Month: May 2012

Earth 2 #1

Earth 2 #1

Earth 2 #1; DC Comics

Now that we are more than 9 issues into the DC New 52, much of the novelty has worn off of the initiative.  Some titles got canceled (Mister Terrific and OMAC being two of the most significant to me).  DC introduced a “Second Wave” which released a small group of new titles – whether this was planned from the start or was a backup for if/when titles were canceled, I have no idea.  I have to believe that there was going to be an Earth 2 in the overall scheme from the start.  So, when DC released this first issue of the new title Earth 2, I was not surprised, but I was interested.

Part of the driving thrust of the New 52 was to engage new readers and diversify the titles.  Earth 2 is not a new creation – it has a long (and sometimes difficult) history in DC Comics. Earth 2 first appeared in the 1960s in the Flash and All Star Squadron titles. Since then, this alternate/parallel universe has been used for a number of purposes throughout the DC line.  From the 1970s onward, however, most of the purpose of Earth 2 was to showcase the Justice Society – or Justice Society of America.  As usual, everything in DC Comics usually stems from Flash, oddly enough, and not Superman or Batman.  So, Earth 2 was really designed to explain concepts and history surrounding Flash (in all his personas).  I wondered:  how does DC “introduce” the difficult concept/history of Earth 2 to new readers?

True to form, all Crises in the DC universe (and they are always in a crisis) center upon Flash.  However, readers actually liked the happenings and characters in the Earth 2 universe.  Therefore, the Justice Society became a style of the Justice League of Earth 1.  The Justice Society has had a variety of incarnations, members, writers/artists, and titles. It was only a matter of time, it seemed, when DC would re-introduce Earth 2 as part of the New 52.

Now, I became enamored with Earth 2 in the 2000s when I read the Justice Society of America title.  I consequently went back and learned more about the make-up and history of the Justice Society.  However, since the New 52 is really supposed to be a hard reboot, I wanted to approach this new title as if none of the past mattered. I wanted to read this new title as if there had never been an Earth 2 or a Justice Society.  The creative team for this title is starting with writer James Robinson with Nicola Scott drawing.  Robinson said a number of things related to this reboot in an interview with in March 2012.  He made these points:

  • This is a complete reboot of the Earth 2 concept.
  • Earth 2 has a “five-year jumping on point like the main DCU Earth” for its superhero story.
  • Jay Garrick is the “everyman” through which readers are introduced to the world of Earth 2. The name Jay Garrick may be familiar to seasoned readers as the elderly Golden Age Flash, in Earth 2, he’s younger, as seen in our exclusive art for the cover of Earth 2 #2.
  • Alan Scott and Al Pratt are also key characters in the story of Earth 2.
  • It isn’t the Justice Society. It’s Earth 2. So it’s going to be a whole world of different characters.

All of these new reboot ideas seem fantastic – and perfect for a new reader.  Also, I think Robinson is a solid choice for a writer – he is well-versed in Justice Society work – since he has already written dozens of issues in that line.  However, I do worry a bit because I do not want Robinson to fall back on what he used to know and do with those old Justice Society titles. I want new, better, exciting, and different.  He’s a proven writer and I think he is familiar enough with the Earth 2 concept that this could be a really great title.  He is paired with Nicola Scott – of whom I am a big fan.  She is a “newer” penciller – we first met her work in 2004.

The cover for issue #1 was done by Ivan Reis and Joe Prado – it’s busy as all get out, which I do not like.  However, I do think it is an explosive way to start the title.  I just wish it was a little less cluttered.  And I am reminded of the lovely delicious covers that Alex Ross did for the Justice Society of America – I need to remember, this ain’t daddy’s JSA.  This is new and improved and exciting Earth 2!  The taglines on the cover help with that:   A Different World!  A Different Destiny!

Anyway, the story starts with Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman battling aliens of some sort – and losing!  Batman seemingly sacrifices himself for the world in order to implant a computer virus into the enemy.  And he has a daughter, but most importantly, he’s emoting all over the place! I believe the majority of the issue is actually couched in a narrative done by Alan Scott, who is GBC’s Owner and CEO.  He has made a documentary of the great battle that has scarred the earth.  We meet Jay Garrick, too, who has a surprising encounter with who appears to be the god Mercury!

Overall, I feel the writing is very good.  The art looks nice too, although there are some frames that are really busy.  The frame wherein Wonder Woman is attacked by the enemy called Steppenwolf is of note – though I am not sure if I like it or not. I like the framing and the background and Steppenwolf.  But Wonder Woman’s face bugs me for some reason?  This is a minor complaint, though. The writing for her is good, she is given a real warrior/badass personality and it’s nice.

