Wednesday, 30 December 2015

My 20 Favourite Comics and Novels Read in 2015, Part One

Most novels and comics that I read aren’t new releases. This makes things a little complicated when it comes to end of year lists. Most often those kinds of things are focused on new releases. If I focused on new released I’d have a really small list. You’ll find a couple titles on my list that are new releases, but most of these of older books.

In previous years I’ve organized my end of year list by categories such as Science Fiction Novel, Fantasy Novel, Best Manga, Best Comic Book, etc. This year I’m lumping it all together and simply listing my 20 favourite comics and novels read in 2015. These are books that I’ve read in the last year, not books that were published in the last year. Still, all of these books were new to me and I didn’t include anything I reread and enjoyed this year. Unfortunately, due to taking a month off in February (I got married) and because I had a two month long project focused on the Harry Potter series, there are some really good books that I read this year that I didn’t review on the blog. I planned on reviewing these books, honest, but they never took shape past my initial notes and reactions I took while reading them. Now I feel like too much time has passed for me to write worthwhile reviews.

Before any more stalling, here they are, my favourite 20 books of 2015. We’ll start with books 20 to 11 today and we’ll finish with the top 10 on Sunday.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 13: Alastair Reynolds, David Langford, and Michael Swanwick

Short Story Sunday, thirteenth edition, brings you rock ‘n’ roll dinosaurs, first contact with an alien civilization, and murderous house. Let’s get started.

“At Budokan” by Alastair Reynolds
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF (2010), edited by Jetse de Vries

One of the tricky things about reviewing short stories is that your enjoyment of some of them depends on a twist or reveal toward the end of the story. It makes it difficult to write about it in a critical way because part of your review is simply dancing around the plot reveal. “At Budokan” is one of those stories. It’s good enough that it will still be a good read upon rereading and that’s due to the fact that the overall story and thematic elements are more important than the plot twist. That’s something that lesser writers struggle with but Reynolds has a firm grasp on his story from the very first page.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The Blog Fantastic 045: Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett Review

Terry Pratchett passed away earlier this year and like many of his fans, it hit me pretty hard. I’ve only read a small fraction of his Discworld series and none of his other work, but even with so few books under my belt, his mastery of a particular kind of novel is simply unbelievable. I’m regularly amazed that more people don’t talk about him and how simply excellent his writing is. He continuously does things in his books that should be impossible. There’s no way these things should work. Of course we had plenty of excellent articles written about him last spring after his passing, but I find Pratchett simply isn’t part of the regular conversation as some of his peers sitting next to him on the fantasy shelves. Actually, that’ll never happen because Pratchett’s written so many books he easily takes up a shelf or two on his own. My point is that he’s not talked about enough, at least as much as I think he should be talked about.

I’ve tried to rectify that by writing reviews of his Discworld novels as I read them. I read about two per year and they’re always a treat. I usually go to them looking for something lighthearted. They always succeed at making me laugh but Pratchett always delivers a lot of substance to his books. I’m still surprised by this every time it happens. I prepare for it, yet it still hits me when things get really philosophical. Pratchett has the ability to make you laugh and think really, really hard.  

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 12: Damien Broderick and Cat Sparks

By sheer coincidence that they were listed back to back in the short story collection I was reading yesterday, today’s authors are both Australian. I occasionally bump into online articles or a review focusing on Australian genre authors. Apparently it’s a niche in genre publishing, a specific look at the writers from down under. It’s nice to see praise thrown as a group of writers like that. It helps with your perspective. Not all English language writers are from the US or the UK. Overall, the Year’s Best SF 16 has been pretty good for its diversity in writers. On to the reviews!

“Under the Moons of Venus” by Damien Broderick
Read in Year’s Best SF 16 (2011), edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Originally published in Subterranean (Spring2010), edited by Jonathan Strahan (guest editor)

Broderick has been writing science fiction stories since the 1960s but this is the first time I read one. It’s not a simple read, there is a lot of information thrown at the reader and you have to be active in putting things together in order to properly understand the story. I’m not sure I understood it completely, to be honest. Who can blame me when the story uses advanced mathematics and geomorphology to try and solve the mystery of the Moon’s disappearance? The characters, all four of them, are straddling the line between insanity and genius. One of them happens to be an intelligent talking dog (he was surgically altered).

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Star Wars: The Last Command Review (Unread 034)

Cover art by Tom Jung.
While the world is filled with excitement and initial positive responses to the latest Star Wars film’s release, I’m alone in my little corner finishing off the excellent trilogy of novels by Timothy Zahn. The Thrawn Trilogy has been a pleasant surprised from start to finish. I had quite a few reservations when I started to read the first volume in this series. The first Expanded Universe novel I read was Choices of One, a book focusing on Mara Jade during the time of the original film trilogy and written by Zahn. To be quick about it, I didn’t like it. I didn’t really know who Mara Jade was and worst of all Zahn didn’t make me care. The book had a more militaristic feel than the Star Wars films and I felt that was a bit of an odd fit despite there being a constant presence of the Empire and its military forces in the movies.

