Thursday, December 29, 2011

Speculative Fiction Challenge 2011

This post is to follow up on the Speculative Fiction Challenge 2011, and show what I read in 2011.

The definition of speculative fiction is an "umbrella term". Especially considering this quote from the challenge:

For this first attempt at a reading challenge, I'm not going to be strict! Speculative fiction for me includes anything from the realm of science fiction, fantasy or horror - doesn't matter what subgenre, or whether it is tie-in fiction. I'm aiming to make this as inclusive as possible.

When I first signed up, 6 months late, I didn't initially include graphic novels in my first count. However, I have decided to include one in my final count - I think graphic novels can fairly count as speculative fiction. I also counted Hawkwood and the Kings as two, because it is an omnibus of two books, of at least 300 pages each.

It was somewhat stressful to come up with this list because I didn't read as much as I would have liked. I wanted to do better, and I hope to improve next year.

Here's what I read:

1. Watchmen
2. Spellwright
3. Speculative Horizons
4. Hawkwood's Voyage (Hawkwood and the Kings Book 1)
5. The Heretic Kings (Hawkwood and the Kings Book 2)
6. The Silent Land
7. Leviathan Wept
8. The Wise Man's Fear
9. The Executioness
10. The Alchemist
11. Game of Thrones (re-read)
12. Agatha H and the Airship City

The Executioness and The Alchemist

The Executioness and the Alchemist are shared world novellas by Tobias Buckell and Paolo Bacigalupi. I read them months apart, and the setting is still very memorable. The world is being encroached by a dangerous and deadly bramble, which is compounded by the use of magic. Hence, any magic use affects the bramble, so it only must be used in the direst of circumstances.

These books stand alone, although perhaps the most interesting part is the shared world, which adds depth and credibility to the stories. Published by Subterrannean Press, these novellas are very thought-provoking and readable. Recommended.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Agatha H and the Airship City

Agatha H and the Airship City: A Girl Genius Novel by Phil and Kaja Foglio, is a novel based on the first three books in their series of graphic novels, Girl Genius, originally published as a web comic on

The premise is a world of gaslamp fantasy, which is like steampunk with a zany twist of mad science and otherworldliness. The main character is Agatha, a girl who is an assistant at a lab for mad scientists, aka Sparks. There are a lot of minor characters and I find that they are all rather unique.

I find it hard not to compare the novel to the graphic novels, upon which it is based. However, I will say that it does stand alone, so there really is no need to compare and contrast. There is a lot of contrast though, and it shows that a cartoon, or comic, is really only a way to tell a story, and that story can be transposed to another medium successfully.

The language is very good; it is both readable, with a large vocabulary, and stylistic choices. I enjoy hearing the Jagerkin talk, who speak with a certain dialect that is spelled out so you can imagine their accent.

Very early on I noticed something that seemed like deus ex machina, and in my opinion this can be a good plot device when used tastefully, especially if it has been foreshadowed. I know deus ex machina is sometimes seen as a negative thing, but I'm not criticizing anything here. The plot is actually refreshing and original. Highly recommended!

You can find out more on the official site for the book at

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's On My Plate

This post is about books that are "on my plate" so to speak. These ones are next on the list, because these are books that I actually requested and/or won from publishers/blogs.

I am sharing them with you so that you will know some of the books I may be reviewing...and reading... Well, I will most likely read them first.

They are, from left to right:

Sword of Fire and Sea, by Erin Hoffman (published by Pyr)
Kings of Eternity (published by Solaris)
The Black Chalice by Steven Saville (published by Abaddon)
Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil & Kaja Foglio (published by Night Shade Books)
Never Knew Another by J.M. McDermott (published by Night Shade Books)
The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones (published by St. Martin's Press)
The Falling Machine by Andrew P. Mayer (published by Pyr)

These, as well as the ones I won from the Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll, are all fair game for reviews. So that's what's on my plate, my metaphysical platter of reading materials.

Also I already have started Sword of Fire and Sea. Erin Hoffman knows lots of big words.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Wise Man's Fear

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is the sequel to The Name of the Wind. I feel like it might be kind of hard to review because it's a sequel… and so you've either read the first in the series, or you haven't. And if you've read The Name of the Wind and you liked it, chances are, you've already read The Wise Man's Fear. So I am going to try to avoid preaching to the choir in this review.

I really took my time with this book. I read it over like four months. It just didn't grab me the way the Name of the Wind did, where I just couldn't put it down. And from my perspective, for that reason, The Wise Man's Fear wasn't as much of a page turner as The Name of the Wind. 

Why? I think it's partially because there are so many side-stories. I didn't get a sense of reading through Kvothe's daily life. It was almost like reading about him going on vacation. Fortunately, I do feel like the author knew what he was doing because it resolves quite nicely.

Pat is remarkably transparent about his writing process. He wrote the whole story through first, and then came the process of revising, editing, and shaping it into books. I really want the whole story because that's how it was conceived. The endings of both books are anticlimactic. Of course, this is fine because there is more to come, the third book in the trilogy tentatively titled The Doors of Stone.

