Monday, December 26, 2011

Looking to the Future....

As I review my blogging in 2011 and make plans for 2012, a few changes will occur. 


The major change will be the closing down of my Comic Book Focus blog.  I am bringing my graphic novel reviews back to this blog.  I love reading comics and will continue to review them as part of Science Fiction Times.


Another change will be more commentary/history articles.  I am planning on more  articles focusing on writers and artists.  I also plan on writing more about the history of the field and commentaries about the future of science fiction.


Tentative Schedule
Sunday:  Short Story Reviews
Tuesday:  Novel/Book Reviews
Friday:  Graphic Novel Reviews
Saturday:  Television/Movie Reviews


As I finish commentaries, etc. I plan on fitting them around the regular reviews.





Sunday, December 25, 2011

The 2012 Graphic Novels Challenge





I signed up for the "The 2012 Graphic Novels Challenge".  Beginning in January, I will keep this list updated with my progress.


1.  Alpha Flight Vol. 1
2.  Teen Titans:  Games
3.  Superstar:  As Seen on TV
4.  Trailblazer
5.  Punisher Max:  Kingpin
6.  Echoes
7.  Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE Vol. 1
8.  Invincible Vol. 9
9.  The Walking Dead Vol. 15
10.  The Walking Dead Vol. 16
11.  The Walking Dead Vol. 17
12.  Halcyon
13.  Battle Hymn:  Farewell to the Golden Age
14.  Cold War
15.  Kevin Smith's Green Hornet Vol. 3:  Idols
15.  Harbinger Vol. 1:  Omega Rising
16.  Uncanny X-Force:  The Apocalypse Solution
17.  Trio
18.  I, Vampire Vol. 1:  Tainted Love
19.  Witchblade:  Witchhunt

Y: The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned, Zenith Book 1: Tygers, Fantastic Four 1234, Batwoman Vol. 1: Elegy



Writer:  Brian K. Vaughn 
Penciller:  Pia Guerra 
Inker:  Jose Marzan, Jr. 
Collects issues 1-5 
Title:  Unmanned 

In the summer of 2002, a plague of unknown origin destroyed everything containing a Y chromosome with the exception of one young man and his pet monkey.  The "gendercide" instantaneously exterminated 48% of the global population, or approximately 2.9 billion men. 


Now, aided by the mysterious Agent 355, the last human male Yorick Brown must contend with dangerous extremists, a hoped for reunion with a girlfriend on the other side of the globe, and the search for exactly why he's the only man to survive. 

Brian K. Vaughn has set up a very interesting world in this series.  The reader is learning about it as Yorick tries to figure out what happened.  The viewpoint cuts to others at times to present the various possibilities.  The mystery is that, at least at this point in the story, the characters are not exactly sure who caused the death of the men. 

Yorik is not a common name.  The best known use of it was in Shakespeare's Hamlet when Hamlet exhumed the skull of Yorick.  Yorick was a court jester whose skull shows that death is unavoidable.   

Another modern usage of Yorik is in the Star Wars:  New Jedi Order series.  In this series, the Yuuzhan Vong use the mighty yorik-trema to attack.  The yorik-trema is a bio-engineered transport vessel. 

If the reader were to combine those definitions, it would imply that Yorik Brown is a light hearted man but that death is inevitable for him.  He would also be the bio-engineered system used to transport the plague.  I will be curious to see if any of this proves to be the case. 

In the new world, Yorik's mother is the president of the United States.  Yorik undertakes a journey to join up with his her.  The problem is that any surviving man will be a target for the radical extremists.  So Yorik puts on a cloak and a gas mask to cover his identity.  Along the way Yorik runs into many obstacles. Vaughn does a good job of imagining what the new world would be like.  The classic journey for the hero is a good way of driving the story.   

The other situation that Vaughn establishes is that Yorik’s girlfriend is in Australia.  In the manner of the classic quest story the author sends Yorik on a double quest.  First he will travel to Washington D.C. to find his mother.  Then he plans on traveling to Australia to reunite with his girlfriend.  Vaughn has patterned the tale on the classic after the disaster quest story.  It is in the same genre as “Damnation Alley” by Roger Zelazny, “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute, “Earth Abides” by George Stewart, the many novels of J. G. Ballard, “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter Miller, and Kirkman’s “Walking Dead”. 

