Wednesday, February 3, 2016

All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

I have been looking forward to reading Charlie Jane Anders first major novel ever since Tor announced it was coming out. Anders has written some terrific short fiction, one of them won a Hugo (Six Months, Three Days). What do I really love about Anders work? Her voice speaks to me a deeply connected very geeky way. The Time Travel Club was about a group of people getting together in a basement to discuss adventures in time travel - all of them are lying out of their teeth except for one person. Palm Strike's Last Case is like an interplanetary Batman tale. As Good As New was an interesting wrinkle on the genie in a bottle story.  I could go on and on, the full bibliography can be found on isfdb.

What do I like about Anders' work? I find her prose almost effortless to read and her characters are usually both fascinating and relatable. Her genre related inventions are quite unique, new riffs on old tropes. Some writers just suck me into a story and never let go - we all have our personal favorites which do that magic trick - Anders falls into that category for me.

All the Birds in the Sky is a novel about a journey from childhood to adulthood, with Patricia meeting Laurence in high school. Patricia has an ability with magic (which comes about after she talks to birds) while Laurence has an affinity for technology (inventing a two second time machine wrist watch very early on). I found the high school years chapters to be the most moving. Patricia and Charlie are treated as outcasts at school, they are bullied, and their parents, instead of helping, keep punishing them. The descriptions of these incidents are heart-breaking. I was bullied a bit at school, but thank god I didn't grow up in the age of smartphones where things could be captured and passed around.

I found myself very interested in Patricia's arc throughout this story, even though personality wise I may be more like Laurence. Patricia eventually finds her way to the Etisley Maze, a school for witches. Anders has cooked up a nice broth of magic here, with the Maze combining two schools, the Healers and the Tricksters (I really like how they make deals). I don't want to spoil anything more, but every description of this place is cool, but not overdone. It's not even referred to in a linear fashion. After the high school years we find both Patricia and Laurence living in San Francisco in a slightly future time where environmental damage is reaching a crisis point.  Patricia is a practicing witch of great skill, but perhaps too great an ego, while Laurence is working for a very Google-like corporation that is hell-bent on saving the Earth with the most outrageous moonshots (anti-gravity, wormholes). Eventually they meet again as adults, and their worlds collide as magic meets high tech - and eventually comes into conflict.

I love any story set in California that manages to capture the wonderful craziness of life here. The setting of San Francisco comes alive here because, well, Anders lives in the city. Various descriptions of the Mission, Humphrey Slocombe, super expensive coffee, the Haight, Noe Valley, vegan donuts, various bars & cafes, even knowing the difference between Outer Sunset and Outer Outer Sunset (where my in-laws live), all these little details make the story come alive for me. I loved Cory Doctorow's Little Brother for much the same reason. There is also a subtext going on here, about the current clash in San Francisco between the techies (part of the economic boom driving up rents / prices to astronomical levels) and the artists / makers / regular folks (getting squeezed of the city). One thing that drives many people nuts are the influx of techies who don't have an appreciation of the city's culture - having arrived here in the late 70s I can tell you indeed the culture has changed. This book captures that attitude, not only from Laurence but from his co-workers who believe technology is the answer to every problem. Anders tries to give each side equal weight in this conflict.  The witches are ready to strike at the techies when they get out of control.  The techies, once they realize the this other faction exists, makes a plan to deal with them.

I love Anders humor, strewn throughout the book, lines such as "Laurence thought the two women in smart pumps and nylons were life coaches who were coaching each other, creating an endless feedback loop." And also throwaway lines like "Conventional Newtonian gravitation is so last year." Lots of geek references, too: Doctor Who fans will rejoice and so will fans of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

I found myself comparing Patricia's story arc to another geek milestone from 1980: Dark Phoenix from the X-Men. Patricia may be the most powerful witch on Earth, displaying power levels that threaten to spiral out of control. Like Jean Grey in the X-Men, Patricia needs an anchor which she finds in Laurence.

