Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Review - Saga, Volume Seven by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples


Short review: What was intended to be a brief refueling stop on Phang turns to tragedy for Marko and Alana as well as the remaining population of the comet.

Haiku
After a fuel leak
Landing on a battleground
As empires collude

Full review: Seven volumes into its story, and Saga just seems to be getting better. Perhaps it is because the characters are so well-established by now that their hopes and dreams carry more weight and their tragedies and losses seem more poignant. Perhaps it is because the story has backed both the heroes and the villains into a corner from which there seems to be no escape and yet they carry on, No matter the reason for the continued improvement of the series, this volume packs an emotional punch that is almost heartless in how devastating it is, and yet feels completely necessary to the story. In short, Saga is a brutal series, and this volume is the most brutal of all of the installments in it.

This volume picks up shortly after Volume Six left off, with some unhappy people sharing the tree-ship that serves as Alana, Marko, and Hazel's home. The former Prince Robot (now merely Sir Robot) wallows in self-pity and, to a certain extent, self-hatred following his exile from his people and later separation from his son. This self-loathing has turned to sexual frustration, with an unhealthy focus on Alana. On the other side of the ship, Petrichor spends her time grumbling about the work she is doing for her "new wardens" to make clothes for Hazel and her impending younger sibling. When Izabel suggests Petrichor could make maternity clothes for Alana, Petrichor nearly erupts in anger, angrily condemning both Alana and Sir Robot. The former prisoner of war might swallow her anger sufficiently to allow her to share a ship with those from the "other side", but she isn't going to be happy about it. Even when they are all on the run from the two most powerful empires in the galaxy, the animosity engendered by the interstellar war that surrounds them is still all but all-consuming.

After the stage is set with these preliminaries, the story gets into full swing when it is discovered that one of the fuel lines in the ship had a leak and they are running on fumes necessitating an emergency landing on the contested comet of Phang, which coincidentally happens to be the refugee child Sophia's original home world (Sophia, one might recall, is the child sex slave that the Will saved and who has since taken up following Marko's former fiancée Gwendolyn around). The primary resource that Prang has is fuel, which is exactly what Alana and Marko need, and also what keeps Wreath and Landfall fighting over the place, as much to deny the place to the other as to claim it for themselves. Phang was already riven with internal sectarian conflict, but when the two great powers jumped in, the conflict became world shattering, transforming the entire populace into either combatants or refugees. One of the subtexts of the entire Saga series is that Landfall and Wreath have long since forgotten their original bones of contention and at the point the story takes place, are merely fighting for the sake of fighting. The story on Prang is quite possibly the starkest and rawest example of this fact.

Intending to stop for just a few hours to plant their tree for a bit and refuel, Alana and Marko instead meet up with a band of adorable looking little religious zealots who also happen to be pitiful refugees. When Hazel is taken by one named Kurti, they agree to help feed the wayward family despite Petrichor's objections, and then let them take up residence in the tree ship. Although not directly stated, it is heavily implied that taking in this added group has strained their resources, and as a result the refueling takes six months, and even then is not complete. This is described by Hazel as one of the happiest times she ever had with her family, but her earlier statement that few adventures ended worse than this one hangs like a looming threat over the domestic tranquility. Events overtake the more or less happy commune, and before too long the war begins to knock on their doorstep.

The action cuts away a few times to focus on the Will, Sophie, Gwendolyn, and Lying Cat, catching the reader up with what is going on in their stories. Sophie, having grown up, seeks to apprentice with a freelancer like the Will and possibly gain vengeance against Marko on Gwendolyn's behalf. Gwendolyn, for her part, has gotten married, entered the Wreath bureaucracy and set about trying to climb the hierarchy while engaging in some illicit collaboration with her nation's enemy. The Will, on the other hand, is still wallowing in drug addled self-pity, and loses his membership in the freelancers union. While Gwendolyn's story in this volume turns out to matter to the events taking place on Phang, and Sophia still seems both adorable and terrifying, the Will's story and everything else about him has just become tired and dull. At this point, I simply don't care what happens to the Will (or, as he is now called since he lost his membership in the freelancer's union, Billy). He has become such a sad sack character that he makes every scene he is in seem completely pointless.

