Saturday, June 29, 2013

2013 Locus Award Nominees

Location: Seattle, Washington.

Comments: Although I cannot claim to be an expert on the eligibility requirements for the Locus Awards, it seems to me that Martin H. Greenberg probably should not have been eligible for the Best Editor award in 2013, primarily because he died in 2011, and as a result could not have done any editing in 2012. Well, not unless he was able to edit from beyond the grave. Greenberg didn't even have an anthology nominated in the Best Anthology category, so there doesn't appear to be much, if any, holdover work he could have been nominated for. I can only surmise that voters were responding to the long shadow of Greenberg's impressive career and were voting for him out of inertia.

Best Science Fiction Novel
1.   Redshirts by John Scalzi

Other Nominees:
2.   2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
3.   The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks
4.   Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
5.   Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
6.   Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds
7.   The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi
8.   The Rapture of the Nerds by Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross
9.   Slow Apocalypse by John Varley
10. Intruder by C.J. Cherryh
11. Empty Space by M. John Harrison
12. Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell
13. Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven
14. Intrusion by Ken MacLeod
15. Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
16. Any Day Now by Terry Bisson
17. Jack Glass by Adam Roberts
18. Rapture by Kameron Hurley
19. The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
20. The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan
21. The Fourth Wall by Walter Jon Williams
22. Fate of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner
23. Ashes of Candesce by Karl Schroeder
24. Existence by David Brin
25. Lost Everything by Brian Francis Slattery
26. In the Mouth of the Whale by Paul J. McAuley
27. Turing & Burroughs by Rudy Rucker

Best Fantasy Novel
1.   The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross

Other Nominees:
2.   The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan
3.   Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
4.   The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
5.   Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
6.   Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
7.   Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
8.   The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham
9.   Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch
10. Worldsoul by Liz Williams
11. The Mirage by Matt Ruff
12. Sharps by K.J. Parker
13. And Blue Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht
14. Bullettime by Nick Mamatas
15. The Steel Seraglio by Mike Carey, Linda Carey, and Louise Carey
16. The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett
17. Boneland by Alan Garner
18. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
19. Crandolin by Anna Tambour

Best Young Adult Book
1.   Railsea by China Miéville

Other Nominees:
2.   The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
3.   The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente
4.   Dodger by Terry Pratchett
5.   Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow
6.   Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald
7.   Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
8.   Black Heart by Holly Black
9.   Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand
10. Apollo's Outcasts by Allen M. Steele
11. Zeuglodon by James P. Blaylock
12. The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson
13. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
14. The Diviners by Libba Bray
15. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
16. Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor
17. A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
18. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson
19. Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
20. Son by Lois Lowry
21. Every Day by David Levithan

Best First Novel
1.   Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

Other Nominees:
2.   Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
3.   vN by Madeline Ashby
4.   Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
5.   The Games by Ted Kosmatka
6.   Blackwood by Gwenda Bond
7.   Rituals by Roz Kaveney
8.   Goblin Secrets by William Alexander
9.   Wide Open by Deborah Coates
10. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
11. The Gathering Dark by Leigh Bardugo
12. Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp
13. The Man from Primrose Lane by James Renner
14. Sanctum by Sarah Fine

Best Novella
1.   After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress

Other Nominees:
2.   The Stars Do Not Lie by Jay Lake
3.   The Boolean Gate by Walter Jon Williams
4.   In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns by Elizabeth Bear
5.   On a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard
6.   Gods of Risk by James S.A. Corey
7.   Hand of Glory by Laird Barron
8.   Murder Born by Robert Reed
9.   Let Maps to Others by K.J. Parker
10. Eater-of-Bone by Robert Reed
11. Katabasis by Robert Reed
12. The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future by Jay Lake
13. The Last Judgment by James Patrick Kelly
14. Twenty Lights to 'The Last of Snow' by Michael Bishop
15. Sky by Kaaron Warren
16. Maze of Shadows by Fred Chappell
17. The Moon Belongs to Everyone by Michael Alexander and K.C. Ball
18. The Mongolian Book of the Dead by Alan Smale

Best Novelette
1.   The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi by Pat Cadigan

Other Nominees:
2.   Faster Gun by Elizabeth Bear
3.   Close Encounters by Andy Duncan
4.   The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal (reviewed in 2014 Hugo Voting - Best Novelette)
5.   Fake Plastic Trees by Caitlín R. Kiernan
6.   The Wish Head by Jeffrey Ford
7.   Significant Dust by Margo Lanagan
8.   Fireborn by Robert Charles Wilson
9.   The Sea of Trees by Rachel Swirsky
10. Arbeitskraft by Nick Mamatas
11. Holmes Sherlock: A Hwarhath Mystery by Eleanor Arnason
12. The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
13. Troll Blood by Peter Dickinson
14. Bruce Springsteen by Paul J. McAuley
15. The Peak of Eternal Light by Bruce Sterling
16. Frontier Death Song by Laird Barron
17. Swift, Brutal Retaliation by Meghan McCarron
18. The Ghosts of Christmas by Paul Cornell
19. Astrophilia by Carrie Vaughn
20. Liberty's Daughter by Naomi Kritzer
21. Old Paint by Megan Lindholm
22. Goddess of Mercy by Bruce Sterling
23. The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story by Theodora Goss
24. One Little Room an Everywhere by K.J. Parker
25. Mating Habits of the Late Cretaceous by Dale Bailey
26. Electrica by Sean McMullen
27. The Grinnell Method by Molly Gloss
28. The Bernoulli War by Gord Sellar
29. Declaration by James Patrick Kelly
30. No Decent Patrimony by Elizabeth Bear
31. The Color Least Used by Nature by Ted Kosmatka

Best Short Story
1.   Immersion by Aliette de Bodard

Other Nominees:
2.   Mono No Aware by Ken Liu
3.   The Deeps of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear
4.   Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson
5.   Elementals by Ursula K. Le Guin
6.   Great-Grandmother in the Cellar by Peter S. Beagle
7.   Coming of Age on Barsoom by Catherynne M. Valente
8.   Blood Drive by Jeffrey Ford
9.   Valedictorian by N.K. Jemisin
10. Scattered Along the River of Heaven by Aliette de Bodard
11. Two Houses by Kelly Link
12. Goggles (c. 1910) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
13. A Natural History of Autumn by Jeffrey Ford
14. Tyche and the Ants by Hannu Rajaniemi
15. Reindeer Mountain by Karin Tidbeck
16. One Breath, One Stroke by Catherynne M. Valente
17. The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times by Eleanor Arnason
18. Rebecka by Karin Tidbeck
19. The Water Thief by Alastair Reynolds
20. The Easthound by Nalo Hopkinson
21. Antarctica Starts Here by Paul J. McAuley
22. About Fairies by Pat Murphy
23. The Education of a Witch by Ellen Klages
24. England Under the White Witch by Theodora Goss
25. Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream by Maria Dahvana Headley
26. Blue Lace Agate by Sarah Monette
27. Bricks, Sticks, Straw by Gwyneth Jones
28. Nightside on Callisto by Linda Nagata
29. Macy Minnot's Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler's Green, the Potter's Garden by Paul J. McAuley
30. In Autotelia by M. John Harrison
31. A Hundred Ghosts Parade Tonight by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu)
32. The Memcordist by Lavie Tidhar
33. A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones by Genevieve Valentine

