Sunday, September 1, 2013

If It's Fall, It Must Be Time for... R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, VIII

Fall has always been one of my favorite times of the year.  The temperatures cool off but are not too cold.  Living in Pennsylvania, it means the leaves on the trees turn from green to red, orange and yellow.  Here in Bedford, we even have a two weekend event called Fall Foliage.  Our small town shuts down some of the main streets, all of the hotels fill up, and normally easy to navigate streets are packed with people.  Many people come to shop the craft booths.  As for me, I prefer the food stands.  Walking down the street seems to add on the pounds as you smell the funnel cakes, apple dumplings, cheese steak sandwiches and too many others to name.  

Last Friday was the kickoff of high school football with Bedford celebrating 100 years of football.  In typical small town fashion, our community packed the stands for the opening night.  My sons and I sat with a group of friends around the 40 yard light and cheered as our team of mostly underclassmen pulled out a 13-10 victory.  This weekend also saw the start of college football with the pro teams starting soon.

In addition to all of that, Carl's R.I.P. event has become another reason to look forward to the fall.  I was worried that I would not be able to participate this year.  At the end of July I started having severe pains in both hands.  It was all I could do to make it through the workday.  I have an office job where I am on the computer most of the day.  It turned out that I have arthritis in both hands.  After trying various medicines, my doctor found one that worked for me.  I still have some pain but it is bearable now.  Each week is a little better.

Which perils am I participating in this year?

Peril the Second:  Read two books.
Peril of the Short Story:  Starting next Sunday, i will be reviewing stories on a weekly basis.
Peril of the Screen:  I will probably do a combination of television and movie reviews.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Short Story Sunday: Dinosaurs and Cold Equations

Welcome to the return of Short Story Sundays.  This time around I am reviewing two stories with some similarities (dinosaurs and cold equations).

Title:  Think Like a Dinosaur
Author:  James Patrick Kelly
First Publication:  Asimov's Science Fiction, June 1995
Cover Art:  Todd Lockwood

Check another author off my list.  James Patrick Kelly was first published in 1984.  Somehow I never read any of his fiction before "Think Like a Dinosaur".  I am attempting to read all of the David G. Hartwell "Year's Best SF" and this was the lead story in the first collection.

In many ways this is a modern retelling of Tom Godwin's classic "The Cold Equations".  Kelly took the basic original idea and created his own unique take on the story.  The aliens in this story bare a resemblance to dinosaurs.  They do not understand our customs and question whether or not humanity is ready to travel to other planets.  The dinos finally agree to install the necessary systems to allow us to go to other worlds.  This is the story of what happens when things go wrong.

Kelly does an excellent job with the plot, aliens and characterization.  Highly recommended.

Title:  The Tall Grass
Author:  Steven Utley
First Publication:  Asimov's Science Fiction, June 1989
Cover Art:  Nicholas Jainschigg

Buried in this issue was another great science fiction story by Steven Utley.  With the all star lineup, Utley did not make it on to the cover.

As usual, Utley is a master of the short story form.  It is similar to "Think Like Dinosaurs" in that it features dinosaurs and an uncompromising situation.  Where Kelly's story took place in the future, this takes place in the past.  The dinosaurs in Utley's story are the usual earth bound type we have read about for years.  "The Tall Grass" is the tale of what happens on a journey to the era of the dinosaurs.  To say more than that would ruin the story.

Highly recommended (like Utley's other stories).

Friday, July 26, 2013

43. X-O Manowar Vol. 1: By the Sword by Robert Venditti & Cary Nord

Writer:  Robert Venditti

Pencils:  Cary Nord

Inks:  Stefan Gaudiano

First Publication:  2012

Challenge:  Graphic Novel Challenge (#20)

Publisher:  Valiant Entertainment

From Amazon:
 The beginning of the all-new Valiant Universe starts here! Aric of Dacia is a brash warrior and heir to the throne of the Visigoth people. He has lived his life under the heel of the Roman Empire, but now a far more terrible enemy has come to subjugate him. Taken from his home and family, Aric is enslaved aboard a starship belonging to a brutal race of alien colonizers known as The Vine. If he is to have any hope of escaping and returning to Earth, he will have to steal the Vine's most powerful weapon - a sentient suit of indestructible armor - and become X-O Manowar! This volume collects the first four issues of the acclaimed, breakout series by New York Times bestselling author Robert Venditti (The Surrogates, The Homeland Directive) and Eisner Award-winning artist Cary Nord (Conan)!

A Short History of Valiant Comics

Many years ago, I remember being excited by the start of a new comics company that featured a mix of new and old characters.  Valiant Comics was the brain child of legendary creator Jim Shooter.  Shooter was always one of my favorite writers.  He started writing for DC Comics (Superman, Legion of Super-Heroes, and others) at the age of 13.  When he graduated from high school, he retired to focus on college.  At this time he was 18 years old.  Legends grew about what ever happened to Shooter in those days before the internet.  Finally, a writer for a large fanzine tracked him down.  This led to his return to writing for DC.  Later he moved to Marvel and eventually became editor in chief.  Some creators disliked his structured style of management.  Others liked it.  Financially, Marvel rebounded.  Eventually he was shown the door.  Not ready to retire, he found backing for a new company.  Shooter got the rights to publish new comics featuring the old Gold Key characters (Magnus Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar, Turok).  Shooter brought some creators from Marvel and added new ones to form his core group.  Among those were David Michelinie, Barry Windsor Smith, Steve Englehart, Bob Layton, Don Perlin, and many others.  The new characters they added were X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Rai and the Future Force, Bloodshot, Eternal Warrior, Archer and Armstrong and more.  The company was a success but things fell apart behind the scenes.  Shooter was kicked out.  The company continued for a few more years but eventually shut its doors.