Before too long, the tragedies on Phang start hitting fast and furious as a freelancer named the March comes to try to collect the bounty on Marko and causes an unexpected and somewhat shocking casualty in the process. Sir Robot's sexual obsessions come to a head at exactly the wrong moment when he decides to experiment with a secret stash of drugs he had hidden away, while Petrichor figures out what the forces of Landfall and Wreath are up to and pushes for everyone to get off Phang before it is too late - mostly to save her own skin, because Petrichor is nothing if not self-interested, but saving everyone else is a side-effect that she is willing to live with. In a twist Jabarah and the rest of the family that Alana and Marko had taken in elect not to leave the doomed comet, asserting that their faith in the Lord will protect them from any harm - leaving with the tragically prophetic suggestion that a good name for the child Alana is carrying would be Kurti. Waiting and trying to convince the misguided zealots to leave results in a rushed take off just in time to avoid disaster, and causes another tragedy that is small, personal, and devastating. One of the brilliant pieces of writing in the book is to take a moment in which the entire population of a world is being snuffed out, and reduce the deaths to two small and helpless people and blank black empty pages. The ending of this volume is among the most heart-breaking resolutions one could imagine. Even the fact that one tragedy is piled on top of another, which would normally seem almost cloyingly desperate, only enhances the darkness and despair conveyed by this turn of events.

On the one hand, Volume Seven of Saga is a very small-scale story, telling a tale of personal conflicts, and human scale tragedies. Our heroes suffer not one, but two terrible losses, and revelations come out that will strain the already tense living arrangements of the tree ship. On the other hand, Volume Seven is a story that is told on a sweeping scale and involves the politics of two interstellar nations and the fate of an entire world. Telling the story on both the personal and the epic level has been an element of Saga almost from the beginning of the series, but the two have not crashed into one another in such a savage way before. At the same time, one of the underlying questions running through the series has been "is there any way to end the calamitous war between Landfall and Wreath", and this volume offers the small glimmer of hope that there might be, although the spark will probably be the reaction to the events of this book rather than the odd collaboration that is seen taking place in it. In the end, this is one of the most heart-rending volumes of a series that was already heart-rending, but at the same time, the harsh and callous nature of the story feels both necessary and almost satisfying.

Previous book in the series: Saga, Volume Six

Brian K. Vaughan     Fiona Staples     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

2018 Nebula Award Nominees

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Comments: The Nebula Awards are once again upon us, and once again, the members of SFWA have selected an array of novels, stories and dramatic presentations that runs the gamut of speculative fiction works. Granted, the list is a bit heavy on stories set during fictionalized history, and the short fiction list includes a lot of stories from Uncanny, Clarkesworld, and Tor.com, but that's the topics that have engendered the best writing and where a lot of the good short fiction is getting published these days.

One thing that is interesting is that nominees for the Ray Bradbury Award don't include any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies that were released last year, and all three of those movies - Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok - were all among the better Marvel movies that have come out in the series. It is also interesting that The Expanse, The Handmaid's Tale, The Defenders, The Punisher, Stranger Things, American Gods, and several other quite excellent episodic series were completely overlooked as well. On the one hand, this is a good problem as there is no way that all of these excellent speculative fiction shows could have been nominated. On the other hand, it is kind of puzzling that all of these other potential nominees were passed over in favor of some of the actual nominees in the category that were not really as good. Oh well, no award is perfect. This one did pretty well this year even so.

Best Novel

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
Jade City by Fonda Lee
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Best Novella

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
And Then There Were (N-One) by Sarah Pinsker
Barry’s Deal by Lawrence M. Schoen
The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Best Novelette

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Dirty Old Town by Richard Bowes
A Human Stain by Kelly Robson
A Series of Steaks by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time by K.M. Szpara
Weaponized Math by Jonathan P. Brazee
Wind Will Rove by Sarah Pinsker

Best Short Story

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Carnival Nine by Caroline M. Yoachim
Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand by Fran Wilde
Fandom for Robots by Vina Jie-Min Prasad
The Last Novelist (or A Dead Lizard in the Yard) by Matthew Kressel
Utopia, LOL? by Jamie Wahls
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian ExperienceTM by Rebecca Roanhorse

Ray Bradbury Award

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Get Out
The Good Place: Michael’s Gambit
Logan
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Wonder Woman

Andre Norton Award

Winner:
TBD

Other Nominees:
Exo by Fonda Lee
Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
The Art of Starving by Sam J. Miller
Want by Cindy Pon

Go to previous year's nominees: 2017

Book Award Reviews     Home

Monday, February 19, 2018

Musical Monday - Just One Person by Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson, Steve Witmire, Kevin Clash, Frank Oz, and Dave Goelz


So, another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida, this time the body count was seventeen. This seems all too familiar, too tragically "normal". But this time the survivors have come out demanding that real change take place. There are some people who have become tired of fighting the lobbying efforts of the NRA, and view such efforts as little more than tilting at windmills, but the teens at the center of this have not yet succumbed to such cynicism and fatigue. They believe that change can take place if they just push hard enough, and on a fundamental level, they are correct. This is why every political movement needs fresh blood on a regular basis - to inject optimism and hope into it. It is possible that out of the Parkland tragedy, something good might finally happen.

I've said this before, and it is still true: The message that Jim Henson's work sends is that we could live in a better world, and that we should aspire to make the world we live in that better world. Though this song is mostly about believing in oneself, the message it sends applies really to any kind of cause. All it takes is one person to start something that can build into a force. Mothers Against Drunk Driving was started by one mother who lost her child, and it ended up changing not just the laws concerning the laws about drunk driving, but how society viewed the issue as well. Things can be changed, we just have to believe that they can and then act on those beliefs.

This performance is from Jim Henson's memorial service, and is the tail end of a medley of his favorite songs sung by his closest collaborators. They performed most of the medley as themselves, but I think it is somewhat significant that they chose to perform this song as their Muppet alter egos. The obvious reason is that they wanted to pay homage to what Henson had created, but I think the deeper reason is that the Muppets inhabit a better world than ours. They live in the world that we could inhabit if we just chose to make it happen one person at a time.

Previous Musical Monday: Simon Zealotes by Larry Marshall

Richard Hunt     Jerry Nelson     Steve Whitmire

Kevin Clash     Frank Oz     Dave Goelz

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Blogger Hop February 16th - February 22nd: U.N. Resolution 242 Was Adopted Unanimously by the U.N. Security Council in Response to the Six-Day War


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Have you ever found yourself acting like a favorite character in a novel? If so, which one?

Not really. I've said before that I don't really relate to books in that way, but more significantly, behaving like most of my favorite characters would be either impractical, impossible, or dangerous. I doubt I could get away with riding about on a horse while slaying enemies with a sword like Éomer, from the Lord of the Rings, and I certainly can't alter reality with my dreams like George Orr from The Lathe of Heaven, or heroically lead a rag-tag band against the God of Death like Taran from the Chronicles of Prydain. I suppose the closest I might come to behaving at times like a favorite character from a book is when I try to adopt the philosophical attitude of Ged from the Earthsea books, but given that he is a skilled wizard and I am not, I'm not really able to emulate him particularly well.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: The First Punic War Ended in 241 B.C.

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Review - The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie


Short review: The gods are immortal, but they also die. They have shown up again after being away for ninety years, and rock concerts and murder seem to be what is in store for them.

Haiku
Ninety year cycle
For the return of the gods
Murder is afoot

Full review: The premise of The Wicked + The Divine is that once every ninety years, seven gods emerge, inspire millions and earn rock star-like adulation for two years, and then die. This cycle permits gods to be both immortal and finite - making their very existence into a mystery that underlies the entire book. This also makes most of the gods teenagers, which is interesting, since most actual teenagers seem to think they are immortal, even if they are not. Even the question of whether or not the figures at the center of this story are in fact "gods", or are merely charlatans impersonating divinities is left as something of an enigma for the reader to ponder. The fact that one of the alleged gods - Ananke - appears to not die, but live on in perpetuation in between the cycles, just serves to further deepen the mystery surrounding these figures.

The central character of the story in this volume is not one of the gods, but rather a London teenager named Laura who has been swept up in the mania surrounding the gods. After a brief introduction set ninety years before the main events of the book, the plot gets going with Laura sneaking out of her house, skipping her college classes, and attending a concert given by Amaterasu. The concert itself is presented much as a rock concert would be presented, with the added boost of throwing in some sexual ecstasy being engendered in the crowd by Amaterasu as well. The near orgasmic experience of confronting the object of her adoration causes Laura to pass out, and she later wakes up in a room with Lucifer, another one of the gods who takes a liking to the girl and escorts her to where Amaterasu is being interviewed by a skeptical woman named Cassandra with the goddess Sakhmet in the background behaving cat-like on the couch.

It is at this interview that the plot of the book kicks off, when a pair of would-be assassins seemingly try to kill the assembled goddesses from a nearby roof by taking shots into the room, which in turn prompts Lucifer to apparently cause the assailants' heads to explode by snapping her fingers. In the aftermath, Lucifer is arrested and charged with murder. At Lucifer's arraignment, she quite reasonably asks how she could possibly be charged for murder just for snapping her fingers i the next building over - as she points out, there is no way that she logically could have done the two men harm that way. This highlights one of the tensions that exists in the book: How does the world deal with beings who allegedly have inexplicable supernatural powers? One has to wonder exactly how the legal system actually would adjudicate such a case, because none of the normal standards for proving causation could possibly apply. In any event, the judge essentially refuses to believe anything Lucifer says, and when Lucifer gets angry, Lucifer snaps her fingers and the judge's head also explodes.

Lucifer is, of course, immediately swept away and changed with the judge's death as well, despite her protestations that she didn't actually do anything and that she is innocent of the judge's death. This leads to the meat of the book, as Laura befriends Lucifer while visiting her in prison, and then teams up with Cassandra to try to investigate who might have wanted to set Lucifer up to take a fall. This leads Laura to hunt down the Morrigan in the London Underground, where she also comes across the murderous Baphomet, and sees what appears to be yet another series of miracles. Soon enough, Laura and Cassandra receive a rather insistent invitation from Baal himself to come and visit the entire pantheon, where Ananke informs Laura that they are not going to do anything to aid Lucifer and then dismisses the mortal. This, naturally enough, doesn't sit well with Lucifer, who breaks out of her prison, sparking a bloody fight between Lucifer and several of the other gods (with the Morrigan making a late appearance to assist Lucifer) that is only ended when Ananke appears to kill Lucifer off with a snap of her fingers.

