A Review of Stan Lee’s “Alliances: A Trick of Light”

Screenshot of Alliances: A Trick of Light in the Audible mobile app.

When I heard about Alliances: A Trick of Light, I was inordinately excited. I had no idea that Stan Lee had collaborated on this project before he left us (far too soon)…in fact, this could be the last project upon which he worked. Listening to his forward was haunting, in a way, taking me back to all of those animated programs upon which I heard his prefaces and conclusions as I grew up. Stan Lee gave us such amazing stories…I couldn’t wait to dive into one last adventure.

Alliances is exclusively an audiobook, but don’t let that deter you if it’s not normally the way that you read. I say that partially because this project was written specifically for an audio performance, complete with musical scores and sound effects throughout, augmenting the actor’s already superb performance.

True to our expectations of what a final project from Stan Lee would look like, this is a comic book story arc in its truest form, yet with a substance in which a prose narrative is more fitting. We dig deeply into our protagonists’ lives, growing to know the characters at a remarkably intimate level given the pacing of the story. I give this caveat about the pacing because the authors spare no time in getting to the action. Our characters include a cyberkinetic, an alien predator, and…some surprises that I won’t give away.

I was taken a bit by surprise with the fact that this novel flirts with being YA, which honestly would have been a huge detractor for me (no offense to the genre, it just isn’t one that I particularly enjoy), but it avoids landing in that category. This does have components of a coming-of-age story, but you shouldn’t expect that sort of plot because it departs from it quickly. The convention is more of a device, a means to an end to get us to where the story needs to go.

There are twists here that drive the intensity of the narrative, and that I definitely didn’t see coming. When we discover the nature of one character’s identity, I had to pause the book and spend the better part of an hour digesting what had just happened. This is the clever, compelling sort of adventure that comic readers love.

I have to admit, though, that I’m left digging for what the authors are trying to say. Lee gives us cryptic hints in his preface, and I get the obvious: loyalty, a desire to belong…honestly the sorts of themes that I would expect to find in a YA novel now that I think about it…but nothing stands out. There are also timely references to our political climate that feel forced at times, but are at other times eloquent in their succinctness. Ultimately, what I think is valuable is that there is a true exploration of heroism here, as the characters explore what it means to act heroically to the world, and to each other, with all of the sacrifices that, while not initially obvious, are always necessary in the end.

Alliances is a great read for fans of Stan Lee’s work, or fans of comic books or superhero fiction in general. Currently, it’s exclusive to Audible, which presents an unfortunate barrier. You can, however, sign up for a free trial and keep the audiobook if you cancel. That’s a worthwhile workaround if you don’t want to subscribe, as this is truly worth the read.

Travel Log: Seattle

The strange thing about visiting Seattle for the first time is that I had dreamed that I already had. I dreamed that I visited an office there for my day job, and had been surprised by how sparse the surrounding neighborhood had appeared. In my dream, it was essentially a suburb of L.A. Obviously, that couldn’t have been more wrong.

I arrived in the wee hours of the morning after a grueling 13-hour travel day that was the result of my airline “accommodating” me for a cancelled flight. There, at 1:00 a.m. local time in SeaTac airport (while my body was convinced that it was actually 4:00 a.m.), came my first experience with Seattle’s peculiarities with Lyft: the drivers always call or text to confirm your location (they also never seem to arrive on the same side of the street as you).

Welcome to Seattle sign at SeaTac Airport

I was in Seattle for 4 days, and experienced about 5 hours of sunlight during my stay. The stereotype of the city being all rain all the time certainly seemed to hold true for my visit. I was also surprised by the fog. I awoke on two mornings (always insanely early as my body remained stubbornly on East coast time) to find myself barely able to see neighboring buildings to my downtown hotel’s window for the fog.

When there is sun, though, the waterfront and Pike Place market are busy and fun. I also saw Seattle Pacific University, which I knew from listening to the Kindlings Muse in its prime, and had always wanted to see in person.

During my explorations, I found a fantastic allergy-friendly restaurant for lunch. If you’re gluten-free or dairy free, I very much recommend that you stop by Niche Cafe and Bakery if you’re in the city. I found no need to pack my own coffee and travel press as I usually do on trips, because, being Seattle, you’re never far from a good cup of coffee. This doesn’t just include Starbucks, of course. VoxxCoffee was only a block from my hotel, and a perfect stop before my daily excursions.

Seattle seems to be in a perpetual state of construction, and cranes dot the skyline like dinosaurs stretching their long necks above the treetops. I’ve read that the construction is because of a tech boom in the city. It certainly causes its share of pedestrian headaches.

Construction in downtown Seattle
Construction in Seattle effects the skyline, and the sidewalks below

Of course, whenever I’m in a city with a Hard Rock Cafe, I have to visit. I suppose that I had high expectations for this Hard Rock, given that Seattle is the birthplace of grunge, but I was disappointed. This was one of the least interesting Hard Rocks that I’ve seen.

Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle
Hard Rock Cafe, Seattle

I often don’t go see big tourist attractions because I’d rather see the city (I’ve been to New York City and never seen the Statue of Liberty). True to form, I suppose, I skipped the Space Needle. I did visit the Seattle Public Library on a recommendation though — it’s a stunning architectural achievement in its own right.

