Monday, May 30, 2016

Batman: Black and White, Volume 1, by Mark Chiarello and Scott Peterson- Graphic Short Story Collection.

I found this volume to be a joy to dip into, I would enjoy a story or two then get on with my day.  It also served me well as a quick diversion when I had a few minutes that I did not want to spend watching TV.  I liked being able to pick the book up, spend ten minutes with it and enjoy a complete adventure

The sequential art is wonderfully diverse.  Each story worked so well with the art that accompanied it.

I enjoyed the range in tone.  Some were over the top action while others contemplative.  The editor did a fine job of collecting a wide range of stories.  It gives you an appreciation that comics are not all fisticuffs and super powers.

Batman is also a good choice for this kind of exploration, in that he is the closest thing in comics to a regular guy.  Sure, he's strong, smart and rich but those are not super powers and that's what makes the character relatable.

If you don't read comics or know much about Batman this book makes for a fine introduction to this form of story telling.



Monday, May 23, 2016

Halfway to Hollywood by Michael Palin - A Partial Book Review

I've been a fan of Michael Palin's for many years, not for Monty Python but his world-spanning travels.

Around the World in 80 Days captured my imagination and I was completely taken by this charming man.  I have followed all his journeys, purchased every book and was gifted a beautiful collection of all his BBC trips.

I've known of his diaries for a while now, these have inspired me to write my own journal as a blog.  

I downloaded a sample of his third volume, The Traveling Years, only to discover we are two weeks into the first journey on page one.  I requested his second volume from my public library, Halfway to Hollywood, and began reading the final two years of it.  I wanted to read about how the whole thing came about.

The life of an actor is a chaotic thing.  It is filled with meetings, rehearsals, charity events, script writing, telephone calls and always there is the feeling that he had at least five projects on the go.  It was fascinating and I was convinced I could never cope with that kind of life.

What I discovered about the 80 Days journey is that it came about just like everything else; a phone call followed by weeks of nothing, then a meeting followed again by weeks of nothing.  All the while he continued to work on his various projects. 

The diaries went to show how his life is just like anybody else's in that living is not a linear thing.

He had to deal with tragedy, confusion, frustration, worry, humour and professionalism.

This kind of raw presentation takes some getting used to. It's not a guided tour of one's life but more like being given a box of accumulated memories sorted in chronological order.  It's up to the reader to connect the dots.

I may not have read most of the book but I can say that it was a wonderful experience to be allowed a glimpse into an interesting man's life.

It is not the kind of book you need to read all at once.  You can put it down and come back to it when you want.  It's okay, Michael understands and he'll wait for you.  I kept it in sight and within easy reach because I found myself wanting to turn a few more pages pretty consistently.

Michael Palin



Monday, May 16, 2016

Q Are Cordially Uninvited ... : Star Trek: The Next Generation by RudyJosephs

019/150/2016

This was a fun story of Q giving Picard and Crusher a gift on the eve of their wedding. 

As tends to happen in the Star Trek literary world, a minor character is brought back to play a role in the story. This is part of the fun and serves as a tip of the hat to fans who might remember the character in question. 

The story was charming and the pay-off was well done. My only complaint was the lack of Q in the story.  He's there to get the story started and at the end but otherwise he was nowhere to be enjoyed. 

It was a shame, really.  But, as I mentioned, he is terrific in the end.


Firestar by Michael Flynn - Book Report #153

Audio book cover
08/15/2016

I read this book a long time ago, see book report #52

It has been over three years since I read the first installment in the Firestar series.  I thought it would be a good idea to relive that book in audio form with the intention of listening to the entire series.

After reading my original thoughts on the book I am looking forward to my enjoyment of it now.  In the intervening years Elon Musk and SpaceX have made great strides in the expansion of commercial access to space so it will be interesting to compare how close his path has come to the this particular story.

It was a 30+ hour investment in listening to the book.  My goodness was it good.  I would call it literary science fiction.  It really was grounded in the here and now.  It had all the frustrations of naysayers, political influence, financial realities, personal and professional rivalries.

