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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Masked by Lou Anders (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)


Official Author Website
Order Masked over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Lou Anders is the author of the novels Frostborn, Nightborn, and Skyborn, the three books of the Thrones & Bones series of middle-grade fantasy adventure novels, as well as Star Wars: Pirate's Price. Anders is the recipient of a Hugo Award for editing and a Chesley Award for art direction. A prolific speaker, Anders regularly attends writing conventions around the country. He and his family reside in Birmingham, Alabama.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Superheroes have come a long way since the “Man of Steel” was introduced in 1938. This brilliant new collection features original stories and novellas from some of today’s most exciting voices in comics, science fiction, and fantasy. Each marvelously inventive tale shows us just how far our classic crusaders have evolved—and how the greatest of heroes are, much like ourselves, all too human.

FORMAT: Masked is 416 pages long and it contains fifteen short stories written by fifteen authors. Published on July 10th, 2010 by Gallery Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) it's available in an e-book and paperback format from most retailers.

OVERVIEW: I was raised on comic books. I used to read them and reread them dozens of times. I remember the look my parents gave me when I told them that I wanted to be an X-Man once I grow up. I guess they wanted a different career for me. And yet all I wanted to do was to go to X-Mansion and hang out with all the mutants and go on adventures. Sure, I had some backup plans but this was my dream.

Sadly, things didn’t go as planned. As I’m not gifted with omega level mutant power I finished as an HR Consultant and part-time yoga teacher. Not exactly Wolverine.

I accepted my fate. If I grow claws one day and teleport myself to Paris to grab a coffee and a croissant for breakfast, I’ll let you know. For now, though, I still enjoy superheroes, especially the ones with the mutant super powers. I still read comic series but I have impression Marvel lost a sense of direction a bit.

As books were always my true love, I’ve been trying to find good books about superheroes. I loved The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, but couldn’t get into most books in the genre. And I tried more than few in recent years.

Masked was recommended to me on r/fantasy board and as I like to struggle with anthologies, I grabbed a copy. Here are my thoughts and impressions on each story.

Cleansed and Set in Gold by Matthew Sturges - ★★★★

I'm on the ground trying to breathe through a chest full of broken ribs. The only reason I'm still alive is that I happen to be invisible at the moment.
It starts well. It made me want to understand what was happening. A strong first line is important. What about the rest of the story? It follows one of Wildcard heroes. He's nobody's favorite hero - he's not particularly handsome. He doesn't have a heart-breaking origin story. Journalists usually focus on other League of Heroes members. It's good. The less they know about him the better.

It's a dark story but not devoid of humor. It explores the theme of sacrifice and shows a reader what it truly takes to be heroic. Sometimes you have to sacrifice your own self-worth in order to do the right thing.

I really liked it despite some corny jokes and one-liners (very few of them, but still).

Where Their Worm Dieth Not by James Maxey - ★★

The Retaliator sees the world in white and black and he has a clear vision. He's ready to sacrifice a lot to make right choices.

The True evil of the world was insidious in its smallness, the petty, pointless meanness that would pistol-whip a grandmother or badger a crying child.
He's part of a group of superheroes with cool powers. For example, his close friend Atomahawk has blood more radioactive than uranium and he has to bury his feces in lead jars because they'd kill any ordinary man that got near them. Other heroes that are mentioned have some interesting skills as well.

Retaliator's nemesis Prime Mover makes a move (pun intended) and things are coming to a closure. Hard choices will be made.

While I enjoyed the ideas in the story, the story itself and it's resolution didn't impress me that much. It was ok and pleasant to read but nothing more.

Secret Identity by Paul Cornel - ★

The Guardian is a gay hero. Clothed in a rainbow suit, he fights magical threats and villains. The thing is when he changes, he becomes more muscled and more masculine. It seems he may have some straight tendencies as a Guardian. It leads to some troubles in his private gay life.

While the story touches some interesting issues, it does so in a juvenile way. The story was rather simplistic and the plot and its resolution were anticlimactic. An idea is here. The execution, though, is rough. Too rough. Probably the weakest story.

The Non-Event by Mike Carey - ★★★★★

Brilliant. I was laughing loud while reading it. More than once.

The story is told in first-person POV. The narrator is a villain, but he doesn't want to rule the world. He just wants to do some old-school burglary. It's not easy, though, in a world where there are many more heroes than villains. Good guys in tights are everywhere.

We start at the end. The narrator tells the story of how things went off the rails. His voice is snarky and I absolutely loved it. Here's a sample describing one of villains powers.

Vessell's deal is that he can instantaneously appear anywhere his name is written down. I know, I know, it's like a bad joke. You blink out of reality and reappear inside a fucking mailbox, right?

Avatar by Mike Baron - ★

It was a sort of realistic approach to the theme. I didn't like this story as the writing was rather lacking in quality. Not my cup of tea.

Message from the Bubblegum Factory by Daryl Gregory - ★★★★

Eddie King, a former sidekick of a famous superhero, believes the whole world has been invented for the amusement of Soliton, the world’s first superhero, and Eddie’s adoptive father. After Soliton arrived, supervillains and more superheroes started popping up, freak accidents began giving people powers instead of killing them, and the laws of physics got rubbery.

