Monday, August 22, 2016

Sin City - The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller - Volume One

Oh, my.

This was fantastic.  Such a dark story with a likable bad guy.  This is the story of how Marv uncovers the mystery of the murder of a hooker with a heart of gold.  Oh yea, and her name is Goldie.

Sure it's a cliche, but that is the point.  Get over it and enjoy the heightened emotion and a leading man who is unique and interesting.  It is a very violent comic, but isn't that what noir fiction is supposed to be like?  

The art was striking; black and white with no grey and razor-sharp lines. I don't know how much black ink it took to print but it must have set a record.  

Everything about this book is unique and I was sold by the third page.

I am looking forward to reading volume two.

Frank Miller

Monday, July 4, 2016

Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson - Book Report #158


Oh my god.  What a terrible book.  This has got to be the worst thing I have slogged through in years.

Robinson continues his exploration of a plot-less, meandering, point-less, navel-gazing, landscape-describing, list making and thesaurus using non-story of what should have been a compelling tale of humans moving beyond Earth.

The amount of time he spent re-exploring places he had described previously was stunning.  As a matter of fact, after his endless descriptions of the place, I don't want to go.  He bored me to death with his endless descriptions of sand, the colour of the sky and the kinds of snow on the surface.  This would go on for ever without once MOVING THE PLOT FORWARD.

Why is this trilogy so highly regarded?

Sure Robinson is an incredibly smart guy.  He has incredible depth of knowledge of humanities, science, engineering, geology, biology, chemistry and orbital mechanics but he can't tell a story in an interesting way.

He has managed to write over 1,500 pages of "story" that could have easily filled 400 and been far more interesting.

Each book simply gets worse in the telling and I cannot recommend the series.

Sorry, Mr. Robinson.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Star Wars: Smuggler's Run by Greg Rucka - Book Report #157


As you might have noticed by what I've been posting lately, I am in a bit of a reading slump. I can't concentrate on things for very long and I am finding it difficult to discover something that can keep my attention.

I am not usually a fan of YA stories, but I have read Rucka's work in the past and know that he is also a novelist.  If anybody can make a story hum and move the plot forward, he can.

This book is part of a publishing push to fill in voids in the space of time between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens.  Strangely, this one takes place between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  So we will see how this ties in.

Taking everybody's favourite characters, Chewie and Han, and sending them off to the Outer Rim on a rescue mission we are also introduced to a formidable villain.  Commander Alecia Beck is at once a typical baddie with a big scar on the face and an artificial eye but is updated for today by being female.  This actually makes the character more menacing as she is also very smart and calculating.  I liked her very much.

The story moved along very well, giving the reader a glimpse into events right after the first Death Star was destroyed.  Han and Chewie are packing up their bags and cash, ready to settle their debts with Jabba the Hut.  But Princess Leia has a problem that only they can help with.

I liked the story very much; the interplay between Han and Chewie was spot on and the Milennium Falcon was lovingly written as a third character.  It was interesting to get an insight on how the ship was flown and how much knowledge they had about her.

The only thing I felt didn't work, and this is a very minor thing, was how often Han called Chewie "pal." From the movies I got the impression this was a term he would use on strangers not on somebody he knows or trusts.  Somehow, it just wasn't in character.  That said, Rucka got their voices perfectly and it was a treat to get an insight into Cewbacca's thoughts.

It was a good book and stands on it's own perfectly well. If it informed something about The Force Awakens, I missed it completely.

Greg Rucka -

Greg Rucka

Monday, June 20, 2016

Star Wars: Princess Leia by Mark Waid (writer) and Terry Dodson (artist) Graphinc Novel

This is a collection of the single issues of Princess Leia #1 through #5.

It takes place between the movies A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back telling the story of how she worked hard to unite the remaining people of Alderaan in the fight against the empire.

I thought the art was bold and clean without being overly cartoony. The book fit right in with the universe George Lucas created.

A ripping yarn, if you will.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Star Wars: Shattered Empire - Graphic Novel by Greg Rucka

With all the attention given to the Star Wars universe with the release of Episode VII it is no surprise the comic publishers are pumping as many titles as can be sold.

Shattered Empire tries more to expand the stories of the aftermath of Return of the Jedi than to fill in the gaps of the main characters from the first trilogy of movies.

We generally follow Lieutenant Shara Bey and how she must deal with the inevitable mopping up of resistance from the Empire and to try to re-unite with her husband and to stand down from war.

