flawed but heroic space captain, on a mission that is part vengeance and part noble quest, assembles a disparate crew to fly through a nova. this is S...moreflawed but heroic space captain, on a mission that is part vengeance and part noble quest, assembles a disparate crew to fly through a nova. this is Samuel R. Delany so that synopsis just barely scratches the surface.
I'm going to copy & paste a post regarding this book that I just made in a group I moderate. hopefully the pasted post will eventually turn out to be notes for an actual review, but who knows, I'm whimsical. and lazy!
Delany's prose reminds me of a couple musicians I like, John Cage and John Zorn. Cage because they both create strange, shimmering beauty out of disparate parts that I wouldn't expect to find beautiful. Zorn because I usually have no idea what is going to come next, what one part will turn into, and what that will turn into next. the music analogy occurred to me fairly early because the futuristic music that the highly endearing character Mouse creates is central to the story.
is there hard science in this book? I am not a science guy, not remotely, and a lot of what Delany was describing flew right over my head. so much so that I couldn't tell if it was actual science or if it was Delany using science in a fantastical way.
one of the things I often notice when reading science fiction from earlier eras is how much these authors can pack into such a short number of pages. just a bit over 200 pages! and yet Delany successfully develops multiple characters, an entire future society, a revenge narrative, and much else in those pages. very, very impressive. such a small package but so much within.
loved the use of tarot cards. I think the only other science fiction I've read that had such heavy use was Piers Anthony's Tarot series. and now I'm a little embarrassed that I've mentioned Piers Anthony. but he had some good novels!
I'm a bit shaky on the Grail Quest within this novel. it appears central but at the same time its use was somewhat obscure to me. I have to think on that a little bit, maybe do some research.
one of the things I like about New Wave science fiction authors is just how literary they can get. I have no problem with straightforward 'genre prose' but I just really, really love the artistry of more experimental writers who don't handhold readers from point A to B and who treat their prose with a combination of playfulness and seriousness, like it's a fun challenge for them to write what they intend to be a fun challenge to read. reading Delany and others of his ilk is the opposite of a passive experience. it is the kind of a writing that hits many different parts of me at different times and in different ways. exciting prose! (less)
from the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
It’s tough to be a human: that is something I’ve learned dur...morefrom the Earth Journal of Scientific Analyst SLJLK92349UO, Earth Invasion Exploratory Unit
It’s tough to be a human: that is something I’ve learned during my lengthy time studying the human species on this planet Earth. Life itself is hard, of course, with its everyday pitfalls and each individual’s long-term ambitions and disappointments… but for humanity that difficulty is compounded by all of the –isms that exist to divide humanity from itself. Isms based on race and culture and gender and orientation and age and socio-economic status and family background and personal appearance; all those things, whether intangible or physical, that help form a human’s identity. I have always been fascinated by this construct “identity,” at least in how it affects the human species. Back home on Robot Planet we seldom are concerned with such things; if we feel anxious about or disappointed in our current form, we simply upload into a more pleasing iteration.
Scalzi appears to share my interest in identity; specifically, the mutability of physical identity and the distance that can lie between a person’s interior and exterior. From Scalzi’s perspective, the clothes do not make the man – nor does the body or the gender or the age or many other things. It is a forward-looking perspective and one that I fully endorse. This perspective has been present in much of his work; his exciting science fiction saga starting with Old Man’s War posits that the mutable physical self is but a prop or costume or useful tool for that which exists within. He takes that interest to a new level in his novel Lock In. A world full of a sizeable minority who only engage with the world in mind and spirit, whose prone “locked in” bodies slumber peacefully while their minds roam the world through robotic suits or as guests in human bodies or in a kind of virtual landscape constructed for this minority. It's as if Scalzi finally went for it in this novel and decided to put his interests right up front. He is truly a classic version of the “speculative” science fiction author in that he hypothesizes where the human race may go to next while still concerning himself with how we operate as individuals and as a society right now.
Perhaps I am just a typical liberal robot of the old model, but I find a touching connection between his progressive blog posts and his ongoing interest in illustrating how a person is so much more than what their body does or looks like or comes from.