If there's anything negative about the book at all, it would be that the ending felt a little rushed. Anders lays out a lot of story elements in the beginning that come together at the end, perhaps a little too neatly. I could see how it was going to fit together, perhaps because I read too many stories, but at least everything was very consistent. I read this novel very quickly, almost unable to put it down and find out what would happen next--that is a sign of a really good novel. I hope Anders won't make us wait too long until her second novel comes out! Nuff Said.



Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fortitude

Fortitude is a British television series that premiered in 2015 on the Pivot channel. I never heard of Pivot before, but I did hear Tim Goodman recommend this series on his podcast, The Bastard Machine. I was just able to watch the entire series on Amazon Prime video - all 12 episodes ready to devour in a binge.


For about the first 5-6 episodes, I was ready to declare that Fortitude was one of the greatest murder mysteries ever made. Fortitude is the name of a fictional small town in Arctic Norway, home to miners, scientists, or outcasts who have run away to the one of the most remote places on Earth.  The cast has A-list talent: Stanley Tucci as a DCI (somehow an American works for a British police force), Michael Gambon (Henry Tyson, who we view accidentally kill someone in an opening scene), Christopher Eccleston (a researcher living in Norway). Even the cast I had never heard of before was stellar, especially Richard Dormer as Sheriff Dan Anderssen, who is a great cop but very flawed, tortured by personal demons and often making bad choices that put in the crosshair of Tucci's Detective Morton, who has come to Fortitude to investigate not one but two murders.

This show reminds me a bit of Twin Peaks.  In Fortitude, the initial two murders happen in episode one. Lots of red herrings are strewn about, we see partial truths and innuendos and are led down to rabbit holes to who the suspects may be. Like Twin Peaks an outside force comes to investigate, however in this show, Anderssen doesn't welcome Morton, because it will draw light on his own corrupted behavior. Complicating things for Anderssen is Tyson, who is dying of liver cancer, drunk off his ass and cold calling police hotlines. Fortitude makes all the supporting players come alive, including the Governor (more like a mayor of Fortitude); Elena, a fugitive from Spain who killed someone in the past; Frank Sutter, a war veteran involved in an affair with Elena while his son is terribly sick with a case of the mumps. What is bad for Sutter is that Anderssen has a powerful, unrequited love for Elena. And then there is Shirley, an overweight young woman who has a German boyfriend, Markus; Markus indulges Shirley a little too much, force feeding her to fatten her up.

Unlike Twin Peaks, Fortitude's plot moves along with each episode. You find out who murdered one of the victims around episode 5 or 6; at that point I wondered how the show was going to continue. But even though the murderer was revealed, there was more to the story. By the end of season 1, Fortitude, the town where people seemed safer than in any big city, becomes the murder/suicide capital of Norway!

Now here are some major SPOILERs so beware after the jump....


Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

I remember when The Rook by Daniel O'Malley was published in 2012 it made the top books of the year lists for many people; for some reason I put this on my TBR pile for 4 years! This novel is fantastic, an action adventure that reminds me of a mashup between The Bourne Identity and Torchwood.

Set in modern day London, the story opens on a woman who wakes up in a park, drenched in the rain, surrounded by bodies wearing latex gloves. As the story progresses, she discovers that her name is Myfanwy Thomas; that she is one of the leaders of a mysterious organization known as the Checquy; and that she and other members of the Checquy possess superhuman abilities.  One of them is a being known as Gestalt, one personality inhabiting four different bodies (male and female). A senior member is a woman who communicates through dreams while another one is a 200 year old vampire (and vampires are very different in this world). Myfanwy goes on a quest to learn more about the Checquy and her past life while trying to find out who had her killed. There is some sense of the new Myfanwy being "reborn" into a new persona; the old Myfanwy was something of a tortured recluse, unable to use her powers to the fullest extent. The new Myfanwy is a bit more aggressive and adventurous.

