Month: July 2011

Analog Science Fiction and Fact May 2011

Analog May 2011

Analog May 2011 cover

I finished the May issue of Analog. I enjoyed it, as I have enjoyed all the issues of Analog that I have read. This issue will not be in the top Analog issues ever published, but I still had a good time reading it. The cover art is by John Allemand and is representative of the novella “Tower of Worlds” by Rajnar Vajra (that is a very difficult name to remember and type).  The artwork for the cover is fairly decent, I think, and it did help my imaginings of the novella. Allemand’s done a few other covers for Analog and for Asimov’s. (Cp. Asimov’s June 2005 cover)

CONTENTS (fiction only) and my rating:

Tower of Worlds – Rajnar Vajra – 2 *’s

Ellipses – 3 *’s

Blind Spot – 4 *’s

Boumee and the Apes -3 *’s

The Wolf and the Panther Were Lovers -3 *’s

The Old Man’s Best – 3 *’s

What I Did On My Summer Vacation – Jerry Oltion – 2 *’s

I wanted to really like the novella by Vajra, but in the end, I had to admit that most of it was so in media res and so unfamiliar that the story ends up confusing and frustrating. Obviously, basic story elements are present: characters, a climax, a resolution. However, try as I might, I could not get a hold of the world that was being presented. I suspect the “levels” are interesting and could be really neat, but from this novella, I was only frustrated. Also, it was at times somewhat difficult to figure out which characters were on which side. There are good guys and bad guys and I had to give up on trying to figure out anything further. This story had potential, but it just didn’t work as a novella.

Another disappoint was Jerry Oltion’s “What I Did On My Summer Vacation.”  This was the mini-1 page story in the issue. At first, there was a lot of potential. But the story ended with me feeling that Oltion is being old-fashioned and cynical. The story is kind of hack. The story itself is timely and relevant to current goings on in Geek-world, but the ending is so trite that its vexing. I was forced to look up a bio for Oltion – he was born in 1957.  It shows in this story. Through the years Oltion has been one of the major contributors to Analog. Yeah, I get Oltion’s point, but its hack.

“Blind Spot” is the intellectual read of the issue – and of interest to the readers whose take on the mind is materialist and scientific. Possibilities….. And its couched in a cool private investigator/detective story. A solid read.

The goodness of “The Old Man’s Best” by Bud Sparhawk was that it actually made me want to have a beer. Its a bit of a light-hearted story and was a fun read.  “Boumee and the Apes” (by Ian McHugh) was the emotive story of the issue, tugging at heart strings. Both stories were pretty good reads, making the issue worth the cover price.

MEAN: 2.857
MEDIAN:  3
MODE:  3

Needle

NEEDLEI finished reading Needle by Hal Clement. I believe it was Clement’s first published novel, first published in 1950.  The book itself was a bit challenging to find, but I managed to find it for $1.00 at a used book store. Wikipedia had this to say about the plot of the novel:

The Hunter, an alien lifeform (when not inside another being, resembling a four-pound green jellyfish) with the ability to live in symbiosis with and within another creature, is in hot pursuit of another of his kind. Both crash their ships into Earth, in the Pacific Ocean, and both survive the crashes. The Hunter makes its way to shore (its erstwhile host having been killed in the crash) and takes up residence in the nearest human being it can find (as it turns out, fifteen-year-old Robert Kinnaird) without letting the human being know.

The novel is just over 200 pages total and can be a quick read for someone. I think the readers who would most enjoy this one are those who are (1.) looking for summertime beach reads; (2.) aren’t looking for hard science fiction; (3.) enjoy the quaint times of yesteryear. I also think its a good book for young teenage males or youths who can tear themselves away from their video games. Anyone who enjoyed Hardy Boys mysteries should enjoy this book.

I think the concept of the novel is interesting:  an alien taking over another living being and establishing a symbiotic relationship with the host. I’d imagine that this sort of theme has been done since, although I am not able to list any books that utilize it. This is clearly a science fiction novel due to the presence of aliens. However, its actually more of a mystery novel. The Hunter is searching for his prey and after enlisting the help of young Robert, the rest of the novel is spent detailing their efforts to deduce where his prey is hiding.

Some problems:  the ocean is a large place, a crash-landing can be violent, and there are a lot of ocean animals. So, it seems to me that its high coincidence that The Hunter and his prey are both isolated to this little beach/island. Also, when Robert and other characters deal with the aliens, they aren’t surprised, but remain almost scientifically non-chalant about the whole situation. Also, most female readers may be turned off by the lack of female characters.Finally, it was a little difficult to keep Robert’s friends on the island straight. I had a difficult time remembering which first name went with which last name and who was who.