Yes, this world does seem different. And exciting.  I am very interested in what happens next and the creative team seems to be doing well. I have some reservations about the artwork, but nothing major and nothing that would prevent me from recommending this issue.  I cannot wait until the next issue is released and I have high hopes for the title.

4 stars

The Golden Compass

THe Golden CompassThe Golden Compass by Philip Pullman was published in 1995.  In the UK the novel is titled Northern Lights, but The Golden Compass is the USA title. It is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.  In 2007, a major film was released starring Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, et al.   The edition of the novel that I read is the Del Rey 1997 edition.

In my edition, the famous author Terry Brooks (Cp. The Shannara series) wrote a short one-page introduction.  I was rather unenthused about reading the novel, but after Brooks’ introduction, I was drawn into reading it.  I do not always read introductions, but I have to say that Brooks’ intro was so encouraging that I plowed right into the book.

I have said this so often during the past year that I am beginning to sound like the oft-mentioned broken record, but here it is again.  You are going to love The Golden Compass.  It is a claim you have heard about other books, and it hasn’t always turned out to be true.  So why should you believe it this time? What makes this such a great book? Let me give you some reasons.

The novel is divided into three main parts with a total of 23 chapters.  The parts are locations wherein the story mainly takes place.

  • Oxford
  • Bolvangar
  • Svalbard

The novel is written with a mellow tone and style that definitely makes it seem like it is fit for young adult audiences.  However, I really do not think this is a book for children or for young adults. I do feel it is a book for adults. My big worry that I was reading some lame children’s book was set aside.  However, the main character of the book is a young girl.  Lyra Belacqua is a twelve-year old orphan of sorts living at Jordan College as something of a ward, but more like a pest.  Her whole life changes because of her penchant for mischief and curiosity; she sneaks into the Retiring Room at the College wherein the masters and scholars are about to receive an important guest:  Lord Asriel.

The story takes place in a parallel universe to ours, in which exists the Magisterium, a body of the Church in that world which guards against heresy.  The neat gimmick of the novel is that human souls exist externally in the form of a “dæmon,” an animal which constantly accompanies his master.  Due to some of these considerations and some other elements, the Church and many Christian organizations decried this novel (and film) calling it atheistic or subversive.  For example, the name of Lord Asriel is probably a reference to Azrael, a name of the Angel of Death in mythology.  However Asriel is also an anagram for “Israel.”  In this manner one can interpret the novel as a criticism against the Church and/or the Magisterium.  After having read the novel, I feel to do this is a bit absurd.  This novel is pure fiction – a fantasy novel.  It does not purport to be anything else.  While some of the terminology or concepts might seem to be allusions to real world organizations and beliefs, ultimately, it is our own perspectives seeing tilting at windmills.  The associations between the items in the book and the supposedly connected items in the real are tenuous and vague.  I sincerely doubt this book was supposed to represent a great treatise against any religion and I doubt it will affect anyone’s faith in any way whatsoever.

I was really surprised to see many of the steampunk elements in the novel. At first, I expected some sort of Hogwarts/Roke Island sort of story.  And, of course, I expected the main character to be entirely too headstrong and foolish.  Also, I was unsure what to make of the dæmons.  In chapter 4, Lyra is enticed by Mrs. Coulter to go to London.  Mrs. Coulter is one of those immediately dislikeable characters that somehow we all know in real life.  She’s conniving and manipulative, but shines in her role as socialite and gadfly.  Of course, as a reader I was drawn into the story at this point, really not liking what Mrs. Coulter was trying to turn Lyra into.  After this section of the book, I realized that Lyra was not going to be the bratty, dim-witted child that I thought I would have to suffer.  Instead, Lyra develops into a really well-balanced, courageous, and reasonable creature.  And maybe that’s actually the biggest fantasy in the book – it is probably impossible for any twelve-year old to be so reasonable.

As the story progresses, more elements of steampunk occur.  There are a number of noble-souled individuals who help Lyra along, but she is often left to her own devices relying on her own wits to problem solve.  I really like the characters of the bears and the witches. (I did mention this is fantasy, right?)  Bears who talk, run kingdoms, build armor, and who have a deep code of honor are really neat things to read about.  And I admit, I got attached to the character Iorek Byrnison, an exiled bear.  I think the book had a great balance of steampunk, fantasy, realism, and science in it.  Around halfway, I was thinking I might be giving the book four stars.  However, after finishing it, I realize I would be withholding a star for no real good reason.  Compared to the other books I have read and rated, I think this deserves the five stars – even if it is not a story that would interest every reader.