The story ends on something of a cliffhanger, as Laura belatedly discovers that she seems to have acquired a power similar to Lucifers, or at least has been gifted with a cigarette that holds a remnant of the goddesses power. But the volume is also filled with unanswered and frequently troubling questions. As Laura points out, one of the pantheon is a murderer and none of the other members seem the least bit interested in finding out who that might be. This, however, is only the most obvious and probably trivial mystery presented by the book. The most tantalizing questions stem from the prologue which is set in 1923, during the previous cycle of the gods, although the reader might not truly understand the significance of the scene when they read it. In this sequence, the gods are assembled around a table, preparing to commit suicide so that they can make their next appearance in ninety years. The curious thing about this scene is that more than half of the places around the table are empty, presumably because the absent deities didn't survive the two years of life that they are allotted each cycle. Even curiouser, Ananke doesn't participate in the mass suicide, and apparently will live through the intervening ninety years until the others return.

The questions that revolve around Ananke alone would be enough to fuel the rest of the series: Why doesn't Ananke participate in the death and rebirth cycle that the other gods endure? Why do all of the other gods seem to defer to Ananke? Why does the ninety year cycle even exist to begin with? Does Ananke enforce it? And so on. But there are a myriad of other questions that come to mind as well: Is the array of gods that is reborn the same in each cycle, or do the gods vary as is implied at one point by Baal? Do the gods personalities override the previous personalities of the beings they are reborn as, or do the gods remember their non-divine lives as Minerva seems to suggest when she bitterly complains about the unfairness of dying before she turns fourteen? Do the gods remember their lives as previous incarnations? The web of questions is tantalizing, pulling the reader in and enticing them further into the story.

The Faust Act is an excellent opening gambit to what promises to be a strong series of stories. This volume contains a story that both feels satisfying in itself, and promises far more to come at the same time. The book also manages the neat trick of making the gods simultaneously mysterious and enigmatic, and yet still so closely analogous to the rock star style media figures that feature so heavily in modern culture now that they seem comfortably familiar. In short, this book is a mass of delightful contradictions encompassing a myriad of intriguing mysteries that presages what appears to be a thoroughly engaging ongoing story.

Subsequent volume in the series: The Wicked + The Divine: Fandemonium

Kieron Gillen     Jamie McKelvie     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, February 12, 2018

Musical Monday - Simon Zealotes by Larry Marshall


Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those works that has so many threads running though it, it is almost impossible to keep them straight. Over top of them all is the idea of treating the adulation of Christ as another manifestation of the adulation showered upon celebrities, which seems particularly relevant in an era in which a celebrity rode that adulation into political power. There's a lot of other themes in the story - the ideological conflict between the pragmatic idealist Judas, the visionary idealist Jesus, and the fantastical idealist Simon Zealotes, the actual conflict between Jesus and what he represents and the Pharisees and Rome, and the dangers of relying upon fickle "the mob" for one's power.

This song is about fanaticism, and how it blinds one to reality. Almost every claim Simon makes in this song is false - there is no way Jesus' followers have enough strength to overthrow the Roman occupiers, there are almost certainly not "more than 50,000" followers, and, as later events reveal, they would not do anything Jesus asked them to - but Simon fervently believes that they are all true. The fact that they would all lead inevitably to more misery for the people Simon claims to lead is not a consideration that Simon would be willing to even consider, because that would conflict with his belief in the Messiah he believes he has found.

The key here is that at no point in the story (either the actual story from the New Testament or the truncated version told in the play) does Jesus give Simon an indication that the vision Zealotes has for the future is a vision that he shares, although in this version he also does nothing to deny it in front of the crowd. Zealotes has taken any ambiguity in Jesus' statements and filled in what he wanted Jesus to say and then attributed it to him.

This is how fanaticism works. This is also how someone like Trump appeals to people (not to compare Trump to Jesus in anything but how their zealous followers interpret their ambiguity). If one listens to Trump speak (I know, for most sane humans this is a difficult thing to do), one is struck by how often he speaks in incomplete thoughts, starting a statement, and then trailing off apparently without reaching a conclusion. This may or may not be intentional on Trump's part - he may simply be unable to finish a coherent sentence - but what it does is let those who hear him and who want to believe to fill in whatever conclusion they prefer. That's how so many people say that Trump "says it like it is" when he has actually said almost nothing. To a certain extent, what Trump does is basically sales patter, offering a bunch of openings for the listener to fill in what they want whatever he is selling. This is a method of delivery that trump probably picked up very early, and he probably has been using it to sell his worthless wares ever since.