Shooter managed to get back the rights to the Gold Key characters and made another effort that was published by Dark Horse.  Although the stories were interesting, they could not find enough of an audience to make it.

Eventually, a new group bought the rights to the non-Gold Key characters and started Valiant Entertainment.  They started publishing in 2012.  I viewed their efforts with trepidation.  I liked Valiant when Shooter was writing many of the books and had my doubts about the new group.  This weekend I started reading the first collections from the new Valiant.

“By the Sword”

This title alone calmed my fears.  The first title to be re-imagined was a hit.  Writer Robert Venditti (who is now writing “Green Lantern” for DC Comics) kept the basic concepts from the original and added his own ideas.  Although we don’t see our hero in the X-O suit in the first chapter, he makes up for it in chapters two through four.  Venditti does an excellent job of keeping Aric in character.  You can easily tell that he is a warrior out of time.  He only wants to return to his family and win freedom from the Roman empire.  Unfortunately for him, he is kidnapped and imprisoned on an alien spaceship.  Fate opens the door for him to get his freedom.  It is an exciting tale that is complete in this collection but Aric’s story will continue in Vol. 2 when he returns to Earth.

The art by Cary Nord and Stefano Gaurdino is very good.  At times it reminds me of a classic painted look.  The whole art team deserves credit for the look of this book.  The art team shows that Valiant is willing to pay the money to get great art.  It is on a par with the best art being published at any company today.

Based on this collection, I will put Valiant near the top of the list of current publishers.  Being a newer company, a reader does not have the massive back log of material to read.  It is definitely worth checking out if you are looking for a new superhero universe to jump in to.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

42. Deathmatch Vol. 1 by Paul Jenkins & Carlos Magno

Writer:  Paul Jenkins

Artist:  Carlos Magno

First Publication:  2013

Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#19)

Publisher:  Boom Studios

From the publisher (Boom Studios) website: 

The superhero battle royale you can’t get from Marvel or DC!

A powerful and mysterious super villain has imprisoned the world’s greatest superheroes, forcing them to fight to the death until there is but one victor. It’s kill or be killed as we settle the score on all those hypothetical superhero match-ups in the ultimate DEATHMATCH. The mystery of who their captor is, what his ultimate motivations are, and why these heroes keep agreeing to the matches will drive readers from volume to volume! Written by industry legend Paul Jenkins (SENTRY, INHUMANS) and drawn by comics superstar Carlos Magno (PLANET OF THE APES, TRANSFORMERS), 

DEATHMATCH is a dark, psychological deconstruction of the superhero genre that can’t be missed. This hard-hitting, emotional first volume collects the first four issues of the smash hit comic series that introduces the audience to brand new superhero universe they won’t be able to get enough of!

Not too long ago, Paul Jenkins wrote a “declaration of independence” from the big 2 publishers.  He was tired of all the last minute editorial interference at the big companies.  From now on he will be writing just for Boom Studios.  If this is what we can expect from this change, I am all for it.  Jenkins is doing what might be the best work of his career.  In a short period of time he makes the reader connect with the numerous characters.  Similar to what Kurt Busiek has done in “Astro City”, Jenkins creates his own version of classic Marvel and DC characters.  But do not get too attached to the players in this deadly game.  Each issue sees the death of at least 1 more participant.  It’s a fascinating story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

The art by Carlos Magno is amazing.  The best way to describe to older comic book fans is a cross between the best of Dave Cockrum and Jerry Ordway.  His work on this series puts him very high o]ay. 

Highly recommended.  One of the best titles being published.  The team up of Jenkins and Magno is a classic one.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

41. Last Hope Vol. 2 by Kriss Sison & Michael Dignan

Writer:  Michael Dignan

Artist:  Kriss Sison

First Publication:  2012

Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#18)

Publisher:  Seven Seas Entertainment

Summary (from Amazon):  
Out of the frying pan, into the line of fire!

On the run from Hiro's villainous uncle and a school full of psycho teachers, the gang escape to another dimension where, without so much as a breather, they get caught in the middle of an alien invasion! Their only defense? A giant armored mech that none of them knows how to operate! 


As much as I liked vol. 1, this one was even better.  Since my favorite anime was the classic Robotech series, I was excited to see the mecha on the world the gang travels to this time.  Once again I thought I could see the creators being inspired by "Vision of Escaflowne" (another favorite of mine).

When they escaped from the world of psycho teachers, I thought I heroes might catch a break.  Instead they end up on a world that has suffered from an alien invasion.  Sison and Dignan keep up the quality of the first collection and turn up the action.

It is an excellent short series (hopefully things work out so Vol. 3 can be published soon) that contains a good balance of action and characterization.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

40. Starship Summer by Eric Brown

Writer:  Eric Brown

First Publication:  2007

Summary (from Amazon):
This is the story of David Conway and his new life on Chalcedony, a planet renowned for its Golden Column, an artifact that is mysterious and strange, no one knowing why it is present there. Conway meets some locals in the town of Magenta Bay and buys an old star ship from Hawksworth, who runs a scrap yard in the town full of old and disused star ships. Conway sets up the ship on his land and uses it as his home, but the presence of what can only be described as an alien ghost starts a string of events that lead to a revelation that will change everything for humanity.


Eric Brown is another author who I have heard about and wanted to read for a long time.  This short novel/novella seemed like the perfect place to start.  The author has written one story for each season.  All four are collected into one volume.

I liked the authors ideas and characterization.  The one problem I had with this story was that it starts out at a very slow pace.  It does convey the sense of what Conway's life is like now that he is retired.  This pace continues until the alien ghost comes into the picture.  Then the ending seems very rushed.  I think the author could have written a better story if he paced it differently.  It might not be as much of a problem when it is collected with the other stories.