5 stars


The Stainless Steel Rat

The SSRI finished reading The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison and was really happy for having done so.  This is a really fun book.  It was first published in 1961. My copy is published by Pyramid Books. I looked this up: Pyramid Books is now known as Jove Books, which is a paperback publishing company, founded in 1949 by Almat Magazine Publishers.  Jove is actually part of the Penguin Group of publishers. Anyway, this is the first in the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harrison.

There are a lot of reasons to love this novel.  It’s written in the first person with a style and tone that makes the main character always seem as if instead of lecturing you, he’s having a casual conversation with you.  Harrison has a light-hearted, witty, and fluid writing style in this novel that makes the pages turn quickly.  The novel starts in media res with a robotic police officer arresting Jim DiGriz, who is in the middle of a robbery.  Immediately, the reader finds a polished crook who has plenty of workable philosophical ideas on society and who, while committing crimes, avoids physically harming others. Right away in chapter two, on page 12, we learn why Jim DiGriz considers himself a “stainless steel rat.”

Wikipedia has this to say about Jim DiGriz, the charming anti-hero of this novel:

“He is charming and quick-witted, a master of disguise and martial arts, an accomplished bank robber, an expert on breaking and entering, and (perhaps most usefully) a skilled liar. A master of self-rationalization, the Rat frequently justifies his crimes by arguing that he is providing society with entertainment; and besides which, he only steals from institutions which have insurance coverage.”

In any case, after attempting another heist, DiGriz is actually caught and is maneuvered into working for the government. He joins the Special Corps, which is the elite law-enforcement and spy agency led by the former greatest crook in the Galaxy, Harold P. Inskipp (a.k.a. Inskipp the Uncatchable).  DiGriz discovers that the organization is composed mostly of ex-criminals like himself, and he develops a unique friend/enemy relationship with Inskipp.

The rest of the novel involves some of DiGriz’s adventures chasing Angelina – on behalf of the Special Corps.  He finds himself very attracted to her, but she is an inveterate criminal on par with DiGriz’s skills.  Indeed, she always seems to be several steps ahead of DiGriz, which both frustrates and amuses him.  The story is interesting and is something like reading Ocean’s 11 or The Italian Job, but in space with a bit of a fuzzy line between what a criminal is and what a hero is.

In chapter 6, DiGriz says something about sending a psigram about a theft.  I like this concept of psigram – and I feel it has had a lot of derivatives since Harrison wrote it.  For example, I immediately thought of the psykers in Warhammer 40k.  This is a pretty neat little concept just tossed in the middle of the overall plot, but it’s a nice touch for a science fiction adventure story.  I enjoyed the book and it was a fast read throughout, although the chapters taking place in Freibur did slow down a bit.  Freibur is a planet on which DiGriz has caught up with Angelina and is trying to arrest her, so he involves himself in her own plot of trying to cause a revolution on the planet.  These chapters were good, but I do feel they went on a bit too long.  At the end of this section, I was somewhat disappointed with what I thought the ending/resolution was – until the last page!  I read the last page and grinned at my paperback copy because the last few paragraphs fix everything and make me desperate to read the next in the series.

4 stars

Childhood’s End

childhoods endChildhood’s End was first published in 1953.  However, it is just as readable and current as if it were written in the 2000s. This is the second fiction work by Clarke that I have read and was expecting greatness.  One of the most significant things about this novel is that in just over 200 pages, Clarke tells a sweeping story that is thought-provoking and curious.  It is somewhat about a first contact situation, but it expands to a much larger timeline.  This is a tough bit of writing to manage, but Clarke does it to perfection.

The novel is divided into three sections:

  • I.  –  Earth and the Overlords
  • II. –  The Golden Age
  • III. –  The Last Generation

A really great thing about this novel is that it is not possible to predict where it’s going.  Sometimes plots are so transparent that the whole novel seems a bit obvious.  Not so with Childhood’s End.  I read the first section and loved it.  It is exciting and builds the novel’s tension quite a bit.  In fact, I really began to like the character Stormgren.  His interactions with Supervisor Karellen build the tension nicely because the reader is kept in the same wonderment as Stormgren.  What is Karellen, really, and what are his motives?

The second section introduces Rupert Boyce and the alien Rashaverak.  The reader also meets the characters Jean and George – who will remain with us through most of the book.  In fact, they end up being the actual main characters. The second section is the bulk of the novel and it requires close reading.  However, I felt when I read it that I would rather go back to the storyline involving Karellen and Stormgren.  Still, I was invested in the story and read onward.