Eddie knows Soliton came here from a mundane parallel universe that sounds suspiciously like the readers. So that raises some questions for Eddie. Is everyone in his world living in some kind of virtual reality or personal artificial universe? And is every event — even Eddie’s plot to kill his father — part of Soliton’s script? Eddie King is trying to figure out if he’s fated to play out his role, or if he has free will… or if he’s just crazy.

I thought it would get five stars from me. And it would. However, the ending didn't give any sense of closure. Therefore I'll lower the rating a bit. It's excellent but I like short stories to be self-contained.

On the other hand, if there are more stories about Eddie and his new team, I'll read them.

Thug by Gail Simone - ★★★★★
Hello, my name is alvin becker but i guess you know that already becuz i am the only one that will read. my pee oh said i wasn't learning from my mistakes so I should keep a JOURNAL.
Alvin Becker is a particularly large young man. He's HUGE. Mountain from Games of Thrones would run away from him, terrified. He's also developmentally challenged. Speaking bluntly - he's dumb. The story is written in Alvin's words, and we read it in journal format. The writing is painstakingly detailed and is brilliant. Despite grammar errors (purposeful - remember we're reading a journal written by titular Thug, who doesn't have a lot to share in IQ department; he has the heart in the right place, though).

The story is short and it tells us a complex story of Alvin's life and him becoming the THUG. Normally, we would see him as a bruiser, a bad guy who uses his strength to bully others. That's not the case.

Alvin tells his true story. His language is simple, guileless and punchy. It does give a glimpse of how Alvin's mind works. And Alvin isn't really a bad guy.

I'm impressed by this story - it managed to create an engaging and sympathetic character, show the other side of the coin while devastating English grammar. It was awesome.

Vacuum Lad by Stephen Baxter - ★

Ok. It may be only me, but it was boring. There's some talk about science and little else. I have nothing against science but in this anthology I want superheroes bending the laws of physics.

A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows by Chris Roberson - ★★

A decent story about the hero with mystical powers and not-so-mystical .45 Colts. He's looking for a demon in a California town during WW2.

The story is decently written and I guess it's just a matter of taste that I didn't enjoy it more than that.

Head cases by Peter David and Kathleen David - ★

It seems the story is part of / inspired by the sitcom series about Thunderhead - a would-be hero whose inability to utilize his ability to produce loud thunder blasts without injury to himself leads him to become a source of comedic derision in the superhero community.

It was supposed to be funny. It wasn't.

To me, it was rather poor.

Downfall by Joseph Malozzi - ★★★

Marshall was born with hereditary superpowers. He never learned the identity of his father. He has a list of potential candidates. He plans to learn his father's identity one day but life happens and Marshall becomes a member of the supervillains gang.

Them after getting married he quits and then relapses shortly after. When we meet him, he's on parole. There's a guy who wants to reveal his identity. Intellectually, it was interesting. But it didn't really entertain me.

By My Works You Shall Know We by Mark Chadbourn - ★★

Nox can use all of his brains and make his body do all kinds of crazy things. Unfortunately, his body shuts down when the sun comes up. There's also a girl, a friend, a treason and a twist. None of them spoke to me.

Call Her Savage by Marjorie Lu - ★★

It was ok. Nothing more. The world inspired by China permeated with steampunk elements is interesting but all these details were introduced a bit too late. In the end, it feels a bit like a chapter taken from a much larger novel and all the interesting bits have already happened. Or, maybe, are just about to happen.

Tonight We Fly by Ian McDonald - ★★★

Even heroes and villains grow old and suffer from arthritis. The story is nice, with a good sense of humor and interesting take on superheroes mythos. It was sweet to see our hero and his archnemesis together.

A to Z in the Ultimate Big Company Superhero Universe by Bill Willingham - ★★★

It's pretty interesting considering the cast of characters involved and the experimental ABC plot structure of the piece - each chapter starts with the letter of the alphabet. A lot of characters are introduced and their plotlines connect. It was engaging and I liked it. I'm not crazy about this one but I appreciate experimenting with the short story format, especially that everything gels in the end.

Let’s look at stats.

The Anthology contains fifteen short stories. Each is written in a different style. Not all styles speak to me. The truth is in numbers and the numbers are as follows:

★★★★★: 2
★★★★: 2
★★★: 3
★★: 4
★: 4

On the whole, the writing level and my personal enjoyment (which is, to me, most important factor) varied mostly around a mediocre level. Some of it got a little worse; some a little better. There were obvious exceptions that you’ll easily spot by looking at my ratings.

My favorite one is Thug followed shortly by The Non-Event. Both are excellent.

I'm glad I was recommended this anthology. While it's not groundbreaking, it was mostly fun to read about guys and gals with superpowers. I need more of superhero books in my life :)

I encourage you to try the anthology. I'm sure everyone will find at least one brilliant short story worth rereading multiple times. You know how it is with books and stories, right? The same story appeals to some readers, bores others, depresses some, enrages others. All of these are perfectly valid, reasonable responses. Treat my rating this way - they're by no means objective.

Most of all, have fun with these stories :)

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