Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Reading Conan 01: The Phoenix on the Sword review

Conan the Cimmerian is on the same level of recognition and popularity as other important figures of literature from the early 20th Century such as Tarzan and Batman. Because of this, his original adventures and an immense amount of derivative works have permeated the pop culture landscape for several decades. Until earlier this week, I had never read any of the original Robert E. Howard Conan stories. Despite this fact, I’m pretty familiar with the character because I’ve seen both movies from the 80s starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and I’ve read about 30 or so issues of the Marvel comic Conan the Barbarian by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor Smith. I even reviewed a few of those issues in their Saga of Conan reprints. You can find them here and here.

Needless to say, I’ve always felt like a bit of phoney because I knew of the original Conan stories and I also knew how easily accessible they are, but I never took the time to read them. I say no more! No more of this foolery. I have a lovely eBook collecting all of Howard’s stories, novellas, and novel in a single edition. It was also dirt cheap ($4). I’ll be reviewing these at the rate of one or two stories per week for the next few weeks. I’m not sure if I’ll need a break or not at some point, but for now I’m enjoying myself immensely so I might be able to review them all in relatively quick succession. Here we go, with the first ever published Conan story.

“The Phoenix on the Sword” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Dec. 1932)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 05: Halloween Edition - George R. R. Martin and Stephen King

It’s time for another special edition of Short Story Sunday. It seemed like a no-brainer to use Halloween as an excuse to read horror short stories. I decided to check out a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories from George R. R. Martin and well as explore the earliest stories of Stephen King. I enjoyed myself so much I might just do this every year.

“The Pear-Shaped Man” by George R. R. Martin
Read in Dreamsongs volume 1 (2007), a collection of works by George R. R. Martin
Originally published in Omni (October 1987)

“The Pear-Shaped Man” is a very creepy story. I was pretty grossed out while reading it and I have to admit it’s going to be a really long time until I ever eat cheezies again. The story is about the titular Pear-Shaped Man. You know who I’m talking about, you’ve seen him. He’s very odd and Martin describes him exceedingly well. Even without a description you can probably get a sense of the kind of character the story refers to. In essence, he’s noticeably strange while also appearing rather harmless. Martin conveys the banality of the man while also convincing the reader of his unnatural creepiness. You, as the reader, want to get to the bottom of it. Who is the Pear-Shaped Man and why is he so damn eerie?

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Moon Knight: From the Dead Review (Unread 028)

I’m a huge fan of Warren Ellis. He’s undoubtedly one of the comic book greats. I love his writing for many reasons but I’d like to focus on just a few in this review because they tie into what made Moon Knight: From the Dead such a fantastic comic.

Warren Ellis is very skilled at revitalization old properties. He’s also good at taking familiar concepts or characters and giving them new life. There are other skilled creators from Ellis’s generation that are also good at this, but it doesn’t take away from his ability to do it and to do it well. A few examples of this would be the work he’s done with Doom 2099, Stormwatch and The Authority, and the work he’s done on the X-men franchise. He’s also had quite a bit of success doing this in Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics with titles such as the Ultimate Galactus Trilogy, Iron Man, Ultimate Human, and Ultimate Fantastic Four.  

It’s no surprise then that he revitalizes Moon Knight in a subtle yet meaningful way. It seems so simple and simplicity is another characteristic of some (not all) of Ellis’s work. All he does it boil down Moon Knight to a few core elements, to his core essence. He doesn’t needlessly revise the characters origins or give him an unnecessary cast of secondary characters to support the main character. He doesn’t drag it out into a bloated decompressed character revamp 12 issue maxi series either. He focuses on a few ideas, the strongest ideas, and structures the story around that to heighten the impact of the character and the story. He doesn’t overuse his ideas nor does he throw in more ideas than is necessary or functional. He avoids diluting the narrative in exchange for potency. This leads us into the second reason why he is such a great writer.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 04: Terry Bisson, Spider Robinson, and David Drake

This week I’m reviewing three short stories from three different collections. Two of them will be familiar to regular readers but I’ve added a new collection to the rotation: The Tank Lords by David Drake. Half of this book is made up of short stories and the other half is a small novels. I’ll be reviewing the novel on its own but the stories will continue to be a part of Short Story Sunday. Let’s get to it.

“About It” by Terry Bisson
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in F&SF (Sept/Oct 2010), edited by Gordon Van Gelder

Terry Bisson was unknown to me before I read this story (regular readers might have noticed a trend) and I’m sorry to say that “About It” is a poor introduction. The story is told by a janitor who works in a laboratory and brings home a Sasquatch. There ol’ Bigfoot sits around, enjoys nature and the companionship of a few neighbourhood kids. He likes watching TV with the janitor. What at first appears to be a nice retirement from the lab out in the suburbs turns out to be nothing more than a waiting room for the afterlife. The Sasquatch inexplicably fades to nothing and dies, leaving me confused and a little sad . . . but the feeling quickly faded after I closed the book and put it down.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Avengers: Assault on Olympus Review (Unread 027)

