Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen by Richard Roberts

Anyone who has been reading my blog knows I’m a big fan of Richard Roberts’ “Please Don't Tell My Parents” books. “Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen” is the third book of the series and after reading it, I must say I like the new direction Roberts is taking the series.

At the end of the second book (“Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon”), Penny Akk (still determined to be a superhero) decided that the best way to be recognized as a superhero was to have a second super identity outside supervillain Bad Penny. A challenge from a schoolmate gave her that chance but after a public fight at a school football match, Penny’s parents shut down her superhero career before it could begin.

However all is not lost because the public superpowered fight encouraged more of her schoolmates to come out in the open with their powers. As it had been hinted before, a lot of kids at the school have powers and as they joined Penny’s official superpower school club, Penny became de facto leader of them. The school even roped in retired supervillain, Bull, as an advisor.

Unlike the first two books, “Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen” is more of a coming-of-age story and you know what; I dig it. The members of The Inscrutable Machine are growing up and Roberts isn’t afraid to show it in this book. Ray is thinking of leaving L.A; Claire is thinking of a solo career as a cat burglar; Penny actually starts the book as a solo superhero. Kids grow up and when they do, they drifted apart. It would have been easy for Roberts to just continue their adventures as a group, but credit to him for not taking the easy way out.

The story has morphed from the misadventures of a trio of 13 year old kids to a story of these same kids grappling with the future, sometimes to their own surprise. Penny found out she don’t really like being a leader with underlings. She could do the job but would much rather spent the time she has toying with her inventions and hanging out with her friends. Claire understood her best friend would rather be a hero, so she’s considering how she could make it as a solo villain (I don’t see why she can’t hire henchmen. With her money and powers, controlling henchmen should be a breeze).

Ray even has two potential careers outside the normal superhero/supervillain routes lined up once school is done. This is a bit of world-building from the writer who built a world where superpowers are if not normal, at least not rare, so it make sense there are careers out there for superpowered people who do not want to fight.

Character growth seems to be the name of the game in this book, and not just for the main characters. The side characters also got their moment in the sun. Claudia reconciled with her father, Bull, and is seriously considering ending her superhero career as Generic Girl. Marcia actually stole items from both heroes and villains to gain superpowers, and became friendlier with Penny because of it. Bull retired and became a superpower mentor at school. Several new side characters were introduced in this book and most of them also grew in personality and power throughout the course of the book. At the start of the book, Beaddown was certain her powers were useless for combat but at the end, she was one of the most powerful kids with a versatile power setup. My personal favourite was Charlie who went from joke of the school to someone who could make it.

I also like the fact that sometimes the superpowers give as much problems as benefits.  Gathering Shadows has superhero parents that believe her power set are not suitable to being a hero and Marcia’s new powers makes her crazy. It’s not always roses when you have a superpower and that’s how it should be.

Having said all that, I can understand why some fans did not like this book. It’s honestly a different kind of book from the first two. “Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen” is more sedate and lack the energy of the first two books. In some ways, this is understandable. Put together, the first two book took place within 2 months. The timeline of this book is about half a year. It’s much slower paced than the earlier two books.

Also, there’s not much of The Inscrutable Machine being together. Again, this is due to the structure of the book which has Penny, Claire and Ray doing their own thing most of the time. Sure, they are together in school; Penelope and Ray get on with their relationship on; and Penny and Claire went on a heist; but there’s little action with all 3 of them together. Like I said earlier, sometimes growing up means drifting apart.

Overall, I have to say this was an excellent book. It doesn’t clear the high bar set by “Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain”, but I have to rate it as better than “Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon”. Just be warned; it’s not the same book as the first two. “Please Don't Tell My Parents” is a coming-of-age story, not an action-adventure story. Personally, I liked it. Bring on Book 4, “Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have a Nemesis”.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Zika In Singapore

When the Zika virus first became a huge problem in Brazil, it seems so far away. Well, no longer because there is now 41 confirmed cases of the Zika virus in Singapore. None of the infected people are known to have travelled to Zika-affected areas, which mean that the transmission occurred locally.

Thus far, all of the infected people are in the Aljunied Crescent and Sims Drive area but considered how pack Singapore is, there’s almost no doubt that will change in the coming days. The good news is that 34 of the 41 infected people had recovered and there are no reports of any of the infected being pregnant.

