Month: June 2012

Robotech #1: Genesis

GenesisThere is science fiction and then there is geeky-science fiction.  Robotech falls under the latter.  I finished reading book one of the Robotech novel series and felt truly geeky doing so.  It’s one of those really geeky science fiction “universes” that those of us growing up in the 1980s could feast upon (along with Star Trek and Star Wars).  However, it’s not so simple for someone in 2012 to figure out. So I think a small introduction is in order here.

Robotech is anime.  Let’s just call it “cartoons” and offend vast numbers of people.  It started in the early 1980s in Japan.  Then, in 1985, an American named Carl Macek (1951 – 2010) was hired to supervise and produce an 85-episode series culled from the Japanese versions. Macek is considered an early pioneer in the bringing of anime projects to American audiences. In 1987, novelizations were begun of the series.  The author Jack McKinney is credited as the author, however, this was a joint penname used by authors Brian Daley and James Luceno (both of Star Wars fame).

The original twelve novels were written in a twelve-month deadline, the books were released one per month. Under this deadline, Daley and Luceno divided the Robotech timeline into twelve segments and worked on different segments simultaneously.  As part of the research project, they watched the TV series many times, and consulted heavily with Carl Macek.  There were 21 books total, Genesis being the first.

A lot happened with this franchise – expansions, cancellations, etc.  And, like in any good franchise, there are disputes and disjunctions regarding canonical storylines.  Most of the “Jack McKinney” storylines have been ret-conned or removed from the canon. Frankly, this is all more information than the casual reader needs or cares about. So, argue canonicity somewhere else.

Genesis was roughly 200 pages and I paid .50¢ at a used book store for my copy.  I read it in about a day and a half and enjoyed it for being a 1980s franchise novel.  Also, it is a good read for really hot and miserable indoor summer days.  I really liked the first half of the book more than the second.  The first half is believable and involves a first contact scenario. The author is decent at writing tense action “jet fighter scenes.”  I like that the aliens are not necessarily unthinking barbarians. I enjoyed reading about the robotech – and I can easily see how this sort of concept can be latched onto by every science fiction franchise.

Now, I am going to talk about geeky things – you may skip this paragraph if it starts to hurt you.  So, I remember GoBots (produced by Tonka toys) back in the early 1980s. I remember that I owned one GoBot. (I owned the GoBot named Turbo, which was a little red racing car.) I know that I knew about GoBots before I knew about Transformers – which works with the timelines.  I think GoBots were in the 1982-1984 range and Transformers (Hasbro bought out Tonka) came on the scene sometime in 1984 or 1985.

Robotech is, basically, about Robotechnology, which refers to the scientific advances discovered in an alien starship that crashed on a South Pacific island.  With this technology, Earth developed robotic technologies, such as transformable mecha, to fight three successive extraterrestrial invasions.  Transformers, at it’s bare bones is about factions of transforming alien robots (the Autobots versus the Decepticons) in an endless struggle for dominance or eventual peace.

I have never read the novels before, but I think I’ve watched some random smattering of the TV episodes.  I read the first half of Genesis and then watched the first episode (Boobytrap) of the TV series via Netflix.  Both go together quite well – some characters are a little different (Captain Gloval being a bit odd in the TV series). Other characters are perfect in both – the attacking aliens, especially Breetai.  This is the write up for the first episode:

In the year 1999, an abandoned alien battle fortress crash-lands on the planet Earth. Our most brilliant scientists and engineers spend the next ten years reconstructing the damaged ship, and studying its highly advanced technology, known as Robotech! A race of warriors from deep space, the Zentraedi, enter the scene, bent on recovering the lost ship and destroying Earth’s civilization.

The novel was good – I feel that writing novelizations of anime would be a difficult task – particularly in 1987.  After all, those people in 1987 were so primitive and lacked technology! *LOL* So the concepts of mecha (transforming robots) would be a big deal to them.  I think that the book helped me understand the TV episode better – the start of the episode seemed really rushed, whereas the novel has a bit more lead-up and background.  I think the first half of the novel was good, but I disliked the “love-interest-teenagers” storyline that develops around Rick and Minmei.  Also, she’s really an annoying character in the novel. I do intend to see if I can watch and read the rest of the stuff in this franchise.

3 stars

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Batman #8

Batman 8Issue #8 of Batman was really good. I debated giving it the full five stars, but I am stingy lately and am only going to give it four.  This issue was written and drawn by the continuing team of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo.  Capullo’s artwork has not been wow-ing me, but it’s been good. The writing, though, is probably the element that is getting this volume of Batman all of the praise and credit.  Some issues have been great, some have been just good. I think Snyder has some good ideas and is trying to make the main character a little different than the “regular” Batman.  Snyder is trying to “extend” the boundaries of what’s been done with the character – which is no easy thing since Batman has been written by so many writers through the years.