Despite longish pacing compared to The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear is a very entertaining book that definitely has its moments of transcendence. There are times when I really, really felt that Pat was being subversive about the fantasy genre, which is part of what he wants to do. When I caught onto it, I was like, yeah that's funny. And of course, there is a lot of excellently clever language, and I noticed the writing was often poetic as well. 

Personally, my favorite part of the book is when Kvothe is in school. That seems to be the most interesting and important to the main story, while he does become a legend from his other exploits. I can't wait to read book 3 because I really hope it pans out into the story that lives up to the legend he is supposed to be. In other words, I hope Pat doesn't take the idea of subverting the fantasy genre too seriously. Patrick Rothfuss is a remarkable writer, and I know anything he does will be well worth reading. I can't wait to see how he continues telling this story.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Demon's Souls

Well, I have really been enjoying the heck out of this game. The world, though, is sometimes like hell. It's very scary, and it's very dangerous. I have a feeling I am going to be playing this for a while longer until I've experienced the entire game. Highly recommended.

Try out the Temple Knight class for Heavy Armor. Although you'll want to switch to a different weapon than the Halberd, such as a Long Sword. Whatever class you pick, if it's melee, I would train a bunch of Endurance.

So yeah, the game is very tough. The first level is tough. If you can get through it, and at least the first level of each other world though, you should be able to beat the entire game if you stick with it, and have patience. It's a lot of fun. Some frustration, yes, but very rewarding. Ultimately though, I would say the difficulty is a bit too high. I think this about other games too though, so maybe it is just me.

There is a New Game Plus (NG+) function, which allows you to play the game again. The catch is that the difficulty is increased by as much as 40%. Yikes! The new game plus was indeed...frighteningly difficult. My character in Demon's Souls needs to have a more focused build.

I started a new game with the Hunter class and I've been enjoying that as well as the online multiplayer experience. It's fun to join someone else's world and fight a boss together in order to resurrect yourself.

There's also a sequel called Dark Souls coming out in October, on both Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. I will get it for my PS3. In fact I already have it preordered.

I hope that they reprint the Demon's Souls Deluxe Edition w/ Artbook & Soundtrack CD, which comes with a strategy guide. They can be found on ebay and Amazon, but they are overpriced. Oh well.

All in all Demon's Souls Greatest Hits is an amazing single player experience rpg with an online mode as well. It may ocassionally be frustrating, but the experience is worth it. It has changed the way I think about action rpgs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Leviathan Wept by Daniel Abraham

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories, by Daniel Abraham, is a book where the phrase "Don't judge a book by its cover" is truly apt. I saw it and thought it would be fantasy because there was a character with a sword on the cover... Well, I was wrong. The works in here are mostly contemporary with a few fantasy and science fiction elements in the mix.

I enjoyed it. There were quite a few stories that were really interesting to read. I liked the way the characters were introduced but not really explained so much as their descriptions were concerned. This means it's really kind of based on the perspective of a character. I would say that it is definitely character-driven style narratives.

My favorite of the nine short stories in this anthology were: "The Support Technician Tango" and "Exclusion." I find those the most memorable of the stories. In the former, an office worker tries to improve himself by joining a dance class and reading a self-help book. In the latter, there is a way people can "exclude" other people by basically placing them on an ignore list, and then that person is invisible to them from that point on. I feel that the themes in his stories evoke the question of, "What if...?" What if you could exclude people so you never had to talk to them again? What if this other thing happened? And so on. 

One thing I noticed is that the ending to most of the stories felt abrupt. It wasn't a bad thing because it made it feel like the short story was just a snippet of some larger narrative. I like that, and I think it implies that Abraham is a clever writer who could really divulge on his themes. This makes me think I would enjoy his full-length novels. 

All in all, I recommend this if you're looking for a short story collection by one author. However, don't be drawn in only by the cover, because that illustration really only corresponds to one of the short stories ("A Hunter in Arin-Qin"). 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Scribbling of the Scribe

Well, I am still here. I finished school. It feels weird. It hasn't drastically improved my time management skills, though. I try to spend at least some time during the day looking for a job.

Then, in my free time, I've been working through the video game Demon's Souls on Playstation 3.

I've been reading The Wise Man's Fear, but alas, not regularly and it's been almost a week I think since I've made any progress.

I got Leviathan Wept and Other Stories by Dan Abraham from the library, and I've been reading some of that. It's fun and light reading yet heavy concepts and emotional drama. I would say it's excellent and I've only read 3 of the 9 stories. I'll post a full review when I finish it.

Also listening to Eleven Tigers. Interesting and deep electronic music. The album is called Clouds are Mountains.

So that's what I've been up to.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge 2011!

I have decided to join the Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge 2011! hosted by Magemanda over at Floor to Ceiling Books.

I need the extra motivation to read, and the goal is 12 books in 2011. That's one book a month. I have already fallen behind.

I am about halfway through my current book, The Wise Man's Fear. Thankfully, I have plenty to choose from to read next once I've finished it. 

There's also a summer reading challenge at my library, so that's extra motivation.

It's hard to believe there would be any question as to whether this was doable or not. Reading 12 books should be easy... I know I can do this. :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011


On May 28, the blog will turn six months old.