My edition of The Avengers: Assault on Olympus is a hardcover from the Marvel Premiere Classic line of reprints. It’s super expensive but luckily I bought mine for 50% off. I have no idea why Marvel charges so much for reprints of old comics. It seems wrong somehow as well as counter intuitive. Why check out old comics when it’s cheaper to buy new ones? Then again, new Marvel comics aren’t cheap either. Either way, if you can find some of these old reprints for cheap, either in discount bins or 50% off shelves, grab ‘em. They’re almost always a treat. Even when the comics are bad it gives you an idea of what they were like back in the day. That’s always interesting. If you get lucky, you’ll end up buying a comic as good as this one. I’ve only ever read one comic by Roger Stern, Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment and that was an excellent story. Clearly I’ve been missing out the Stern goodness because Assault on Olympus was also pretty great.

All of the issues in this collection were written by Roger Stern with exception to issue# 280 which was written by Bob Harras. Likewise John Buscema and Tom Palmer illustrated all of the issues except for #280 which was drawn by Bob Hall and Kyle Baker. Christie Scheele coloured most of the stories and Bill Oakley did the bulk of the lettering. These are all familiar creator names for anybody who has read Marvel comics from the 1980s. This is a solid creative team and it shouldn’t have been surprising as to how good these issues were.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 03: Benjamin Crowell, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, and Vernor Vinge

No introduction this time around, we’re diving right into the stories with some of the best science fiction published in 2010, as collected in Year’s Best SF 16.

“Petopia” by Benjamin Crowell
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction (June 2010), edited by Sheila Williams

Two young teens living on the West Coast of Africa discover a technologically advanced teddy bear in the near future. It made its way from California to Africa with a shipment of used and discarded computers which one of the teens, Aminata Diallo, disassembles as her day job. The teddy bear is a toy for rich kids, kind of like a future version of a Tamagotchi mixed with a cellphone. Aminata’s brother uses the bear (named Jelly) to become a chess hustler. The kids are put in a situation where they have to use Jelly to steal money from other people’s bank accounts in order to help their drunken father get out of a pinch.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Jodorowsky's Dune – Movie Review

During the weekend, while taking a break from writing the latest instalment of Short Story Sunday, I watched Jodorowsky’s Dune, a movie about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed attempted at adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune to the silver screen. As always, I started this movie with some personal baggage, something that is also known as expectations. I was apprehensive, to say the least. I was worried the movie would be the celebration of an incomplete film project, filled with commentators who would enthusiastically call it a masterpiece even though no footage of it exists. People who would tell you that by not sharing their opinions of this unmade movie your life has somehow been poorer than it otherwise would have been. I was expecting an audio visual check list with a narrator marking off each instance where the legacy and influence of this lost Dune could be seen in other science fiction movies that followed. In essence, I was expecting a lot of back patting and celebration for something that, by my understanding, simply doesn’t exist. Something that was nothing more than a dream. I was worried that I was about to watch a documentary of overzealous film enthusiasts verbally masturbating over their lost holy grail. I cannot express my excitement and relief that Jodorowsky’s Dune isn’t that movie.

To be honest, there is a little bit of what I’ve described in this movie but it’s presented through a filter of pure creativity and exhilaration that it’s hard to not give in an accept it for what it is. You can’t avoid making this kind of documentary and simply ignoring all of the adoration some people will have for the subject matter. The movie has some moments where fans of Jodorowsky lament the loss of what could have been one of the most culturally significant and worthwhile science fiction movies of all time. It’s also inevitable that people will talk about the lasting legacy that this movie had on parts of the film industry. That’s great and it’s worth mentioning, but playing “spot the influence” simply isn’t for me. Most of the movie, to my surprise and great enjoyment, is about something else.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Short Story Sunday 02: Robert A. Heinlein Edition

Here we are with the second installment of Short Story Sunday. Is it too early to write a special post? Nah! This time around we’re focusing on Robert A. Heinlein. Like Joe Haldeman in our first post, I’ve been aware of Heinlein and his work for several years now and I’ve even bought one of his book (Starship Troopers) but I haven’t read it yet. It’s pretty shameful, I know. What’s less shameful is that I’ve started to read some of his short stories and he’s known for writing good short length sci-fi stories. I can attest to that, it’s true. I’ve only sampled a small handful of them so far but I’ve enjoyed every single one of them in one way or another. Let’s dive in.

“The Long Watch” by Robert A. Heinlein
Read in New Destinies Volume VI/Winter 1988 (1988), edited by Jim Baen
Originally published as “Rebellion on the Moon” in American Legion Magazine (1949), I could not find the name of the magazine’s editor

After realizing that his superior officer is planning a coup d’état, Lieutenant Dahlquist sets out to delay Colonel Towers’ overthrow of the Earth government long enough for reinforcements to arrive. As commander of a lunar base, Towers plans on using nuclear weapons located on the base to intimidate the Earth government. Dahlquist, who specializes in nuclear weapons, finds himself in a position to be able to prevent Towers’ plan. He locks himself up in the bomb bunker and so begins his long watch.