The third section is aptly named as it describes the last generation on Earth.  More or less, the point of the story is revealed, the purpose of the Overlords, and the significance of George and Jean’s children.  However, I have to say, the story – while well written – just was not exactly what I was hoping for.  I mean, it’s definitely interesting and thought-provoking, but maybe it’s just not my cup of tea. Jan Rodricks is not as interesting a character as he could be, I think. I wanted to enjoy his exploits off-world, but in the end he is a tool-character; used by Clarke just to provide a method to explain the strangeness and power of the Overlords. Clarke does manage to provide a good dose of eeriness to make the reader’s blood chill just slightly.

Ultimately, the ending of the book reminds me slightly of some of the plot threads in the TV series The 4400.  Also, because I am a fan of comic books, I felt something similar to Galactus when the topic of the Overmind came up.  (Galactus was created by Marvel Comics in 1966 – after this book was published.)  Now, I know Galactus is a world-devouring being, but something about being that much more beyond humans and even Overlords made the Overmind seem like Galactus.  So, whenever I read Overmind, I pictured Galactus, even if the analogy isn’t quite accurate.  Maybe if I had no referent for The 4400 or Galactus I would be way more astonished and impressed with this novel.  Overall, it’s not bad.  It just was not my style.  Still, this is a very worthy read.

3 stars

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

Restaurant UniverseI actually came across a blog entry a few days ago that shared the author absolutely hated The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They also like to post “intellectual” posts – that they read things like the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen or other heady novels from the British world.  Well, I have read most of the truly “intellectual” books out there, from Umberto Eco to G. K. Chesterton, from Graham Greene to Hermann Hesse, from Nabokov to Murakami – and I can promise you that both The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe are just as enjoyable and worthy as any of those aforementioned “intellectual” reads.

At first, I was completely flabbergasted that there exists someone who did not like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And I puzzled this over for awhile. I also finished up The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and I have come to the conclusion that only very drab and dry people who are witless, humorless, and who take everything too seriously cannot enjoy these books.  Such people probably did not have very good childhoods. Or, maybe their childhood was full of “educational structured play.”   It takes a measure of absurdity, humor, and madness to appreciate the Hitchhiker’s canon.  Mind you, I am not calling these books childish or silly.  However, the point remains that if you are a person who had a stifling childhood and are currently living a stuffy life in suburbia with the rest of the Stepford Wives (or similar), then there is no way I can even explain to you why you ought to love this book.  You are incapable of understanding the wit – and I believe it’s not your fault, you just lack the correct experiences to make sense of this.

I finished The Restaurant at the End of the Universe and I was happy and amused and I wanted to copy down certain sections of the book that were so perspicacious that I want them available to read or quote in the future.  For example, there is a line in chapter 9 that made me giggle for several minutes:

There is, however, nothing soothing about being addressed by a disembodied voice out of nowhere, particularly when you are, like Zaphod Beeblebrox, not at your best and hanging from a ledge eight stories up a crashed building. – pg. 65

The above quote is only funny to people who can imagine such a situation – because they have imagination – and/or to people who have been in such a situation – because they have uncanny bad luck and find it better to laugh than be depressed when tragedy strikes.  Anyway, this quote really tickled me.

Another of my favorite sections is in chapter 6 wherein we are given an idea of the scope and purpose of the fictional Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; this section continues from page 36 – 37.   The best part of this section is that it handily muses on epistemology and leads into Keats without missing a beat and being ironic and amusing the whole way.

The Guide is definitive.  Reality is frequently inaccurate.

Ultimately, that’s the crucial point on which this entire novel spins – in all its seemingly random twists and turns:  entropy.  Along the way, Adams fondly mocks philosophers, religions, and politicians.  And it’s okay, because we need to make sure we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

4 stars

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub by Stanislaw Lem; Harvest

Memoirs Found in a Bathtub was published in English in 1973 (it was originally published in Polish).  The title is a reference to a work by Edgar Allen Poe.

Most places and people categorize this book as science fiction, which I think is incorrect. It does take place in the future, but nothing really futuristic is relevant to the story.  The year 3149 is really just a fact that provides an overarching frame for the book, but there really is not anything one could point at and call “science fiction.”  At least not how it is commonly defined and referred to.

The book has, really, two parts.  I think most assessments would say that the novel is one whole, but with an introduction.  I want to insist that the introduction is a separate part – in fact, it’s really a misnomer to call it an introduction.  In any case, the introduction provides a framework and leads the reader to understand that the rest of the book is actually the “memoirs found in a bathtub.”

Ultimately, this book is what happens when you cross Orwell’s 1984, Kafka’s Castle, and Ismail Kadare’s The Pyramid.  Smash! Then out pops Memoirs Found in a Bathtub.

The Introduction is exceedingly well-written and depicts a dystopian future in which the reader is reminded of both A Canticle for Leibowitz and Alasdair MacIntyre’s first part of After VirtueA Canticle for Leibowitz begins 6 centuries after 20th century civilization has been destroyed by a global nuclear war.  As a result of the war, there was a violent backlash against the culture of advanced knowledge and technology that had led to the development of nuclear weapons. During this backlash, called the “Simplification,” anyone of learning, and eventually anyone who could even read, was likely to be killed by rampaging mobs, who proudly took on the name of “Simpletons.”   Illiteracy became almost universal and books were destroyed en masse.  MacIntyre also discusses the idea of a world wherein all sciences have been dismantled quickly and completely. MacIntyre asks what the sciences would look like if they were reassembled from the remnants of scientific knowledge that survived the catastrophe. He claims that the new sciences, though superficially similar to the old, would in fact be devoid of real scientific content, because key suppositions and attitudes would be absent.  MacIntyre obviously turns this toward an ethical review of the situation, particularly focusing on virtue ethics.

Lem, writing in a tone/style that is similar to Kadare and Kafka, is able to present the future as a place wherein such a ruination of knowledge has occurred – especially in terms of the papyralysis, which is a destruction of all knowledge recorded on paper.  Even today in 2012, the complete loss of the information contained within notebooks, books, newspapers, magazines, etc. would be catastrophic.  Lem wrote this novel in the 1970s – long before  iPads and cloud drives.  The reader really feels the horror and magnitude of such a loss.  Unlike Miller and MacIntyre, Lem focuses on a memoirs that are found in a bathtub.  Not just any bathtub, but a bathtub that was found in the fourth level of the Third Pentagon.  The Third Pentagon is looked upon much like we, in current day, look upon the pyramids of Egypt.  There is an unbridgeable gap between our culture and that of Ancient Egypt such that the pyramids (no matter how much we know) remain mysterious, intimidating, and awesome.  The Third Pentagon is buried deep in a mountain – the result of political bureaucracy gone to paranoid lengths.  What was the original Pentagon, anyway – some sort of temple?

The first half of the story is interesting and very Kafka-like.  We meet the main character in media res without ever learning his name. We then follow his descent into madness via the Building.  The Building, as the character refers to it, is supposedly the Third Pentagon.  The majority of this section describes the suspicions, labyrinth, and corruption that is found in the Building.  Everyone is a spy, a traitor, and on a mission.  No one knows what the missions are, or if they do they also constantly misdirect and mislead others.  Who is following orders? Who is a spy? And many may even be double or even triple-agents!

The writing is good and eerie.  It’s not a read for everyone, if you dislike Kafka or Kadare, you will dislike this.  Nevertheless, it is a very cerebral read and fits nicely with 1984 and the Castle.  I am giving the book only three stars, though, because I feel too much is derivative of Kafka, Miller, etc.  Also, I really disliked the entirety of Chapter 11.  The ending of the book was consistent, but Chapter 11 really took the wind out of the sails.  In the end, it is a satisfying read – very cerebral and a decent satire of bureaucracy.

There are some neat sub-ideas here, as well. For example on page 75, in Chapter 5, the main character finds a book that describes original sin as the division of the world into information and misinformation – which is a pretty neat twist on the “deceitfulness” of the devil in Exodus.  Overall, I find it difficult to classify this book as science fiction.  While the setting is briefly the year 3149, but is all about memoirs that occurred in the past, this really is not a science fiction novel. Dystopian, satirical, and cerebral, but not science fiction.  I feel, in reality, this should get something like 3.7 stars, but that’s not how this works around here!

3 stars


valisI finished reading VALIS.  This is a 1981 novel by Philip K. Dick.  The title is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System, Dick’s gnostic vision of one aspect of God.  The edition I read is the 1991 Vintage Books edition.

This is the first novel by Dick that I have actually read.  I know plenty of/about/by PKD, but this was the first time I owned a novel and read it through.  I have to say it was somewhat just as I expected it to be. PKD is one of those “tortured genius” types – I do not have the authority to speak on his personal experiences.  Maybe he was completely mentally insane.  Maybe he had religious epiphanies. Maybe he was just a cooky, oddball. I don’t know.

What I do know is that he is a really good author.  This particular novel is less “science fiction” than a memoir/thesis.  You can feel with each page that it is Dick trying to work out his experience via the medium of fiction.  It’s actually quite impressive. I feel that dozens of authors try to be pondersome and meta- but they try too hard or are too fake about it.  This book by PKD seems full of honesty.  It does not seem purposefully obscure or meta-.  PKD is an excellent writer – the topic, plot, and characters in this book are actually kind of crappy. But his writing is so honest, inviting, and open that I enjoyed reading the book just to have the joy of reading the writing.