Even though I was not thrilled with this story, Brown demonstrated enough to bring me back for more.  I am not sure if my next foray into his writing will be the second story in this series or "Helix" (a book that looks very good and has been sitting on my shelf far too long). 

39. Last Hope Vol. 1 by Kriss Sison & Michael Dignan

Writer:  Michael Dignan

Artist:  Kriss Sison

First Publication:  2005

Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#17)

Publisher:  Seven Seas Entertainment

Summary (from Wikipedia):

Do you believe in alternate dimensions? Ikuko, her friend Colleen, and Alvin at Hawaii's Maunaloa Institute for International Studies become believers when the class hunk, Hiro, confesses to them that he's really a prince from another world on the run from the evil Lord Kumagai! Now that they've been dragged into it, Hiro, Ikuko, and their friends must traverse countless alternate dimensions and survive the terrors they find there or die trying; whether at the hands of the ruthless Lord Kumagai or the alternate dimensions' hostile inhabitants.


The art by Kriss Sison is fantastic.  Combined with Michael Dignan's scripting, it makes for a very good manga book.  I enjoyed the interaction of the various characters at the school.  One of my favorite parts was the group traveling to an alternate reality version of the school.  It brought back memories of the television show "Sliders".  At first it seemed like they were back home but it soon became evident that this was a different reality.

In some respects, "Last Hope" reminded me of one of my favorite anime shows "The Vision of Escaflowne".  Both feature a journey to a drastically different world, a mysterious hero of royal descent, and a normal Earth girl.  Sison and Dignan channel the spirit (either intentionally or not) of "Vision" without copying it.  They make it their own story.

Recommended to fans of manga.  I downloaded the second book on to my Kindle Fire.  From the Wikipedia article, it lists that the third book was delayed.  Hopefully it will be out soon.

36. Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword Vol. 9: War Season

Writer:  Eric Trautmann

Artists:  Walter Geovani, Patrick Berkenkotter

First Publication:  2011

Challenge:  Graphic Novel Challenge (#16)

Collects issues 51-55 of ongoing series.

Publisher:  Dynamite Entertainment


From Comixology:  Red Sonja is sent on a last-ditch, desperate mission across the border into Shem. Her mission is more than it seems, as Sonja leads her mercenary allies into a quest for a deadly secret hidden within the walls of the city-state, Persemhia. But others seek this mysterious prize as well, as the armies of Koth and Argos mass to crush Red Sonja's ragtag band. It will take more than skill with a blade for any to survive this deadly season of war...


One of my best friends, Terry Kissinger, told me that this is one of the best Robert E. Howard comics ever.  According to Terry, it is up there with the original Conan work by Roy Thomas, J. M. DeMatteis, and Jim Owsley.  After reading this collection, I can see why he liked it so much.  Trautmann is either a big Robert E. Howard fan or a very good researcher.  He takes the time to use the countries, etc. already established in this universe.  It seems like, in recent times, that the creators just make up names for the countries instead of using the ones that already exist.  Trautmann takes the time to flesh out places from other stories.  The way he writes the series, a new reader does not need to worry.  All you need to know is on these pages.  But if you are a fan of Red Sonja or Conan, you get the added pleasure of visiting places you have heard about in the past.

As far as characterization goes, Trautmann nails it.  He gives different personalities to each of the members of her group.  And he wrote the best Red Sonja I have ever read.  I have quite the number of collections to enjoy since Trautmann stays on the titles until issue 75.

My favorite part was the epilogue which was issue 55 in the ongoing series.  Sonja reflects on the events of the four part story arc.  In this brutal universe, it is a chore just to survive.  Many people do not make it out alive.

The pieces are in place.  The reader gets a great story that actually has consequences.  And, according to Terry, this story will have repercussions in future story lines.  I can't wait to read more.

Friday, July 5, 2013

38. Salvage and Demolition by Tim Powers

Writer:  Tim Powers

First Publication:  2013

Summary from Amazon:
Salvage and Demolition, the astonishing new 21,000 word novella by Tim Powers, begins when Richard Blanzac, a San Francisco-based rare book dealer, opens a box of consignment items and encounters the unexpected. There, among an assortment of literary rarities, he discovers a manuscript in verse, an Ace Double Novel, and a scattering of very old cigarette butts. These commonplace objects serve as catalysts for an extraordinary--and unpredictable--adventure.

Without warning, Blanzac finds himself traversing a 'circle of discontinuity' that leads from the present day to the San Francisco of 1957. Caught up in that circle are an ancient Sumerian deity, a forgotten Beat-era poet named Sophie Greenwald, and an apocalyptic cult in search of the key to absolute non-existence. With unobtrusive artistry, Powers weaves these elements into something strange and utterly compelling. The resulting story is at once a romance, a thriller, and the kind of intricately constructed time travel story that only the author of The Anubis Gates--that quintessential time travel classic--could have written. Ingenious, affecting, and endlessly inventive, Salvage and Demoliton is a compact gem from the pen of a modern master, a man whose singular creations never fail to dazzle and delight.


Tim Powers is another one of the authors whose works I have wanted to try.  In the early days of my science fiction reading, this would have been a normal length novel at 160 pages.  Now it is considered a novella.  Since it is a shorter work, I thought it would be a good place to start reading Powers.

The first thing that caught my eye was the inclusion of an Ace Double Novel.  I was a big fan when these first appeared.  Ace advertised that you were getting two novels in each book.  When you reached the end of the first one, turn the book over and start reading the opposite way.  Each story had it's own cover.  Ace was done publishing them by the time I started collecting but I was able to occasionally find them in used book stores.

Powers came up with an interesting method of time travel.  The traveler had to have some connection to a person from the past.  To say more would give it away.

The story of the people who wanted to summon the god who killed himself was a different take on an elder gods tale.