However with no cure of the virus in sight, chances are the Zika virus is here to stay in Singapore. Let’s just hope they find a cure or a vaccine quickly. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Haze Is Back

Our old friend, The Haze, is back. After all the talk about heavy fines issued to companies involved in the burning of the forests in Indonesia, today Singaporeans woke up to the haze as usual.

According to the website of the National Environment Agency, the 3-hour PSI level for Singapore stood at 168 as of 12pm today. Honestly, I think that's downplaying it because the haze was truly bad this morning.  

Oh well, time to bring out the masks again.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Comics this week

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #10- It’s an indication of Ms. Marvel’s popularity that she is now guest-starring in other comics. It’s kind of weird as Kamala is herself a new hero but strangely, it works! Both Kamala and Lunella are young female heroes who are also Inhumans; it makes sense that they have contact with each other. The simple way writer Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclare worked in Ms. Marvel is very effective and made this filler-issue a lot better than it should have been.

Rai #16- After all the twist and turns in the series, I almost forgotten how it how started. Writer Matt Kindt did not! With the 4001 New Japan event ongoing, Rai has been a series undergoing some changes but Kindt has managed to close the arc in a satisfying way that remind readers how it all started. The only problem I see is that you really need to be reading from the very start to fully understand just how good this issue is. Luckily for me, I've been reading since the beginning so this issue is GREAT!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dial It Back

Okay Singapore, it's time to dial it back. I know Joseph Schooling is Singapore’s Golden Boy after winning Singapore's first Olympic gold medal but this is getting out of hand! Today, the Singapore New Paper state that Joseph Schooling, Usain Bolt, and Michael Phelps as the three leading lights of the Rio Olympics. 

I'm sorry but "No"! 

As great as Schooling's gold medal win is, he's not in the same class as Bolt and Phelps. Come on, Phelps has 23 gold medals; Bolt has 9; Schooling got 1. Hell, Schooling is not on the same planet as Bolt and Phelps! My fellow Singaporeans; it's pretty fine to be proud of Joseph Schooling's achievement but let's not go too overboard here. Dial it back. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Scare At The National Day Rally

The National Day Rally is usually a sedated boring affair here in Singapore. The Prime Minister (PM) would go up on stage and deliver a long televised speech that most Singaporeans would not remember in a week’s time.

Not so this year!

Yesterday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong caused a scare when he fainted briefly while delivering the National Day Rally. More than two hours into his speech, the 64-year-old cancer survivor suddenly stopped speaking and had to be helped off the stage. An hour and 20 minutes later, he returned to complete the speech. Aides blamed fatigue and dehydration and many Singaporeans has send in well-wishes to the PM.

Thus far, there’s nothing to indicate this is anything serious and chances are, even if it is, the Singapore government-owned Strait Times probably won’t be telling. After all, how many of us know of Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s problems before he collapsed from a stroke during a cabinet meeting in May?

The unfortunate incident yesterday however has shone a spotlight on the succession issue. Is there anyone who can take over from PM Lee? Currently, it’s not a big issue as the PM is still going strong but it’s food for thought. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Politics Rule In the IAAF

The Rio Olympics athletics program was already in the dumps with the strange case of the Russian athletics team being thrown out, but the case of the United States' 4x100m women's relay team has just made athletics a total joke.

The American team just won their solo race against the clock to book their place in the Olympic 4x100m women's relay final, even though they dropped the baton in the heats. In their appeal, the Americans say the dropped baton exchange between Allyson Felix and English Gardner was due to a knock from Brazilian runner Kauiza Venancio. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) agreed. They disqualified Brazil, who did not make the finals, but ruled that the Americans must run again, in a highly unusual solo flying lap, to beat China's eighth fastest qualifying time of 42.70sec. The Americans did and the IAAF dismissed the expected Chinese protest.

Question; does this means that every time someone is knocked off-stride, the IAAF will grant a re-run? Runners get knocked by other runners all the time. In distance running, it's almost an accepted fact. Even in short distance, it has happened before. In 2011, Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang was blocked by another athlete. No re-run then. Hell, the Rio Olympic flame was lit by marathon runner Vanderlei de Lima who was attacked by a crazed spectator while leading the marathon in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Any re-run then?

So why is there one now? That is just stupid! If the Americans were knocked by a Chinese runner and the Chinese team went through, I can understand the decision but that's clearly not the case here. Unless someone is saying the Brazilian team knocked the American team on purpose on behalf of the Chinese, this decision make no sense whatsoever.

But then again this is the IAAF and as shown in the Russian case, it is a place where politics rule all!