One of the running themes of Jesus Christ Superstar is that the mob will turn on Jesus if they believe he has lied to them. We have seen the feeling of betrayal from some Trump supporters when he has advanced some policy that they didn't expect him to, but that's because they projected what they wanted onto what he didn't say. In effect, he lied to them by omission. The only real difference is that many of Trump's supporters disappointment in his failure to make their dreams come true has not caused them to turn against him, because he's also being propped up by a dishonest propaganda machine that lies about pretty much everything.

I don't have any real solutions here. There is power in fanaticism, and it is a dangerous power because it is unconstrained by reality.

Previous Musical Monday: Magnetic by Earth, Wind, and Fire
Subsequent Musical Monday: Just One Person by Richard Hunt, Jerry Nelson, Steve Whitmire, Kevin Clash, Frank Oz, and Dave Goelz

Larry Marshall     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Book Blogger Hop February 9th - February 15th: The First Punic War Ended in 241 B.C.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: What authors have you met and where?

I've met a lot of authors. This is mostly the result of attending science fiction conventions, but I've met a few authors elsewhere, including during my academic life. For the purpose of this list, I'm defining an "author" as a person who has professionally published writing that is not intended as a textbook and is not a law review article (so as to exclude the bulk of my undergraduate and law school professors, because otherwise this list would be completely ridiculously long, as opposed to just being somewhat ridiculously long).

I've listed the authors that I have met below, in alphabetical order by last name along with where I recall meeting them. It is inevitable that I have misremembered where I first met one or more of these authors, and I am certain that I have left some authors I have met off this list because my memory is faulty. I apologize in advance for these errors and omissions. Anyway, here is the list:

Danielle Ackley-McPhail at Capclave
Day al-Mohamed at Capclave
Catherine Asaro at InConJunction
Sarah Avery at Capclave
Paolo Bacigalupi at Capclave
Steven Barnes at Balticon
Elizabeth Bear at Gencon
Danny Birt at Capclave
Holly Black at Capclave
W. Edward Blain at Woodberry Forest School
David Brin at MidAmericon II
Terry Brooks at Dragoncon
Kurt Busiek at MidAmericon II
Adam-Troy Castro at MidAmericon II
Beth Cato at MidAmericon II
John Chu at MidAmericon II
Wesley Chu at Gencon
Tom Clancy at the University of Virginia
Neil Clarke at Capclave
Brenda Clough at Capclave
Monte Cook at Dragoncon
Leah Cypess at Capclave
Keith R.A. DeCandido at InConJunction
Larry Dixon at Dragoncon
Cory Doctorow at Philcon
Tom Doyle at Capclave
Sarah Beth Durst at Capclave
Scott Edelman at Balticon
Charles Coleman Finlay at MidAmericon II
Michael F. Flynn at MidAmericon II
Kaja Foglio at MidAmericon II
Phil Foglio at MidAmericon II
Esther M. Friesner at MidAmericon II
Chuck Gannon at Capclave
David Gerrold at MidAmericon II
Max Gladstone at MidAmericon II
Alexis Gilliland at Philcon
Joe Haldeman at MidAmericon II
Isaac Holt at the University of Virginia
Walter H. Hunt at Capclave
Kameron Hurley at Gencon
Hao Jingfang at MidAmericon II
Kij Johnson at MidAmericon II
Alma Katsu at Capclave
David Keener at at Washington Science Fiction Association meeting
James Patrick Kelly at MidAmericon II
Jessica Khoury at a young adult authors event in Arlington, Virginia
A.S. King at Hooray for Books in Alexandria, Virginia
Donald M. Kingsbury at Balticon
Alethea Kontis at Capclave
Mary Robinette Kowal at MidAmericon II
Naomi Kritzer at MidAmericon II
Mercedes Lackey at Dragoncon
Geoffrey A. Landis at MidAmericon II
Rosemary Laurey at InConJunction
Richard Leakey at the University of Virginia
Ann Leckie at MidAmericon II
William Ledbetter at MidAmericon II
Edward M. Lerner at Capclave
Ken Liu at Capclave
Scott Lynch at MidAmericon II
C.S. MacCath at Capclave
Seanan McGuire at Chessiecon
Will McIntosh at Capclave
Michael McPhail at Capclave
Bernie Mojzes at Capclave
Sunny Moraine at Balticon
Larry Niven at Balticon
Sharyn November at Capclave
Jody Lynn Nye at Balticon
Dennis O'Connell at the University of Virginia
Carrie Patel at MidAmericon II
Tamora Pierce at Chessiecon
Sarah Pinsker at Capclave
Jennifer Povey at Capclave
Tim Powers at Capclave
Cat Rambo at MidAmericon II
Alastair Reynolds at Capclave
Kim Stanley Robinson at Balticon
Robert J. Sawyer at Dragoncon
John Scalzi at MidAmericon II
Darrell Schweitzer at Capclave
Lawrence Schoen at Capclave
Rori Shay at the Baltimore Book Festival
Martin L. Shoemaker at MidAmericon II
Alex Shvartsman at Capclave
Robert Silverberg at MidAmericon II
Hildy Silverman at Capclave
Alan Smale at Capclave
Rosemary Claire Smith at MidAmericon II
Bud Sparhawk at Capclave
Janine Spendlove at Capclave
Ferrett Steinmetz at MidAmericon II
Charles Stross at Balticon
Steve Rasnic Tem at MidAmericon II
Harry Turtledove at Balticon
Catherynne M. Valente at Capclave
Gordon van Gelder at Capclave
John Varley at Balticon
Michael A. Ventrella at Capclave
Ursula Vernon at Chessiecon
Jo Walton at Balticon
Jean Marie Ward at Capclave
Lawrence Watt-Evans at Capclave
Fran Wilde at Capclave
Chuck Wendig at Gencon
Connie Willis at Balticon
A.C. Wise at Capclave
Allen Wold at Capclave
Alyssa Wong at MidAmericon II
Frank Wu at MidAmericon II