The content is very unique.  If you are not comfortable with Gnosticism, schizophrenia, drugs, or death – this book is going to make you really hate it.  And if you are unfamiliar with Christianity – forget it, you’re really going to abhor the book.  Now, there are plenty of novels wherein the usage of drugs is glorified or the ruminations on death are obnoxious.  That is not the case with this book.  This book is actually a seeking of answers, of goodness, and a quest for peace of mind.  PKD is definitely a bit nuts – but he’s sharing it all and completely opening himself to everyone in this book.  He’s not hiding or lying – the honesty and struggle are in plain sight.  In some ways, I pity PKD, he was so befuddled and perplexed, but I suspect he had a good heart, as they say.

He wasn’t just theory-mongering for the sake of it; he was trying to figure out what the f*** happened to him.  – chapter 7, pg. 106

There isn’t much of a plot at all. It’s a thin bunch of characters, plotting, and storyline.  Maybe there’s no plot because the book, really, is just a stream of consciousness of PKD wrestling with his diaries and thoughts.  There are definitely parts in the book which are utter madness and confusion.  I am comfortable in philosophy and history and theology and even I had some struggle with certain paragraphs. I have no idea what PKD was writing.  Some times this came across as PKD just playing with words and maybe his whole effort was just to find new religious concepts and make an eclectic mess of whatever he runs across.  On the other hand, he is also surprisingly self-critical.  Particularly in the first half of chapter 14.  So, while PKD might sound crazy – he knows he does and he’s still wrestling with the fact.  I have a feeling that if you enjoyed Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, you might be interested in this. They are not the same genre, but there are themes that are similar. The eclectic collection of obscurantism is what makes me think the two are similar.  In any case, VALIS is not to be read for plot, but for the actual writing and maybe if a reader wants to get to know PKD.

3 stars


NeuromancerI finally finished Neuromancer by William Gibson.  I know that many people have already read the book, so writing a review for it – or including basic info about the book itself – seems almost pointless.  In any case, this novel was published in 1984 and is Gibson’s first novel.  It won the Nebula, Hugo, and Philip K. Dick awards.

Many people consider Neuromancer to be the first “cyberpunk” novel.  However, I’ve found that it is difficult to get a good, consensus-approved definition for “cyberpunk.”  There are a whole lot of things that came after Neuromancer that were derivative of the ideas/concepts it contains, but there are even somethings in Neuromancer that can be seen as developments from previous sparks of genius in other novels, movies, etc.  So, the fluidity of defining “cyberpunk” and attempting to make a reasonable timeline is fun, but not entirely accurate.  My experience with “cyberpunk” has come from watching Hackers, Blade Runner, and of course The Matrix.  Frankly, after reading this, those movies tended to lose a little in terms of how coolly originally I thought they were (particularly The Matrix).

The main thing new readers need to understand about this novel is that it requires work.  Those readers who skim or who are used to books which have lots of throw-away pages need to realize that that is not going to happen with this novel.  The reader needs to read every word – no skimming, no skipping.  I do not really know if this is because it was Gibson’s first novel or if he really planned it so that the reader has to work as hard as the main character – but either way, it’s no good to speed-read this novel.

Neuromancer is broken into four main chunks, with an epilogue.

  • Part One: Chiba City Blues
  • Part Two:  The Shopping Expedition
  • Part Three:  Midnight in the Rue Jules Verne
  • Part Four:  The Straylight Run

Overall, I did not like the plot of the novel.  It’s okay, but not really something I think came first. Somehow, to me, it seems like Gibson developed the plot after all of the other parts of the novel. The plot is that an insanely rich and old family has built a structure (with Victorian quirks) up in orbit where they cryogenically freeze and clone themselves.  One of the members of the family devises a really intense A.I. system. The A.I. system wants to destroy itself or the family or something – and it’s divided into two parts (similar to lobes in a brain).  The one part, Wintermute, arranges several “people” to break into the family’s structure and mainframe and complete this goal.

None of the characters are particularly likeable.  Most are highly drugged or oddly machine-enhanced.  The story is more or less told from Henry Dorsett Case’s viewpoint.  On his little crew of bandits include Molly (perhaps the most likeable character), Dixie Flatline (a ROM saved-consciousness), and Armitage (a really screwed up human). Eventually, Case needs some muscle in his crew so we are introduced to the character Maelcum – who is very what-you-see-is-what-you-get.  And if you look at these characters, you really get the mix of characters from The Matrix. In fact, it’s difficult to consider Molly as being other than Trinity.  There are a bunch of other characters, including Peter Riviera (much like Cypher from The Matrix).  I really think the Riviera character is skeevy and disturbing; Gibson really makes this character extremely yucky on purpose.

