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.