Best Collection
1.   Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

Other Nominees:
2.   The Best of Kage Baker by Kage Baker
3.   At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
4.   The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories Volume One: Where on Earth and Volume Two: Outer Space, Inner Lands by Ursula K. Le Guin
5.   The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard
6.   The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories by Andy Duncan
7.   Jagannath: Stories by Karin Tidbeck
8.   Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress
9.   Crackpot Palace by Jeffrey Ford
10. The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume 7: We Are for the Dark by Robert Silverberg
11. Dream Castles: The Early Jack Vance, Volume Two by Jack Vance
12. Wool Omnibus by Hugh Howey
13. Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart by Caitlín R. Kiernan
14. The Woman Who Married a Cloud by Jonathan Carroll
15. Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan
16. Last and First Contacts by Stephen Baxter
17. Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia A. McKillip
18. Errantry: Strange Stories by Elizabeth Hand
19. Eater-of-Bone and Other Novellas by Robert Reed
20. Permeable Borders by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
21. The Door Gunner and Other Perilous Flights of Fancy by Michael Bishop
22. Store of the Worlds by Robert Sheckley
23. Other Seasons: The Best of Neal Barrett, Jr. by Neal Barrett, Jr.
24. Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu
25. Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam
26. Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia
27. Birds and Birthdays by Christopher Barzak
28. Earth and Air: Tales of Elemental Creatures by Peter Dickinson
29. Remember Why You Fear Me by Robert Shearman
30. The Janus Tree and Other Stories by Glen Hirshberg

Best Anthology
1.   Edge of Infinity edited by Jonathan Strahan

Other Nominees:
2.   The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois
3.   After edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
4.   The Future Is Japanese edited by Nick Mamatas and Masumi Washington
5.   The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Six edited by Jonathan Strahan
6.   Year's Best SF 17 edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
7.   Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution edited by Ann VanderMeer
8.   Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron edited by Jonathan Strahan
9.   Epic: Legends of Fantasy edited by John Joseph Adams
10. The Best Horror of the Year: Volume Four edited by Ellen Datlow
11. Beyond Binary: Genderqueer and Sexually Fluid Speculative Fiction edited by Brit Mandelo
12. Rip-Off! edited by Gardner Dozois
13. The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2012 Edition edited by Rich Horton
14. Solaris Rising 1.5 edited by Ian Whates
15. Digital Rapture: The Singularity Anthology edited by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel
16. AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers edited by Ivor W. Hartmann
17. The Sword & Sorcery Anthology edited by David G. Hartwell and Jacob Weisman
18. Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown
19. The Century's Best Horror Fiction: Volume One and Volume Two edited by John Pelan
20. The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2012 Edition edited by Paula Guran
21. The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror: 23 edited by Stephen Jones
22. Ishtar edited by Amanda Pillar and K.V. Taylor
23. Breaking the Bow: Stories Inspired by the Ramayana edited by Anil Menon and Vandana Singh
24. Rock On: The Greatest Hits of Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Paula Guran
25. Robots: The Recent A.I. edited by Rich Horton and Sean Wallace

Best Nonfiction, Related, or Reference Book
1.   Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson

Other Nominees:
2.   Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 by Damien Broderick and Paul Di Filippo
3.   Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson
4.   The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature edited by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn
5.   An Exile on Planet Earth by Brian Aldiss
6.   We Wuz Pushed: On Joanna Russ and Radical Truth-Telling by Brit Mandelo
7.   London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction by Michael Moorcock
8.   On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda
9.   Angela Carter: New Critical Readings edited by Sonya Andermahr and Lawrence Phillips
10. As If: Modern Enchantment and the Literary Prehistory of Virtual Reality by Michael Saler
11. Astounding Wonder: Imagining Science and Science Fiction in Interwar America by John Cheng

Best Art Book
1.   Spectrum 19: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art by Cathy Fenner and Arnie Fenner

Other Nominees:
2.   Steampunk: An Illustrated History by Brian J. Robb
3.   J.R.R. Tolkien: The Art of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull
4.   Trolls by Brian Froud and Wendy Froud
5.   Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration by Scott Tracy Griffin
6.   Velocity by Stephan Martiniere
7.   The Art of the Dragon edited by Patrick Wilshire and J. David Spurlock
8.   Star Wars Art: Illustration edited by Eric Klopfer
9.   Frank Reade: Adventures in the Age of Invention by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett
10. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live! edited by John Fleskes
11. Fantasy+ 4: The Best Artworks of Fantastic Art edited by Vincent Zhao

Best Editor
1.   Ellen Datlow

Other Nominees:
2.   Jonathan Strahan
3.   Gardner Dozois
4.   John Joseph Adams
5.   Ann VanderMeer and Jeff VanderMeer
6.   David G. Hartwell
7.   Sheila Williams
8.   Gordon van Gelder
9.   Patrick Nielsen Hayden
10. Lou Anders
11. Neil Clarke
12. Stanley Schmidt
13. Gavin Grant and Kelly Link
14. Terri Windling
15. Liz Gorinsky
16. William Schafer
17. Betsy Wollheim
18. Peter Crowther
19. Beth Meacham
20. Lynne M. Thomas
21. Martin H. Greenberg
22. Toni Weisskopf
23. Stephen Jones
24. Shawna McCarthy
25. Teresa Nielsen Hayden
26. Ginjer Buchanan
27. Alisa Krasnostein
28. Sharyn November
29. Betsy Mitchell

Best Magazine
1.   Asimov's

Other Nominees:
2.   Fantasy & Science Fiction
4.   Clarkesworld
5.   Subterranean
6.   Analog
7.   Lightspeed
8.   Strange Horizons
9.   SF Signal
10. Interzone
11. Apex
12. The New York Review of SF
13. Beneath Ceaseless Skies
14. Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet
15. Ansible
16. Cemetery Dance
17. Weird Tales
18. SF Site

Best Publisher or Imprint
1.   Tor

Other Nominees:
2.   Subterranean Press
3.   Orbit
4.   Baen
5.   Angry Robot
6.   Night Shade Books
7.   Small Beer Press
8.   DAW
9.   Gollancz
10. Ace
11. Pyr
12. Del Rey
13. PS Publishing
14. Tachyon
15. NESFA Press
16. Roc
17. ChiZine Publications
18. St. Martin's
19. HarperVoyager
20. Twelfth Planet Press
21. Prime
22. Solaris
23. Aqueduct
24. Haffner Press
25. Haikasoru