The cover is good for a few reasons, I think.  The main reason is that it actually is relevant to the inside story.  I really don’t like issues that have covers that look pretty but are completely unrelated to the issue’s story.  It’s deceptive and misleading when issues have covers that do that.  But this cover comes directly out of the storyline.  Another reason that it is good is that it maintains that creepy castle-like tone that is running through the “Owl” storyarc that Snyder has been writing.  Just the words “night” and “bat” and “owl” demand the artwork is creepy and eerie.  And this definitely is; however I look at the background and it looks like poorly blended digital artwork or a badly made oil painting.  What are these color marks especially on the left side of the cover? I dislike it.  It looks half-done or lazy. Is it Capullo or the colorist?

The title of this issue is “Attack on Wayne Manor” and that’s basically what this story is about. If you have not read this issue – this review will contain spoilers.  Anyway, the issue begins with Bruce Wayne brooding in his manor at night.  I’ll be honest, I have always known Bruce Wayne to be a brooding individual – it’s part of his charm, let’s say. However I did feel that in this issue Snyder moved a little too close to the line of whining as opposed to brooding.  On the third page, I absolutely hate the frame wherein Alfred lights the model city up and Bruce Wayne looks like a teenager who is getting picked on.  I know that recently he underwent a lot of physical trauma, but somehow that image/reaction of Wayne annoyed me.  Is it Capullo’s art again?  Or does it just make Wayne seem skittish and melodramatic? I hate that frame.

This issue is basically a home-invasion issue. The assassins, Talons, invade Wayne Manor – and only Alfred and Bruce are there to do anything about it.  They scurry in opposite directions – although, at the end of the issue, I have to say I don’t know why Bruce bothered to go to the roof. Anyway, they meet up in the Bat Cave in the Armor Room.  Something like a castle panic room.

So, why did Bruce run to the roof in the first place?  And also, how did this many assassins invade Wayne Manor so easily. I guess it’s hard to move completely into the “New DC 52” where this is a new Bruce and a new Wayne Manor.  I am used to Wayne Manor being an impenetrable fortress, really.  Sure, the talons are good at what they do, but come on – it’s that easy to invade BATMAN’s home? Tough pill to swallow as a reader, I suppose.

When Bruce leaves the armor room in big badass armor and says: “Get the hell out of my house!” …. it kind of makes up for the opening of the issue where Bruce was “lost in his own head.”  Also, the plan that Batman and Alfred came up with – dropping the temperature – seems like a good idea and I am excited to see what happens in the next part of the story.  Throughout, this is a fairly intense issue, lots of action and creepiness to turn the pages quickly. I liked the issue a lot, but I cannot ignore the questions/problems that I mentioned above.  I have high hopes for this storyarc, though, and think that Snyder is working hard on these issues.

4 stars

Darkness at Noon

Darkness At NoonI finished reading Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, which is a novel that I had somehow managed to avoid throughout all of my years of college.  Nevertheless, I am thrilled I finally got to read it – I bought it as a clean used copy for $1.  It was first published in 1940.  It is the second book in a row that I have read by an author who committed suicide.  Not that that has much relevance, but I am starting to want to read something by an author who does not end that way.  This was once Koestler’s most famous book, however I think his book The Thirteenth Tribe may have surpassed Darkness at Noon – because the former became such a controversy among scholars as well as general readers.  I have no desire to read that book.

Wikipedia has this information, which I have truncated:

In 1931 Koestler joined the Communist Party of Germany but, disillusioned by Stalinist atrocities, he resigned in 1938. In 1940 he published his novel Darkness at Noon, an anti-totalitarian work, which gained him international fame. The novel is set in 1938 during the Stalinist purges and Moscow show trials. It reflects the author’s personal disillusionment with Communism. Although the characters have Russian names, neither Russia nor the Soviet Union are named as the setting of the book. Joseph Stalin is alluded to as “No. 1”, a barely seen menacing dictator.

My overall general impression of the novel qua novel is that it is what we would get if Kafka’s Trial and Orwell’s 1984 mated.  The short novel is written in the plain, but revealing tone that seems to somehow pull the reader in – even if the topic is really not to their liking.  This does not really apply to me, since I have leanings toward historical scholarship.  But honestly, I can understand why the novel might seem quite uninteresting to most readers.  It’s not a mystery or a thriller and it’s certainly not science fiction.  Who would read this book?  People who love dystopian novels, who loved 1984, and who are fascinated with the Russian Revolution, etc.  There is something about the prisons and political inmates that lends itself to novels.  And it seems readers will love and hate the characters in such novels – particularly readers who are attune to political history.  The writing style is actually quite good – but I think the translator is as much to credit for that as the author.