Still reading The Wise Man's Fear

I hope my productivity will improve, so that I will be writing reviews more often. I am thinking about moving to a new domain, and trying wordpress. Thanks for sticking with me.

Cheers and enjoy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


I knew I had to see Firefly when I saw it mentioned everywhere. And I saw photos of people I respect wearing the "Joss Whedon Is My Master Now" t-shirt. Haha. I'm glad to say that the series did not disappoint, and I really enjoyed it.

Firefly is a Space Western. The concept is a spaceship called Serenity of the Firefly class, which is owned by Captain Malcolm Reynolds, that flies around with its crew taking on missions of questionable repute. They are criminals technically, but they are mostly relatively moralistic nonetheless.

The crew includes pilot Wash, his wife and second-in command, Zoe, Jayne the fighter, and Kaylee the mechanic. There are a bunch of other characters on board as well: Inara the Companion, or courtesan, who rents one of the ship's shuttles. Then there's the priest, Shepherd Book, who travels with them. And finally the doctor Simon and his sister River, who are fugitives.

The diverse crew and the world allow for many interesting missions.

Here's what I really liked about it:
  • The setting and genre: Space Western is an interesting combination. It's just so imaginative.
  • The characters. A lot of story is focused on character development, so it is very good that the characters are vivid and dynamic.
  • The spaceship itself: Firefly is simply a really cool spaceship design. 
  • The writing: The episodes are each written by a different person. On the one hand, this means the voices aren't 100% consistent, but it does mean that there are a lot of different ideas floating around about story and character.
  • Humor. It was funny sometimes, and it was just serious enough to take seriously.
Firefly is excellent, and I would definitely watch it again. I also want to find out what happens in Serenity, the movie that was released after the show was cancelled. Since it's short, it made it easy to watch 14 episodes without having to commit to a long series, but it really could have gone on for another few seasons. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Contract With God Trilogy

The Contract With God Trilogy by Will Eisner is considered  to be the first graphic novel. It's actually three parts as the name implies: A Contract With God, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue. It takes place in New York during the 1930s.

I've spent a fair amount time in New York City because my family is from there and my grandpa grew up during the Great Depression probably in a similar setting. There's also a lot of Yiddish colloquialisms that I'd never picked up before. Since I come from a Jewish family, I'm assuming some expressions have just fallen into disuse. It's amazing that even 80 years ago, the city was so developed; at least, coming from someone who lives in suburbia, it shows that even almost a century doesn't make a difference, it's still nothing like living in the city.

I enjoyed reading it to an extent, but it wasn't my favorite. I found some of it humorous, and the art interesting, and the writing consistent. Dropsie Avenue was kind of drawn out and has no chapters to separate it. The avenue is really the main character, as opposed to people, but that also made it interesting too. The other two stories are interesting as well, although memorable mainly for their art and the struggles the characters endure. For the first graphic novel it is still entirely readable.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Camelot on Starz

The new tv series based on Arthurian legends, Camelot, is awesome so far. The first episode was very good. So much happened in it, it was almost more like a movie than the first episode. There are enough conclusions that it would stand alone, even if there weren't more episodes to come in the series. However, it does leave open ends for the plot to continue. It was amazing. I hope the rest of the series is as good.

The plot is based around the death of King Uther. After he dies, the wizard Merlin goes to find Arthur, the King's son, who was sent to live with foster parents when he was born. Merlin asks him to take his father's place as king, and thus the story begins. However, his half-sister Morgan is determined to rule the kingdom herself.

It's rare that I see a fantasy tv series as good as this. They are relatively sparse as it is; at least, this kind of high fantasy seems to be. I hope that Game of Thrones is as good as Camelot. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

"The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman

"The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman is a short story from The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, V.5.

It's been a while since I've read any Neil Gaiman. I really like his writing style, it's very readable, and that's something I will continuously mention that I value.

In this story, a dwarf goes on a journey to a cave where you can find gold. It is very mysterious and hidden, so he has to get a guide to take him there. However, the gold you find in the cave is said to take something away from whoever takes it.

Here is a quote that I found particularly philosophical:

"I am old now, or at least, I am no longer young, and everything I see reminds me of something else I've seen, such that I see nothing for the first time...It is the curse of age, that all things are reflections of other things."

I can relate to this sentiment. Some time ago, I started to feel this way, too. It's like deja vu, but on a deeper, fundamental level. If our minds didn't have the faculty of association, though, I wonder if it would change the shape of consciousness.

It is a thought-provoking, interesting, and clever short story.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Best SFF Novels of the Decade Readers Poll

Earlier this year, hosted a poll for the best novels of the decade. These are the results:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi - 295 votes
American Gods by Neil Gaiman - 270 votes
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - 231 votes
Blindsight by Peter Watts - 221 votes
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey - 194 votes
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin - 179 votes
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke - 167 votes
Anathem by Neal Stephenson - 141 votes
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson - 125 votes
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville - 124 votes

Yet besides feeling proud of some of my favorites (especially The Name of the Wind), and nodding to myself about authors I was familiar with, I didn't take this poll very seriously. I should have had the mindset, “These are some books that I absolutely must read.”

My dedicated shelf for the Best SFF Novels of the Decade

Anyways, I entered a giveaway to win a set of the books, and oddly enough, I actually won! Fancy that a blogger should win. Now I have the chance to read all these books, thanks to Fantasy.

I've read The Name of the Wind, A Storm of Swords, and American Gods.

Which are your favorites?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce

The Silent Land won The Wertzone Award for Best Novel in 2010, so when I saw the book on the shelves at the library, I knew I had to pick it up right away.

A couple goes on a skiing vacation, but it is not quite the trip they had planned....

It struck me while I was reading that it was a good book, a piece of literature.

Indeed, I've seen The Silent Land classified as literary fiction -- yet also genre fiction and speculative fiction, so it might appeal to a wide variety of readers. If I were to classify it as a fantasy, I would say it is closest to contemporary fantasy.

I would also say the writing style is impressionistic. The story is told through the characters and what they experience, rather than the interpretation of the experience afterwards. There is a sense of immediacy and minimalism there. I really like these qualities in a novel.

Here's what Adam Whitehead wrote about this gem:

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce
This is a short, quiet novel that focuses on two characters who find themselves alone in a strange environment. Haunting and unsettling, those with a passing familiarity with genre fiction should work out what's going on pretty quickly, but watching the characters do the same is fascinating, culminating in an emotionally powerful conclusion

In conclusion, The Silent Land is a modern classic.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Storm Front, Vol. 1 and 2

Jim Butcher's Storm Front as adapted to graphic novel. The book is broken up into two volumes, "The Gathering Storm" and "Maelstrom."

Harry Dresden is a compelling wizard who works privately in Chicago. He is faced with the task of trying to solve the murder of people whose chests were blasted out by magic from far away. There's also a missing person case. There's a ton of magic, and Harry has more than a few tricks up his sleeve.

It's a cool urban fantasy. I definitely recommend this if you like graphic novels. The art and storytelling are top notch and exciting.

This was my introduction to the Dresden Files. It lived up to the hype, and to be able to do so even as a graphic novel adaptation says something. What a great story! I am now interested in reading the original novel by Jim Butcher.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rose City Steampunk Film Festival

My first steampunk festival was very entertaining. It was a spectacular way to spend a Sunday. There were a lot of interesting goings-on:

  • A ton of short films
  • Two feature films
  • A Q&A with film people
  • A panel of steampunk authors

I loved it. The first Rose City Steampunk Film Festival was great. What a success.

I noticed people were in costumes and both Q&A sessions talked about the steampunk aesthetic.

I've never personally done steampunk fashion or Neo-Victorian, as you might call it.

The "steampunk" aesthetic is one I feel a bit ambivalent about. On the one hand, it looks suave and elegant. On the other hand, when you see it all the time, it becomes a cliché.

In my opinion, the steampunk look is best when it appears uncontrived, functional, and reserved. The goggles are a bit much. Although I suppose part of its appeal is its extravagance.

Ultimately, the concept of Neo-Victorianism is very interesting. Furthermore, steampunk style is an ultra-retro, hip way to dress.

Despite not dressing up in the steampunk style,
And hence feeling like I didn't go the whole mile.
Still I enjoyed for quite a while,
A lot of works of film in Neo-Victorian style.

Due to some technical difficulties (burning to DVD), some short films were not shown.

At least two of the ones not shown, however, are available to watch online (The Forgotten Invention of Love is great).

Luckily there will be another screening for the ones that weren't shown on the day of the festival.

Now, here's what I saw and my reactions. They are all recommended.

Child Invisible

One of the best of show. In fact it swept the award ceremony, including best of show. It was emotionally impacting and very well done.
This is action packed dieselpunk. Cassie Meder, who is in this series, was at the fest for Q&A. She wasn't in the first episode, but she still contributed a lot to the discussion! And about this series, when I say "action packed," I'm serious.

I thought some of the cinematics were interesting, but I got bored during this one. Old black & white movies are always paced kind of lackadaisically. Perhaps an acquired taste; if you have a taste for it, you might enjoy this classic film showcasing steampunk before it was steampunk.

It's unfortunate this wasn't able to be shown at the festival. You can see it on the filmmaker's website. It is very, very good. This was probably my favorite so it was a bummer they couldn't show it at the festival. However, now I recommend you go watch this! It's art.

This was a trip. I enjoyed it and thought it was one of the most creative of the bunch. Abstract and varied in its narrative medium.

“Heart of Stone” music video by The Raveonettes

It was quick but pleasant and steampunk enough for me. Not very memorable.

The League of S.T.E.A.M. omnibus of shorts by

This was fun core genre steampunk at its best. It shows off the aesthetic and it's well produced. We were left with a cliff-hanger. It's an ongoing web series like The Danger Element.
Two minutes of musical and visual steampunk enjoyment. This is well done. Hearing the artist talk during the Q&A, I was amazed to learn how much work went into it.

Nickel Children

A steampunk story about kids who are kept caged to fight each other. One kid gets saved. There was a warning to the audience about its explicit material. It was kind of horrifying. It says it might become a web series, and it looks to have won a few awards.
The volume level of the dialogue was a bit low, so that made it a bit hard to hear. I'm a sub-titles guy too so...yeah. Still, this one was fun. Light saber fight for the win!
About 6 minute long animated short. This is very entertaining, historical, and fantastically steampunky in the way that I like. Time-traveling Victorian shenanigans featuring Thomas Edison as an unlikely villain with a mech.


The finale of the night absolutely blew me away. It wasn't written in on the schedule, it was supposed to be a surprise. And it was indeed a surprise! Such a stunning, magnificent film. Glad I saw it.

The author discussion was really very interesting.  Steampunk authors talking about steampunk. As you might expect.


They all seem like excellent, intriguing authors.

The authors appear to like the steampunk genre for plenty of different reasons. Nostalgia. The aesthetic. An interesting time in history. However, their works also have elements of historical fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. They don't want to see steampunk "sell out", but they acknowledge that it's a cool aesthetic.

I kind of wanted to buy some books (or ask for review copies) after the Q&A, but the festival moved quickly onto the next block of short films. And after that, it was dinner time. Afterwards, the authors were off in a puff of steam. A puff of steam.

Seriously though, it was fun to see the faces of some authors I had heard of, and some I hadn't, and generated a lot of interest in reading their books to me.

Overall, the festival was simply stupendous. I had a great time. Unfortunately it's kind of one of those "you had to be there" things. Notwithstanding, I recommend you look for some of these films (McDonough, Danger Element, and Forgotten Invention of Love are all available to watch online) or check out the authors if you are interested. Lots of great work.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dungeon: Parade

Dungeon Parade 1: A Dungeon Too Many is a comic fantasy graphic novel. Written by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim originally in French, this volume actually takes place in between the main storyline of the Dungeon series.  But even as a side story, it's fine as a standalone.

It's a fun story of a Dungeon run for adventurers by anthropomorphic characters. The main characters are a Duck and a Dragon for example. The Dungeon Keeper is a Chicken.

A Dragon arrives at the Dungeon looking to the work in management there. The Dungeon Keeper misunderstands and asks for a massage, but after an awkward moment he dispenses some advice. That's the kind of humor you can expect.

Ultimately unsuccessful at getting a job in the Dungeon, the Dragon starts his own dungeon nearby, but it's more of a carnival. Which is why I think it's called Parade. From there, the plot goes haywire.

Dungeon: Parade was enjoyable. There are some funny moments and the art is really good. It's got a lot of personality and I want to read more of the series.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


In the year 2044, people are genetically engineered to be happy all the time. However, this only brings them paradoxical numbness.

The main character Jack deals pain pills to give people feelings of pain. He uncovers his father's video tapes about the Zenith conspiracy. He has a fling with a whorish yet sympathetic woman. He explores the film's theme as narrator.

This indie film was really weird. Zenith says it's Anonymous but it's apparently by Vladan Nikolic.

I read the plot wiki beforehand and actually watching Zenith was still a bit of a puzzle. It might be one of those movies you'd have to see more than once to fully get it.

There is an interesting premise to the plot where language is being forgotten, and it's rare to know certain words.

Zenith is interesting for its "transmedia" experimentalism. It has a weird promotional website, Stop Zenith. The main character has a fictional blog.

The official website is at ZENITH.

Zenith was billed as: "A retro-futuristic steam-punk thriller." It's ironic because steampunk is becoming such a stamp on anything science fiction these days. But this might be more like dystopian biopunk.

Zenith is a weird film, but it is suspenseful because of the thriller tone. It creates a mystery. It only falls short on fulfilling my hopes that it would come together sensibly in the end. In conclusion, the film's abstraction overshadows its plot, and the extra media is exceedingly bizarre.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

RIP Brian Jacques

I met him once... He signed my copy of The Legend of Luke

Redwall was a big part of my childhood. It was one of my favorites, if not my favorite series, and I used to roleplay on the Redwall MUCK online. As you can see I still have a shelf of the first 12 of the series. I hope to revisit Mossflower eventually. 

He will be missed.


Gattaca is a science fiction thriller starring Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, and Jude Law. It's about a future world where genes can be manipulated to create a God-child. But the protagonist Vincent is an In-Valid. This means he has some serious, life-threatening genetic defects. He is overshadowed by his younger brother, who has perfect genes. However Vincent sets himself up to use a paralyzed but Valid man named Jerome Morrow's DNA to make himself pass for a Valid and follow his dream of going up into space.

This is an enjoyable, fascinating movie with an interesting premise and vivid characters. It also seems philosophical. The movie explores various relationships, ambitions, and limitations. It's both dark and hopeful.

It got me thinking and I thought it was really well told and directed, and that includes the cinematography. I don't always notice it but I did notice the way the camera was used.

Gattaca is certainly an unrecognized film for being such a great, intellectual biopunk story.

Blade of the Immortal, Vol 1

A wandering samurai named Manji has been cursed with immortality. The only way to get rid of this curse is to kill one thousand evil men. A girl named Rin, whose family has been killed, seeks Manji to help her avenge her family. This gives Manji some targets to fulfill his curse and begins the quest.

Blade of the Immortal (wiki) is a long running manga series by Hiroaki Samura. The first volume, Blood of a Thousand, introduces the plot and characters.

The premise is interesting, but it still needs to be expanded upon, as I know it will in the following 20+ volumes with its various story arcs. Only a samurai would consider immortality a curse. It seems as if they're always seeking after an honorable demise.