Best Artist
1.   Michael Whelan

Other Nominees:
2.   John Picacio
3.   Stephan Martiniere
4.   Shaun Tan
5.   Donato Giancola
6.   Charles Vess
7.   Bob Eggleton
8.   Kinuko Y. Craft
9.   Daniel Dos Santos
10. Frank Frazetta
11. Dave McKean
12. Phil Foglio
13. Leo Dillon and Diane Dillon
14. Vincent Chong
15. J.K. Potter
16. Jim Burns
17. Vincent Di Fate
18. John Jude Palencar
19. Don Maitz
20. Thomas Canty
21. Boris Vallejo
22. Todd Lockwood
23. Julie Bell
24. Michael Kaluta
25. Frank Wu
26. Brom
27. David Cherry
28. Yoshitaka Amano

Go to previous year's nominees: 2012
Go to subsequent year's nominees: 2014

Book Award Reviews     Home

Friday, June 28, 2013

Follow Friday - Cadmium-114 Has a Half-Life of 14.1 Years

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Paperbook Princess and Got Fiction?.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What is your preferred reading format? Hardcover, eBooks, paperback, etc?

Paperback. Specifically mass market paperback. I do a lot of my reading while on the move, usually while I am commuting to and from work, and so having a reasonably portable format works best for me. A mass market paperback is fairly lightweight and unless it is doorstop thick, can fit into pants pocket for ease of carrying. Both hardbacks and trade paperbacks can be carried on a bus or train, and are both more attractive sitting on a bookshelf (and hardbacks are certainly more durable), but they simply aren't as convenient.

I can hear the cries of e-book enthusiasts, "Our preferred format is just as portable as a paperback". That may be true, but e-books don't work for me for one simple reason: I forget things. I have absent-mindedly left more than one book sitting on a bus seat. And because those books were just paperbacks,  replacing them was a matter of a few dollars at most. If I had instead left an e-reader sitting on a bus seat, I would have had to spend substantially more to replace the device plus whatever it would have cost me to replace the contents. Because I know myself, I know that it would only be a matter of time before I left an e-reader on the bus and it would be lost to me forever. So I know this format is simply not one that would work for me.

Go to previous Follow Friday: The Current Congress Is the 113th Congress
Go to subsequent Follow Friday: The Atomic Number of Ununpentium Is 115

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review - Substitute Creature by Jason Rekulak (writing as Charles Gilman)

Short review: Robert Arthur and Glenn Torkells come across another plot by Tillinghast to take over the world for his Lovecraftian masters, this time involving a creepy substitute teacher and a freakish blizzard.

A strange substitute
Trapped by a freakish blizzard
Lost the janitor!

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Substitute Creature is the fourth book in the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series detailing the adventures of students Robert Arthur and Glenn Torkells as they foil the attempts of Crawford Tillinghast and his otherworldly minions to take over the world. This installment, featuring a gruff janitor, a creepy substitute teacher, and a freakishly powerful blizzard, is a serviceable but somewhat anticlimactic addition to the series.

The book opens in media res with Arthur and Torkells on a tiny ledge on the fourth story of Lovecraft Middle School. After a brief explanatory background describing how the two found themselves hanging by their toes, the story returns to their predicament as they try to inch their way to safety. To make matters worse, it starts snowing while they are struggling along the ledge, making it slippery. The two are only saved when the school janitor Martin McGinnis shows up and hauls them the last few feet onto a balcony. Despite the "in the moment" excitement of the opening, it really doesn't seem to go any where, and appears to be in the book almost entirely to fill space and serve as a way introduce McGinnis to the reader. This opening sequence serves as a metaphor for the whole book: A lot of build-up and action that doesn't really seem to lead anywhere in particular, serving as nothing more than a set up for something that may or may not happen in a future story.

The blizzard that almost blows Arthur and Torkells off of their ledge in the opening chapters is forgotten for a short period when the boys try to figure out why the gate they found took them from one place in the school to another rather than Tillinghast Mansion, an effort that is stopped cold when they find out that their confidante school librarian Claudine Lavinia has been replaced by a somewhat odd substitute named Miss Carcasse. But the whirlwind of story pushes on almost as soon as Miss Carcasse is introduced, as the intensifying storm results in the entire town being shut down and the school evacuated.

From there the book moves quickly, but seems to have no particular destination. Robert Arthur and his mother are trapped at the school along with Miss Carcasse, Mr. McGinnis, a wealthy young boy named Lionel Quincy, and Arthur's ghost girlfriend Karina. Somewhat predictably Miss Carcasse acts more and more suspiciously, and on a couple of occasions worms drop out of her clothing. Mr. McGinnis discovers that the school's emergency generator has been sabotaged and Glenn Torkell's shows up half frozen after a long walk in the snow so he can give the somewhat redundant warning that Miss Carcasse is up to no good.

Given that this is a Lovecraftian story for young adults, the freakish blizzard is fairly predictably the result of Tillinghast's plotting, and Miss Carcasse has been helping things along, keeping track of her schedule on an odd gold watch. Arthur manages to uncover the goal of Tillinghast's scheming, and Miss Carcasse's role in it, but at that point the plot seems to almost vanish. Everything Miss Carcasse has done turns out to have been almost entirely irrelevant, and she herself is summarily tossed out of the story. After bringing a collection of voracious cold weather creatures from a frozen netherworld into our own, with Robert and the various other humans trapped in the school supposedly slated to serve as dinner for the ravenous beasts, Tillinghast pops into the story to divert the predators into another, completely different netherworld and have a little chat with Robert.

And that seems to sum up the book: The plot builds up like it is going somewhere, and then dissolves before leaping to something almost completely unrelated. After Miss Carcasse's unceremonious ejection from the book, Tillinghast essentially nullifies everything that happened prior to his appearance and sets the book on a completely different path in which he offers Robert a tempting moral dilemma. But, seemingly like everything else in the book, the moral dilemma is resolved without Robert actually doing much of anything.

On the whole, this book felt like a place holder that did little more than set up future books. Plot elements are introduced, and then don't go anywhere. Villains take the stage, and after preening for a bit, they walk off without doing much of anything. New characters are introduced and then excised without actually doing much with respect to the limited amount of plot that there is in the book. And the small amount of plot and character development that is in the book seems almost entirely aimed at setting the stage for future books. As a linking book between the earlier ones in the series and the books to come, Substitute Creature is an enjoyable interlude in the larger story. However, on its own, the book is slightly disappointing.

Previous book in the series: Teacher's Pest

Jason Rekulak     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review - The Light and the Dark by Marvin Amazon

Short review: A disjointed story that includes a conflict between anime style Gods leading to an interlude involving hard-boiled quasi-FBI agents followed by an epic fantasy quest.

Huge shapeshifting gods
Add three hard boiled detectives
And an epic quest

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: One thing that plagues the genre fiction field is the prevalence of the book series. When executed well, a series can allow an author to nurture and develop characters, layer together complex interrelationships, and weave together extended plots. But the problem is that so many authors who have never written a single book in their lives seem to think that they should start their writing career by embarking on a multi-volume epic series, and as a result, bite off more than they can feasibly chew. The Light and the Dark, the second novel by Marvin Amazon, bills itself as the first volume of The Corin Chronicles, and while the author shows talent, tackling such a huge and grandiose project so early in his career results in a book that feels disjointed and frustratingly incomplete.

The Light and the Dark is divided into four broad sections. The first involves a show down on the planet Corin between warring anime style gods that reads a little bit like Dragonball Z put into print form, with massive armies of "normal" warriors clashing, followed by increasingly powerful monsters thrown into the fray, until at the end, the various gods all transform into their "giant" forms and stride across the battlefield. Reading the descriptions of the gods changing from their "human" forms to their "battle" forms, becoming giant metal or stone figures with over-sized swords and so on felt a little bit like reading the carefully scripted animation sequences from something like Voltron in which the giant robot reveals itself. Overall, this is the weakest part of the book, which is unfortunate, because this is also the opening section of the book. Overall, this part of the book serves as little more than exposition that sets up the remainder of the plot and probably would have been better if it had simply been left out and worked in as a mythic background. In short, having the gods "on stage" reduces them from being actually epic and instead plants the image of them as a collection of Ultraman clones with cool glowing swords.

Once the story moves on from the over the top anime style clash of the gods, the book improves considerably. There is an interlude detailing the flight of a woman named Selena and her strangely marked son as they attempt to escape Corin and find safety. Pursued by forces loyal to the god Auphora, who has decreed that the prophesied "Anointed One" must be killed, Selena has traveled via the "Shallows" to reach the planet Tyranis. One of the quirky elements of The Light and the Dark is that despite being a story of interstellar scope, the technology used by the various actors for the bulk of the book is decidedly medieval, with warriors carrying swords and spears, and travelers riding horses or winged beasts. This combination of space travel and sword wielding combatants mounted on horses only adds to the anime feel of the story, and given that there is no explanation for the retrograde technology, heightens the unrealism of these sections of the story. Despite this the tale of Selena's flight is still interesting, especially given that she seems to inspire a level of loyalty towards he from those she meets that seems almost implausible. And this implausibility raises the interesting question: Does this intense loyalty stem from Selena's convincing demeanor, or is it the result of the influence of her magically inclined child? No matter the source of the loyalty, it enables Selena to accomplish her lone goal, ending this portion of the book.

The next section of the book is the most interesting, involving the pursuit of an international criminal by what are apparently agents of the United States government. Veteran agents Karl and William working at the behest of a U.S. Senator have taken on the responsibility of tracking down a man they know as Siroco. In their pursuit, they are required to take on a rookie agent named Andrew, who serves as a means for the veteran agents to explain who they are and who they are looking for. As the story develops, it becomes apparent that the little organization is not exactly completely legal, and that Siroco is actually the "Anointed One" who had been the child in the previous section. So the reader is confronted with the "heroes" in this section of the story hunting down a "villain" who was the innocent child in the previous portion. This section is the most interesting of the book because Amazon has placed the viewpoint characters in the position of being opposed to the viewpoint characters of the previous (and as it turns out, the following) sections of the book. In effect, the three pseudo-government agents chasing Siroco hold the same position in the story as that held by the minions of Auphora who were relentlessly tracking down Selena in the previous segment. And that is the inversion that makes this book interesting: Despite the fact that we are told that the god Corin, and by extension his "Anointed One" are inimical to Earth's interests, we root for them when they are the downtrodden underdog protagonists. And when we follow Karl, William, and Andrew, we root for them, until it becomes clear who they are relentlessly tracking down, at which point our sympathies become confused. Unfortunately, this portion of the story more or less simply stops without any kind of resolution.

After the high point of the hunt for Siroco, the book leaves that story unfinished and moves back to the planet Corin where everything started. After Auphora locked the orb with one side in perpetual daylight from facing the sun while the other is held in perpetual night, those remaining on the day side of the planet have endured the torment of unending daylight. In an attempt to return the gods that Auphora had vanquished, King Oncelot of Corin proposes to raise one of the "hyper-lords" by offering the eligible men of his kingdom to serve as potential vessels for a reborn demigod. After some twists and turns, he instead sends his son, Prince Ramon, on a quest to the dark side of the planet to find Corin's "three philosophers" who he hopes will provide the key to returning the ancient gods to the planet. A fairly typical epic quest follows with brave warriors carrying swords, spears, and bows ride across the landscape, finding mystical portents and unexpected magical boons before vanquishing the dark side's vicious guardians and reaching their goal. The story has some court intrigue thrown in for good measure, but like the previous section, the story simply ends in the middle of the action with all of the plot threads left hanging open.

And this is the main problem with the book. Not the over-the-top anime style sequences. Not the quirky mixture of space travel and spears. Not the fact that every government agent and police officer chasing Siroco has the exact same personality and speech pattern. Not the fact that Prince Ramon's heroic companions are all virtually interchangeable, differentiated only by the weapons they carry. No, the main weakness of the book is that it simply doesn't have an ending. After four very loosely connected vignettes, the book simply stops. I assume that the various story lines will be picked up and continued in later books in the series, but for now the reader is expected to take on faith that Amazon will be able to effectively able to wrap up the many competing threads of the plot. The Light and the Dark is not so much a book as it is the first half of what should have been a longer book. And that leaves this volume on a fine balance between the handful of interesting plot elements on the one hand, and the unfinished feel of the book on the other, meaning that I find it difficult to recommend it without being able to read the others. Since the later installments have yet to be published, this book gets a cautious nod, with the caveat that any reader who picks it up should not read it expecting a full story.

Subsequent book in the series: The Transformation of Adam Higgins

Marvin Amazon     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, June 24, 2013

Musical Monday - Farscape Opening Credits

As should be clear from its placement as the number two show on my list of the top ten science fiction television shows, Farscape is one of my favorite shows of all time. After a somewhat fitful start in which the episodes were shown out of order (due to the all too common interference of idiotic television executives) and the cast didn't fully gel until midway through the season when Gigi Edgley joined the ensemble as Chiana, the show developed into one of the most brilliant pieces of televised science fiction ever put on the small screen. Following the life of John Crichton, a human thrown across space into an unknown part of the galaxy, the show had adventure, romance, and intrigue all wrapped up in a sweeping space opera container.