The art by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan, Jr. does not get in the way of the story.  It is very reminiscent of Chas Truog's art in Grant Morrison's “Animal Man”.  The panel designs are very basic old school comic book art.  Do not expect the detail or innovative layouts of someone like George Perez.  The art tells the story.  In this day and age, that is something that many artists forget.  At times the artists did not use sequential storytelling.  In those instances the eye is led to follow the action in the wrong direction.  The action of a character leads the reader’s eyes to the left.  Unfortunately, this is on the left side of the page so the only option is to read to the right.  With some slight repositioning of the action, the story would flow much better.  I get the impression that many of the current artists need to spend more time studying “Comics and Sequential Art” by Will Eisner.  It is a classic text that shows you how to design your pages to use the art to help with the flow of the story.  Guerra does a better job than many of today’s artists with the storytelling.  With a little more attention to the sequential storytelling, the art would be raised to the next level.  In general the artists do an acceptable job. 

Overall this is a very good start to a series.  If you are looking for story driven comics, this is the book for you.  I found myself interested in learning more about the changes to our world.  The initial mysteries held my interest.  I will be reading the other volumes in this series. 

Recommended. 


Writer:  Grant Morrison
Artist:  Steve Yeowell


Zenith is one of the "Holy Grail" books for me. It has only appeared in collected form in England. Some imported copies have appeared but I always seem to miss them at conventions. I finally managed to track them down and they were definitely worth the search.

"Zenith Book 1" is another great Morrison read. The story begins with the showdown between the British superhero "Maximan" and the Nazi superhero "Masterman" at the end of World War II. Maximan is overly confident and Masterman easily beats him. At this time, the Americans drop the atomic bomb on the duo bringing an end to the conflict.

Back in England, their scientists use the procedure to create a super team called Cloud 9. Cloud 9 become the darlings of the 60s. Two of them end up together and become parents to the first of the next generation of heros-Zenith. Unfortunately for them, Zenith is only interested in partying and his music career. He does enough heroic acts to help further his career.

Unknown to the winners of WWII, a secret cult survived the war. They are followers of "The Many Angled Ones" who were the real power behind Masterman. As their plot unfolds, Zenith is forced into teaming up with the remaining members of Cloud 9 to take on the new Masterman and his masters.

This is a well thought out, tightly plotted, mystery filled story that is another example of why Morrison is one of my favorite comic book writers.

Highly recommended.


Writer:  Grant Morrison
Artist:  Jae Lee

The art by Jae Lee was a disappointment. It was not in the same class as his work on "The Inhumans". At times it looked good but overall it was sloppy. Sometimes it was hard to tell who the characters were. A more consistent art job would have helped the story.

Grant Morrison's story had flashes of brilliance but was not his best work. The concept of Doctor Doom being the bad part of Reed Richard's mind brought to life was intriguing. In Doom's mind, this makes Reed the biggest villain in the world. It absolves him of blame. All of the atrocities performed by Doctor Doom are actually Reed's fault. It is an interesting look into a fantasy created by a madman.

Doctor Doom's plot fell apart too easily at the end. "1 2 3 4" is a decent Fantastic Four story but there are many that are much better.


Writer:  Greg Rucka
Artist:  J. H. Williams

From Goodreads...
A new era begins as Batwoman is unleashed on Gotham City! Marked by the blood-red bat emblem, Kate Kane is a soldier fighting her own private war - one that began years ago and haunts her every waking moment. In this first tale, Batwoman battles a madwoman known only as Alice, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, who sees her life as a fairy tale and everyone around her as expendable extras! 

Batwoman must stop Alice from unleashing a toxic death cloud over all of Gotham City -- but Alice has more up her sleeve than just poison, and Batwoman's life will never ever be the same again. 

Also, witness the origin of Batwoman in the shocking and tragic story "Go," in which young Kate Kane and her family are kidnapped by terrorists, and Kate's life - and the lives of her family - will never be the same!



Sometimes a series happens that you hear a lot of good press about but, for one reason or another, never read until later.  This is such a series.

Greg Rucka is at the top of his game with this book.  He is one of the best at writing street level characters.  As Rucka reveals Kate's background, it is believable.  Her training in the military and the support of her father helps to give us a rich, fully realized character.  And the anatagonist of the series, Alice, is a perfect foil for Batwoman.  Rucka obviously put a lot of thought and planning in the development of this series.