It really is a massive subject if you want to try to capture almost every aspect of pushing humanity off the face of the earth.  It is made more challenging by making it a private effort which adds the governmental challenges that can be encountered.

I found the characters believable and well rounded.  Some were frustratingly stubborn, just like real people.

What struck me was how the endeavor becomes exponentially more complex as you move forward.

This feels like an important book to read if you are interested in today's space program.  Much like the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson it deals with the known realities of the day.  In this book Flynn does not push the technological speculation very far beyond what was know and proven.  He took results from NASA's X-plane program and pushed them into production instead of the reality of cancelled programs.  Which is much like the environment of today's commercial space efforts who are mining the past efforts of NASA and turning them into private companies.

It's all very exciting.

Paperback cover

Michael Flynn


Monday, May 9, 2016

Batman Noir, The Dark Night Returns by Frank Miller (artist and writer) and Klaus Janson (artist)

With all the hype around the new Batman Vs Superman movie I thought I would go back to Frank Miller's work. He is credited in the movie as being an inspiration.

Miller is a strange cat and he sure can put some serious violence and crazy on a page.  I've always liked his noir sensibilities but, incredibly, the art in this book somehow missed the mark for me.  Batman should have been easy to create a menacing mood as the covers surly did.  The interior art, however, was manic and, at times, impossible to understand what was drawn.

The book is a collection of four issues first published in 1986. Miller wrote the story and collaborated with Janson to draw the series.  The mini-series told the story of the return, after a 10 year absence, of Batman.  It explored the reaction of his return by the populous of the city, the criminals and, most interestingly, Bruce Wayne's.  Wayne has aged, and now, in his mid-50's, has to cope with his physical limits.

The entire run was narrated by television news which I thought could have been eliminated. Without it the story would have been cleaner, clearer and darker.  To be honest I felt like I was reading a Judge Dredd story.

Some panels felt more like sketches than finished art and I was constantly wishing Miller had used more of his Sin City methods in the telling of this story.  In the third story, Hunt the Dark Night, the Joker's flying kid-bombs were just too cartoon-like and took me right out of the story.

The entire book was redeemed with the last installment, The Dark Knight Falls where he comes to terms with Super Man and begins to take his crusade in a new direction.

Frank Miller

Klaus Janson





Monday, May 2, 2016

The Walking Dead Volumes 1& 2 by Robert Kirkman (writer) and Tony Moore (artist)

I will admit that I found the television series boring to the extreme.  There was simply far too much, "BOO!" ZOMBIE!!  After a while it got old.  I watched four episodes then gave up.

However, I loved the premise; instead of trying to explain how it all happened we just follow the main character, after he recovers from a coma, as he discovers and adapts to his world.  The narrative begins after the plague has been around for a long time.  How does he cope?  How does he come to terms with this new reality?  Where is his family?  Will he ever be able to have a normal life again?

I have coworkers who love the show and talk about it after every episode.  Everybody I talk to says the same thing; it's not really about the zombies but about how the "living" cope with a changed world.  It's a post-apocalyptic story which can always be interesting.  But I really did not want to invest in watching more television.  Instead I thought I'd go to the source material and read the collected editions of the comic series.

My friends were right the story is not about the zombies, although they are everywhere just like snow is everywhere in winter.  Volumes one and two collect the first 12 issues of the series.  Like a novel the entire story is told in chapters, also know as plot arcs, of 6 issues each.  There are currently 25 collections in print with the 26th due out soon.  The comic is still in production so there is a lot of this world to explore.

I've been reading the series in eBook format borrowed from the Edmonton Public Library.

Volume 1 tells the story of our main character, Rick, a sheriff's deputy recovering from injuries sustained on the job.  He makes his way from the hospital to his home then begins to search for answers and his family in Atlanta.

Volume 2 picks up the story with Rick, now the leader of the group, and their search for a safe haven.  First they find a gated community then a distant farm.  There is a gathering tension as food and fuel run low and members of the group begin to crack under the stress.