Because the show was produced in Australia with a little bit of American assistance, the space opera container was slightly different from the usual, giving the show a fresh feel that few other programs have achieved. And this freshness extends to the opening theme song, which is kind of like a tribal chant accompanied by a driving drum beat. The song remained mostly the same for the show's entire four year run, but the opening voice over, provided by Ben Browder as John Crichton, changed as the series evolved. In the first and second seasons, when Crichton was a fish-out-of-water merely attempting to survive, he says this to open each show:

My name is John Crichton, an astronaut.
A radiation wave hit and I got shot through a wormhole.
Now I'm lost in some distant part of the Universe, on a ship.
A living ship, full of strange alien life forms.
Help me. Listen, please. Is there anybody out there who can here me?
I'm being hunted by an insane military commander.
Doing everything I can. I'm just looking for a way home.

But as the show went on, Crichton found his feet and became more sure of himself as he adapted to the strange and hostile environment he found himself living in, and the opening monologue was changed to make reflect this. The new monologue was also more evocative, and, to a certain extent, more in keeping with the space opera nature of the show. The opening is also really two intertwined monologues rather than a single one, as Crichton debates with himself whether to continue trying to find his way home or abandon the search so that the many inimical forces that would prey upon a comparatively primitive and defenseless Earth won't find it.
My name is John Crichton
An astronaut
In some distant part of the Universe
Aboard this ship
Of escaped prisoners
If you can here me
If I make it back
If I open the door
Earth is unprepared
For the nightmares
Or should I stay
Not show them
But then you'll never know
I'm lost
Shot through a wormhole
I'm trying to stay alive
This living ship
My friends
Will they follow?
Are you ready?
I've seen
Protect my home
You exist
The wonders I've seen
This is the wonder and the tragedy of Farscape wrapped up into one brief internal struggle. If Crichton finds what he wants, he may doom everything he loves. But if he doesn't return home, then the people of Earth will never know the achingly beautiful things that the outside holds. Either way, Crichton gives up something. Either way, he suffers. Success is always marred by failure, and even when you win, you also lose.

Previous Musical Monday: Stargate SG-1 Opening Theme
Subsequent Musical Monday: Babylon 5 Opening Credits

Game, Movie, and Television Music     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Follow Friday - The Current Congress Is the 113th Congress

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Tsuki's Books and Rotten Apple Books.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Share your favorite literary quote!

As usual, I'm going to cheat a little bit and pick two quotes rather than one. First, I'm picking my favorite literary quote from one of my favorite historical figures:

I cannot live without books - Thomas Jefferson

This is how it is usually rendered, but it is incomplete. The quote is part of a letter from Thomas Jefferson to his political opponent and long time friend John Adams. In his letter, Jefferson continues the sentence, adding, "but fewer will suffice when amusement, and not use, is the only future object." Jefferson understood that books are essential to life, but that what made them essential was that they be used, and learned from.

My second quote is from Erasmus. I am not going to use the quote that is oft attributed to Erasmus of "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." I am not using that quote because it is actually a misquote, and not at all what Erasmus really said. In the line that has become popularly paraphrased as that, Erasmus makes clear that he is speaking about a specific set of books by Greek authors, and that his preference for books over clothing is merely a one-time choice relating to a particular delivery of money. But the Erasmus quote I am using is this:

I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their store-chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily use thumb them, batter them, wear them out, who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults. - Erasmus

Erasmus' quote expresses much the same sentiment as Jefferson's. A book lover expresses their love for books by reading them, thumbing through them, writing annotations in the margins, using them, and learning from them. The mark of a true book lover is not a set of pristine books sitting on a shelf, looking beautiful and ornamental. No, the mark of a true book lover is piles of worn out books stacked all over the house.

Go to previous Follow Friday: The Atomic Number of Copernicum is 112
Go to subsequent Follow Friday: Cadmium-114 Has a Half-Life of 14.1 Years

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Biased Opinion - There Are No Fake Geek Girls, Only Jerk Geek Guys

Geek girls singing.
The short version of this post is simply this: There are no fake geek girls. There are only geek girls who have to deal with jerk geek guys. What I am going to say here is not directed to any geek girl. Instead, I am directing this to the geek guys who feel the need to act like dicks whenever a woman shows up somewhere and has the temerity to express a love for comic books, science fiction, fantasy, computer games, role-playing games, or any other thing that geeks claim as "their own".

I say to these "gatekeepers" simply this: Stop acting like a dick. You're not a brave hero manning the ramparts of geekdom against the incursions of women into your beloved domain. You're a jerk acting like a jerk, and you need to stop. Now. "Geek girls" aren't the problem in nerd fandom. You are. If you are so socially maladjusted that you need to "test" any woman who shows up at a convention, or a game store, or some other place where geeks congregate and make sure that she can demonstrate her bona fides, then the nerd community is better off without you in it. Go sulk in your basement until you can grow up and act like an adult in public.

The genesis of this post is The Doubleclicks song Nothing to Prove, from their upcoming album Lasers and Feelings in which Angela sings about how she has nothing to prove to the self-appointed gatekeepers of all things nerdish and geeky. In the concert I saw them at, they wondered why anyone would be a "fake geek girl", asking if any of these guys thought that the two of them were getting "harems of men and piles of money" as a result of being a nerd folk band. And while Angela and Aubrey are completely correct that they have nothing to prove as geek girls, I would go further and say that no woman has to prove herself as a geek girl to these trollish "gatekeepers" who crop up out of the dark corners of local comic book shops to maintain the supposed purity of fandom.

The first, and simplest reason for this is that there are no fake geek girls. If a woman takes the trouble to buy a ticket for a convention, make a Batgirl costume, and then show up wearing the costume around the convention, she's a geek girl. If a woman drives to her local comic book store to buy comic books, she's a geek girl. If a woman signs up for a video game tournament, she's a geek girl. If a woman expresses a love for Doctor Who, or Battlestar Galactica, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, she's a geek girl. Any woman who loves these sorts of things is a geek, and as much of a geek as any guy who loves the same or similar things. Not only do they not have to somehow "prove" that they are worthy enough to join in with a collection of nerdy guys in their shared love of lightsabers and phasers, the idea that someone might think they should is offensive in the extreme, and counterproductive to boot.

Any self-appointed "guardian of the gates" who thinks that someone is a "fake geek girl" is simply deluded. If one stops and thinks about it rationally for a second one can easily see why. The typical (although by no means the only) type of "fake geek girl" accusation is thrown out when a woman shows up cosplaying at a convention. She has decided to assemble a costume reflecting her love of Harley Quinn, Laura Croft, Kaylee Frye, or some other character and then taken the time to travel to a convention or other event so she can wear it. If such a woman wasn't actually geeky, why in the world would she do this? If she was, in fact, a "fake geek girl" what would her objective be? She would have spent a substantial amount of time, effort, and money so that she could go to a venue she isn't interested in to wear a costume she doesn't like around people she doesn't care for. No one would actually do this under those circumstances. Any woman who actually does show up to cosplay a character at an event is a geek girl. Just showing up demonstrates that. Running over to her to quiz her on Firefly trivia and playing "Gotcha!" if she doesn't know the full lyrics to the Ballad of Jayne doesn't show that she's a "poser" or a "fake geek girl". It shows that you are a dick. In a more civilized world, any guy who did this would be met with derision and summarily ejected from the event and told never to return.