Batwoman is a showcase of J. H. Williams' innovative layouts and panel designs.  The bat motif is in the design of many pages.  The non-standard panel designs help to pull the reader into the story.  It is almost like the character Alice has influenced the thoughts of the artist.  If Williams ever goes to Marvel Comics, I would hope they would bring back the old "Master of Kung Fu" series.  His layouts are similar to the work done by Paul Gulacy and Gene Day on that series.

The Rucka/Williams team was perfect on this title.  I hope that Williams is able to continue the quality in the new series.  Rucka has left for Marvel so he will not be scripting it.

Highly recommended.



Friday, December 23, 2011

2012 Sci-Fi Reader Challenge



A slightly different challenge is the "2012 Sci-Fi Reader Challenge".  In this one, you are challenged to read books from various different subsets of science fiction.  Listed below are my planned books to read.  This list is subject to change.



YA SF             
Have Spacesuit-Will Travel by Robert Heinlein


Adult SF         
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert


Hugo Winner
The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

Classic (pre 1950s)
The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings

Modern Classic (1951-1992)
Foundation by Isaac Asimov


Steampunk
The Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock


Robots/Cyborgs/Androids
The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov


Spaceships/Aliens
Halcyon Drift by Brian Stableford


Time Travel/Alt History/Parallel Universe  
The Walls of the Universe by Paul Melko


Apocalyptic/Dystopia/Utopia
The Inverted World by Christopher Priest

Cyberpunk
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Mad Scientists/Genetic Testing/Environmental Disaster


The Vintage Science Fiction Month


Over on The Little Red Reviewer site, she is hosting "The Vintage Science Fiction Month not a Challenge".  It is all about science fiction published before 1979.  This was the science fiction that I grew up reading.  It will take place during the month of January so it is a perfect team up with "The 2012 Science Fiction Experience".  Listed below are the books I plan on reading but are subject to change.



1.  Foundation by Isaac Asimov
2.  Demon Princes 1:  Star King by Jack Vance
3.  Demon Princes 2:  The Killing Machine by Jack Vance
4.  Demon Princes 3:  The Palace of Love by Jack Vance


Actual Reads:


1.  Enterprise:  Stardust by K. H. Scheer
2.  Foundation by Isaac Asimov
3.  The Story with 18 Writers

Thursday, December 22, 2011

2012 Science Fiction Experience


The challenge I automatically sign up for is Carl's "The 2012 Science Fiction Experience".   Year in, year out, this is one of my favorites.  There are no requirements except to read and write about science fiction.  I am listing the books I think I will read for this experience.  As I complete them I will add the link to the review.  As I am reading, some of these might drop off the list and be replaced by others.


1.  Short Story Sunday-A Classic by Philip Jose Farmer
2.  Cloud Permutations by Lavie Tidhar
3.  Enterprise:  Stardust by K. H. Scheer
4.  Foundation by Isaac Asimov
5.  The Story with 18 Writers
6.  What do you get if you cross Silverberg's Hawksbill Station with the Wild West?
7.  Star Trek:  Deep Space 9 101&102 "Emissary"

Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Demon Princes 1:  Star King by Jack Vance
Demon Princes 2:  The Killing Machine by Jack Vance
Demon Princes 3:  The Palace of Love by Jack Vance
Demon Princes 4:  The Face by Jack Vance
Demon Princes 5:  The Book of Dreams by Jack Vance
Dumarest 1:  The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubb
Hooded Swan 1:  Halcyon Drift by Brian Stableford
The Day of Their Return by Poul Anderson
Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert



Sunday, December 11, 2011

Short Story Sunday - The Good Doctor Rebounds

Last Sunday's short story offering was a rare disappointment for me.  Isaac Asimov's "Button, Button" was one of his few stories that I did not care for.  This week the Good Doctor bounces back with two fun stories.


"The Monkey's Finger" by Isaac Asimov

First Publication:  Startling Stories, February 1953


Another good Asimov short story appeared behind this classic Ed Emshwiller cover.  It is loosely based on a discussion between the Good Doctor and editor Horace Gold.