Powers did an excellent job of combining an elder god, time travel, noir mystery, and books.  I found it to be a good read.

Highly recommended.  This is another author I hope to read more of in the near future.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

35. We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ

Writer:  Joanna Russ

First Publication:  Galaxy SF Magazine, January and February 1976

In keeping with an unofficial theme for this month, I have been reading authors or stories I originally read in the seventies.  I first read Joanna Russ’ “We Who Are About To…” when it was serialized in Galaxy when it was edited by Jim Baen.  Baen's  tenure produced one of my favorite science fiction magazines.  

The first part of the story (January 1976) had a Rick Sternbach cover for an essay by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.  They explained some of the process of “Building The Mote in God’s Eye”.  The second half of the serial appeared in the February issue.  Once again Larry Niven was featured on the cover for the novelette “Down and Out”.  “Down and Out” was later incorporated into the novel “A World Out of Time”.  

Russ’ novel stood out at the time.  The main character was a woman.  At that time it was still the exception to have a female lead character.  I have not read it anywhere but I believe the story was inspired by Tom Godwin’s “The Cold Equations”.  At the start of the story, we find out that she is on a small vessel that is damaged and has to land on a different planet.  No other ships are close to them and none would be able to make it in time to pick them up.  They are basically doomed to die on a planet without the resources to survive.  The comparison to theme of “The Cold Equations” is only to the basic idea of there being no way to beat the odds.  As you can tell by that short description, it is not a happy go lucky, feel good story.  

This is truly an exploration of the Kobayashi Maru from Star Trek.  It is the famous no win test that Kirk was able to beat (he cheated).  Fortunately, as was common at the time it was written, “We Who Are About To…” is a short novel.  If it appeared today as a 500+ page novel, I don’t know if I would have finished it.  As it is, it makes a powerful story that has stuck with me since the first time I read it.  It is not a book that I would say I enjoyed but it is a somewhat more realistic take on the classic science fiction story about explorers crash landing on an alien planet.  

If you are interested in a different type of story, read it.  But if you are looking for a light-hearted escapist book, avoid at all costs.

Friday, June 28, 2013

34. The Peculiar Exploits of Brigadier Ffellowes by Sterling E. Lanier

Writer:  Sterling E. Lanier
First Publication:  1971

Back in my early days of reading the science fiction magazines, I stumbled on a copy of “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction”.  It was the July 1974 issue.  The cover by Ron Walotsky  caught my attention.  It showed a jungle scene with an explorer hiding among the plants.  A giant rat, holding a bloody knife, was standing upright in an intimidating pose.  The cover story was called “A Father’s Tale” by Sterling Lanier.  At the time I did not realize it was part of a series. 

A few science fiction authors were using the framework of a bar or club where people told tall tales.  Larry Niven had “Draco’s Tavern”.  Spider Robinson wrote about “Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon”.  Before that Isaac Asimov wrote a series of mysteries about the Black Widowers.  Arthur C. Clarke penned “Tales from the White Heart”.  In recent years Mike Resnick has published the adventures of Lucifer Jones.  The framework goes back earlier than these stories.  

Lanier’s main character, at least on the cover, appears very similar to Sherlock Holmes.  “A Father’s Tale” was nominated for many awards but I never saw any other stories about the Brigadier.  Last year I searched for Sterling Lanier on my Kindle and discovered that he had published two collections of stories about the Brigadier.  “A Father’s Tale” is in the second collection but I wanted to try out the first.  Lanier does an excellent job of pulling you into the world of the club.  I could almost smell the smoke from their pipes.  The chair I was sitting on transformed into an old leather chair.  Lanier made me feel like part of the group.  

If classic tall tales interest you, I would recommend searching for a copy of this collection (or the second one).  Copies (digital for the Kindle or used print editions) are available through Amazon.  

Sunday, May 26, 2013

33. Four Science Fiction Masters by D. Richard Martin

Writer:  D. Richard Martin
First Publication:  2011

"This book includes lost interviews with four masters of post-war American science fiction—Frank Herbert, Frederik Pohl, Clifford D. Simak, and Gordon Dickson. This compact volume catches them all in their primes, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their trenchant, prescient observations still resonate three decades later."

I enjoy reading non-fiction books about science fiction.  For 14 years, beginning in 1980, D. Richard Martin was the science fiction and fantasy book reviewer for the Minneapolis Star/Tribune.  Over the course of that time, he was able to interview some of the big authors of that time.  This collection takes out of print interviews he did with four of the authors and puts them into an ebook.  The reader will quickly see that Martin is a very professional interviewer.  His questions are short but spark the authors to give answers that explain the background of their careers.

Here is a sampling of items that caught my interest:

Frank Herbert

The original Dune trilogy (Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune) was conceived as a 1,200 page novel.  Some parts of the second and third books were written while Herbert was writing the first book.

"The theory was that heroes are bad for society, and super-heroes are disastrous."  Herbert's theory is demonstrated in this series.  He shows through Paul's actions what would happen if a super-hero rose to power.

Frederik Pohl

Pohl, known as one of the best magazine editors of his time, turned down the position of fiction editor at Omni magazine.  Omni was a glossy science fiction magazine that was highly considered at the time.

Clifford D. Simak

Simak has a different opinion from many other authors.  He thought that when a society advances enough to build a starship to visit Earth, they would come in peace.  They would not come with a plan to invade the Earth.  

Gordon R. Dickson

Dickson charged a high price for speaking engagements.  His idea was that it took too much time from his writing.  The other factor was some problems he had with asthma.  He had to be careful what the place was like when he would teach at a workshop or attend a convention.