And this holds true for all other expressions of geek love. If a woman wants to sign up for and play in a video game tournament, or if she wants to play in a CCG tournament, or any other kind of activity, the mere desire to participate demonstrates that she is a geek girl. It doesn't matter if she's any good at the games, or if she is the best player alive, she is just as much of a geek girl no matter where she falls on the skill spectrum. She doesn't need to pass some sort of lore test in which she recounts all of the lore behind the Halo story, or show that she knows which edition a particular game card came from, or any other "test". Once again, one has to ask what benefit a woman who was a "fake geek girl" would get out of signing up to play a game she doesn't like with a collection of people she finds uninteresting. Why would she bother? The mere fact that she is interested enough to want to participate makes her an "actual" geek girl. Those of you standing by the doorway to bar her way are nothing more than petty assholes, and I'd rather have just one of the girls you want to drive away in the geek social circle rather than all of you "gatekeepers" combined. Nerdom is better off without you, no matter how much obscure trivia about the Green Lantern Corps you happen to know.

Some of the "gatekeepers" may have confused actual cosplaying women with the "booth babes" that companies frequently hire to adorn their convention exhibits. I generally dislike the use of "booth babes", and think less of a company that resorts to using them, but no matter what costume they happen to be wearing, they are not "fake geek girls". They are actresses. They have been hired to play a part. I know that this concept may be hard for some convention-goers to grasp, but they are merely doing a job, and they could not care less what you think. This may come a surprise to some people, but Jim Parsons isn't a theoretical physicist either. if you walked up to him and tried to quiz him on the intricacies of string theory, I'm guessing that he'd probably fail miserably. But he wouldn't care. That's not his job, and whether you know more about string theory than he does is of no concern to him. And the same holds true for the actresses hired to wear Red Sonja costumes to promote the Frank Frazetta exhibit. They won't give a rats ass if you know more than them about Conan lore. The "fake geek girls" that you have quizzed don't and won't care that you bravely manned the nerd ramparts against their incursions. The only people who will care are the actually geeky girls. And you just dumped all over them. Because you're an ass.

The thing that completely perplexes me about the "fake geek girls" meme is simply how counterproductive it is. For most of my life I have heard geeky guys moaning about the fact that women don't share their interests, and as a result aren't interested in geeky men. But when a woman shows up who expresses interest in geeky things, the first response of a not inconsequential number of nerd guys is to do their very best to run them off. The problem isn't that women aren't interested in geeky guys. The problem is that so many geeky guys are complete assholes, and so many other geeky guys tolerate the assholes out of some sort of "nerd solidarity". This is simply unacceptable. When a guy acts like a dick towards women, other guys should call him out on it. He's not marginalized because of his geekdom, he's marginalized because he's a socially stunted dick, and making excuses for him is simply giving him the green light to continue to be a raging asshole.

Another question that comes to mind is this: Even if the "gatekeepers" were right, and there were actually fake geek girls out there who made elaborate costumes to go to conventions they aren't interested in to portray characters they don't like in front of a horde of men they don't like, what is accomplished by "exposing" them? A woman has shown interest in your hobby, and you've managed to . . . what? Defend the Marvel universe against having an insincere woman pretend to be Hawkgirl? Save the Jedi from having a woman possibly watch the movies with insufficient knowledge of the Expanded Universe? Made sure that women stay away from the convention in the future so that you can compare sausage with the other attendees? The "win-state" for the brave gatekeepers holding the line against "fake geek girls" is empty and hollow, and reveals that those self-appointed gatekeepers aren't anything but complete jerks.

The thing that is especially ironic about these sorts of "gatekeepers" is that if someone were to question their bona fides as geeks, they'd probably get huffy and offended. And they'd probably fail any number of the "tests" that have been directed at "fake geek girls". I'm talking about you, comic book nerd - you may know a lot about Captain America, but can you pass my test about Babylon 5 trivia? How good are you at obscure facts concerning classic science fiction novels? Trivia about pre-Star Wars science fiction movies? The rules for first edition Dungeons & Dragons? The simple fact is that I could probably take any number of these "gatekeepers" to the woodshed on any number of geeky topics and make them look silly. But I don't, because (a) I'm not a dick, and (b) I'm sure they could do the same to me on any number of geeky topics. I know a lot about written science fiction. I don't know nearly as much about Japanese animation. Put me head to head in a trivia contest with a Japanese animation fan and the topic of the contest will determine the victor, not the relative geekiness of him and me.

Geek fandom does have a problem. The problem is not the nonexistent "fake geek girl". The problem is jerk geek guys. Every time a dick tries to expose a "fake geek girl", that dick should be told to knock it off. And if he doesn't, he should be ostracized by other geeks, because he's being an ass. Geekdom doesn't need to coddle jerks out of some sort of misplaced sense of "nerd solidarity". Geekdom needs to convince these guys that being a dick simply won't be tolerated, and if they persist, they will find themselves very lonely.

There are no fake geek girls. There are only geek girls.

Biased Opinions     Home

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Event - The Doubleclicks at ThinkGeek, June 13th, 2013

Last Thursday I got to go see The Doubleclicks, one of the best nerd folk acts in existence, when they came to perform at the ThinkGeek offices in Fairfax, Virginia as part of their Velociraptour. Made up of sisters Angela (on ukulele, guitar, and keyboard cat) and Aubrey Webber (on cello), the band sings about things like Dungeons & Dragons, grammar, Jane Austen, superpowers, and convention cosplayers.

We arrived early, and due to what seems to have been a little bit of confusion, were admitted to the venue a little bit ahead of schedule. This didn't seem to derail anything, but it did mean that we noticed that Greg Benson and Kim Evey were in attendance, as was Storm DiConstanzo of Paul & Storm. Greg and Kim were busy with the two women of The Doubleclicks working on a project that I won't go into except to say that I have discovered that I should never be allowed to speak on camera. Ever. Seriously, I am bad at it.

Fortunately, everyone who had shown up early was offered a tour of the ThinkGeek offices, an offer we gladly accepted. Anyone who frequents this blog who is unfamiliar with ThinkGeek should go and check them out. Your inner nerd will love you for it, although your bank account will probably hate you. The company markets dozens of nerdy items both original (such as their adorable monkey mascot Timmy) to licensed products from a wide array of sources including Star Wars, Marvel, Minecraft, Portal, and so on. If you are a geek and you love toys, then you should check out ThinkGeek if you have not already.

The tour itself showed that the ThinkGeek offices are exactly the kind of nerdvana that one would expect: Every work space was filled with a collection of superhero figures, Portal guns, and other geek oriented items. The walls were plastered with Death Stars, Mario decals, and other nerdish decorations. In the company board room sits a shelf covered with stuffed "Timmy" dolls that had been dressed in a variety of genre-related costumes ranging from the Vault Kid from Fallout (complete with a functioning pip boy) to Firefly's Kaylee in her dress from Shindig. In short, ThinkGeek is a company that caters to geeks that is populated by geeks. Lest one think that working at ThinkGeek is all fun and games, when our tour guide was asked how one would best position themselves for a job at the company, he said to become an accountant. Because people with accounting skills are what the company needs most.

After the tour, it was time for The Doubleclicks. Following a brief and humorous introduction by Storm, who apologized that Paul & Storm couldn't be present to open the show, and that instead he, Jon Coulton would do so, he turned the stage over to the headliners, and they proceeded to put on an excellent show. Their set list was made up of the highlights of their repertoire, including Oh, Mr. Darcy, Spock Impersonator, Apostrophe, No Easy Way, Don't You Love Me?, Will They or Won't They?, Uncle Geek's House, Worst Superpower Ever, Clever Girl, and, of course, This Fantasy World.  They threw in some songs from their soon to be released CD Lasers and Feelings, and showed that their song writing is getting better and their sound is getting cleaner, performing the title track Lasers and Feelings about a love affair between a super villain and the woman who loves him, The Guy Who Yelled Freebird, which they dedicated to Greg Benson, and Nothing to Prove, a brilliant and defiant rebuttal to the "Fake Geek Girl" meme that has infected fan community. Angela set aside lead vocal duties for a couple songs, as Aubrey took the microphone for A Lullaby for Mr. Bear and Something Else.

Interspersed between the sometimes sweetly funny, and sometimes bitterly satirical songs, the two sisters engaged in actually witty banter (as opposed to most bands' clumsy attempts at witty banter), including a hilarious interjection by Aubrey in the middle of Spock Impersonator, and an adorable use of musical meows by Angela during Something Else. After the show, and encore, the pair stuck around to sign autographs and take pictures, resulting in my having one CD decorated with Aubrey as Mr. Bear and Angela as a velociraptor and another decorated with my Doubleclique serial number 11-0002 accompanied by what seems to be a drawing of me as a velociraptor, which I have to say are quite possibly the best possible autographs I could have imagined.

With a brilliant concert full of wit and brilliance, The Doubleclicks cemented themselves as the reigning queens of nerd folk music, at least as far as I'm concerned. If you can go see The Doubleclicks, you should definitely do so. If you can't, you should at least get their CDs and enjoy their silly, happy, nerdy, and humorous songs.

The Doubleclicks     Events     Home

Musical Monday - Stargate SG-1 Opening Theme

Continuing with music related to my list of the top ten science fiction television shows, here is the opening theme song of Stargate SG-1. Though the show used the same musical theme for the entire run of the series, it used different opening credit sequences (to, among other things, account for the changes in the cast), and all nine different opening credits are included here, giving an interesting view into how the show evolved and changed over its run (or at least it did until the original video was deleted, now it is just the opening credits for season one).

Though I loved the show, and I like the opening credits, I'm not a huge fan of the opening theme. Though it starts off in a moody and atmospheric manner, it quickly flows into moderately obnoxious bombast that doesn't really fit the myth based nature of the show. Given that the main villains started off being aliens who impersonate Egyptian gods, something that gave a nod towards that in the theme seems like it would have made the theme a lot better. That's kind of small beer however, because if your complaints about a show boil down to "the theme song isn't exactly to my liking", then the show is probably pretty good.

And Stargate SG-1 was excellent. I've had some people question why I placed this show ahead of the original Star Trek in my ranking of science fiction television shows. After all, Star Trek is an iconic moment in television history, and Stargate SG-1 is, well, not. Even so, Stargate SG-1 was a better show, with better thought out science fiction, better written characters, and better stories. Which is probably why it is the longest running science fiction show ever to air on U.S. television.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Farscape Opening Credits

Game, Movie, and Television Music     Musical Monday     Home

Friday, June 14, 2013

Follow Friday - The Atomic Number of Copernicum is 112

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - The Book Stop and Phantasmic Reads.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: Activity: Spine Poetry. Create a line of poetry with your book spines (take a picture). Not feeling creative? Tell us about your favorite poem.

Go to previous Follow Friday: J.R.R. Tolkien Coined the Word "Eleventy"
Go to subsequent Follow Friday: The Current Congress Is the 113th Congress

Follow Friday     Home

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review - Lord of Darkness by Robert Silverberg

Short review: Andrew Battell sets off as a privateer and instead ends up as a prisoner of the Portuguese. He spends twenty-one years in Africa, when all he really wants to do is get home to England.

First a privateer
Then a captive prisoner
Last a survivor

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: Take an obscure and brief report from a mostly unknown historical individual, flavor it with some styling reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, throw in a dash of H. Rider Haggard and a sprinkling of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the end result is Robert Silverberg's foray into historical fiction about Africa: Lord of Darkness. The story contained in the book mostly takes the form a travelogue that follows the central character Andrew Battell as he endures his existence as an English privateer taken prisoner by the Portuguese and transported to Africa, where he doesn't so much adventure as he merely struggles to survive on a continent made doubly dangerous by the national animosity between himself and his captors that is coupled with the wild and inhospitable African landscape as well.

In the forward to the book, Silverberg recounts how a children's story titled The Three Mulla-Mulgars featuring three traveling monkeys entranced him as a child. That story included a brief interlude in which the monkeys came across a lone Englishman named Andrew Battle living by himself in a hut in the African jungles. This would have been little more than a childhood curiosity but years later Silverberg learned of a short first-person account from a seventeenth century Englishman named Andrew Battell giving a short overview of his extended sojourn in Africa. Connecting the dots, Silverberg concluded that the man in The Three Mulla-Mulgars and the historical Battell were one and the same, and also decided that Battell's story needed to be told. But, given that the only records of Battell's experience were he own brief account coupled with a handful of passing references by his contemporaries, leaving Silverberg with scant material to work with, meaning most of the story that came out of the effort was an invention built on a skeleton of truth.

