Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Writing Has Resumed

I finally seem to have made enough progress processing my father's death that I'm able to write again. Obviously the real world events of 2020 didn't help to move things along. While terrible things are still going on, it seems that on a personal level I've been able to turn the page.

Over the summer, I was inspired by a status update I saw on Goodreads to write this short story. The idea rattled around my brain, but I wasn't able to write it up until the week after Christmas. It's titled "Staking Sunflowers". It's 2,100 words long and has sci-fi and horror elements in it.

My wife and kids read it and gave their approval. A reading group on Goodreads has given it positive reviews, too. After a few edits, including tacking on a darker ending, I've started reviewing markets that it might work for. First submission and rejection happened yesterday, so I must keep looking. In the meantime, now that it's out of my head, I can get back to working on Gateway.


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Book Review: 2113

book cover for 2113This anthology is a collection of "short stories inspired by the music of Rush." Having been an avid fan of the band since 1982, I've listened to each studio album in their discography dozens to hundreds of times. As such, I've generated my own imagery about what the lyrics and music are saying, so I went into this book with preconceived expectations.

As the subtitle to this book is "stories inspired by the music of Rush", one should pay attention to the "inspired by" part. I didn't. I was expecting literal interpretations of the songs. Most stories head off in a direction I would never have guessed. Plenty of times my reaction was, "Really? That's where you went with this song?" Now when the song is fairly vague on specifics, focusing on a theme of feelings in a situation (like Mercedes Lackey's "Into the Night", inspired by "Freeze"), there's far more leeway to generate a story.

But sometimes the stories are built from just one line in a song. These are typically the stories that take the most liberties, riding a tangent off into the fifth dimension. Yeah, creative license; I totally get that. But it wasn't what I was looking for. It worked in "Random Access Memory" by John McFetridge, but too often these stories were just so different that they would've worked better for me without the Rush reference.

Two of the eighteen stories in this anthology were actually the inspiration for Rush songs: "A Nice Morning Drive" by Richard S. Foster inspired "Red Barchetta" and "Gonna Roll the Bones" by Fritz Leiber inspired "Roll the Bones." While Neil's lyrics were faithful to Foster's story, he seems to have just used Leiber's story title as its content couldn't be much further removed the song.

Now that's not to say that the stories are bad. There are plenty of good stories here, and some of them, like "Day to Day" by Dayton Ward (inspired by "Red Sector A"), are faithful to the lyrics. If one doesn't go into this collection expecting every story to be a literal interpretation of the selected songs, one will appreciate this collection all the more.

3 stars.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Book Review: Monstress, Vol 2: The Blood

book cover for Monstress volume twoMaika Halfwolf is on the run from a coalition of forces determined to control or destroy the powerful Monstrum that lives beneath her skin. But Maika still has a mission of her own: to discover the secrets of her late mother, Moriko.

Maika has traveled to the port city of Thyria to look for clues at a one of her mother's safe houses. Upon discovering a strange bone, she goes to see Seizi, a friend of her mother's and a civilized merchant pirate. She wants passage to the Isle of Bones, a place he took her mother to years ago. After warning her of the danger, he reluctantly agrees.

Most of the rest of the volume concerns Maika's journey to the island with Kippa and Master Ren and what they encounter there. There are flashbacks to Maika's childhood, more is learned about the Shaman-Empress, and the Monstrum that lives within Maika remembers a part of his past. Overall, I'm not sure how much we learned. There seem to be more questions than answers.

Maika is not to be trifled with in this volume. It seems like her temper has turned sharper. Even Kippa isn't exactly free from it—the Monstrum certainly isn't. She lashes out at anyone who gives offence, in one instance ripping the arm off a sailor. Were it not for Kippa, acting as her conscience, one wonders how quickly Maika would give in to the Monstrum's will.

The artwork remains fantastic. So much wondrous detail and a luscious color palette. The rendering of Blood Fox alone conveyed so much emotion and sinister intent. Takeda is outstanding.

4 stars.


Monday, November 16, 2020

Book Review: Space Eldritch

book cover for Space EldritchAn anthology of Lovecraftican pulp space opera or as the publisher puts it: "Startling Stories meets Weird Tales."

Being an anthology, I feel it is only fair to review each story individually.

“Arise Thou Niarlat from Thy Rest” by D.J. Butler. I didn't enjoy this one. Butler runs three storylines in different time periods that are somehow all connected because...I don't know. Everything that has ever happened, is happening, or will happen is happening simultaneously. Time is irrelevant? It was very disjointed. 2 stars.