There were just the tip of the iceberg.  Martin has put together an excellent short collection of interviews.  If you want to learn about the authors listed above, it is an inexpensive way of learning about them.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

32. Mindship by Gerard F. Conway

Writer:  Gerard F. Conway
First Publication:  1974

Some books hold a special place in your memory.  Way back in 1974, I was looking for authors to follow.  At that point I was already hooked on the Perry Rhodan series and started on my lifelong Isaac Asimov fandom.  “Mindship” was the 90th book published by DAW Books.  I had enjoyed other DAW Books such as the works by A. E. Van Vogt, D. G. Compton, Andre Norton, and E. C. Tubb.  This book stood out because of the author’s name and the Kelly Freas cover.  I was also a big fan of comic books, and still am, and remembered reading in a letter column that one of my favorite comic book writers had a new science fiction book published.  When writing science fiction, he used his full name Gerard F. Conway.  In the comic book world he was known as Gerry Conway.  One of the comics he was best known for writing was a two-part story in the Amazing Spider-Man.  The story showed the death of Gwen Stacy in part one and the death of the Green Goblin in the second.  At the time I did not know that he had his first novel published by Terry Carr in the Ace Science Fiction Special series.  In the last few years, I tracked down his first novel, “The Midnight Dancers”, but was not impressed by it.  While on vacation this summer, I decided it was time to re-read this old favorite of mine.  I have not read it since my original reading back in 1974.

The prologue of “Mindship” appeared in a different form in Terry Carr’s first Universe anthology under the name of “Cork”.  The cork is a sensitive (psychic) who reads the emotions of the ship’s crew.  The job of the cork is to smooth over negative emotions, get the crew to work together, and channel the strong emotions to the ship’s engineer.  The emotions are converted into the energy that runs the ship, hence the ships are called mindships.  Unfortunately, due to the stress they are under, the corks tend to suffer a career ending breakdown.  The main ship of this story has limped back to a base after it’s cork breaks down.  The captain finds a very young cork and recruits him.  When the ship comes into contact with a black hole, the young cork dies due to the actions of the captain.  The main story is focused on the older brother of the young cork.  Kilgarin retired from being a cork before suffering a breakdown.  He suspects that foul play was involved in his brother’s death so he takes his place.

To put it mildly, Kilgarin is not a nice person.  He is not sympathetic to his friends and will use anyone to reach his goals.  This book is a combination travelogue of the planets they visit, the mystery of what happened to his brother, and Kilgarin’s descent down darker and darker paths to get to the bottom of the mystery.  Characters die due to his neglect.  A cork is supposed to make a ship run smooth but he does more damage to the psyche of his crewmates than he should.  Through it all, Conway keeps the reader interested in his protagonist.  Kilgarin and the crew are fascinating individuals.  By the end of the book, he becomes a different person.  Some of the relationships he has damaged are broken beyond repair.  If you are looking for a book where the hero gets the girl and everything is set right, avoid this book.  Just like in the real world, things do not end the way we would like them to.  Conway makes his characters come to life.  It is easy to thing that they are based on real people.

Highly recommended.  After all these years it is still a favorite of mine.

Monday, May 20, 2013

30. Summer Falls by Amelia Williams

Writer:  Amelia Williams (J. R. Hartley)
First Publication:  2013
Challenge:  Once Upon a Time VII

“Summer Falls” is a very interesting take on meta-fiction.  In an episode of Doctor Who, Clara (the current companion) is talking with a child who is reading a book with this title.  The BBC decided to have one of their author’s ghost write that book.  Amelia Williams is the name of the previous Doctor Who companion.  She was Amy Pond, real name of Amelia, who married Rory Williams.  Amy and Rory were trapped in the past.  Speculation is that it contains clues to future episodes of Doctor Who.

So what is the story about?  It features a young girl who acquires a painting called “The Lord of Winter”.  Through various events, the Lord of Winter is summoned to the village.  The adults disappear and she is forced to rely on two boys she befriended.  But then she receives a call from the museum curator.  If the Lord of Winter succeeds, the village will be trapped in winter forever.  One of the characters will receive eternal youth, but at what cost?

If you are a fan of Doctor Who, it is easy to figure out who the Doctor is in this story.  Various clues are given that reveal his identity.  If you are looking for a short novel for someone who enjoys adventure tales featuring young characters, a talking cat, possible magic (or maybe not…) this is a fun book.  It definitely falls in the fable/mythology genre.  I read it while vacationing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and it was the perfect setting for such a story.  It brought back memories of stories I read in my younger days.

Monday, May 6, 2013

29. Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March 2013

This issue was the end of an era.  I remember when I received the December 1978 issue of Analog in the mail.  At first, I did not notice that Ben Bova was not listed as editor.  At that time, Stanley Schmidt was only known to me as a writer.  I recalled his serial "Sins of the Father" that appeared in late 1973 and early 1974.  I no longer have those magazines but I do have the paperback edition sitting on my shelf.  Little did I know that Schmidt would have such a long tenure on the title.  December 1978 through March of 2013.  Whether or not you like his work on the title, Schmidt deserves credit for editing a major science fiction magazine for almost 35 years.

Schmidt's first issue contained a mix of classic and new (at that time) writers.  Among the ones who appeared in that issue were Jack Williamson, Frank Herbert, F. M. Busby, Joan Vinge, and Orson Scott Card. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

28. Batman Incorporated Vol. 1: Demon Star

Writer:  Grant Morrison

Artist:  Chris Burnham

First Publication:  2012

Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#15)

Grant Morrison’s Batman is highly regarded by me.  Some people don’t care for it.  This collection starts the finale of Morrison’s Batman epic.  The battle with Leviathan is heating up.  I can see various plotlines from his early issues coming to bear in this series.  When Morrison is finished with it, I plan on going back and re-reading his entire catalog of Batman stories.  I think it will be even better the second time around.  This is not a good place to start.  I would recommend starting with “Batman and Son”.  It is worth the effort to read all of Morrison's epic.  One of the things I liked was all of the Batman stories are in continuity.