The story that Silverberg came up with is that of a man who sets out for fame and fortune, but in the end only aspires to survive. Battell is a loyal subject of Queen Elizabeth and a veteran of England's fight against the Spanish Armada. After a brief marriage ended by his wife's untimely death falls in love with a pretty young girl named Anne Katherine, and decides to sign on as a privateer to plunder England's enemies and secure a nest egg for himself and his intended. The expedition goes badly, and Battell and some of his shipmates are captured by the Portuguese in Brazil and find themselves transported to the colony of Angola in West Africa. And from there, the rest of the story is dominated by Battell's decades long effort to secure his freedom and return to England. Most of the story follows a fairly predictable pattern: Battell overcomes odd that are stacked against him, manages to eke out an existence and almost win his freedom, and then, because there is more book left, events around him conspire at the last possible moment to deny his liberation, resulting in Battell returning to square one, often in a worse position than he started in.

But to a certain extent, Battell's efforts to escape from Africa are not the main plot of the book. Rather, the main plot of the book is Battell's changing relationship with the Dark Continent. As a character, Battell engages in a lot of action, but makes relatively few actual decisions rather than merely being buffeted about by the winds of fate. The only decisions Battell really makes in the course of the book are deciding to turn privateer, purchasing the slave-girl Matamba, refusing Dona Teresa's continued advances, attempting to escape with a Dutch trader, and betraying Calandola to the Portuguese. Every other action Battell takes in the book is spurred by a desire to save his own life, in short, these were the only choices in the book where the alternative would not have been Battell's death. And because the primary character trait for Battell is that he is a survivor above all else, he almost always chooses the path that keeps him alive, making these other "choices" really non-choices. The plaintive cry of "I had no choice, what else could I do" is almost a mantra of Battell. One has to wonder how much of this sentiment was drawn from Battell's original narrative that inspired the book, and how much was the result of Silverberg being unable to figure out any other plausible way to continue keeping Battell trapped as a quasi-prisoner of the Portuguese in and around Angola.

The real meat of the story is Battell's four significant relationships with the women in his life. Anna Katherine spurs Battell to embark upon his career as a privateer, leading to his capture and the events of the book. And while Anna Katherine is offstage for much of the book, and is clearly idealized in Battell's memory, she serves as a reminder for him of his love for England as a whole: As Battell's memories of Anna Katherine fade, so do his memories of England. Once he is in Angola, Battell meets the exotic and duplicitous Dona Teresa, a half-Portuguese half-African beauty who takes up with Battell for fairly inexplicable reasons while he is being held as a prisoner in the Portuguese dungeons. Leaving aside the implausibility of the scenario in which a beautiful scheming social climber would jeopardize her affair with one of the most powerful men in the colony in order to have trysts with a prisoner she barely knows on the floor of a fetid dungeon, Dona Teresa serves to illustrate Battell's growing acceptance of his enforced exile and the rationalizations he makes to accept working with the Portuguese. Teresa, with enough European heritage to appear familiar, but still alien enough that it takes some time for Battell to warm up to her, is a transitional figure in the book, bridging the gap between the "normal" and the "alien". As a side note, there is a lot of sex in the book. Anyone coming to this book hoping for a rehash of Stevenson or Haggard should be aware of this fact before diving in and being shocked by the numerous references Battell makes to his "yard", a woman's curly "three-pointed patch", or the "starfish mouth" within it.

But Battell's life is one of constant change, and eventually he is required by his captors to pilot one of their ships northward, eventually finding himself purchasing the slave girl he calls Matamba. Battell's motivations for purchasing Matamba aren't fully clear, mostly because the idea is not his own, but is rather spurred by Matamba herself, who asks him to buy her to she may escape the slave pens. And although he doesn't purchase her with the intent of having a sexual relationship with her, eventually he does. While Silverberg tries to paint this relationship in the best light possible, and it is probably the most "equal" relationship Battell has with a woman in the entire book, it is still a thirty year old slave holder having sex with his sixteen year old slave girl. Perhaps it is a commentary on the society of the time, but I admit I did find it somewhat disturbing that the most balanced and loving relationship between a man and a woman was the one between Battell and Matamba, mostly because of the clearly exploitative aspects that Silverberg tries so desperately to explain away. To a certain extent Matamba is better off with Battell then she would be otherwise, a point made starkly clear when Battell is separated from her when he is sent away for punishment after an escape attempt and returns years later to find her in an abjectly miserable condition, but this only mitigates the situation, rather than justifying it. But Matamba is, in this regard, a perfect metaphor for the "mainstream" of Africans who spend the book being exploited by European powers beyond their control and only hope to emerge with as little suffering as they can.

The book reaches its climax during Battell's final significant relationship, with his Jaqqa wife Kulachinga. Except that Battell's relationship isn't really with Kulachinga, but rather with the ruler of the cannibalistic Jaqqa tribe the Imbe-Jaqqa Calandola. Abandoned by his Portuguese companions and fearing for his life, Battell finally throws aside the final vestige of his civilized European identify and joins the dreaded Jaqqa tribe, where his musketry skills earn him a place by Calandola's side as "Andubatil". Kulachinga is assigned to Battell by Calandola, and neither she nor Battell has any choice in the matter. She is wholly alien, covered with ritual scars and tribal decorations, and symbolizes the truly alien nature of where Battell has gone, and what he has become. But Kulachinga is almost not a character in her own right, and is merely the extension of Calandola's will. It is through Battell's relationship with Calandola (that becomes more than merely symbolically sexual) and some of the other leaders of the Jaqqa tribe that Silverberg makes his boldest statements, and although they are probably not historically accurate, they are interesting. The Jaqqa, for all their destructive and cannibalistic ways, turn out to be much more than merely mindless locusts swarming across the land, but have a philosophical bent that informs their actions. While they are foreboding and have a somewhat terrifying outlook, they are understandable. And making a tribe of marauding cannibals understandable and even somewhat relatable is what makes this book ultimately interesting. If Silverberg had merely jumped from Battell as a privateer to Battell living among the Jaqqa, they probably would have been too foreign to the reader's experience for any amount of explanation to be effective in making them human rather than monsters. But by taking his time to get to them, Silverberg was able to both increase the terror the Jaqqa engender and ease both Battell and the reader into being able to accept them on their own terms.

As a work of historical fiction, Lord of Darkness seems to be more or less equal parts history and fantasy. The broad strokes and most of the elements of Battell's own personal story are accurate, but it is fairly clear that everything else is a fantasy put forward by Silverberg to make a compelling and interesting narrative. And Silverberg succeeds in that effort, taking the bare bones of a historical account and fleshing it out to describe one man's journey from the familiar to the wholly alien, and taking the reader along for the ride. To a certain extent, Silverberg's efforts are so successful that the final chapters are required to bring Battell back from the wilderness and to allow the reader to take that part of the journey with him as well. While the journey might not be particularly true to the reality of sixteenth century Africa, it is an engrossing tale of survival against mountainous odds filled with interesting characters. And because of that, it is a story that lovers of historical fiction should find interesting and which should have gotten more notice when it was first published.

Robert Silverberg     Book Reviews A-Z     Home