Because of this and other smaller details, I didn’t have much in terms of expectations when deciding to read The Thrawn Trilogy. The expectations I did have were mostly of reluctance and hope. You see, the fans are very vocal online about their love of this trilogy which arguably created the Expanded Universe (which sadly met its demise earlier this year). Zahn is often hailed as the best author in the entire EU and people support their statement with this series of books. Could it really be that good? What makes these books better than the rest? What makes these books better than Choices of One?

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 11: The Pool of the Black One (Reading Conan 06)

It’s only been a few short weeks that I’ve been reading Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. There have been highs and lows, and after only six stories I’m feeling Conan fatigue. If I’m being honest I think it’s overall blogging fatigue as bumping up my posting schedule to two posts a week is starting to take its toll. Finally reading these stories has been an interesting experience. I find the stories vary in quality to such a degree that you never really know how much you’ll enjoy the next story. My thought is that these earlier stories might be the worst of the lot but I’ll only know for sure once I’ve read them all. For now though, I think I need a little break from Conan as this story proved once again that the quality of the stories fluctuates significantly.

“The Pool of the Black One” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Oct. 1933)

Off the west cost of Zingara and in sight of the Barachan Isle, a woman is sunbathing on a ship. Without warning Conan rises out of the water and climbs aboard. He’s accosted by the captain Zaporavo who is immediately threatened by Conan’s sheer physical size. He has a right to feel that way since Conan plans on taking command of his ship. He doesn’t act on it yet, instead he begins making friends with the crew so that even if their captain doesn’t care for the Cimmerian, the crew will.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run: A Han Solo & Chewbacca Adventure Review

In the last year there has been an understandable increase in the amount of reviews and articles about the Star Wars franchise. The excitement for the new film is resulting in a huge amount of speculation as to what the future of the franchise will look like as well as guessing and plenty of fan theories to make even the most imaginative fans giddy. There has also been plenty of attention given to the rapidly developing New Canon which is in the process of replacing the beloved Expanded Universe of Star Wars tie-in fiction. Personally, I haven’t taken part in the speculation because I find it brings little value to the overall appreciation of the franchise. More importantly, it doesn’t give me any satisfaction. Instead, I’ve been investing my time in enjoying the comics and novels of the EU and dipping my toes in the New Canon. So far I’ve read three volumes of Star Wars comic, which are once again being published by Marvel following Dark Horse’s loss of the licence. I’ve just read my first New Canon novel. Appropriately, it’s written by Greg Rucka with illustrations by Phil Noto, both of which have had a noteworthy career in the comics field. That’s the main reason I chose to start with this book and it also happens to be short which was quite convenient.

Set right after A New Hope, Smuggler’s Run centers on Han Solo and Chewbacca. Now that they’ve received payment for helping the Rebellion during their attack on the Death Star, Han plans on going back to Tatooine to pay off Jabba the Hutt. He’s tired of living in fear of the price on his head and who could blame him? Leia, on the other hand, has different plans for Han. He’s proved his usefulness to the Alliance and she’s not ready to let this new ally go.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Short Story Sunday 10: The Slithering Shadow (Reading Conan 05)

After last week’s disappointing story “The Black Colossus” I’m happy to say that the next Conan story by Robert E. Howard is much better. It has a simple plot, but because of its eerie and atmospheric execution along with its underlying mystery and near complete focus on Conan, it ends up being one of the most enjoyable of the first five Conan stories.

“The Slithering Shadow” by Robert E. Howard, originally published in Weird Tales (Sept. 1933)

Conan finds himself in the desert accompanied by his female companion, Natala. They’re the last survivors of Prince Almuric’s army. They’ve just run out of water and their situation looks bleak. It’s not long before Conan spots what appears to be a city in the middle of the sun scorched dunes. Naturally, they head towards it. Immediately upon arrival, things aren’t what they seem, and Natala starts to worry. Conan is more practical and after a bit of searching they find a room in which a feast is laid out. There are no diners in sight. Famished and thirsty, Conan eats his fill.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Star Wars Omnibus: Clone Wars Volume 1: The Republic Goes to War Review (Unread 033)

I’ve written before about Dark Horse’s Star Wars comic omnibus collections. They’re pretty great. They’re designed to collect novel length stories and smaller stories that otherwise wouldn’t be collected anywhere else. I really like them because they’re huge and quite affordable. This volume is over 400 pages long. For the most part, these omnibus volumes include numerous issues all tied to a theme or a series or a time period. This one, obviously, is set during the Clone Wars. Particularly the beginning of the Clone Wars shortly after the events of Attack of the Clones.

A very large number of issues are included in this volume. Unfortunately, I will not list all of the creators involved because I’m lazy. However I’m pleased to announced that Dark Horse meticulously listed all creators at the beginning of each story. For this collection that meant almost every new issue. Most of the comics in this volume are short stories of approximately two issues in length (all the Jedi one-shots are double sized issues). Here are the contents of Clone Wars: The Republic Goes to War: