Book Review – 1602 by Neil Gaiman

Title: Marvel 1602

Author:  Neil Gaiman

Artwork: Andy Kubert & Reinhard Schweizer

Format: Graphic novel/comic collection

Published:  2004

1602 is a collection of 8 parts that operate under a very interesting premise – what if all the Marvel characters start their stories 500 years too soon? – written by the incredible Neil Himself Gaiman.   The story starts with a girl on a boat – 14-year-old Virginia Dare and her protective Indian guide on her way back to England to ask Queen Elisabeth for more money for the Roanoke colony.  At the same time, King James and the Inquisition are both trying to get all the freaks killed.

After that, there is *a lot* that goes on, and honestly, I think that it loses a little something if you’re not really into the comics.  For instance, Hawkeye makes an appearance as an apprentice… named Peter.  And if you weren’t really into Hawkeye or you missed the one offhanded comment that made you go… Oh, wait a minute!… you’d probably miss it.

So, truth be told, I missed most of them.  I mean, Thor was pretty easy, since he came down as, um, Thor.  But was that other one Arachne, Spider Woman or Black Widow?  And if it was Black Widow, who was the other one that I *thought* was Black Widow?  I’m pretty sure those are the X-Men, but I couldn’t name all of them, and even my Ultimate Marvel Character Guide isn’t helping with some of these.  Others aren’t so hard to come up with – Doom, Strange and Banner are called Doom, Strange and Banner, for instance.

Since this is a graphic novel/set of comics, let’s talk about the artwork for a minute.  The artists used a combination of techniques that made the art title pages (there are eight, one for each of the original parts) look like old wood carvings, and really gave the collection a feel of old 17th century artwork.  But some of the illustrations came out a bit odd.  For instance, Queen Elisabeth looks a bit like a groupie for Insane Clown Possee in a couple of them.  And because of the techniques, we lose a lot of the details that we expect in a graphic setting.  Not going to lie, it’s the only reason I read these – for the artwork that accompanies.

So although I give the story a four, I have to give the overall a three out of five.   If you’re into Marvel, don’t miss it, but otherwise, you’ll miss a lot.




Book Review–The Sword And The Dragon By M.R. Mathias

Title: The Sword And The Dragon

Author: M.R. Mathias

Format: Electronic

Published: 2010 [Date of Kindle release]


This is partially a review of the generically-titled fantasy novel, but it’s also a bit of a discussion about how authors can make or break their own work beyond what they do in the crafting process.

The Sword and the Dragon was first released three years ago as a self-published ebook and was lost in the slush pile that is Amazon’s Self-Pubbed E-Book Library.    It started popping up on my purchases as “Customers who bought this also bought…” and eventually I gave in.  I figured it was only a dollar and so why not?

Now it has nearly five stars and hundreds of readers pushing it to the top of the pile.  There are many accolades that make  it very attractive to someone looking for something new.

It’s kind of a shame that it isn’t nearly as good as those accolades would make you think.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a terrible book or a book that causes you pain to read.   Parts of the story are actually really excellent, with the author zagging where you assumed he would zig and therefore taking it in a slightly less predictable direction.  I never felt like I was reading a cheap retelling of more popular titles, which is often a danger in the Fantasy genre.  The problem I had with the book–initially–was that there are many characters who tell part of the story through their points of view.   This is a technique I prefer, but the problem comes when fully half the POV characters are boring.   There were some whose stories I was dying to follow and some whose stories were killing me out of dullness.   With a book this long (the thing is the e-book equivalent of 522 pages) it’s a real struggle to finish with so many drawn-out dry patches.

Ultimately I decided to abandon it in spite of the parts of the story I enjoyed, and that’s why I want to talk about it in detail.

I abandoned it because of the author and the online persona he’s cultivated.   Even though I enjoyed what was amounting to a good 60% of his book I saw some of the meltdowns he’s had on various fora and review sites and realised that if I’m going to give the consideration of my time to someone it’s going to be someone who is considerate of others–not arrogant and rude.

When a popular British Fantasy forum directed his self-promotional post to their section for self-published works he insisted that his books are not self-published:

I am not a small press. I am an author with 18 titles for sale. That is more titles that some big publishing houses. I have advertising currently running in Locus, Publishers Weekly, Fantasy and Sci Fi, and Revolver magazines. I have blog advertising across the entire blog-o-sphere. I am not a small press or even self published. M. R. Mathias’ books are PUBLISHED by Michael Robb Mathias Jr. and should be treated no differently that any big named publishers title [emphasis mine].

This conflict degenerated into a massive number of tweets about Mathias’ own wonderfulness and the “#Nazi” behaviour of the webmasters who dared to define him as what he is–a self-published author.

I don’t believe there is any shame in being self-published. I think it’s a courageous move that, when handled correctly, can be a lot more lucrative for an author than a traditional contract. We’ve reviewed a number of self-published titles here at Book In The Bag and will continue to do so as we come across ones that are worthy of notice.

It’s that “worthy of notice” thing that’s tricky for any self-publisher. Getting attention is very difficult, especially as more and more review sites (eg. GoodReads, Amazon) are cracking down on promotion in the wake of some truly obnoxious and intrusive “entrepeneurs” who stalk and harass readers, derail conversations and (in Mathias’case and others like him) go completely off the rails.

When you self-publish you’re marketing yourself as a brand; you don’t just sell your books, you sell your persona. Mr. Mathias has obviously done a better job than most self-publishers in that he has been able to draw an unusually high amount of acclaim on Amazon. That’s a key thing to remember because there are a lot of readers out there who will see your brand as distasteful if you behave distastefully. I know it’s why I put this book down, why I can’t recommend it to others and why I’m adamant about insisting that authors be mindful of the image they put out there. It’s fine if you want to sell your brand as a provocateur. Just know that it may cost you readers, reviews and–ultimately–cash.

The Sword and The Dragon without the taint of Mathias is probably a two-worm book.

With Mathias’ “help” I give it one worm indeed. And one worm ruins the apple.

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