27. Hypernaturals Vol. 1

Writers:  Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning

Artist:  Brad Walker

First Publication:  2013

Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#14)

Boom! Studios has published some very good super hero titles.  I enjoyed the Mark Waid universe (“Irredeemable”, etc.) and one of my current favorites is “Deathmatch”.  “Hypernaturals” is filling a gap in my current comic book reading.  One of the first comics I ever read was a Legion of Super-Heroes story in the original “Adventure Comics”.  I have been a fan ever since.  Sure some of the years were not as good as others, but the Legion always kept my interest.  The only time I quit reading was after Paul Levitz left and Keith Giffin did the “5 Years Later” storyline.  At some point I am going to go back and try reading it again.  The current Legion book has not been as good.  Luckily, Abnett and Lanning are giving me the “Hypernaturals”.  Some of the same basic concepts fill this book.  The team consists of a large group of heroes in the far future.  When the current team disappears, a mix of retired heroes and ones who are not ready have to fill the void.  The science fiction concepts fill this fully realized future series.  It is one of my current favorites. 

26. newuniversal: Everything Went White

Writer:  Warren Ellis

Artist:  Salvador Larroca

First Publication:  2008

Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#13)

I am one of the, apparently, few that had some fond memories of the original New Universe series from Marvel.  Some of the books I liked (Star Brand, D.P. 7, and Justice for example).  Others I did not (Spitfire and Kickers Inc).  I liked that Warren Ellis did not say the original stories never happened.  This is basically an alternate reality of the original.  The way Ellis set it up it helps to explain why the “White Event” that creates the heroes occurs.  For another take on the concept, pick up Jonathan Hickman’s current “Avengers” book.  It shows what happens when the “White Event” occurs in the regular Marvel Universe.  The only downside to this series was that Ellis did not get to finish it.  I was very interested in where he was planning on going with the storyline.  It is one of those series that will never get finished but it is worth reading what was published.  Highly recommended.

25. Vampirella Vol. 1: A Crown of Worms

Writer:  Eric Trautmann

Artists:  Wagner Reis, Fabiano Neves, Walter Geovani

First Publication:  2011

Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#12)

I like the writing of Eric Trautmann on other books.  The art in this collection is solid for the most part.  Unfortunately the story did not hold my interest.  This was a book I wanted to like but, based on this first story arc, I will not continue to read.  I would be curious if it appealed more to long time Vampirella fans.  

24. Daredevil Vol. 1

Writer:  Mark Waid
Artists:  Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin
First Publication:  2012
Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#11)

Waid starts this series with a bang by having Daredevil bust up a mob wedding while trying to stop a kidnapping.  It sets the tone for the latest Daredevil title.  Waid connects it to the many years of the darker, realistic take that dominated the series for many years but takes it in a different direction.  It reminds me more of the original stories where the character was a little more lighthearted and definitely more of a “daredevil”.  It is a fun take with innovative art.  The darker tone has dominated the title since the original Frank Miller stories.  The only exception I can remember was the short lived Karl Kessel stories where he brought back the feel of the early issues.  It is a title that reminds the reader that comics can be fun while telling serious stories.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

23. Cyborg 009 #000

Writers:  F. J. DeSanto and Bradley Cramp 
Artists:  Marcus To
First Publication:  2013
Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#10)

Marcos To first came to my attention by doing some excellent art on the pre-New 52 “Robin” at DC.  I was not familiar with this title but gave it a try because of his art.  

It is a solid science fiction manga about cyborgs and conspiracies.  The original story was reprinted in the back.  The main story is a modern day re-imagining of the original.  This summer a longer graphic novel will be published.  I will be picking it up.

22. Uncanny X-Force: The Dark Angel Saga Part 1

Writer:  Rick Remender
Artists:  Billy Tan,Richard Elson, Mark Brooks, Scot Eaton
First Publication:  2012
Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#9)

Rick Remender’s epic story continues with this collection.  The Dark Angel takes control of Warren (Angel) Worthington’s body.  The fall into darkness brings disaster to the team.  Rememder started with this title, continued storylines into “Secret Avengers” and now is following up on them in “Uncanny Avengers”.  “Uncanny X-Force” is another interesting Marvel series that draws on the past while building the future.

21. RASL Vol. 2: The Fire of St. George

Writer:  Jeff Smith
Artist:  Jeff Smith
First Publication:  2010
Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#8)

Jeff Smith has captured my interest with his science fiction, parallel worlds, adventure series.  This collection picks up where the first one left off.  Mysteries and adventure abound.  I loved his first series (Bone) and was not sure if I would like his work on something different.  I should not have been worried.  This series has a different tone but still features the signature Jeff Smith art style.  It’s a great series that I would recommend picking up.  You definitely need to start with the first volume to get the full effect of the reading experience.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

20. RASL Vol. 1: The Drift

Writer:  Jeff Smith
Artist:  Jeff Smith
First Publication:  2009
Challenge:  Graphic Novels Challenge (#7)

Rasl is a top notch thief.  Sounds like a basic action story at this point.  The twist is he has a backpack that enables him to go to different dimensions to steal expensive art, etc.  Due to the nature of the device (which may be connected to Nichola Tesla) he is never quite sure which dimension he has traveled to.  The only way to tell is to examine the new dimension and see if it is the same or different from his home.  Sometimes the differences are very slight.

Jeff Smith has set up the world of Rasl and established the basic premise with this volume.  He drops some tantalizing clues as to where the series will go in the future.

Being a big fan of Smith's previous series (Bone), I was wondering how his art would look on a science fiction adventure series.  I did not need to worry.  It still retains the spirit of the art we saw in Bone but he takes it to a different level in this book.