The good: I loved reading about a time when teenagers were respectful, active, and intelligent. I liked the non-intensity, I liked following the deductions and investigation, I enjoyed picturing the reefs and jungle of the setting. Its a fun, easy-going book. Definitely not hard science fiction, but a good, solid yarn. The ending was a bit goofy, but was in keeping with the novel and helped me end my reading with a smile.

3 stars

Batman #663

Batman #663

Batman #663

This is the April 2007 release for DC Comics’ major title, Batman. It was written by Grant Morrison, penciled and inked by John Van Fleet, and the cover was done by Andy Kubert. I suspect from the period 2005 – 2010, this issue is one of the most read, discussed, and puzzled over issues in comics.  If you are not familiar with this issue, you probably should rectify that.

Allow me to give a brief introduction to what this is all about:  Grant Morrison is a Scottish writer who began writing the Batman title with issue #655.  It has been said that his writing is known to portray nonlinear narratives and counter-cultural concepts. The first few issues of Morrison’s run on Batman begin a far-reaching storyline involving Batman’s son, Damian Wayne.

655. BUILDING A BETTER BATMOBILE (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
656. MAN-BATS OF LONDON (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
657. WONDER BOYS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG
658. ABSENT FATHERS (2006) Art by ANDY KUBERT and JESSE DELPERDANG

After a short interruption for the very good arc “Grotesk,” Morrison’s run continued with this issue #663.  The most significant items of this issue are (1.) the issue is a prose short story, not quite utilizing the typical comic book criteria; (2.) the dark, violent, and heavy tone/style of the work. After the “Batman & Son” issues and then this issue here, readers sat up and took notices of Morrison, helping him to become one of the biggest names in comics. He’s won several Eisner and Harvey Awards.

The title of the issue is “The Clown at Midnight.”  The story consists of ten “chapters” written in prose which are written among a smattering of art frames on each page. Hands down, without a doubt, I insist that the artist did a spectacular job. I believe it must have been exceedingly difficult to create the art for this story in this format. The artwork, if you take the time to look at each frame, is actually excellent. The format is, actually, interesting and somewhat exciting. However, there is a distinction between comic books and short stories – that Morrison tries to blur that distinction is interesting, but ultimately a fail. There are specific reasons people buy comic books and specific reasons readers by novels. While one could make the argument that traditional formats can become stale and hum-drum, there really is a necessity to remain within the accepted demands of the medium. Overall, I am not opposed to this relatively unique format (although it does bear some resemblance to the work of another English writer, Alan Moore), but I think it should remain a rarely used format and not make it into mainstream comics.

That being said, the problem I have with the issue is actually Morrison’s writing. If one wants to write prose, then one has to be judged in that category as well. And this puts Morrison’s efforts in the same category as science-fiction / fantasy / literature writers like Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Alfred Bester, Frank Herbert, et al.  And compared to these writers, Morrison’s prose in this issue doesn’t measure up. The prose is metaphoric, adjectival, and descriptive. It does present the dark, mystical, psychological facets of Batman, Joker, and Harley Quinn, but it does so with a lack of true grace and panache. This sort of prose, a play-by-play narrative is difficult to write. Its not the past-tense with which the majority of prose is written. So I give Morrison credit for maintaining that style throughout the issue. The story is not my cup of tea, but I can judge stuff even if its not my style. The psychological horror tone used in this issue depicts the really dark and scary side of the characters; but writing qua writing, its not that good.

In other words, Morrison is (at the point of this issue) an interesting novelty, but there’s nothing that compels me to any adulation of Morrison as a creative writer. I much preferred the previous “Batman & Son” issues.

2 stars

Dark Ages – Soulfly

Dark Ages

Dark Ages CD cover

2005, Roadrunner

COVER ART:  3 stars

The Dark Ages: Intro track  (NO RATING)

Bablyon: intro track bleeds nicely into this one. Nice, quick, heavy way to start the CD. Comfortable power level to begin with. Nice angry lyrics, chorus is an earworm: love the “On and on and on inna Babylon” (4 STARS)

I and I:  Faster tempo than Babylon. I like the lyric: “Realize, realize; In this time, realize; You can’t fuck with the tribe” (4 STARS)

Carved Inside:  Okay song. Pretty standard fare. I do like the usage of the band’s name in the lyrics. (3 STARS)

