Unidentified Funny Objects 2 (Edited by Alex Shvartsman)
Nothing in the second Unidentified Funny Objects collection is as nonsensical as "Of Math and Maat" or as gross as the Masturbancy story, but sadly it also doesn't have anything as awesome as the Albert Einstein story.
I guess the standout story of this volume is a sequel to one from the first volume, starring a descendant of Van Helsing who got turned into a vampire. He's hired to deal with Katie Lou, a witch in the next town over who's been giving the mayor trouble. But when he gets there he realizes "Katie Lou" isn't who he thought she was, although I think most people would figure out the twist sooner if the cultists were calling her "Kathy Lou". After the twist, "Katie Lou" turns out to be more interested in Peeps and bad television in the most bizarre twist on her since she Saved the World.
Another interesting story is about a Superman standin with cancer, although it has a slow start. One is about an immortal witch who crashes the life of a random woman because she's grown bored with omnipotence, but something else I looked into this month delved into the subject of humans needing to grow better.
The fake instructions on feeding a pyrokinetic toddler was kind of disposable. The one about the orc and elf going to trial left me wondering where the rest of the story was - the old man who was on trial kept going on about an incoming darkness, but was there a darkness coming, or was he just crazy? Maybe the intent was to follow it up in UFO 3? Maybe next time the author should look into ending a story with some closure instead of a toilet joke.
The Magic Thief (Written by Sarah Prineas, Narrated by Greg Steinbruner)
I started listening to this two years ago and only just finished it because it's fucking awful. The main character, Conn, is the biggest Mary Sue I've seen in a kid's book since Daniel X, and at least he had "because he's an alien" to sort of explain why the author gave him all the powers.
Conn starts out as a street rat who pickpockets a wizard's locus magicalicus (a stone a wizard needs to channel their magic), and normally touching a wizard's locus magicalicus would instantly kill somebody. Because it didn't, the wizard Nevery sort of adopts him out of curiosity. Nevery himself is an exiled wizard, summoned back by the Duchess to investigate why the city's magic has been weakening.
What follows is a load of tedium created by a combination of "this is the first book in a series so let's focus on explaining how the world works instead of telling a story"-itis, and a total absence of suspence because Conn is a perfect snowflake who's right about everything. For starters, he starts out illiterate, then masters the alphabet in ten minutes. Then he spends a few chapters looking for his own magic stone, and surprise surprise, it's a massive jewel from the Duchess' crown and the most powerful locus magicalicus in the city, if not the continent. And Nevery doesn't believe Conn that another wizard and a black market dealer have something to do with the loss of magic. Also, Conn is the first person to ever consider the idea that magic is a living being, and that magic words are the language the living magic understands and responds to, and of course he's totally right. And the magic has kept him from ever getting sick all his life, and has chosen him to save it from the black marketeer who wants to trap and control it, unaware that he's going to suffocate it. So, why did the magic choose him as its special little pet? Simple: he's the protagonist of the novel, so shut up.
There's some themes about asking questions instead of blindly accepting everything you're told that I can get behind, but shit, read Year of the Griffin for that.
Stuff of Legends (Ian Gibson)
Like Hogfather, Stuff of Legends is about the importance of stories and fantasy in human life. However, it's not as well executed as Hogfather. For starters, Hogfather says we need fantasy because it's a gateway to concepts like morality and justice, while Stuff of Legends says we need fantasy because our lives are boring. Also, water is wet, fire is hot, cobras don't make good pets, and bears shit in the woods.
Elliot is a kid obsessed with a legendary hero named Jordan the Red, and his parents are too busy with politics to pay any attention to him so they leave him under the care of an elf named Kess. Because elves get a magical wish-granting Braid on their sixteenth birthday, Kess thought it would be fun to give Elliot one on his, which Elliot promptly uses to have an adventure with Jordan. But when he gets there he finds Jordan is now an old man who just wants to live out his final years in peace. It looks like it's going to be one of those "Hero isn't what the protagonist thought he was, then rises up to be a real hero when he breaks the protagonist's heart" stories you see in children's cartoons all the time, but thankfully it manages to avoid that nonsense.
But don't get comfortable, because Stuff of Legends balls up another way. First of all, the story hinges on a magical macguffin whose rules are not well defined. The Elvish Wishing Braid has three threads; gold and silver for the actual wishes, and a white one to undo the effects of the gold and silver threads. And if the owner of the Braid dies, the white thread snaps itself and, hopefully, brings them back to life while it's undoing everything else. So from the start, the story is struggling against the reader's knowledge that it's going to end with the white thread getting broken and rendering everything that happened in the book moot. However, things go to hell when another character gets ahold of the Braid and makes his own wish with the second thread, and is promptly devoured by a dragon. Okay... so somebody can steal the Braid and make their own wish with it, but the white thread won't break when they get killed? When is ownership of the Braid decided? When the first thread is broken? When the giftee hands it over? When the author decides it?
But the biggest problem I had is that Elliot is a fucking prat. He's a prat at the start of the story, he's a prat throughout the story, and he's still a prat at the end. The whole point of the Wishing Braid is that, because elves and anyone who uses the Braid retains their memories of its effects after the white thread undoes everything, they're supposed to use it to live out their fantasy and learn something from it without actually doing any damage. Elliot hasn't learned a damn thing at the end of it. The worst moment was when Elliot start whining about how he wishes he'd never met Jordan when Jordan learns about the Wishing Braid and Elliot telling Jordan's ex-manager that he was his apprentice, and gets understandably angry about being used as Elliot's plaything. I was rooting for the book to end with him getting shived.
The only character with an arc is Cyral, a bard who ends up tagging along to record the adventure. And there are some interesting fourth wall breaking moments and allusions to storytelling tropes and cliches. And the ghost riders who were actually happy that Jordan killed them because the afterlife was so much fun was an interesting idea. But if you're going to base your book around pointing out other stories' tropes, maybe don't have a character whose every line makes the reader shout "Shut the fuck up!"
One-Punch Man Vols. 1-4 (ONE and Yusuke Murata)
When I first heard about One-Punch Man I thought the premise sounded absolutely retarded, being about a superhero so powerful he can kill any opponent in a single punch and is mopey because he's too awesome. As it turns out, the series could only take itself less seriously if every book came wearing a little dunce cap. One-Punch Man is chock full of goofy villains and even goofier heroes and comedic set pieces, alongside the Dragon Ball Z-esque monster battles.
As for the premise that initially made me do a disapproving Guybrush face, it's used to illustrate how humans pursue happiness and purpose through growth. Because Saitama can't advance anymore he's wallowing in stagnation... except when he gets into the hero association, he only makes C class because while he crushed the physical test he only barely passed the written test, so you'd think he could advance in book learning.
One thing I didn't like is the fight scenes are impressively drawn, but nonsensical. Part of the problem is it tends to have large panels that spread into another page, causing a chunk of the picture to get obscured in the book's binding. At least it's not Attack On Titan levels of what-the-fuck-is-going-on.