So far I've enjoyed the series but I am not sure if I'll be able to sustain my interest.  Since The Walking Dead is still in production as a comic there is likely no satisfying conclusion.  Comics live and breath on open-ended story telling, I get that, and each chapter is a story in and of itself, with a cliff-hanger ending.  I'm just not sure I'm willing to spend a lot of time in such a bleak world.  As story tellers I'm sure Kirkman and Moore will break the tension from time to time.

Robert Kirkman - writer

Tony Moore - artist.



Monday, April 25, 2016

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol 1 by Alan Moore (writer) and Kevin O'Neill (artist)

019/150/2016

I don't normally post about graphic novels but this one stood out so much that I felt it deserved mention.

Having never read the classics of adventure novels and knowing this was once made into a movie, I thought it would be a fun romp.  And it was.  Mixing Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jekyll & Hyde and others from the period the reader is treated to a fantastic, Victorian tale of derring-do.

It was a charming story piquing my interest in H. Rider Haggard's stories of Quartermain's adventures.

There was also a treat at back the of the volume.  In keeping with the way these stories would have originally been published, Moore wrote a serialized, six-part adventure that explained how Quartermain found his way to opium den in Cairo.  It is there where he is introduced to the adventure of the graphic novel itself.  Moore's wonderfully ornate purple prose gave it the feel that it was lifted directly from a penny dreadful.  This made for a nice bookend to the whole thing.

Since the six-part story was prose I am counting it towards my short story reading challenge.

Alan Moore - writer.


Kevin O'Neill - artist.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Consequences by Kristine Kathryn Rusch - Book Report #155

07/15/2016

I keep saying Rush is one of my favourite SF authors but I just keep reading other people's work.

I dug this book out of my To Be Read pile and decided to just jump in, even though it is the third installment in the series.  The story stood on it's own but, as I feared, I felt that I was missing quite a bit by not having read the previous two novels.

There are two main characters; Miles Flint, a Retrieval Artist and Noelle DeRicci, a cop.  Both of whom used to be partners back when Flint was also a cop.  So there is the back story there that informs much of their current relationship.  

In this book Flint is contracted to reunite a daughter with her family. Things go badly when the family is then quickly murdered.  Now Flint and DeRicci are working the case but from opposite sides.  The plot is thickened by the introduction of a sub plot about an alien race that is seeking membership in the Earth Alliance.

All of this is, of course, tied to the primary plot.  I found myself getting impatient with the structure because, it was obvious these plot lines were going to converge but it was taking a long time to do so and I wasn't very interested in it in the first place.  I wanted more of Miles and Noelle.

It was a good story and Rusch has proved, once again, that I should be reading more of her work.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch -  http://www.kristinekathrynrusch.com/






Monday, April 11, 2016

Powersat by Ben Bova - Book Review #154

06/15/2016

This is the kind of stuff I like.  Plausible SF without aliens or FTL.

Bova has been delivering this kind of fiction for decades and I really enjoyed this audio book.

That's not to say it was perfect, to be honest I found his love scenes to be ham-fisted and the women were depicted in an antiquated way; only ONE woman was not driven by love.  That's not to say they were not strong or smart, each one was, but the underlying driver was that they were in love with the main character Dan Randolph.

Randolph himself was irrationally in love with a senator to the point that his proclamations of love to her grated on me.  I found myself saying, "Really??" a lot.

Okay, many of the characters were just a bit off, but one must remember that Bova has been writing this kind of thing right from the tail end if the pulps and for the entire life of the paperback thriller era.  His plotting was excellent, his villains were diabolical and Randolph's competitors were formidable.

I kept thinking that this was very close to what Elon Musk and SpaceX must have felt like when they were getting started.  Without the body count.  That's not to say the book is very violent.  The industrial espionage within was believable and the action sequences were thrilling and cinematic.

All in all, none of it felt impossible and I found myself wishing SpaceX would take up the challenge of developing space based power generation.  Randolph and Musk share the same vision, they want to make the world a better place and are willing to take fantastic risks to get it done. They are men of vision.

Perhaps that is what makes this book work for me; there is a real life Dan Randolph, and Tony Stark rolled into one and he is Elon Musk.

Go SpaceX!