I liked the story very much.  It added a touch of reality and complexity that the movies simply could not address, without being six hours long.

Since this story was a mini series, only running four issues, Marvel Comics added the first issue of the new Princess Leia series and the first issue of the classic 1977 adaptation of A New Hope.

This served to up the page count to an acceptable level given the $18.99 cover price and to whet the appetite for more buying of the books.  On it's own the added stories only made the reading disjointed and leaving me a bit puzzled.  I am not sure it worked. 

I may have been more satisfied had there been some extras like sketch art and an interview with the author about the series.  I found the added stories took away from what was otherwise and excellent exploration of the Star Wars universe and the complexities of winding a war down.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Analog Magazine April 2016

Seven Ways of Looking at the Sun-Worshippers of Yul-Katan by Maggie Clark - 020/150/2016 - I really don't know what to make of this opening story.  At first, I felt as if I might be missing something, as if this might be a recent installment in a series of stories.  It was very much in the Space Opera genre in that there were multiple cultures, religions and points of view.  Much like Star Wars there was one overarching governmental power, the Allegiance.

A small scientific crew hears an old distress call from the small moon they are surveying.  They discover it is coming from a pod, containing a sun-worshiping cleric, who is many star systems removed from where he should be.  Trying to solve the mystery of how he got to where he is proves dangerous and complex.

My Star Wars reference was intentional; just like that movie, the reader is given a bit of background and then dropped in the middle of a story.  It's a small story that takes place in a large universe filled with societies, religions, politics and danger.

After chasing the author down to her website I discovered this was her intention from the start, to make the reader feel that the story takes place in a vast and complicated world.  The only only aspect of the story that I struggled with is that I am attracted to science rather than theology.  Although there was a lot in the story that I did like; small exploration ships, a space-based military establishment, large space cruise ships, long-duration stasis pods, large economies and rules of law.  The religious framing of the story made me impatient.

In my case, the story may benefit from being reread.

Maggie Clark -

Soap Opera by Edward M. Lerner - 021/150/2016 - Set in a Manhattan radio station in the 1920's the engineer is asked to help a lovely young actress stop the unwanted advances of a sponsor.  It was a charming story and I loved the nostalgia of the period.  It came complete with a high-tech solution too.

Edward M. Lerner -

Alloprene by Stephen R. Wilk - 022/150/2016 - Hmm.  It's an interesting story about a man who is recounting his experience in a lab experiment which included social interaction with a robot.

I'm not sure I really get this one, other than what is presented. Perhaps it's trying to answer the question of how to best integrate machines into our lives.  I liked it.

Stephen R. Wilk -

Early Warning by Martin L. Shoemaker - 023/150/2016 - A man goes back in time where he feels his life pivoted by making the wrong decision.  He warns himself to change his decision.  I loved how the advice was followed.  Wonderful and unexpected.

Martin L. Shoemaker -

Sleep Factory by Rich Larson - 024/150/2016 - A beautiful, dark and sad story.  Two co-workers are in love and planning for the future.  This was a fully-realized world that grabbed me in seconds, was over in just a few minutes and stayed in my mind for days. The best one so far.

Rich Larson -

Most Valuable Player by Eric Choi - 025/150/2016 - This was another heart-warming, human story.  Being a baseball fan, I enjoyed it very much.  I am not entirely sure it's science fiction but I am happy it has seen print.  It can easily be submitted to other fiction publications.  

Choi has a gentle way of telling this story. Well done.

 Eric Choi -

Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs by Rosemary Claire Smith - 026/150/2016 - With a title like that I was expecting an irreverent action story, why I got was Jurassic Park coupled with time travel.  For some reason this story simply did not work for me.

Rosemary Claire Smith -

Playthings by Stephen L. Burns - 027/150/2016 - This is my favourite genere: SF Detective fiction.  In a rigid, class-based society we follow Officer Blank as he is assigned to uncover the recent murders of local "regulators" those individuals who offer services from lower classes to upper classes.

The mystery Blank is assigned to solve is intersting in and of itself, but it is the uncovering of the world Officer Blank lives in.  Navigating this strict society was fasinating to me.

I would love to think that this short story will serve as an introduction to a novel.  I woukd love to dig into that.  I envisioned the Los Angeles of the movie Blade Runner for the look and feel in this story.

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


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 #156

Audio book cover

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)


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


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 -

Monday, April 11, 2016

Powersat by Ben Bova - Book Review #154


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


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.