A science fiction writer crafts what he thinks is a good story.  His editor disagrees.  In an effort to change the editor's mind, he takes him to a scientist who has developed a way of determining if a story is well written.  It involves a monkey, surgery, and a typewriter.  To tell any more of the plot would reveal too much.  The main theme deals with the difference between technically correct writing and writing with emotion.  I found this to be another very entertaining story.  It is definitely worth reading.


Among the other authors appearing in this issue were Fletcher Pratt, Philip Jose Farmer, and Damon Knight.  The letter column featured many names that are well known to fans of classic science fiction (John Brunner, Poul Anderson, and Richard E. Geis).





"Everest" by Isaac Asimov

First Publication:  Universe Science Fiction, December 1953


Asimov tells an interesting tale about the background of this story in his "Buy Jupiter and Other Stories" collection.  According to him, editor Bea Mahaffey was one of the best looking women that he ever met.  He stopped in to see her at her office one day.  Mahaffey asked why he didn't bring a story for her.  Asimov pulled up a chair, grabbed a typewriter and wrote this one while sitting in her office.


The story is a fun short story about why no one had been able to climb Mount Everest.  She liked it and bought it on the spot.  He took her out to eat with the money he made from the sale. Despite his best efforts, that was the end of the night.


The irony of it was that this took place in February 1953.  Later that year, before the story was published, the first team managed to climb the mountain and disproved Asimov's story.


Other writers in this issue included Otto Binder, Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, and L. Sprague De Camp.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

NIU Libraries acquires papers of Chicago-born sci-fi writer Fred Saberhagen

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has acquired the first installment of the papers of Chicago-born author Fred Saberhagen, a best-selling science fiction writer whose works broke new ground in the genre.
The Saberhagen papers, with several more installments to come, are a gift to the university from the author’s widow, Joan Spicci Saberhagen.
NIU's Lynne M. Thomas with the first installment of author Fred Saberhagen's papers.
NIU's Lynne M. Thomas with the first installment of author Fred Saberhagen's papers.
“Fred Saberhagen is very well known in the field of science fiction and fantasy literature,” said Lynne M. Thomas, curator of Rare Books and Special Collections for NIU Libraries.
“He is perhaps best known for the Berserker novels, a series of books about interstellar ruthless killer machines that predate the ‘Terminator’ films by 20 years,” Thomas added. “His Dracula sequence of novels, beginning with ‘The Vampire Tape,’ tells Bram Stoker’s Dracula from the vampire’s point of view and was published a year before Anne Rice’s ‘Interview with the Vampire.’ ”
An author’s papers generally include materials that document his or her life as a writer and include anything from drafts of short stories and novels to critiqued manuscripts and final submissions.
“I’m quite pleased knowing Fred’s papers will be valued and well cared for at NIU,” Joan Spicci Saberhagen said, noting that many of her husband’s works were set in the Chicago area. She spent more than a year communicating with University Libraries staff before selecting NIU for the donation.
“The campus visit sealed the deal,” she said. “The archival staff impressed me with their professionalism, congeniality and knowledge of the science fiction field. You have a treasure in Lynne Thomas.”
Fred Saberhagen
Fred Saberhagen
Fred Saberhagen was born in Chicago, graduated from Lane Technical High School, served in the Air Force and worked for Motorola Corp. and Encyclopedia Britannica before moving in the mid-1970s to Albuquerque, N.M., where he worked as a full-time freelance writer.
He died in 2007 after a prolific writing career, publishing 60 novels and numerous short stories, in addition to editing anthologies and collections.
His extensive fiction career began with publishing his first short stories in “If” and “Galaxy” magazines in the early 1960s. Those magazines, along with other science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines dating back to the 1920s, are included in the University Libraries’ collection.
Thomas said Saberhagen’s papers consist of more than 20 boxes of materials and will be the “crown jewel” of the library’s science fiction and fantasy collection. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a professional organization for authors, designated NIU as a depository in 1979.
Collecting archival papers began in earnest in 2005.
“The latest gift provides a core representation of science fiction and fantasy literature in the 1960s through the 1990s, from a truly popular and groundbreaking author,” Thomas said. “Our collection is relatively new, and he becomes our earliest published author. Many of the other writers in our archives are still active and were influenced by Saberhagen’s work, so it’s deeply satisfying to have their collective contributions to the field housed together.”
NIU’s science fiction and fantasy writers collection includes the papers of more than 50 authors, many of them award-winning.
The list includes Alma Alexander, Eleanor Arnason, Robert Asprin, Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear,Donald J. Bingle, Alex Bledsoe, Tobias BuckellRichard Chwedyk, Pamela Dean, Lori Devoti, L. Timmel Duchamp, Carol Emshwiller, Philip Jose Farmer, Eric Flint, Merrie Haskell, Jim C. Hines,Douglas Hulick, John Klima, Mary Robinette Kowal, E.E. KnightTed Kosmatka and Naomi Kritzer.
Others include Catherine Lundoff, Elise Matthesen, Kelly McCulloughJack McDevittSarah MonetteLyda Morehouse, Jaime Lee Moyer, Pat Murphy, Sean Michael Murphy, Nnedi Okorafor, Rebecca Ore, Jody Lynn Nye, Tamora Pierce, Tim Pratt, Cherie Priest, Sarah Prineas, Cat Rambo, Mark Rich and Margaret Ronald.
Rounding out the group are Heather Shaw, Nisi Shawl, Will Shetterly, Sharon Shinn, Steven H Silver,Kristine Smith, Bud Sparhawk, Jennifer Stevenson, Caroline Stevermer, Catherynne Valente, David Weber and Patricia Wrede.
Book cover of Fred Saberhagen’s “Berserkers: The Beginning”The library’s Rare Books and Special Collections department also holds the 20th World Science Fiction Convention Collection, a collection of correspondence related to the 1962 WorldCon.
Many of these collections are fully processed and available to researchers. Once processed, the Saberhagen papers will also be made available.
In all, Rare Books and Special Collections holds more than 125,000 volumes. This includes  research-level collections of popular literature and culture in the United States from the 19th century forward, emphasizing dime novels, comic books and children’s fiction, as well as the science fiction and fantasy genre.
The extensive teaching collections promote exploration from the beginnings of the technology of writing to the present. Materials held in RBSC are available to members of the NIU community and the general public for consultation from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Classes routinely meet in RBSC for hands-on practical learning.
For more information, call (815) 753-0255 or email lmthomas@niu.edu.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quartet & Triptych by Matthew Hughes

Let me begin with a little background concerning my taste in stories.  I enjoy a good caper novel or movie.  That is important when discussing this story.  I am also a Jack Vance fan.  The first novel of the Demon Prince series ("Star King") hooked me as a fan.  I remember the disappointment when I read further into the series but could not find all of the books.  Later, DAW Books reprinted the series and had Vance finish it.  I never read the final 2 novels.  The upcoming Science Fiction Experience 2012 might be a good time to re-read the early books and finish reading the rest of the series.  In the words of Peter David, "But I Digress...". 

Getting back to the novel at hand.  This was one that I was supposed to review for the now defunct "Walker of Worlds" site.  Mark gave me three books that I never finished writing the reviews.  One of my goals for December is to get these written.  So consider this an epilog to a much missed review site. 

Matthew Hughes has been named the heir apparent to Jack Vance.  His style of writing, the names of the characters, and the exotic locals back this up.  Case in point:  The main character in "Quartet & Triptych" is master thief Luff Imbrey.  Luff is planning to steal one of the rare eidolons left behind when the alien Iphigenza race committed ritual suicide.  Unfortunately for Luff, it is located in a mutable maze that a nobleman had build to torture his enemies.  So he decides to "liberate" the life mask of a noblewoman who knows how to navigate the maze.  The life mask is an intriguing creation.  It traps the essence of the person in a mask that, when put on by another, allows them to speak to the wearer of the mask.  The noblewoman strikes a slightly different deal with Luff.  It is one that proves to be much more lucrative. Luff develops the perfect plan that, in the style of the classic caper novel, falls apart.  This short novel tells the story of what happens to the duo as they try to salvage their plan. 

Did I like the novel?  Yes and no.  Hughes is very talented when it comes to innovative concepts and descriptions.  His characters are interesting.  But I thought that the plot tended to drift too much for such a short novel.  If it had been more focused, I would have liked it more.  As it is, I think this is an interesting failure.  Looking at other peoples' reviews on Goodreads.com, I find myself in the minority.  Sometimes, a story does not connect with every reader.  I am one of the few that was disappointed with this story.  Based on what I read here, I will give Matthew Hughes' work another try.  I saw enough to interest me in giving this author a second chance.