Go Ben Bova!




Monday, April 4, 2016

The Next Ten Years by George Friedman - Book Report #153

05/15/2016

Once again I turned to the Edmonton Public Library's digital offerings and downloaded the unabridged audio book.

I thought I was borrowing a technology book, what I got was an exploration of the geopolitical future of the United States.  It was fascinating.  I was confused, outraged, saddened, disgusted, curious, amazed and given a glimpse at the overwhelming complexity of power politics.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to listen to this book.  At times I was dizzy with information and did not fully understand what I was hearing.  But as I went deeper into it, I began to think of the dealings the US has with other countries works much like a game of chess.  Politics are not so much about the current move but but what needs to be accomplished four or five moves from now.

Throughout the book the author stresses that the United States is now truly an empire.  Even though the US never intended to be one, nor is it comfortable in the role, but that is the position it finds itself in.  To that end, the president (whoever it will be) must be prepared to work in such a reality.

I now find myself listening more intently to the international news, trying to see some of the insights the author illustrated in action.  This book shifted my understanding of things. 

Highly recommended.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir - BookReport #152

04/15/2016

There is a long history of men's adventure books. Paperback originals that were a quick and mindless distraction. The Destroyer series was unique in that it took a humorous spin on the genre never taking itself too seriously but delivering on the action and adventure.

This is the origin story and I was able to download it from the Kindle store for free.  Like a good drug dealer would do, the first couple of tastes are free.

There were nearly 200 stories written staring Remo Williams and Chiun and they do not need to be read in any order.

The dialog is crisp, funny, irreverent and intense.  The plotting is quick and the bad guys practically twist their mustaches.  It was a fun read.

If you like Bond, Spenser or even MacGyver then you will enjoy this.

Warren Murphy - http://warrenmurphy.com/

Richard Sapir -  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Sapir





Monday, March 21, 2016

Green Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson - Book Report #151

03/15/2016

This was another audio book for me in Robinson's Mars trilogy.

Like the last book, I am certain I would have abandoned it if I were reading it.  Robinson has a way of digging into things that, if he were on my couch telling me this story, my eyes would glaze overt.

This time it was even worse.  Although, in the last book, I appreciated all the minute details he went into, this time I found it frustrating.  

I kept thinking "Yes, Mars is wonderful." 

"Yes, the scenery is amazing."

I got all that from the first book. All I wanted from this one was a story.  But every time he moved the plot forward he would spend more time looking under rocks and he would skip over important questions that would come up.

Like, after destroying a large structure in space, I would have been very interested in exploring the reaction from the UNTA, the government in the story.  But he had structured the narrative in such a way that we were limited by seeing events through the eyes of the First 100.

I guess I would have been happier had the book been a bit more aggressively edited.

After finally getting to the end I was left uncertain if I cared enough about this series to complete it.

On the plus side, the book explores just how difficult it would be to create a second planet for human habitation.  The first step is dominated by the engineering; how to get there, land and survive on the surface.  

Once more people start to arrive the problems on Earth are imported to Mars; differing motivations, religious freedoms, political ambitions and corporate influences begin to mix into the realities of life on another planet.

It's all very interesting but gets to be a bit dizzying to encompass it all into a novel, even if it's told over three volumes.  I guess the complaint I have with it is that it is a challenging story.  From the length, the depth of detail and the limited scope of the narration, it is not an easy read.  Or in my case, an easy listen.

Still, I came away from both stories feeling as though I have a much better understanding of the planet and the challenges of the endeavor.  I always come away from the experience feeling that I have spent time with a superior mind.  I guess it should be Robinson complaining about me, instead of the other way around.

Robinson's website -  http://www.kimstanleyrobinson.info/d/




Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Analog Magazine March 2016

013/150/2016 - The Coward's Option by Adam-Troy Castro - Wow!  I was first hooked when this looked like a SF court room thriller then the story takes a sinister twist right in the middle, just when I was getting to like the main character too!  The story was exciting, terrifying and so, so satisfying.