As far as the novel itself goes, it is a futuristic mystery. Agent Chris Shane is new on the scene, and on his first day he has to deal with a crime that has far-reaching implications for that sizeable minority who are locked in, as well as the rest of humanity. Agent Shane is also locked in, so there was a lot of enjoyable detail about how Chris and others who are locked in often interface with the physical world through robotic bodies nicknamed "threeps." Chris Shane's gender is never identified – an ingenious decision and one that fits right in with Scalzi’s viewpoint re what actually makes a person a person. The mystery itself is simple to solve; the prose is bland and workmanlike but not objectionable. It is all quite easy going down and made for a pleasant way to pass the time. More compelling to me than the plot were the themes and ideas mentioned above. And more appealing to me than the rather rote characters on display was the character of the author, also on display. He is an admirable example of his species. I’d welcome him on Robot Planet, where he would be the source of much interest! Although I suppose if there were more humans like Scalzi, I would feel more guilt about our upcoming invasion. And then where would Robot Planet harvest its fuel sources and capture its meat-based servants? Our moral logic would force us to find another planet for such needs! Happily, there are few like Scalzi on this planet Earth.(less)
Shazam! brilliant Alan Moore's saga of a Captain Marvel template being thrust into the real world continues. Shazam! even a magic word can't transform...moreShazam! brilliant Alan Moore's saga of a Captain Marvel template being thrust into the real world continues. Shazam! even a magic word can't transform my irritation with this lackluster collection into something more positive, despite how much I admire the author. Shazam! the mishmash of unappealing art could also use a magical transformation. Shazam! an offensively clichéd black character who is self-aware of his clichés does not equal those clichés being transformed into something interesting or challenging. Shazam! apparently there was controversy about how explicit the childbirth scene was; the only controversy I saw on the page was how much the hideous infant resembled a baby Winston Churchill. Shazam! I shall transform this 1 star rating into a 2 star rating because the comparison of Miracleman to an Übermensch, and a full page panel of him floating in front of a glowing cross, and the many images of him tearing and smashing his foes into bloody little pieces... well, all of that really shocked me, I suppose in a good way? Shazam!(less)
"Lying awake, calculating the future, Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel And piece together the past and the future, Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception..."
T.S. Eliot, "The Dry Salvages"
Caitlín R. Kiernan is a skilled cartographer of horror landscapes, mapping out other-dimensional territories within various urban horror-fantasies (many with eye-rolling covers that apparently do an incredible disservice to the prose within). I'm not too familiar with her work, outside of her compelling, masterful short story "Houses Under the Sea"... but she is On The List. I fully intend to discover her worlds. I'm not sure why I decided to start with what I think is her lone foray into science fiction; maybe it was because I am always drawn to horror in space. a spaceship or a semi-deserted world functioning as a sort of haunted house? count me in!
The Dry Salvages concerns itself with an old woman's memory, her exploration of a particularly ill-fated voyage to an abandoned world and the unnameable horror that lurks there. there's much in this novella about memory itself, its lack of reliability and our own interest in editing our memories, for different reasons but often just to allow us to keep ourselves together. we edit our memories so we don't have to live in the past, in our past mistakes, and Kiernan's prickly protagonist does the same.
honestly, I wasn't too interested in all of that. if I want to read a book about how we reshape our memories, I'll re-read Atwood's superb The Blind Assassin. Kiernan certainly accomplishes her mission - she's a wonderful writer, elegant and subtle and poetic, excellent with the characterization as well - but I was more interested in the mission itself. the novella is one long build-up as our heroine sorts through her memories and deals with a vaguely threatening government cover-up and a charming replicant who lives down the hall. I enjoyed all of the very slowly escalating suspense. I also enjoyed the disturbing ambiguity of it all because I am the sort of reader who dislikes having everything spelled out in my horror.
when the horror does come, it is as ambiguous as ever. I actually had to read the short sequence (a mere 4 pages) a second time to fully understand the horror of the situation. those 4 pages did not disappoint; I was thoroughly chilled. the whole novella worked just fine, although perhaps nothing amazing, nothing I need to re-read... but man those 4 pages were stunning in their strange and terrible implications.(less)
this novella is the most adorable thing. it may be set within the Cthulhu mythos - which is mainly concerned with terrifying god-monsters that have be...morethis novella is the most adorable thing. it may be set within the Cthulhu mythos - which is mainly concerned with terrifying god-monsters that have been barred from our plane of existence because all they want to do is devour souls and they don't even care what you think - but it is undeniably cute. like so:
our hero is an English archivist who has been notified by residents of the coastal town of Gulshaw (town motto: "There's so much more to see!") that the 9 volumes of the arcane set of books known as "The Last Revelation of Gla'aki" are available for the taking; all he has to do is come on by and pick them up. it turns out that - shocker - Gulshaw is a very strange town. its residents are all quite pale (beneath the spray-on tans that some of them sport) and are either undernourished or oddly flabby. they have weirdly misshapen limbs and heads. they seem to have some sort of group-think thing going on and they find it surprisingly hard to even talk. they put on the most eccentric stage shows that involve what I suppose you would call "folk dancing" and the singing of disturbing songs and eerie acrobatics and a stand-up comedy routine that basically consists of falling down over and over again. as far as the children of Gulshaw go, those who aren't busy practicing how to walk properly are prone to crawling/dragging themselves slowly towards you to do who knows what. the adorable lil' tykes probably have something pretty cute in mind!