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Monday, February 5, 2018

Musical Monday - Magnetic by Earth, Wind, and Fire


This is another Musical Monday selection that is driven by the music video rather than the song. Magnetic doesn't really seem to have much science fictional content in its lyrics (although the album it appeared on, Electric Universe, may have been intended as a concept album, but that is speculation on my part based upon some of the song titles), but the video tells something of a dystopian science fiction story. I would say that the video seems a little bit reminiscent of The Running Man, but the movie was released in 1987, while this video came out in 1983, so it might be more accurate to say that The Running Man is reminiscent of Magnetic.

The video presents a cyber-punkish future in which electronically-aided fighters engage in televised street fights. There seems to be something of a revolutionary feel to the story, which culminates in one of the fighters offering a hand to the other rather than finishing his opponent off, but given the disconnect between the lyrics and the video, it seems hard to figure out what revolutionary message the band might have been trying to convey. Maurice White nodding sagely at the end after the crowd fades away suggests that they intended the sequence to mean something, but exactly what that might be is fairly opaque. I could venture some guesses, but they all seem like bland cliches.

The video is fun to watch though, and given that it was made in 1983, it is a pretty damn ambitious production.

Previous Musical Monday: You Got Lucky by Tom Petty
Subsequent Musical Monday: Simon Zealotes by Larry Marshall

Earth, Wind, and Fire     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Blogger Hop February 2nd - February 8th: The Mercenary War, a Revolt by Mercenary Troops Against Carthage that Began as a Pay Dispute, Took Place in 240 B.C.


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you prefer to blog about (a) specific book genre(s), or do you have an eclectic blog?

The answer to this from my perspective is, as usual, complicated. In a certain sense, I would say the answer is "both".

On the one hand, this blog is basically about whatever I decide to write about. I have, over the years, written about economics, government, law, history, science fiction fandom, and genre fiction awards. I have reviewed historical fiction, history books, children's books, management books, romance novels, graphic novels, and of course, science fiction and fantasy books. There is no overarching plan and no particular pattern. The blog is shaped by what interests me enough to write about it.

On the other hand, since it is shaped by my interests, there is a definite theme to the content of the blog. I write this blog for my own entertainment - I don't make any money off of it, and I probably wouldn't want to even if I could, so I only write about the things that I like to write about, and that means that I am most often writing about science fiction and fantasy. The end result is that even though there isn't a defined theme for this blog, there is definitely a de facto theme.

Subsequent Book Blogger Hop: The First Punic War Ended in 241 B.C.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Monday, January 29, 2018

Musical Monday - You Got Lucky by Tom Petty


So this Musical Monday isn't really about the song, although the song is a good one. This Musical Monday is about the video, which for no real reason that I can discern, has a science fiction-related theme to it. In the case of You Got Lucky, the video presents a post-apocalyptic kind of Mad Max atmosphere. There's nothing in the song that is really thematically connected to the video, so I can only surmise that Tom Petty was a fan of the genre.

The interesting thing is that there are a number of other music videos that also bear a seemingly inexplicable science fiction theme. The songs themselves don't really have anything in them that suggests a science fiction or fantasy style video presentation would be appropriate, and yet they still have those themes. I can only assume that these sorts of videos are made because the performers are fans of the genre, because it has to be more expensive to make a video that has a bunch of science fiction props and a few special effects in it than it is to make one that is just a performance video, or some other mundane presentation of the song.

One would think that if they wanted to make a science fiction video, then more mainstream artists would write songs that relate to the genre. But even though science fiction music videos are not all that hard to find, a science fictional piece of popular music is almost vanishingly rare. There are a few songs here and there, but they are often deep cuts on an album, or the science fictional element is buried so deep in metaphor that it slips by a lot of listeners. I'm not complaining about this, but it is an oddity that I have noticed over the years - many pop performers seem to like the look of filmed science fiction, but don't seem to know how to make it actually part of their music.

Previous Musical Monday: Just My Imagination by the Cranberries
Subsequent Musical Monday: Magnetic by Earth, Wind, and Fire

Tom Petty     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Book Blogger Hop January 26th - February 1st: Pu-239 Is the Most Common Isotope of Plutonium


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Do you ever go back to older posts and change things?

I do sometimes make edits to older posts. The most common edit is to correct a typo or grammatical error that I notice if I am looking at an older post, but I do sometimes make corrections or updates to posts. During the controversy surrounding the Hugo Award nominations over the last couple of years, I updated the nominations pages when new developments occurred as people were either disqualified or withdrew their nominations and replacements were added to the ballot. I recently updated a post I made a couple of years ago about Harry Harrison's passing to note that despite my optimism that it might happen then, I never got the chance to actually meet Ursula K. Le Guin before she also passed away. Once in a while I edit an older post for clarity if I find something that I expressed in a particularly clumsy way.

My goal here is to try to pass on correct information or convey my thoughts effectively, not to adhere to some sort of strict standard concerning leaving blog posts as an artifact of the moment they were written. I don't go back and specifically look through old posts trying to find things to rewrite, but if I notice something, I'll make the change if it will make the post clearer or more accurate.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Random Thought - Farewell Le Guin

When I was planning what I would write and post today, I thought about writing a post about why the Federal government sometimes shuts down. I thought about getting my review of The Wicked + the Divine: The Faust Act posted. I considered some other possibilities. And then I found out that Ursula K. Le Guin had died, and I didn't want to write about any of those things.

I have made no secret of my love for Le Guin's work - I don't really "rank" authors, but if I were to pick a favorite author, she would definitely be on the short list. Every piece of her writing that I have come across has been nothing short of brilliant. I've said before that being a science fiction fan means saying goodbye to your heroes on a regular basis. All of the losses hurt, but this one is going to hurt more and hurt longer.

I haven't reviewed much of Le Guin's fiction here - only two of her works of short fiction - mostly because I've never really felt bold enough to step up and evaluate her work that way. There are a handful of works that I have shied away from reviewing on that ground, but Le Guin is the only author whose entire body of work I have mostly left alone because of this. Sometimes I think this has been the wrong call. I love Le Guin's work, so maybe I should write about it to express that love. I don't know.

I do know that I'm going to be rereading some of her books in the near future, because that's all we have now.

Random Thoughts     Home

Monday, January 22, 2018

Musical Monday - Just My Imagination by the Cranberries


This has been a trying week to be a Federal employee. Given that even after today's deal to reopen the doors, the government is only funded for three weeks and McConnell is almost certainly going to renege on his promises setting up yet another budget show-down at the end of that time period, things don't really look like they are going to get much better in the near future. Here's something cheerful to take your mind off of it.

Previous Musical Monday: Zombie by the Cranberries
Subsequent Musical Monday: You Got Lucky by Tom Petty

The Cranberries     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Book Blogger Hop January 19th - January 25th: 238 Is an Untouchable Number, Someone Call Eliot Ness!


Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: When reading a mass paperback book, many people fold the cover back, as if they were reading a magazine. Doing this will eventually create creases in the spine. How do you feel about this common bookish habit?

I think it is an abomination. It isn't quite at the level of putting stickers that can't be easily peeled off onto books, but it is unnecessarily destructive. I know that mass market paperbacks aren't supposed to be treasured objects, but breaking them that way is just pointless.


Book Blogger Hop     Home

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review - Captain Marvel: Stay Fly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and David Lopez


Short review: Captain Marvel gets her ship back, finds out her cat is an alien, foils and then accidentally enables a royal wedding, gets letters from home, and gets a favor from Santa Claus.

Haiku
Cat is a flerken
Royal wedding is in rhyme
New York swamped by rats

Full review: Stay Fly is the second volume in Kelly Sue DeConnick's run of Captain Marvel, and it is a gloriously silly book made up of three nearly ridiculous stories that are, at best, only loosely connected to one another. Many graphic novels are deep and meaningful, with political and social commentary conveyed through their characters and stories. This is not one of those graphic novels. This is a graphic novel that revels in the goofiness of the Marvel interstellar universe, with teleporting rock stars, arranged royal marriages, Santa Claus, and cats who aren't cats that can access extradimensional space.

The book picks up shortly after the conclusion of Higher, Further, Faster, More, with Captain Marvel, also known as Carol Danvers, having a disturbing dream about Rhodey's death, blaming herself for his loss. The atmosphere lightens up shortly thereafter when Tic trying to convince Carol to allow her to continue to travel with the hero, making her case by providing breakfast and suggesting she could serve as Captain Marvel's second in command - a role that Carol reminds Tic that Spider-Woman already fills.