Highly recommended.  The story is set, now let the action begin.

19. The Fury of Firestorm Vol. 1: The God Particle

Writers:  Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver
Artist:  Yildiray Cinar
First Publication:  2012
Challenge:  Graphic Novel (#6)

From Amazon:

As a part of the acclaimed DC Comics - The New 52 event of September 2011, two high school students worlds apart, Jason Rusch and Ronnie Raymond, are drawn into a conspiracy of super-science that bonds them forever in a way they can't explain or control. As the two boys become caught in the cross hairs of an international special forces team with orders to capture or kill them, Ronnie and Jason seek to discover the secrets behind what has happened to them. What they find will shed light on the secret history of Firestorm!

Many years ago, I remember picking up the very first issue of Firestorm: the Nuclear Man.  It was created and written by Gerry Conway.  Al Milgrom was the co-creator and artist.  It quickly became a favorite of mine.  In the original story, Firestorm was created by accident.  This particular accident Professor Martin Stein and jock Ronnie Raymond were able to merge and form the super powered Firestorm.

In the current version, Ronnie Raymond and Jason Rusch form the Nuclear Man.  Firestorm is created due to the God Particle that was designed to create super powered beings to use as weapons.  Ronnie and Jason have to learn how to put aside their differences and work together to defeat the forces that are trying to eliminate them.

The art by Cinar does a good job of conveying the powers at work.  His weakness is in drawing normal people.  They tend to look okay at times and not as good at other times.  

The story by Simone and Van Sciver is a fun action epic.  I miss the interaction of the older Professor with the teen aged student that Conway had in the original series.  If you are looking for a deep Alan Moore/Grant Morrison type story, it is not here.  If you like action filled summer blockbuster movies, I would recommend this comic book series.  I will continue to read furture stories to see where the writers take it next.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Green Arrow: Year One

Writer:  Andy Diggle
Artist:  Jock
First Publication:  2007
Challenge:  Graphic Novel (#5)

One of my guilty pleasures was the CW show “Smallville”.  Was every episode great?  No.  But most shows that last that many years have good and bad episodes.  When it ended CW announced that they were considering a Green Arrow show.  This would be a new continuity.  I had my doubts that it would be another favorite of mine.  It did not take long for me to get hooked on the show.  I enjoy the way the names of various comic creators are used for character names.  And it is always fun to see them work other DC heroes and villains into this story. 

I had missed “Green Arrow Year One” when it was published.  When I attended the recent Comic Geek Speak Super Show, Wild Pig Comics had the collection for 50% off(that is the standard discount they give at the convention).  I heard that various elements from this story were used for the show “Arrow”.  One of the main characters was named for the writer of this story.

Oliver Queen is a young spoiled rich kid whose parents have died.  He lives life on the edge.  Eventually he is betrayed by a friend who casts him over the side of his yacht.  Washing up on the shore of an island, he has to learn how to take care of himself.  Utilizing skills he had learned as a child, he is able to survive.  Then he learns that it is not always good to find that other people are on the island.

Andy Diggle has crafted an exciting island adventure.  He shows how Oliver works to improve his skills.  Due to the challenges he runs in to, he becomes aware that he should put other peoples’ problems ahead of his own.  And in the process he becomes the hero he was always meant to be.

The art by Jock is a perfect fit for Diggle’s story.  He does a great job with both the action scenes and the quieter moments of island life.  Jock’s choices of panel arrangements make the action seem more intense.

If you are looking for a good done in one book story, pick this up.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

18. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Writer:  Neil Gaiman
First Publication:  2008
Challenge:  Once Upon a Time VII

 As I suspect it was for many people my first exposure to Norse mythology was Marvel Comics Thor titles.  Stan Lee and Jack Kirby adapted numerous characters and elements into their creation.  Thor, Odin, Loki, Asgard, etc. were taken and modified to make their series.  I remember my surprise when Roy Thomas introduced a red headed Thor and explained that his character was based more on the original myths.  Thomas also wrote about another version of Thor in All-Star Squadron at DC Comics.  Over time, I collected some books by Poul Anderson that used the Norse myths but I have never gotten around to reading them.  I plan on reading some of them this summer.

I wish I had a copy of “Odd and the Frost Giants” when my sons were younger.  It would be a great book to read to your kids.  I think it would make a good animated movie.  The tale of a young boy who does not fit in and how he goes on an adventure is one that would appeal to many children and adults.  I do not want to give away too much of the story because it is one you should experience for yourself.  The one thing I will comment on is the solution Odd develops to “defeat” the frost giant.  Using your wits can sometimes achieve much more than physical strength.  I was wondering how Gaiman was going to handle Odd’s confrontation with the frost giant but he came up with an appropriate answer. 

After reading and enjoying “The Graveyard Book” and this one (also some of his comic books), Gaiman is climbing the ranks of writers I want to read more of.

Highly recommended, especially for younger readers.

17. Green Arrow Year One by Andy Diggle & Jock

Writer:  Andy Diggle
Artist:  Jock
First Publication:  2007
Challenge:  Graphic Novel (#5)

One of my guilty pleasures was the CW show “Smallville”.  Was every episode great?  No.  But most shows that last that many years have good and bad episodes.  When it ended CW announced that they were considering a Green Arrow show.  This would be a new continuity.  I had my doubts that it would be another favorite of mine.  It did not take long for me to get hooked on the show.  I enjoy the way the names of various comic creators are used for character names.  And it is always fun to see them work other DC heroes and villains into this story. 

I had missed “Green Arrow Year One” when it was published.  When I attended the recent Comic Geek Speak Super Show, Wild Pig Comics had the collection for 50% off(that is the standard discount they give at the convention).  I heard that various elements from this story were used for the show “Arrow”.  One of the main characters was named for the writer of this story.

