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.