When you start reading the novel, the whole first part will leave you feeling like “what the heck?” and I feel this is precisely what Gibson wanted.  It’s a weird futuristic world in which some placenames are familiar, but nothing about the landscape makes any sense – at least to me.  Case spends time running and hustling, but it’s really difficult to figure out what the purpose is.  Terms are thrown at the reader and everything just seems messy.  It really helps to read this book in a book club or with a reading guide, I think.  Anyway, there is definitely cyberpunk in this novel – and if you like the concept of “jacking-in” to the matrix and arguing with A.I.’s who can tap into your memories, you will probably like this book.  However, it is not simply about computer jockeys.  For example, the bulk of the story takes place in orbit above the earth. For example, L5 is a designation in the book that I actually looked up online:

Lagrange points, L-points are the five positions in an orbital configuration where a small object affected only by gravity can theoretically be stationary relative to two larger objects

Anyway, the L5 thing only occurs once or twice in passing – so unless you are reading every word carefully, you would miss this. And I think looking it up really helped my understanding of the setting.  It’s difficult enough to hang out in the matrix or be shadowing a real human via implants.  There are some parts of nice writing. For example in chapter two, Gibson describes a corridor as Case is “. . . . shuffling through a trampled mulch of ticket stubs and styrofoam cups” – and I really think this is a nice metaphor. It’s precisely what one experiences, say, at a stadium of an NFL game.  Or a busy state fair. Or something like a major international soccer match.  The trouble is, Gibson tried to use this metaphor a few other times in the novel, and it then seemed overused.  There were a couple of places of esoteric purple prose – scenes that describe what Case is “seeing” while in the matrix or whatnot. These scenes talk about him wanting to taste the color blue and seeing weird stuff – I get the concept that the matrix really affects Case, but some of this was a little too “LSD” for me.

I can understand why this is such a significant book.  I can also understand why it won the awards it did. However, there are points where I feel Gibson is making the reader do a little too much work.  Also, the plot, overall, is not really all that great – or maybe I needed a little bit more depth to it. I finished the book and I still have no idea about this weird Tessier-Ashpool SA family.  Also, I am disheartened Case never sees Molly again. Boo. She was fun.

3 stars

Soul Hunter

soul_hunterAve Dominus Nox! is the warcry of the Night Lords.  This is the first book in which I met the remnants of the VIII Legion.  This is also the first in the Night Lords series being authored by Aaron Dembski Bowden.  It’s also the first novel written by Aaron Dembski Bowden that I have read.  Soul Hunter was published in 2010.

The VIII Legion is a traitor legion, which means they fight the Imperial forces and are traitors to the Emperor. Their Primarch, the Night Haunter (or Konrad Curze), is dead – killed by an assassin.  The remaining members of the Night Lords are a hodge-podge of Astartes warriors wearing salvaged armor and using salvaged materiel. This legion is also a bit outside of the timeline of the rest of the universe, because of their time in the Warp.  Their geneseeds are also uniquely pure, as compared to the other Astartes post-Heresy. (Acidic saliva was a small, but fun detail!) The Night Lords are Chaos Space Marines, and scorn all forms of religious faith; they respect only temporal and material power. Many Night Lords consider themselves free of the taint of Chaos and despise those they deem to be so corrupted. This last part is what makes the Night Lords such a dynamic group of characters.

The publisher’s tag is:

The Night Lords form an uneasy allegiance with the Black Legion in order to assault the valuable planet of Crythe Primus. The Imperial world puts up a stern defence, but the biggest obstacle to success will be the disunity and mistrust between the two Legions.

For the first quarter of the book, I was not too impressed.  It was a good read that moved along, but it seemed a bit disjointed and I was not always completely crystal clear on what was going on. Also, I felt that some parts of the novel were disconnected from other parts.  After finishing the novel, I have to say that the entire book was actually better than I thought it would be in the beginning.

The author was trying to write an engaging and pivotal story while at the same time giving the reader all of the necessary background needed to understand the formation, development, and significance of the VIII Legion.  I realize that the “history” of a Legion is probably neither fun to read or write if it’s just styled in some encyclopedia fashion.  Therefore, the effort is made here to present the history without it looking like something from the Encyclopedia Britannica.  At first, I found the writing difficult because the author is trying to tell us a present-day story, but yet he also is tasked with providing the backstory.  Also, let me throw this curve ball in now, the main character Talos (aka: Soul Hunter) is called “The Prophet” because he has visions of the future.

The author smartly writes this novel utilizing a lot of flashbacks and foreshadowing.  These techniques are what made me feel like this was a bit disjointed, but as I got used to it, I was really drawn into the novel.  I feel that the author did a very good job of writing this Night Lords novel.  Truth be told, I think we jumped to and fro (past/present/future) a little too much, but it worked nonetheless.  The end result is a dynamic, interesting, and unique history.  The VIII Legion is not a carbon-copy of other legions and their primarch, homeworld, and modus operandi are greatly interesting.  After reading this novel, I wanted to read more and more and more about this Legion. If there are more novels out there… I will hunt them:  preysight!

4 stars

Superman #7

Superman 7

Superman #7; DC 2012

One of the biggest complaints about comics in the last decade has been about the Superman titles.  They have been awful.  And I think it’s something that has gnawed at DC Comics for a long time and for whatever reason, nothing they do for the title/character seems to work.  Particularly for the last five years, readers have been exceedingly disappointed with Superman and have expressed their concerns by simply not buying or reading these titles.  This is a really sad thing because Superman is so kosmically recognizable that there is just something unsettling about no one being interested, let alone excited, about his comics.

I think that within the deep recesses of the hearts of comic fans there was a, quite natural, hope that with DC’s New 52, Superman would be saved.  Not rehabilitated, but heroically saved.  The complaints of the last decade that Superman titles were boring, scattered, uninteresting, pointless, and stupid were valid and probably hit DC pretty hard.  So, everyone probably expected that the New 52 would solve these issues and send Superman titles to the top of the charts – where he belongs (even if fanboys do not dare admit they believe this).

On Action Comics, DC put the famous, but difficult, writer Grant Morrison.  I’ve gone over that situation in my reviews for Action Comics.  For the Superman title, DC gave the reins to writer George Perez.  Perez is one of those industry-standard writers who has written Wonder Woman and Silver Surfer among other titles. I was pleased that he was selected as I felt that he was a solid choice for a proven, but not extreme writing style.  Now, Superman also appears in DC’s “flagship” – Justice League, which is being written by star writer Geoff Johns.  Surely, with the New 52 and these three writers writing the character, there is no way Superman could fail.

Action Comics may or may not be good. It’s certainly not a “basic” comic read.  Morrison has some different perspectives and ideas as to how stories should be told.  Geoff Johns’ Superman is good – but since he’s a member of a supergroup, he does not get much face time or development.  Superman’s entrance, though, is still one of the highlights of the start of the New 52.  The Superman title penned by Perez looked so pretty. It contained a lot of action, fighting, flying, battling, etc.  However, it felt scattered and disconnected. Some readers felt it was confusing and disoriented.  Ultimately, it was a disappointment. While the character is freshened, the problems with the title still seemed to be present.  We all wanted to love the title. Most of us ended up dropping the title from subscription lists with a dejected, puzzled feeling.

However, it seems DC was willing to do something proactive about the situation.  Starting in issue #6, they added writers Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen.  Both of these writers/artists are also solid creators who are no strangers to the industry.  Issue #6 was nothing great, but I do feel it was better than the previous five.  Finally, in issue #7, I can say that this is a real Superman comic.  This is a storyline that I can follow without frustration or annoyance.  This is art that looks fantastic and the character does not seem like a haphazard mess of confusion.

Superman’s thoughts are presented in a reasonable manner – he does seem younger and bolder.  The opening fight is easy to follow and interesting enough that it does not seem like just frames of action shots.  I like that there is a linear storyline – a problem, a setting, villains, and friends.  The art perfectly matches the story and the story seems, finally, like it is going somewhere.  The first five issues seemed really in media res and random.  This seems like there is a real story going on, which is a nice change. In other words, this issue is a well-organized, linear, solid story.  The artwork is above average and it is not messy.

I am interested in the villain, Helspont.  I know he has history in DC, but I want to see if the New 52 has changed anything – or will change anything. I want him to be a worthy villain that Superman can battle with both physically and intellectually. He’s also drawn to look mighty cool.

I kind of feel bad for those readers who dropped Superman before issue #7.  They probably won’t believe this is any good.  And, well, even though this issue is a solid 4 stars, all readers are probably dubious about believing that anything good will come to pass with this title, anyway.  After all, it’s hard to forget a decade of mediocrity and boring. It is my real hope, though, that Jurgens and Giffen CAN AND WILL make this a worthwhile, interesting title. But, one issue isn’t enough……….

4 stars