This somewhat playful banter is interrupted when the two manage to track down Carol's missing starship and find that it is under the care of none other than Rocket Raccoon. Given that Rocket had previously attempted to kill Carol's cat Chewie claiming it was actually a member of an incredibly rare and dangerous species called the "flerken", Carol is somewhat nonplussed by this revelation. She is even less pleased when she discovers that Rocket has reprogrammed the AI in her ship to speak in meows in an attempt to communicate with Chewie and apparently sent a message out to the universe that he had a flerken for sale. This, quite predictably, results in somewhat hostile fortune-seekers showing up to try and claim the rare creature, leading to some rather hilarious action sequences as Carol and Rocket try to hold off the mysterious attackers while dealing with an incomprehensible AI and sniping at one another as Tic tries to deal with a somewhat recalcitrant Chewie who lays a couple hundred eggs during the fight. And that's more or less the punchline to this portion of the book: Rocket was actually correct and Chewie is in fact a flerken. Nothing that seems to be of lasting consequence really happens in this segment, especially once Carol decides that she will simply ignore the fact that Chewie is actually a flerken. This kind of ultimate triviality seems to be a running theme in this volume, as three out of the four stories essentially amount to little of import.

The second story in the volume starts with Carol and Tic's shared love of teleporting interstellar rock star Lila Cheney, a love that winds up causing Lila to teleport onto Carol's ship. After Carol and Tic fangirl a bit over Lila, the mutant rock star tells them about how she got accidentally betrothed to a prince on an the alien world of Aladna when she was younger and jaunting about the galaxy before she mastered her powers. In short order, Cheney recruits Carol and Tic to help her extricate herself from this betrothal - and by "recruits" I mean she simply teleports them to the faraway planet and asks that they help her now that they are there. This is the point where Cheney reveals that everyone speaks in rhyme on Aladna and that Prince Yan, the man Cheney is betrothed to, cannot ascend to a position of leadership without being married. There is some humor made of the fact that Carol is terrible at rhyming and everyone assuming that she is Cheney's mother (which doesn't stop Yan from making romantic overtures in her direction), but things become temporarily serious when Marlo of Sleen shows up to try to claim Yan's hand by force. Carol handles the problem with her usual rough diplomacy but things seem to be headed towards an unwanted union between Carol and Yan before Tic steps in and offers herself as a bride, reasoning that due to the short lifespan of her species, this will be her best chance for a fairy tale wedding. As with the first story, there isn't anything of much lasting consequence here - even Tic's marriage is little more than a marriage of convenience with no real long-term impact on the heroes.

The third part of the book takes the form of a series of letters from Carol's family back on Earth as they recount their adventures dealing with the machinations of the nefarious Grace Valentine. The first letter is from Kit, also known as "Lieutenant Trouble", and recounts how Valentine fooled the prison authorities into thinking she had reformed while she set her plan to take control of the city's rats into motion. The second letter is from the rat-phobic Spider-Woman, detailing her efforts to fight off and (with Barbara Kawasaki's help) neutralize the threat of the swarming rats. The third letter is from Rhodey, as he details trying to get Valentine to disclose where she planted her bombs and take her into custody, an effort that also involves Kawasaki's help and includes a brief detour into outer space to dispose of an explosive device. The final letter is from Barbara Kawasaki telling Carol that Tracy Burke is not doing well health-wise, a revelation that drives Carol to return to Earth for a brief visit. Other than the note concerning Tracy, everything else about this section of the story is essentially ephemera - there is a problem, Spider-Woman and War Machine deal with it, and the world is reset back to the status quo ante.

The last section of the book details Carol's visit to Earth to see the comatose and dying Tracy Burke, a visit that is interrupted by Grace Valentine and June Covington. After they slap some power-dampening cuffs on Carol and knock her out, they then proceed to trying to steal Captain Marvel's powers with a plot that seems to involve a handcuffed grungy mall Santa Claus. After some heroics on Carol's part, the whole fracas is interrupted by the actual Santa Claus who puts an end to the villains' plots and saves the day. Carol then asks Santa for a favor and puts on a rather explosive light show for Tracy as a farewell gift and the volume ends.

Stay Fly is not much more than four kind of silly stories strung together, but they are all pretty fun to read silly stories. There's not really anything profound about these stories other than possibly showing what the day-to-day headaches that an interstellar super-hero might have to deal with in between the big missions. That isn't to say that Carol's heroics are trivial here, even though they are combating relatively small-scale problems, they are definitely important to the people involved. There isn't anything Earth-shaking contained in this volume of Captain Marvel, but it is an enjoyable read.

Previous volume in the series: Captain Marvel: Higher, Further, Faster, More
Subsequent volume in the series: Captain Marvel: Alis Volat Propriis

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