Seattle was backward to me. The water felt as though I was facing East (I’ve heard that confusion is normal), and seductive: it’s a downhill walk to reach the water, but you’ll get a good workout on the uphill walk back to the hotel. Seattle struck me as a dirty city, which surprised me. I felt as though I needed the rain for cleansing after I had walked a few blocks. As is often the case, Seattle was very different than I had imagined (or dreamed). I had always entertained the idea that I might like to live there, given its reputation for intellectualism. While I definitely enjoyed my visit, I’ve also crossed that thought off of my list. Seattle was fun, but I just simply need more sunlight in my life.

Syncopation

Image of snare drum with sticks. Used under creative commons.

A week ago from the time that I write this, I was driving home after dropping Karen and our girls off for a week-long trip to see some family. I was in the sort of contemplative mindset that I often find just out of reach lately. I drove past a house with a truck parked in the driveway. The logo on the side of the truck indicated that it belonged to a fire safety business. Because of where the truck was parked, and the time – it was a Sunday night – my mind, crafting stories as always, began to fill in the details.

The person who owned the truck worked for, or perhaps owned, that business, according to this story. This was a local business, and he would go to work the next morning, driving to jobs around the area, into adjacent towns. He likely knows the area extremely well, and is accustomed to the rhythm and schedule. This person would get up and go to work the next morning after the alarm went off at the same time as always, beginning a new day and a new week.

I grew up around that type of work. I understand – if only by close proximity instead of by doing – that rhythm. That rhythm is such a counterpoint to my life now.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a small local restaurant in Seattle and, over lunch, coordinated a complex technical event that was happening in Boston from my phone. That sort of flexibility and capability is exciting, and fun. I still don’t grasp the rhythm of this work, though, perhaps because there isn’t any. Time bends in on itself, loses its meaning. Everything happens with immediacy. I long for a rhythm, for some local work.

A colleague joked a few years ago that she wanted to stop doing our profession and be a barista for a living. I laughed at this, and I also recalled a friend from my undergrad days. He said that, when he finished school, he didn’t care if he worked at a gas station all night for a living. He just wanted to write. I remember laughing at that too, but, honestly, sometimes I wish that I could just serve coffee during the day, read, and finish that novel, the draft of which has been collecting dust since our first daughter was born. I think that, when I want that, I want it not only because it would be simpler, but because the rhythm would be more….defined.

The rhythm of the life that I have now, filled with fast-paced technology and the controlled chaos of two children, is syncopated, wildly unpredictable. There’s a sense that it’s always delicately balanced, just on the edge of being out of control. There’s no real option but to embrace that syncopation at the moment. Like in jazz, those rhythms can have a purpose, even be playful at times. I long for the quiet, though, the purpose of knowing that your work is just your work, and that it is done when it is done.

Perhaps that is a thing of the past.

Image attribution: Vladimir Morozov under Creative Commons.

Travel Log: Nashville, Tennessee

I’m slightly late in getting around to writing this….okay, actually more than a year late. Something that Karen and I always try to do is visit a new place each year. That’s been curtailed for the last few years until both of our children reach an age at which we can travel more easily, but I’ve still managed to see some cool U.S. cities for work trips over the last three years. I had always sort of intended to write about the places we’ve visited (and have in some cases), so I wanted to begin chronicling these trips and what struck me about each place.

Nashville skyline

Nashville skyline

I’m not sure what I expected from Nashville, but it wasn’t what I experienced. The one type of music of which I’m not really a fan is country. I suppose that I expected to be buried in twang, but was pleasantly surprised. While a lot of local bars and restaurants are named for country music stars and honor the city’s heritage in that way, there’s music of all kinds everywhere.  Walk down the street and it greets you – one melody will fade out as another fades in, a sort of encompassing Doppler effect in Nashville’s streets.

Hard Rock Cafe, Nashville

Hard Rock Cafe, Nashville, looking toward the street

Music is the soul of Nashville, and its impossible to not be impacted by that. Everyone there seems to have a musical aspiration – you’ll pass someone carrying a guitar if you hang around long enough. I was sitting in my hotel restaurant one evening, and an old song from my high school days came over the speakers. In a rare moment of having my memory for music history trivia fail me, I downloaded and used Shazam to help me recall the title and artist. I’ve been using Shazam since, adding some of those old musical memories to my collection.

That, I think, is my biggest takeaway from Nashville: it re-ignited my love for music.

Guitars at Nashville International Airport

Guitars at Nashville International Airport

I had visited Tennessee before – a close friend lived in Chattanooga for a while – and thought that I knew what to expect. Certainly there are commonalities, but Nashville is very different, even in a different timezone. That confused me at first as I wasn’t aware of this fact, and one of my Lyft drivers confessed that its odd to have part of the state in one time zone and part in another. It’s true, though….plan on landing in CDT if you visit.

Being a rock history aficionado, I always visit the Hard Rock Cafe whenever I visit a city in which I can find one. Nashville’s Hard Rock is one of the better ones I’ve visited. One of Dave Matthew’s guitars was on display.

Dave Matthew's guitar, on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville

Dave Matthew’s guitar, on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in Nashville

Something else that stood out to me about Nashville was a sense of celebration, almost of pageantry. The music brings a life with it, a life that flows out into the streets on any night of the week and brings a feeling of euphoria with it. I’m not sure it’s possible to be in Nashville and not have a thoroughly fantastic time.

Carriages illuminated after dark in downtown Nashville

Carriages illuminated after dark in downtown Nashville

I had a great time visiting Nashville, and every time I fall in love with a good song again, I feel like it’s still a part of me somehow.