The main character is Rubashov, a high-ranking Party member who is arrested and imprisoned for counter-revolutionary activity.  Of course, many times throughout the novel the reader realizes that the Party can adjust “historical fact” however it wishes (Cp. 1984).  In fact, throughout the novel, the main character keeps a diary while in his cell.  I was at first concerned that much of the novel would consist of Rubashov’s entries, but this didn’t happen. Only occasionally does Koestler utilize Rubashov’s diary – and in relevant places. One of the entries in the diary:

It is necessary  to hammer every sentence into the masses by repetition and simplification.  What is presented as right must shine like gold; what is presented as wrong must be black as pitch.

The eerie feeling of a Party/State controlled history really ought to affect readers in 2012.  However, it seems from 1900 – 1944, these sentiments were almost commonplace in the world.  And so they are with Rubashov, who is unsurprised by attempts to rewrite or revise his actions in the Party.  In fact, he has committed such revisions himself.  As Rubashov reflects on his life while in his cell and while being interrogated, he has a few trips down memory lane where he recalls instances where tables were turned and he was interrogating or ferreting out counter-revolutionaries.  The reader learns that “logic” is used in a loose sense when the Party is judging a case.  Even if history isn’t rewritten, per se, certain thoughts and actions can be reinterpreted to condemn the accused.  A major theme in the book is that Rubashov is a member of the old regime, and has spent forty years working for the Party, but his accuser is a “younger generation” Party member who reinterprets the thoughts and actions of the old regime. At no point does Rubashov think he will be released or acquitted; from the start Rubashov knows the ending.

Another part of Rubashov’s diary:

History has taught us that often lies serve her better than the truth; for man is sluggish and has to be led through the desert for forty years before each step in his development. And he has to be driven through the desert with threats and promises, by imaginary terrors and imaginary consolations, so that he should not sit down prematurely to rest and divert himself by worshipping golden calves. – pg 79, Part 2, chapter 1

In the final analysis, Rubashov’s ideas are more liberal and free than those of his accuser.  Rubashov feels himself turn toward a more open and gentle mindset as compared with his accuser’s who takes the “hard method” of torture, punishment, and simplifying reasoning for party members.  Rubashov’s entire imprisonment and “trial” is almost a study of using the “hard method” and yet letting Rubashov have the freedom to “logic out” his problems.  Some of Rubashov’s ideas are actually quite interesting and worthwhile.  For example, the concept of a scapegoat is played on – which, in the end, Rubashov is and thereby serves the Party even as he is condemned by the Party.  Also, he has a neat theory of the “maturity of the masses” and uses two very cool metaphors to explain it. The first is that of a swing – with its pendulum motion.  The second is that of a ship rising through locks, which demonstrates the relative level of the ship. This chunk of the book is pretty good stuff to read through.

Overall, I doubt everyone will love this book.  The topic is at once very relevant and yet also a bit distant from the contemporary political sphere. Nevertheless, as I have said, it makes a neat pairing with 1984 and it contains plenty of food for thought.

4 stars

A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller jr.; EOS

A Canticle for Leibowitz was first published in 1960 by Walter M. Miller jr.  It won the Hugo Award in 1961 and since it’s first publication, it has never gone “out of print.”  Miller is an interesting study:  he fought with the Air Force in WWII, flying over fifty missions in the European theatre.  After the war, Miller converted to Catholicism and wrote a number of short stories.  A Canticle for Leibowitz is the only novel he published in his lifetime.  In his later years, Miller became reclusive and suffered from depression.  He committed suicide in 1996.

The cover art for this edition was done by the famous artist John Picacio, who has done a number of covers for novels. I am very fond of his artwork, which includes an edition of Frederik Pohl’s Gateway and several Michael Moorcock novels. Since it’s publication, A Canticle for Leibowitz has been blessed [sic] with the seemingly unending fortune of having excellent cover art.  One of the things that I like about Picacio’s cover is that there are elements that reflect religion, time, and apocalypse – but also hope and stability.  The color work is excellent and this edition is a keeper.

The introduction to this edition is by author Mary Doria Russell.  She is the author of the book The Sparrow. Now, I tried several times to read and finish that book, but it was too much and I ended up quitting and selling the book – not that I like to admit that.  Her introduction to Miller’s novel is good and bad. I agree with her at some points and yet she seems just slightly too sycophantic about it at other points. As I read the novel, Russell’s introduction stuck in the back of my head and I kept turning it around to see if I really agreed or disagreed. Since I kept at it, I guess that’s a signal of being a good introduction.