I was happy to learn there are more stories with Andrea Cort plus two novels.  I've got to dig into these stories for sure.

http://www.adamtroycastro.com/

014/150/2016 - Unlinkage by Eric Del Carlo - Part military SF part underground sports.  I like the way this story played with the tele-operated/augmented soldier trope and how it turned into something completely unexpected.

 http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?14471

015/150/2016 - The Perfect Bracket by Howard Hendrix and Art Holcomb - This was a fun nearly comical story of scamming the NCAA basketball brackets.  Once the nature of the scam showed itself my head began to swim. But it was lighthearted enough to be mearly an interesting twist and I found myself smiling at the end of it.

Howard Hendrix - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?1691
Art Holcomb - http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?224628

016/150/2016 - Elderjoy by Gregory Benford - A quick and strange read. How do you keep a health care system funded?  By taxing behavior, of course.  Interesting, even though it's a bit creepy.

http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/ea.cgi?109

017/150/2016 - Snowbird by Joe M McDermott - I kept feeling like this would be the kind of thing Steven Spielberg would tackle.  The setting is a rural orchard where RVs, driven by AIs, start arriving en mass.  Why?  Why here?

It was very well done.  It provided the sense of there being a much bigger world, just around the other side of the mountain.

018/150/2016 - Drummer by Thomas R Dulski - At first this story of a traveling salesman caught my attention for how unique it was.  I'm always a sucker for a mundane SF tale.  The day-in-the-life kind of thing grabs me.

Here our narrator meets a younger fellow "Drummer", what those in the business are called, in a bar and he engages him in conversation.  After a bit if time he gives the younger man the advice that he might be happier in some other kind of work. 

We then follow our man through the years and to other meetings with with the younger one.  

The story sort if lost cohesion for me as the younger guy kept making more radical moves as our narrator kept progressing in a more natural, tried-and-true career path.  Perhaps that was the point of the story.  Maybe you never know how a conversation, or a chance meeting will pivot a person's life trajectory.

Hmm, just by writing this entry I think I'm coming to understand it more.





Monday, March 7, 2016

Inhuman Garbage by Kristine Kathryn Rush - A Short Story Review.

013/150/2016

Set in the Retrieval Artist universe and available from Asimov's website for free while the readers' choice awards are still in the voting stage.

It is a straight-up murder mystery involving the main characters of her earlier novels plus a crime boss who is the main suspect.

It was well done with a good twist and a surprising conclusion.  It also does the added work of expanding her RA universe.

Not being a reader of the series I can say that it works very well as a stand alone story.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cold War by Adam Christopher - A Short Story Review.

012/150/2016

I was captivated by this story.  It is set in a larger world that Christopher has written about in a book called The Burning Dark.

A small group of marines are set on a frozen world for a search and rescue mission, only there is a secret secondary objective that puts the group in peril.

Wonderfully done.  I was heart-thumpingly scared for the group when a monstrous threat appears.

I was reminded of the scenes in the movie Aliens when the group is trapped in a room and the radar shows the aliens coming closer and closer and .... wait!

They're in the room!

But we don't see them ....

Yea, like that.

What fun.


Adam Christopher

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Space Frontiers by Piers Bizony - Book Report #150

02/15/2016

Pretty cool, eh?  150 books.  That's something.

I borrowed this book from the Edmonton Public Library but I simply must get a copy of my own.

If you are even a little bit interested in today's space flight this is the book that will explain it all and be the starting point for deeper research.

It may surprise you to learn just how many projects are out there that are just about ready to break out.  If half of the programs that are explored here make it to flight, the next five to ten years will be so much fun to watch.

The book itself is just beautiful with the interior photos and artwork sending my imagination soaring.

The sad reality of the exploration of space is that it has held orders of magnitude more promise than results.  So it is with a cautious optimism that I follow these newcomers to the black.  The chief difference today is that it is private enterprises, who have a profit motive, that are creating the new hardware that will make the next leap possible.

Don't let anybody tell you that spending money in space is a waste.  The money is never spent in space, it's spent here on Earth and launched into it.  The human race must push forward or stagnate in place.

I found this book to be filled with hope for the future.

Piers Bizony