Arise Again: Kind of rough start, rough in the middle, solid ending. I don’t like the “arise again.” (3 STARS)

Molotov: very speedy, Russian and Brazilian. But so what? Silly cussing in non-English doesn’t make a song great. (1 STAR)

Frontlines: Artistry and experience shows through here. Love the transition at 2:55. (4 STARS)

Innerspirit: Good, pumped opening. Vocals very good. Lyrics full of whatever makes Soulfly “Soulfly.” Probably a good song to weightlift to (4 STARS)

Corrosion Creeps:  I kind of tuned out for the majority of this song. The only part that caught my attention was the repeated chorus: “This corrosion creeps, And it’s crawling too deep, This corrosion creeps, And it’s making you sick”  The rest of the song just seemed a little mish-mash mixed. (2 STARS)

Riot Starter: Interesting “tribal” sounds start. Love the militant barking combined with the muted sounds. Transition at 1:43 is okay, if a bit too long… I like the vocals here because the words run into each other. The high-pitched work gets annoying to my ears, though. Very unique. Very Soulfly. (3 STARS)

Bleak: Nice standard, angry, cussin’ song. Goes on too long – I forgot to listen after awhile. Fun speed at 3:30 onward, though. (3 STARS)

The March:  short song, good lyrics, speedy tempo. (3 STARS)

Fuel the Hate: Speedy anti-establishment, nihilistic lyrics. Contains some of that “classic” thrash sound. Not for the weak of heart. A bit of a departure from the Soulfly-style, I feel. The somber feel at the end of the song is quite impressive. (3 STARS)

Stay Strong: Song dedicated to some personal losses in Cavalera’s life. It’s a rather heavy and dark song, full of the misery of loss. Has some simple lyrical depth that makes Soulfly distinct.  Again, not for the weak of heart. The song is a song that captures emotion in a wall of noise. (4 STARS)

Soulfly V:  I swear I hear Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” starting off this song.(4 STARS)

COMMENT:  Max is a beast. This CD is much angrier and more aggressive than the past Soulfly stuff. Its very good, but I liked the elements that made Soulfly what they were and not just some loud, angry noisemakers.

3 stars

The Disappeared

The DisappearedI finished reading The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch with some sadness.  You see, its a series (although this particular book can be read alone without forcing the reader to get into book two). The trouble is, I looked on Amazon.com for the second book….. and I guess I should have been looking in the rare book collection instead.  Sure, I can get it on Kindle. If I had a Kindle. And if I liked to read on Kindles. But if I want a mass market paperback edition of book two, I need to shell out some dough!

This is important because I would indeed read book 2. The Disappeared is less space odyssey and more space police, but it was charming in its somewhat slow-paced way. I liked what I saw of Rusch’s ability to create interesting alien races and customs.

The main character, Miles Flint, is your typical hero – he has a strong moral compass that he is willing to sacrifice himself for. The supporting characters are okay, but I feel like  in her efforts to write strong-willed female characters, Rusch kind of made most of the female characters seem basically the same. At the end of the book I really wanted to know what was going to become of Detective DeRicci….

I like the ethical/legal dilemmas and situations that arise in the story.  I like how these are pitted against the stability of alliances with the alien races and general business practices. These dynamics are not always thrilling topics, but they are quite well done in this novel.

The setting is pretty good, I suppose. I like space yachts and the moon and Mars. I just wish that we got a little bit of a better sense of them.  The best thing about writing about people and events in space, is that you can create whatever you want in terms of climates, terrain, and structures. But you have to create them and make the reader feel like he can see them and feel them. I felt a little more of a glimpse into moon life would have really been helpful.

One of the best parts of the book includes some of the technology stuff. I like the concept of these handy “chips” the characters have that links them in to databases, computers, and even telecommunications.  Also, I like the computer technology found on the space yachts and stuff. This is cool stuff and I had a fun time reading along in these parts. Again, in future books, this stuff could really be significant and Rusch could build on this good foundation she has set up.  And finally, the best part of the book – no sex scenes! Woot! This is amazing for a female author. Kudos to Rusch for not falling for that gimmick.

The Disappeared was published in 2002.