“Space Opera” by Michael R. Collings. Got off to a rough start, but gradually improved and ultimately finished strong. Dark humor effectively employed. Haughty hive aliens of stupendous power colonize worlds with the offspring of their god, pre-existing life forms on said worlds irrelevant. That is, until they get to an Earth (at least, I think it was Earth) in the distant future. 3 stars.

“The Menace Under Mars” by Nathan Shumate. This is where the anthology really find its footing. Set in an alternate history where amazing ideas about physics came to fruition, humanity has started the process of terraforming Mars. Before its irrevocably lost beneath a sea, a pair of scientists set off to investigate a possible archeological site that could prove the existence of a long dead Martian race. Shumate utilizes elements of Lovecraft's style when confronting things that the mind struggles to comprehend but does so without being imitative. At one point it was so intense that my daughter unwittingly startled me when she walked silently up to me. 4.5 stars.

“Gods in Darkness” by David J. West is a pulpy, Cold War era tale complete with a chiseled chin protagonist, commies, and an elitist scientist. Although the characters were two-dimensional, the story was entertaining. Eldritch aspect was slight. 3 stars.

“The Shadows of Titan” by Carter Reid and Brad R. Torgersen was a creepy tale about the first human expedition to Titan and what they discovered. While you know that the proverbial shit is going to hit the fan, the authors write it well and offer an ending that I didn't see coming. 4 stars.

“The Fury in the Void” by Robert J. Defendi takes place in some distant future where civilization is circling the drain. Technical knowledge is preserved by religious orders that have merged faith and science in a disappointing fashion. A Russian ship is chasing a Greek ship as the latter has committed murderous atrocities against their people. As spaceships are sacred due to their scarcity, combat is carried out through boarding actions. Think of it as the eldritch version of "Day of the Dove" episode of Star Trek. 3 stars.

One of the themes in Lovecraft's work was that there existed forbidden knowledge which was too much for human comprehension and often led to an individual's descent into madness. Another is that our scientific skills far outpace our wisdom to properly utilize their discoveries. Howard Tayler masterfully blends these themes together in “Flight of the Runewright.” In the story, a man seeks to start a new life in a colony on a new world, but to get there, he must board a strange starship engraved with mystic runes. Tayler leads the reader down a path where bad things are going to happen, but until his big reveal, the reader doesn't know just how bad they're going to go. 5 stars.

Average of the stories: 3.5 stars. Like trick-or-treating, it's a mixed bag of mostly average loot with a couple scores that make it worth the effort. Of course, YMMV.

Unfortunately, I have to add that most of the stories needed another round of proofreading. I wasn't looking to take a critical eye to this, but the typos and grammatical errors leapt out of the page at me and proved distracting.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Book Review: Hellboy Volume 7 - The Troll Witch and Others

book cover for Hellboy Vol 7In this volume, we're treated to several stories from back in Hellboy's days at the BPRD. Most of these are Mignola's attempt to adapt a fable or myth into the Hellboy universe. The results vary.

"The Penanggalan" starts off this volume with Hellboy in Malaysia in 1958. It's a typical short Hellboy tale, but Mignola spoils it by giving away the ending before the confrontation with the monster begins.

"The Hydra and the Lion" is better. Mignola grabs a hold of the Greek legend of Hercules and places it in Alaska in 1961. This one plays out until the end.

"The Troll Witch" is an adaptation of a Norwegian folk tale. Hellboy is investigating a series of murders in Norway in 1963 and has come to confront an old woman about them. There's an emotional resonance that lifts up this story that one doesn't usually see in a Hellboy story. One of the best Hellboy short stories that I've read so far.

"The Vampire of Prague" is an adaptation of several local legends. Mignola wasn't able to do the artwork for this one. Not only didn't I like the story, but I didn't think the artist's style meshed with Hellboy. He made him seem too cartoonish.

In "Dr. Carp's Experiment," a BPRD team investigate a haunted house. After a bit of background in the intro, the artwork carries the rest of the story. Mignola makes full use of his color palette here and does a great job.

I'm not sure what to make of "The Ghoul." If I say anything about it, I'll give it away. I can tell you that the titular character speaks in verse. Not too sure this one works.