Oliver Queen is a young spoiled rich kid whose parents have died.  He lives life on the edge.  Eventually he is betrayed by a friend who casts him over the side of his yacht.  Washing up on the shore of an island, he has to learn how to take care of himself.  Utilizing skills he had learned as a child, he is able to survive.  Then he learns that it is not always good to find that other people are on the island.

Andy Diggle has crafted an exciting island adventure.  He shows how Oliver works to improve his skills.  Due to the challenges he runs in to, he becomes aware that he should put other peoples’ problems ahead of his own.  And in the process he becomes the hero he was always meant to be.

The art by Jock is a perfect fit for Diggle’s story.  He does a great job with both the action scenes and the quieter moments of island life.  Jock’s choices of panel arrangements make the action seem more intense.

If you are looking for a good done in one book story, pick this up.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

While I Was Gone...

I took almost a month off from blogging.  Various factors contributed to this absence. 

1.        I went to the 4th Comic Geek Speak Super Show.  It is one of the conventions that gives me the opportunity to spend time with my roommate from college.  This small con is run by the Comic Geek Speak podcast gang.  Definitely a fun, low key, relaxing weekend.  The deals from Wild Pig Comics make it hard to not stock up on back issues and graphic novels.  The one downside to it is that my to be read stack of graphic novels exploded.  One of collections I bought, and already read, was “Green Arrow Year One”.  I keep hearing that it was one of the books that inspired the television show “Arrow”.  “Arrow” has become one of my favorites so I was glad to find this collection.

2.       March Madness:  I am a big college basketball fan.  This year my favorite team, the Maryland Terrapins, did not make the NCAA tournament but they did very well in the NIT tournament.  My love of college basketball started at a young age when I would watch the games with my father.  My mother grew to love the games and became a Duke fan.  When the tournaments are on it consumes a lot of my time.

3.       Work and life also demands more time.  I am at the point in my life where I realize I can’t do everything.  While attending a convention, watching ball games, and spending time with family, I find time to read.  I did not have the time or energy to put write reviews.  What does this mean?  I now have a list of books to review so I plan on doing a bunch of short reviews to get caught back up.   Once I am back up to speed, I plan on writing longer reviews.

As usual, I am always looking at things to change about the blog.  One of the things I saw and liked at the It’s All Comics to Me blog was the way Nicola numbered her reviews.  She numbers her reviews.  Between her various blogs, you will see books and graphic novels lumped together and numbered for the year.  I am adopting her idea.  From now on I will number novels, anthologies, magazines, and graphic novels together.  I decided to include the science fiction magazines in my book tracking because they contain enough pages for me to consider them the same as a short novel.

The other debate is whether to include my graphic novel reviews on this site.  To make it easier on me, I am just going to post on one site.  I will probably change the name of the blog.  Science Fiction Times does not sound like a blog that includes fantasy and graphic novels.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Fantastic Four #5

Writer:  Matt Fraction
Penciller:  Mark Bagley
Inker:  Mark Farmer

It did not take the Fraction/Bagley team long to settle in on this title.  Fraction started the series with the Four and Franklin and Valeria going exploring.  By taking them out of the Marvel Universe, it lets him focus on the family dynamics.  Fraction is doing a great job with the Reed-Sue relationship.  This issue had an interesting main story that centered about a trip through time to visit Rome during the final days of Julius Caesar.  Since this is the world of comics, it involves an alien explorer from the future and trying to prevent changes to the timeline.  It ends with a twist that appears to flow into the FF book.  Reading this reminds me, in spirit, of the John Byrne days of the Fantastic Four.  Byrne tried to make them more explorers and family oriented and less with the super-villains.  After Hickman’s epic run, I was afraid this title would not be as strong.  Fraction (with Bagley’s assistance) has kept the quality up without trying to imitate Hickman’s storytelling.  It is still a very good title.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Worlds Apart by Richard Cowper

Title:  Worlds Apart
Author:  Richard Cowper
First Publication:  1974

I am always torn over whether or not  to use a rating system.  Two sites I like, Stainless Steel Droppings and SF Review, both use ratings.  I tend to look at them for an idea of how the reviewer compares the story to other works.  The hard part for me is deciding whether a book is a six or a seven (for example) on a scale of one to ten.  Stick around for the end of this review and I will tie this into my thoughts on this book.

Richard Cowper is an author I always wanted to read.  “The Road to Corlay” and other novels came highly recommended in the magazines of the seventies.  I was looking at his entry in SF Gateway and discovered this book.  I had never heard of it before.  The summary reminded me of something that Philip K. Dick would have written so I  bought it on my Kindle Fire.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Buy Jupiter and Other Stories by Isaac Asimov

Title:  Buy Jupiter and Other Stories
Author:  Isaac Asimov
First Publication:  1975
Cover Artist:  John Harris

Anthologies can be hard to review.  The quality of stories tend to vary.  Sometimes one type of story might appeal to the reader but other types might not.  It becomes a battle between “greatest strength” and “greatest weakness”.  I have always enjoyed the variety of stories in good anthologies.  Early in my science fiction reading years, I was a big fan of Donald A. Wollheim’s “World’s Best SF” series (especially the ones from the late 60s).  From there I moved on to reading single author anthologies such as “The Wind’s Twelve Quarters” by Ursula K. Le Guin, “Songs of Stars and Shadows” by George R. R. Martin, “Four for Tomorrow” by Roger Zelazny, “I, Robot”  and “The Early Asimov” by Isaac Asimov, “Tales of Ten Worlds” by Arthur C. Clarke, and many others.  A couple of years ago, I decided to re-read my collection of Isaac Asimov and Roger Zelazny books.  This year I putting more of a focus on reading these old favorites.  And that brings me to this anthology.