3 stars

Magic to the Bone

Magic to the Bone

Magic to the Bone cover

I finished this book last night. It was published in 2008 and is Monk’s first novel. Its also the first in the Allie Beckstrom series. From the back of the book:

Using magic means it uses you back, and every spell exacts a price from its user. But some people get out of it by Offloading the cost of magic onto an innocent. Then it’s Allison Beckstrom’s job to identify the spell-caster. Allie would rather live a hand-to-mouth existence than accept the family fortune—and the strings that come with it. But when she finds a boy dying from a magical Offload that has her father’s signature all over it, Allie is thrown back into his world of black magic. And the forces she calls on in her quest for the truth will make her capable of things that some will do anything to control…

First of all, the reader can tell that a woman wrote this novel. One of the things that makes me leery of reading female authors in pulp fiction is that they fill their novels with sex.  Why is that? Males are supposed to be the sex-driven gender. But in novels, female authors seem to confuse sex for romance. There’s vast amounts of psychological speculation we could get into with this point. However, the last “urban fantasy” book I read was co-authored by a male and female author – and there was no sex in it. There were some vague innuendos and a few hints, but no sex. In this book here, Magic to the Bone (entirely authored by a female), there are at least two lengthy sex scenes. I’ll be honest – I don’t read them. I skip ahead a few pages.

I like some of the concepts that Monk is playing with in this novel because they are fresh and interesting. There are no vampires (thank God!) and there are no werewolves (thank God!).  Instead there is this concept of turning magic into something like a municipal utility. You know, like electricity and water. This is cool. And sure, there are hints that maybe there are magic users that preceed this sort of utility and that operate outside of this municipal faculty. But these are interesting concepts, to be sure. There is sort of a “conservation of energy law” that ties into the story. I think there is some work to be done with all of these concepts…. but this is Monk’s first book and, well, its not Scientific American. Its pulp urban fantasy.  Still it was nice to read something that didn’t involve vampires.

The main character can be amusing at points. (I don’t know how many more times she could say “Hells!” when exasperated, though.) Allie Beckstrom is not as assertive and intelligent as some of the typical female heroines, though. I mean, she’s stubborn and catty, but sometimes she’s pretty daft. There are times that she does some dumb things. For the first quarter of the book, I was slightly frustrated because she makes retarded choices and seemed to be really running in circles. Literally. However, by the end of the book, she seemed to develop a bit more, which is to be expected. I liked the other characters fairly well. The villains were a little underdeveloped, but I suspect Monk was just laying the foundation for more books.  I was interested in Violet, Allie’s stepmother, and Cody, the real victim in the book. And there is a cute kitten in the book that stole my heart.

Overall, this is a solid first book. And I would read further in the series.

3 stars

The Grand Complication

The Grand ComplicationI finished The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil this week. It was published in 2001.  The novel is about a reference librarian named Alexander Short who embarks on an after-hours antiquarian project that gradually preoccupies him and his partner, Henry James Jesson III.

I basically did not like this novel. I didn’t find much in it that was very good. The storyline is quite rocky. The main character is relatively developed, but he’s got this naivete about him that seems to come and go whenever the author needs to use it.  The other major character, Jesson, is quite simply weird. Although we seem to be told a great deal about him, I don’t feel like I was supposed to believe any of it. And on top of all we are told, I feel it does not really explain any of Jesson’s motives or ideas.

There are parts of the story that are simply odd and weird. For example, the very unpleasant scene in Jesson’s bathroom which resulted in one of the character’s touching another character’s private parts. For no reason. Really. The scene is just there for some unknown bizarre reason that doesn’t seem to be in line with any part of the characterizations or storyline.

Short and his wife have a downright spiteful and evil relationship. It is one thing to have a troubled marriage, I suppose, but these two are just bizarre. She’s high-strung and wild, he’s aloof and spineless. Its not a nice relationship – so at the end of the book when the reader is supposed to believe that the relationship is all patched up, it ends up feeling contrived.  There’s an feeling of weird sexual fetishes subtly underlying much of the storyline, I think, which I did not like.

As far as being “intelligent,” I am not so sure. I mean, I feel terms get tossed around that to a lay-person would make the book seem “smart,” but in some cases its benign intelligence. There are a few Latin phrases that everyone seems to be familiar with. For example, “veni, vidi, vici,” and “festina lente.”  Everyone probably knows these if they have an ounce of education. But Kurzweil uses festina lente and it seems like he thinks that the reader should be impressed? Or that he thinks using Latin makes his book “smart”?   Short uses terms like octavo and quarto to describe books in the library.  However, unless one is a publisher or an antiquarian, nobody is exceedingly familiar with these sizings. So this I would expect an explanation for, not for festina lente. But we don’t get one.

Anyway, its not a good read, though it is a very fast read. I generously give the book 2 stars, because it still was readable in some sense.

2 stars