, but without reducing the serious tension that runs throughout the story.  That attribute fits well in the movie, because it allows the audience to chuckle at the ridiculous parts of the story, but still care about the heroes’ fight against evil.  He also inserts humour into very serious scenes, making you laugh one second but want to cry the next.  One thing is certain about Joss Whedon’s works: he will defy your expectations whenever he can.

While The Avengers was not filmed in 3D (it was converted into the format later), the final product uses the technology to its full potential.  The directing and cinematography complement the technology, providing visual depth to both emotional and fight scenes.  As I watched the movie, I thought about how the 3D enhanced the experience and made the more expensive ticket worth it.

I noticed other Whedon trademarks in The Avengers that worked really well, but his characters and humour are the primary reasons that the movie succeeds.  He makes you care about the heroic battle in which the characters find themselves, and he makes each scene so entertaining that you wish the film would never end.  I have spent most of this review talking more about the director than the movie, but I really believe that his strengths and the film’s strengths are mostly the same.

I give The Avengers 5 out of 5.  I recommend this to anyone who has ever enjoyed a film about superheroes, or has any interest in the genre.  This film is a strong contender for the best superhero movie so far.  Not only is it written very well, but it is also a spectacle with fantastic special effects.  This deserves to be seen on a theatre screen, where you can get the most out of the epic and engaging fight scenes.

Free Comic Books

I would never consider myself an expert on comic books.  I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact issue of a series that has a certain event, or even details like when a character was created.  I appreciate the fact that people know those things, but I have other obsessions that occupy my time.  However, I have bought and read comics before, and I enjoy them as art forms.

In popular culture, comic books still carry a stigma.  Superhero films might make millions of dollars at the box office, but the general public still views the source material with slight animosity.  When you think about the stereotypical comic book fan, you imagine either a young child or a lonely adult man who has more action figures than friends.  There is nothing wrong with being either of those people, but the stereotype ignores the many well-rounded readers of comic books.  It tells people that comics are only made for children or losers.

It doesn’t help that many comic books involve stories about larger-than-life heroes.  While superheroes are still popular in films, “serious” literature has had a suspicion of traditional, idealistic heroes and morals since World War I.  After the destruction of that conflict, writers thought that heroism was an unrealistic idea that governments used to mislead the general public.  Even if heroes are not realistic, I still believe that strong, moral characters provide an example to which we can aspire.

Certain graphic novels have been critically acclaimed, but many scholars do not see the literary merit in the form, which is unfortunate, because comic books can tell compelling stories in their own right.  They have a unique style, combining visual and textual storytelling, which bridges the gap between novels and films.

For over a decade, the creators of Free Comic Book Day have been trying to expand the popularity of comic books.  Free Comic Book Day is an annual event, always on the first Saturday in May, when participating stores offer free comic books to customers.  The day is meant to not only encourage new readers to try comic books, but also give publicity to independent sellers who might otherwise go unnoticed.  In the video below, comic book fans explain the importance of the art form and Free Comic Book Day:

I have bought and read many comic books, but I would never consider myself an expert.  I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact issue of a series that has a certain event, or even details like when a character was created (I appreciate people who know those things, but I have other obsessions that occupy my time).  I have never gone to a store on Free Comic Book Day, but I would like to try it this year.  I’m interested to see what the event looks like in my area, and it would help build my excitement for the Avengers film, which comes out this weekend.  Besides, free stuff.

So what do you think?  Are comic books a valid art form, or childish fantasy?  Have you had experience with Free Comic Book Day?  For those who haven’t read comics, would you try if you could receive some for free?