The art, in shaded pencil and heavily stylized, is good. The action scenes are good too. And I like it when characters have special attacks.

Blade of the Immortal: Blood of a Thousand is a neat introduction to what appears to be fairly traditional but good Japanese manga. I can't say it's a must-read, but at the very least, it was entertaining.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hawkwood and the Kings by Paul Kearney

Hawkwood and the Kings, the omnibus of Paul Kearney's The Monarchies of God, Volume 1, contains the first two books of the series, Hawkwood's Voyage and The Heretic Kings. It's a heroic fantasy war epic with the feel of a genuine history. There are kings, mages, werewolves, boats, and guns. It is visceral, clever, and believable.

An explorer called Hawkwood sets off from Abrusio in Normannia towards a new world, the unexplored Western Continent. This voyage is sanctioned by King Abeleyn of Abrusio, so a Lord is aboard ship. There are also mages called Dweomer folk aboard, who are fleeing from the persecution of the Inceptine Church. Ironically, though, there is an Inceptine priest aboard, too. From the beginning, the voyage is fraught with tension and potential for disaster.

In the east, Merduk invaders attack, destroy, and threaten Torunna, one of the main territories of Normannia. The stronghold of Aekir has fallen and the next in the line of defense is Ormann Dyke. Corfe, the last survivor of the fall of Aekir, returns to Torunn with the surviving High Pontiff, Macrobius. At the conclave of kings in Charibon, a civil war between the five kingdoms begins because the Inceptine Church doesn't believe that Macrobius could have survived the fall of Aekir. 

There are a ton of compelling, interesting characters and even a few more plot threads. Kearney weaves them all together seamlessly, while the plot is still complex and varied. The transition between the two books was smooth, although each novel has a shape to its plot.

There are completely excellent battle sequences. The era is based roughly between the Age of Discovery and the Age of Sail. Ships have cannons and soldiers have arquebuses. Yet aside from a few elements of historical realism, it is staunchly a fantasy. In fact, the magic system deserves to be mentioned because it is interesting and even now remains mysterious. 

Overall, Hawkwood and the Kings is somehow both complex and extremely readable, which is not always an easy balance to strike. It's an awesome, enjoyable adventure. The omnibus is published by Solaris Books.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Madman: The Oddity Odyssey by Michael Allred

Madman is not your ordinary superhero. In fact, Madman's kind of an antihero. However, he is formidable. He has a yo-yo and the slingshot as his main weapons, and he's psychic through touch. He wears a strange outfit, which people comment on and wonder why, and even he doesn't really seem to know what his costume means. In spite of his eccentricity or perhaps because of it, Madman is oddly compelling.

In this story, Madman is trying to save the doctor who's frozen in the freezer in his apartment. Madman is told he has to find another doctor in order to bring him back to life. The arch villain is a would-be mad scientist who wants the other doctor's scientific discoveries on life and death for himself. 

The art is good. It's black, white, and blue, which is really kind of neat but also somewhat stark and abstract. It has been called pop art. Throughout the graphic novel, there are good action scenes, philosophizing, characterization, romance, and a ton of weird stuff. Madman really is a sympathetic, personable character.

Madman is sort of an offbeat comic with cult appeal. It really is an "odyssey of oddity" so the title Oddity Odyssey is apt. Michael Allred's Madman has generated a lot of all kinds of praise from seriously big names, as seen on his blog, Allred Art, which is in actual fact brand new. Check it out! And here is his official website. The first issue of the comic can be previewed at Madman: The Oddity Odyssey #1 on comiXology

Friday, January 28, 2011

True Grit (eGraphic Novel) by Dan Light and Ben Read

I saw over at Grasping for the Wind that there was a True Grit comic online: Free eGraphic Novel: True Grit by Dan Light and Ben Read based on the recent movie. So, having already seen True Grit (review), I read this e-comic. While it is well done, it's just an introduction to the characters and story of the movie.

It's basically the start of the film. In some ways, it's a better introduction. In the movie, the courtroom scene generally served to introduce the character of Rooster Cogburn. But in the comic, not only do we get the courtroom scene, but also we get to see it depicted graphically. In the movie, it was only told in retrospect. This provides a more active portrayal of the character in the movie, although it lacks the presence of the actor Jeff Bridges, who was nominated for an academy award as best actor for his role of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.

This was an enjoyable read for someone having seen the movie and probably enough to get someone interested if he or she likes westerns. It also got me interested in finding out about more work from the authors, or the artist. Although, maybe I just liked reading it online at ComiXology, where you can click to view it frame by frame.

Speculative Horizons, Ed. by Patrick St-Denis

Edited by Patrick St-Denis of Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, the Speculative Horizons anthology turned out to be fairly decent. There wasn't any particular theme. Each story had something going for it and was readable. I have found some new authors I would enjoy reading after this as well.

No story stands out more than the rest. The anthology is equal to the sum of its parts. A number of interesting ideas add together to equal a fine speculative fiction short story collection. 

Reviews of the individual stories can be found under the label: Speculative Horizons.

"The Stranger" by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

"The Stranger" by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is a short story from Speculative Horizons anthology edited by Patrick St-Denis.

A mysterious stranger arrives to stay at the narrator's family farm. The stranger appears to be a warrior due to his manner and weaponry. And during the story, he proves that he is indeed a valiant fighter.

It was a likable short story and my first introduction to the author's work. I liked the direct narrative style and the fantasy elements both at the forefront and in the background. I would definitely be interested in reading the Saga of Recluce series, the world in which "The Stranger" is set.

"Soul Mate" by C. S. Friedman

"Soul Mate" by C. S. Friedman is a short story from Speculative Horizons anthology edited by Patrick St-Denis.

Karen and Josie run a jewelry booth at an arts and crafts festival. They meet a mysterious stranger named Stephan Mayeaux, who Josephine starts to date.

It's a love story with a twist. There's not much more to say about it. I enjoyed it. It was skillfully written and very readable.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Evan Yeti

Evan Yeti is an entertaining webcomic. I want to see how -- or rather, if -- Evan will find his missing family. This is his quest and the Snowman Coal is kind of like his sidekick.

This sort of summarizes the plot so far. Them getting into trouble while looking for Evan's family. And  fighting walruses.

Recently the penguin Hank was found under the ice, and the polar bear Charlie pushes Evan and Coal in there with him. Turns out its a Munch-a-Chomp tunnel. I assume the bear's intention was that they would help Hank find a way to escape. Unfortunately they run into the Munch-a-Chomp whose tunnel it presumably is...

Presently it looks like Evan Yeti is getting Munch-a-Chomped. Let's hope someone comes to his rescue! For what is a webcomic without its star?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"The Death of Love" by Hal Duncan

"The Death of Love" by Hal Duncan is a short story from Speculative Horizons anthology edited by Patrick St-Denis.

It's about an investigator of Erocide, which is the murder of a couple's cupid.  It's their real world manifestation of love for one another.  When you kill the cupid, the love ends.

It reads like a monologue, or a rant even, stream of consciousness. This made it fairly easy reading. It kind of reminded me of the style of Catcher in the Rye. Except while that book condemns vulgarity, this short story is extremely vulgar. However, it is not obscene.

"The Death of Love" is the result of a great idea, and exploring the idea is what the story is about. I thought it was an interesting concept and metaphor for love.

"Flint" by Brian Ruckley

"Flint" by Brian Ruckley is a short story from Speculative Horizons anthology edited by Patrick St-Denis.

It's about a shaman, Flint. His teacher and the former shaman Fifth Moon is dead. In the eponymous story, Flint must prove his mettle as the new shaman.

Long Dusk is sick and dying. Another person falls sick. So with a guide named Hare, Flint journeys to the spirit world to find out the source of the sickness. In the spirit world, Flint must confront and free the spirit of the vengeful Crow.

There are some bees which converge into an anthropomorphic bee monster. That's awesome. Flint finds some bones and summons a spirit in a dream. Flint summons this shadow, yet it is as if it haunts him.

“Flint” definitely contains some good ideas. Hunter–gatherers and shamanism. It also feels kind of philosophical. Ultimately, it was an interesting short story.

LTJ Bukem - Inner Guidance

Monday, January 24, 2011

Outlanders by Johji Manabe, Vol 1

Space opera! In Tokyo, aliens invade! Caught amidst the confusion and wreckage, a photojournalist named Tetsuya gets to see the aliens dropping down from the sky and photograph them. Meanwhile, the Japan Self Defense Force tries to fight off the invaders from the alien Empire. Oh my goodness. This comic was awesome. 

The fight is epic! Somehow, the aliens bring down the choppers the Japanese army sent in, so tanks are being called in as backup. Meanwhile, Tetsuya encounters an alien femme fatale with horns and a greatsword. He snaps a few pictures, but then is forced to fight her. After a brief clash, the girl drops her sword and runs away. Very mysterious.

I liked the art style right away. It's sharp, and has a distinct manga flavor while remaining accessible for someone familiar with comics. The buildings and vehicles are especially stunning. The story is really quite amazing, and I would like to know what happens next... Outlanders, Vol 1, by Johji Manabe is definitely the beginning of an epic adventure.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

"The Eve of the Fall of Habesh" by Tobias S. Buckell

"The Eve of the Fall of Habesh" by Tobias Buckell is a short story from Speculative Horizons anthology edited by Patrick St-Denis.

It takes place in the city of Habesh by the Elkatoa coast. Five miles north, another city, Kopach, is being burnt by the Sea People, who are going to attack Habesh next. This puts a sense of impending doom in the story.

The magic system requires that you can only learn one spell. Teaching is a sin. Everyone gets only one spell. And the catch? Using magic takes away your life force, makes you old and wizened.

The protagonist Jazim is a contragnartii who appears to work for the city Habesh. Jazim has a target. The target is a beggar in the Market. The Market is alive with commerce. As is his duty, Jazim tries to arrest the beggar named Bruse, but the beggar blasts him with air. And runs away. Jazim gives a prematurely aged girl some coins and chases after the beggar. He chases him to a soup tent. He silences the beggar and fights him. But he lets him go because some kids say he's helping them.

Jazim goes to a restaurant and then some guards come in looking for him. One of them is a Locator. The guards march him out of the kitchen. Yamis, an Inquisitor, is after the children, who are apparently escaped factory workers.  Jazim is supposed to bring the kids back to protect the city against the Sea People. After the war, they are to be hanged. 

His decision is whether to help the kids escape or defend the city which he loves so much. He also has a brother shackled in the city. So it really is a tough decision...

"The Eve of the Fall of Habesh" is written in first-person and the present tense. It's a nice writing style. I enjoyed the setting and the character was fairly compelling. I'd like to see more stories written about this world. For a short story, it has almost too much detail. But I enjoyed it. I think the author's books would be good.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Creature Tech by Doug TenNapel

Dr. Jameson is a power-hungry scientist who wants to rule the world. He has conjured a demonic cat named Hellcat from Hades in exchange for his left hand. The doctor sends out a megaphonic call to bring a Giant Space Eel down to Earth. But the eel crashes into the Earth, because the eel call is too strong, and Hellcat gets zapped when he tries to turn it down. 

150 years later, the present story focuses on Dr. Ong, a scientist working for the government in a research facility commonly known as Creature Tech. His job is to go through boxes and research what's in them.

In one of the boxes, a monster and the ghost of Dr. Jameson emerge. The monster has a parasite on it, and when Dr. Ong defeats the monster, the parasitic alien impales Dr. Ong's heart and attaches to his chest. Now he has become the symbiotic host.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jameson uses the Shroud of Turin, allegedly Jesus's burial shroud, to resurrect himself. Revived, Dr. Jameson starts trying to put his evil plans into place once again and also creates an army of demonic cats to fight for him.

For the good guys, there's Dr. Ong's father, the caretakers of the Museum of the Weird, rednecks, and a giant mantid named Blue sent by the government to aid the doctor.

This graphic novel really surprised me. It's a zany story that's really creative and  amusing. The art is great. It's black and white, and kind of minimalist, but also extremely vivid, detailed at times, and full of contrast. The storytelling is excellent, and Dr. Ong is a protagonist you can't help but root for.

Creature Tech is an enjoyable graphic novel. Doug TenNapel is also the creator of Earthworm Jim, the Neverhood, and GEAR. I would certainly try another one of his comic books. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Spellwright by Blake Charlton

Nicodemus Weal is the wizard known as a spellwright on the cover and Spellwright's main character. He is tall with black hair, olive skin, and green eyes. He may or may not have a role in a prophecy upon which the fate of the world depends. He is also a cacographer, which means that he misspells text simply by touching it. This concept reflects the author's struggles with dyslexia, and it also makes for an interesting thematic element to this fantasy tale.

Nicodemus's teacher at the academy of Starhaven is Magister Agwu Shannon, the famous linguist and Grand Wizard. He has white dreadlocks, a short beard, and mustache. Pure white eyes, although he is blind, so he only sees the world through magic.

The book starts with the murder of a Magister. Shannon, who was a rival with the Magister, is a prime suspect, and consequently, so is Nicodemus. Also, there is a convocation going on, so sentinels have arrived as well as druids. A mysterious creature is in the area, and ultimately, Nicodemus has to flee Starhaven.

The overarching conflict is the War of Disjunction. The evil god Los and his minions are prophesied to lead the forces of the Pandemonium against humanity. Because of the war, the underlying basis of the novel is an archetypal conflict between good and evil. Still, the forefront is on the magic system, Nicodemus, and intricacies of the plot.

I perceived a lot of hype surrounding Spellwright. I saw it in stores. I saw lots of reviews. I think it generated publicity from being published by Tor, the irony and interest of a dyslexic novelist, and the fact that Blake Charlton has a personable online presence. 

When I read the book, it often surprised and interested me, but also, I had mixed feelings about it. It kept feeling like something was about to click with the story. For Spellwright to get started to where the blurb ends took more than half of it. Although the chapters are short, I found myself wishing it were faster paced and more narrative driven. Yet there were definitely moments of good action.

I like the fundamentals. The magic system is intriguing, vivid, and amusing. The characters are cool, despite some of the minor ones being underdeveloped. I think Nicodemus is a great fantasy name. I liked the descriptions, for example how Shannon has silver dreadlocks and white eyes, and Deirdre is a druid with a greatsword, and the demon Typhoneus. The prophecy and Imperials and the war of the Disjunction add depth to the plot. I also like how Nicodemus reads knightly romances.

All in all, Spellwright is a solid first effort and I will be interested in reading where it goes in the sequel Spellbound.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Acclaimed Books from 2010

There are a lot of books I missed in 2010. I went through some of the best-of lists and took some picks. I have put together a Goodreads list of these books. I noticed most of the following books on multiple lists, while some just particularly piqued my interests. I may not get to them all. I am also including books from 2010 I read and enjoyed. Some of the books are not yet released everywhere. Enjoy.

City of Ruin
The Dervish House
The Desert Spear
The Evolutionary Void
The Greyfriar
Hawkwood and the Kings
The Horns of Ruin
The Last Page
Leviathan Wept and Other Stories
The Noise Within
The Passage
The Quantum Thief
Retribution Falls
The Silent Land: A novel
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery
Terminal World