The novel is divided into three parts:

  • Fiat Homo
  • Fiat Lux
  • Fiat Voluntas Tua

Before starting the book, I was interested in a “destruction of knowledge/apocalypse” novel. So, I built up my expectations on that front. After reading the first part, I was disappointed – not in the novel, per se, but rather that my expectations were slightly off.  Nevertheless, I was enjoying my reading even if the story was not going where I had thought it would.

Reading the second part of the book, I kept waiting for one of the main characters to “turn traitor.”  I guess it’s a sign of the jaded and bitter times I live in that I was expecting that to happen. Surely, not all the good guys are that good, right? Thankfully, none of the characters “turned traitor.”  I say thankfully because not every book has to use that twist to make the story significant. Sometimes, the good guys are simply good guys. Sometimes it’s okay for people not to give in to evil.

The third part of the book was the most intense part of the book. I do not want to give away anything, but the last part displays all the “history repeats itself because human hubris refuses to learn from it’s mistakes” theme that I feel Miller really wrestled with during his lifetime.  Some of the scenes in this last chapter are a bit graphic, although not too terrible for anyone who watches any TV in 2012.  And in the end, the concept of hope still hangs in there, regardless of all the stupidity, stubbornness, and violence.

There is a lot of Latin in this book, but not just Latin – it’s basically Church Latin.  And in 2012, I am as dismal as Miller is regarding the state of anti-intellectualism and even general knowledge of the Church Herself.  I think that non-Catholics will not get as much out of the book as Roman Catholics will. Sure, the plot and themes remain accessible, but some of the tone and feeling is probably going to be lost on many non-Catholics. Some of the themes of the book include religion vs. science, state vs. religion, and faith vs. despair.  However, Miller does not write a church that cannot laugh at itself or take a rueful look at itself.  There are plenty of times in the novel where there is wry humor and bemused characters reflect on their plight.

I can see why it won a Hugo Award.  This is by no means a crappy novel.  In parts it is intense, saddening, amusing, and shocking.  I really liked the Abbots of the monastery and they are really the tools through which Miller tells us this story.  The hints of Leibowitz throughout the story are just enough to be curious and intriguing, but without any solidity.  Ultimately, the Church is the one bulwark of salvation – perhaps more material than spiritual – in the novel and that fact in and of itself will agitate some readers. However, readers who are not vehemently opposed to organized religion and who are willing to take a look at human progress as a whole will enjoy this novel.  If enjoy is the right word:  nuclear warfare/fallout is not really enjoyable, right? I gave it three stars, but I think an argument can be made for four stars. I think I give it three because the first section really seems less purposeful (in a writing sense) than the other two sections. I can honestly say I have not read a book with a plot that was similar and I have a feeling that I will be ruminating on many elements in this novel for years to come.

3 stars

Wish You Were Here

Wish you were hereI recently finished Wish You Were Here by Rita Mae Brown (and her cat, Sneaky Pie Brown).  It is the first in the lengthy series of Mrs. Murphy mysteries.   It was first published in 1990. I’m really no fan of the author herself; politically I do not really support her positions whatsoever.  However, I can appreciate her skills as an author without worrying too much about politics or social-agendas. A couple of times Brown’s feelings towards certain “political” topics comes through in the voices of her characters, but nothing that a reader in 2012 cannot deal with.

Generally, I read science fiction and fantasy.  But on occasion (as can be seen through this blog) I will read some other style of fiction.  As a rule, I dislike books laden with graphic sex, really bizarre murders/gore, and so forth.  Needless to say chances are you won’t find me reading anything that’s too gruesome.  I like what is called “cozy mysteries” because they are quick reads that are usually fun without a lot of fuss and muss.  And well, I’m a bit of a sucker for pets/animals as stars and co-stars in novels.  (Half of the reason I liked Katherine Neville’s The Eight was because of the dog.)

This novel was a good novel to read in between epic fantasy tomes and deep space adventures.  No space marines in this one. It takes place in a small community in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia.  The main character is a newly divorced lass who works at the post office in town. She owns a cat and a dog who are her best friends and who do their best to look after her.  Mrs Murphy is her world-wise cat who comes with plenty of attitude.

I suppose the bad guy was rather obvious from the start – if you’re someone who reads a lot of mysteries. I, of course, do not and therefore, of course, was surprised at the end.  Overall, I find the general motive behind the bad guy’s crimes to be a bit dated or difficult to believe. But, then again, a murderer cannot be expected to have perfectly reasonable motives.  I will probably read the next in the series eventually.  If you’re looking for a book to read for a day while you are waiting for Neal Stephenson’s or Brandon Sanderson’s next tome, this will do.

3 stars