The collection ends with "Makoma," an adaptation of "The Story of the Hero Makoma," an African folktale perfectly suited to Hellboy. The story begins with Hellboy paying a visit to the New York City Explorers' Club whereupon he encounters a mummy who tells him the story of Makoma. At this point, Mignola hands over the artwork to Richard Corben who does a fantastic job adapting Hellboy into the Makoma saga. Not only does the penciling work, but the traditional Hellboy color palette brings Africa to life, unlike "The Third Wish" from the previous volume. A great story to end the collection.

3.5 stars overall.


Friday, October 23, 2020

Book Review: Hellboy Volume 6 - Strange Places

book cover for Hellboy volume 6Strange Places contain the stories The Third Wish and The Island.

After the events in Conqueror Worm, Hellboy has quit the BPRD and gone on a walkabout of sorts. The Third Wish finds him in Africa, searching for an ancient witch doctor named Mohlomi. He informs Hellboy that the ocean is calling him and he must go. Meanwhile, three mermaid sisters seeking wishes have come to see the Bog Roosh, a giant fish woman with magical powers. She promises to grant the wishes if they can hammer her magical nail into her enemy's head. Guess who that is.

There isn't the humor that one would normally find in a Hellboy story. In fact, it turns rather melancholic by the end. This one was written shortly after 9/11, and Mignola admits that it may have colored his mood a bit.

After this adventure, Hellboy surfaces for The Island. It is here that a resurrected prophet, reborn from Hellboy's blood, tells him of the origin of the world and his right hand.

Mignola admits to struggling with the story here. The first Hellboy movie was coming out, and he wanted to tell a proper origin story before Hollywood did.

After knocking it out of the park with Conqueror Worm, these two come up a bit short. In The Third Wish we once again have someone trying to kill Hellboy because his destiny is to bring about the end of the world. The Island sees someone trying to force Hellboy to accept his destiny, but if he won't, that someone will do it for him. And there's lots of monologuing, but I'm not sure how else this vast infodump could be presented. But did it need to be done? Couldn't Mignola have just teased out a little here and a little there? Mystery has always a been an important element in this series and now that a huge chunk of it has been revealed, where does this series go?

The artwork for The Third Wish was disappointing. Africa looked dull, and the color palette for the undersea scenes didn't work for me. The Island was better, particularly the color palette, but some of the panels looked a little sloppy. What light you choose to read this by matters a lot. I'd definitely recommend a blue or bluish-white light. Yellow light doesn't work well here.

3 stars.


Monday, October 19, 2020

Book Review: Glory Season

book cover for Glory SeasonYoung Maia is fast approaching a turning point in her life. As a half-caste var, she must leave the clan home of her privileged half sisters and seek her fortune in the world. With her twin sister, Leie, she searches the docks of Port Sanger for an apprenticeship aboard the vessels that sail the trade routes of the Stratoin oceans.

On her far-reaching, perilous journey of discovery, Maia will endure hardship and hunger, imprisonment and loneliness, bloody battles with pirates and separation from her twin. And along the way, she will meet a traveler who has come an unimaginable distance—and who threatens the delicate balance of the Stratoins' carefully maintained, perfect society....

I'm 240 pages in and DNF-ing this one out of boredom.

Statoin is a colony founded by feminists who have bioengineered humans to give women the upper hand in their society. This was accomplished by dampening the sex drive in men such that they were only sexually active during summer and enabling a form of parthenogenesis in women during winter. It isn't true parthenogenesis as sperm were still required to initiate embryo development though no genetic material was transferred. Sexual reproduction in summer led to typical offspring as one would expect on Earth, but winter reproduction led to clones. But since the sex drive of men in winter was very low, women needed to coax men into having sex. Thus it forced both sexes to work together in good faith if either side wished to get what they wanted.

It's certainly an intriguing premise with a host of potential storylines, but sadly, it goes to waste.

Brin spends way too much time delving into the main character's thoughts, going on and on for pages as she overthinks situations, dives into flashbacks, or over explains another aspect of her world. To get an idea of the writing style employed, check out Zach's review. By the time Brin gets back to the matter at hand, one could be forgiven for forgetting what was actually happening before the detour. The plot is barely a whisper. We're given hints that something sinister is going on with the world's sexual balance, but then we get pages worth of flashback or world building after which the protagonist moves on.

I'm a fan of Brin. I've read nine works of his and enjoyed all of them. His Uplift books are among my all-time favorites. But this one was a disappointment. I think if this book were about half its size (772 pages), it would be much better. Too much world building and navel gazing and not enough execution of the plot. If you're good with stories that take a really long time to get going, then maybe this one is for you.

2 stars.