the Gulshaw residents put our hero through a bit of a process before he receives his books: he must visit 9 people, each who will give him one of the 9 volumes. and so he takes an extended tour of the picturesque village. there's the schoolroom, the senior center, the zoo, and many other discomfiting places. wherever he goes, people are quite polite and even cheery towards him. they clearly appreciate his interest and, perhaps less clearly, see that his future is a bright one and that he is destined to serve rather an important function for the town.
Ramsey Campbell is a modern master of horror who is known for his challenging prose and his intense, often off-putting characterization. he puts most of that idiosyncrasy to the side in service of a novella that instead means to deliver ambiguous and possibly cosmic horror in the quaintest of ways. although I missed that distinctly off quality present in past displays of Campbell-style weirdness, it was still a pleasure to be in the hands of such a capable author. he's so completely at ease with the various tropes of Cthulhu Mythos fiction that he can play around a bit: his menacing scenes are full of weird repetitions, strained banter and amusing wordplay, and always a strong dose of mordant irony. the tale is unnerving and creepy - and often delightfully funny. this is not a purely comic tale by any means, but there's a tongue planted firmly in cheek somewhere in the telling. I didn't realize Campbell had it in him to make a village of cultists appear so threatening yet also so endearing.
A god shall walk among men, thus spake Zarathustra; this one walks from the technicolor innocence of the comic book 1950s into the dark and grime of t...moreA god shall walk among men, thus spake Zarathustra; this one walks from the technicolor innocence of the comic book 1950s into the dark and grime of the real world 1980s. A meta commentary on that ridiculous, wonderful innocence, an homage and a critique as well. A boy-hero transforms into a bloodthirsty villain; a teen-hero transforms into a schlubby everyman. A schlubby everyman becomes a living god; a happy dream of flying is suddenly remembered!
But is this truly so? Here be dragons, and unexplored territories – at least in 1985, before Watchmen. Alan Moore had his ideas and themes already perfectly formed, his darker directions already mapped out. His smart deconstruction and reconstruction of comic tropes and hero archetypes never blunt his story’s visceral shocks or disguise its messily emotional foundation. The dialogue and narration move from angst-filled realism to surreal poetry. His Miracleman moves from knowable to unknowable. Garry Leach’s superb art moves from ambiguous waking dream to throbbing nightmare.
The answer to all the questions, the actual origin story... amazing. Out of the darkness, into more darkness. The dreamer dreams a dream; the scientists conduct an experiment.
The Zaucer of Zilk is eternally young, magical and full of verve and bravado, snide and cocksure but a good guy al...morePSYCHEDELIC ROLLERCOASTER ACTIVATE!
The Zaucer of Zilk is eternally young, magical and full of verve and bravado, snide and cocksure but a good guy all the same. his enemy, master of rain and despair, has spirited his number one fan off into a dimension of misery. and back home in Zilk, the realm's ill-tempered ruler has imprisoned his faithful companions. what's The Zaucer to do? why, put on his fancy traveling pants and bust through the dimensions of time and space to get it all sorted out, of course. go, Zaucer, go!
Brendan McCarthy is a mad genius. his pop art style is like a classic 60s psychedelic poster, crazy throbbing colors that jump off of the paper. an intensely vibrant palette that is the perfect eye candy if you want to be on acid but are getting a bit too old for that sort of stuff (sad sigh). if you want to experience how creative the comic medium can get, this one - with its eye-popping 'digidelic sheen' (McCarthy's phrase, not mine) - is a great place to start. I'm a big fan of the artist - and McCarthy came up with the basic story as well - but the writing is good too. I'm not familiar with Al Ewing but he captures the zippy, near-nonsensical tone perfectly. and he's quite witty.
the story itself is about celebrity and growing up. it is clever and funny and surprisingly moving. I read this when I was already feeling happy and it made me feel even happier.
I love what Mccarthy has to say about how he conceived this comic, so I'll just quote him:
"I see the digital in comics in the same way I see electronic in music: it evokes a certain flavor that more traditional methods can't create: Emotion placed on a bed of artifice... Anything to get away from that ubiquitous 'comics as film' style the industry seems to have settled into recently... This isn't really a 'graphic novel'. Perhaps you could see it as structured like a piece of visual music..."