This story is filled with very exciting action scenes, but also a lot of humor. Some chapters felt like an episode of Doctor Who, and I read on O'Malley's blog that indeed, The Rook will become a series for Hulu in the near future.  One very funny chapter was about a duck who could predict the future with accuracy, and even funnier, the duck does not talk but finds another way to communicate. Myfanwy herself is quite hysterical, sometimes stumbling through the upper crust of the Checquy and learning how to cope.

I read both the Kindle edition and did the whispersync deal with the audiobook narrated by Susan Duerden, who did a wonderful job and sounds exactly like Myfanwy should.

One of the great things about The Rook is the all the little bits of background history mentioned throughout. The Checquy has been around for centuries helping to ward off supernatural attacks, even spearheading a branch in the United States. O'Malley clearly has a rich mythology set up in this world and this will make ripe material for a TV series. The sequel Stiletto: A Novel (The Rook Files) will be published in June 2016.  Nuff Said.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Batman by Butch Guice

Butch Guice shared this on Facebook recently, a Batman commission!



With many touches that remind me of Jim Aparo! Glorious! Nuff Said.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Paul Smith on Green Lantern, Mister Miracle, Legion, and more!

Recently discovered a bunch of nifty drawings on the blog of Paul M Smith...






Mister Miracle (Scott Free) with his predecessor hanging over him.


Green Lantern - looks like a Gil Kane drawing inked by PMS!


Superman in his classic glory.


Legionnaires.


The original Saturn Girl meeting her Chris Sprouse inspired clone and wondering who in the world would wear that thong costume created by Dave Cockrum!  Nuff Said.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Saturday Evening Post painted covers with Zatanna, Joker, Harley Quinn, Swamp Thing!

I recently discovered the work of a great illustrator, Juan Carlos Ruiz Burgos, and this fantastic series of Saturday Evening Post paintings that the did with DC Comics superheroes! Each one depicts characters in different eras from 1938 to 1971.

clark_kent_1938_by_onlymilo-d79pcyu

Clark Kent in the year he first appeared, 1938. Love the Siegel and Shuster sign above the shoe sign station! One kid is reading Action Comics #1 while Clark reads the Daily Planet with Superman on the front page.

wonder_woman_1945_by_onlymilo-d5mqkdb

Wonder Woman in 1945. Love the little girl looking up to her with a copy of Sensation Comics #1 in her hand.

joker_and_harley_1942_by_onlymilo-d6fodlv

Joker and Harley Quinn in 1942, looking like Bonnie and Clyde on the run. His first appearance was 2 years earlier in Batman #1, and of course Harley came much, much later. But it's fine to imagine Harley in this time period.

catwoman_1989_by_ruizburgos-d88bxri

Catwoman getting caught on the job. Why 1989? Puzzling, but I figure that is the year the Michael Keaton Batman movie exploded into movie theaters.  The cop arresting Selina Kyle? Chief O'Hara from the Batman 66 TV show.

zatanna_1964_by_onlymilo-d7ys1um

Zatanna with too many rabbits. Zatanna's first appearance was in Hawkman #4, 1964!

swamp_thing_1971_by_ruizburgos-d8khj6i

Swamp Thing - my personal favorite of this entire series! Swamp Thing first appeared in House of Secrets #92 in 1971, so there is a nod to that. It's illustrated in black and white since all the classic monster movies were filmed that way. The appearance of Swampy and Abby is most decidedly in the vein of Alan Moore's take on the characters.

Visit Ruiz Burgos' Deviant Art page or his blog for more great artwork. Nuff Said!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Duncan Fegredo, Monkeys and Spinner-Racks!

I seem to be Apes crazy these days. Here's one new image, not related to POTA, but on a classic theme from Duncan Fegredo.

duncan fegredo monkeys cbldf 2015 liberty annual

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil! All around a spinner-rack of comic books. This was done by Fegredo for the CBLDF 2015 Liberty Annual coming soon. Nuff Said!

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