Friday, July 30, 2010

X-Men: Deadly Genesis by Ed Brubaker

Everything is all about energy. So when millions of mutants with the power to alter and control Earth’s energies lose their abilities, where does all of that energy go? This was hinted at in the final pages of Brian Michael Bendis’ House of M, and Brubaker’s first story as scribe of the X-Men picks up right after House of M, with that same question, and its dark answer.

After the drastic change of the status quo of the Marvel Universe, a large wave of energy is released, the culmination of the powers lost by the former mutants. This wave tears into a space shuttle, killing everyone, but also has an effect less apparent at first. It hits a large mass in space, and awakens someone living inside it. Shocked at the date, he heads to Earth. The X-men, meanwhile, are still living with the realities of a post-House of M world, and things begin to heap upon them as ghosts of the past appear before their very eyes. After reading a strange energy source, a team heads out to find it, and finds far more, starting a fight that will tear open old wounds, expose betrayals, and set up a new era for the X-Men.

This volume collects X-Men: Deadly Genesis #1-6, which includes the main story, plus five back up stories that add more depth and character background to the new characters introduced, “Petra,” “Darwin,” “Sway,” “Kid Vulcan,” and “What Emma Doesn’t Know.”

Brubaker has gradually been garnering a name for himself in the comics world, so there was a lot of excitement when it was announced that he was moving to Uncanny X-Men. He wanted to start things out with a bang, shaking up the major mythos of the X-Men canon with his opening mini-series. While he has indeed done that, digging back to old storylines from decades ago, it wasn’t the smoothest work it could have been.

Vulcan comes across as a very flat villain, no real emotional rationale for his actions. He seemingly takes on all of the X-Men simply because he is angry with one person, and his plans seem a touch contradictory at times.

However, the story itself is fun, doing a good job of getting new readers up to speed, and reacquainting old readers with the status quo. The characters seem to stay in character, the action is fun, and there is plenty of drama to keep the story moving along, while at the same time introducing a number of new characters.

The story does end without a very solid conclusion, which works well to start the next installment, Uncanny X-Men: Rise & Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, but means that this one doesn’t stand alone very well.

A fun story, and a nice introduction to a new run on Uncanny X-Men, although not the best work from that series. Worth a look to get started on the road to getting caught up.


House of M by Brian Michael Bendis

Those of you who read my essay, “The Post-X-Men vs. Apocalypse X-Men,” will recall that this is where I proposed to start my project of getting caught up with X-Men. Many people seem to have low opinions of X-Men because of its status as a comic book, but it tells stories just as engaging and entertaining as most of the novels I read, and at times (such as the brilliant God Loves, Man Kills written by Chris Claremont) really reaches towards the best of storytelling, regardless of genre or format. So, with plenty of excitement, I dove into the event that in large part launched the last few years of X-Men comics, House of M.

Magneto’s daughter Wanda is slowly losing her grip on reality, and her powers are just enough that this is a big problem. The first time she lost her grip, three people died. Under control again, the X-Men and the Avengers join together to decide the fate of their friend and former hero. However, before they can make a choice, tragedy strikes, and in a flash of white, the world changes. Magneto is king of the most powerful nation in the world, mutants are the upper class, and the X-Men and Avengers don’t exist. However, one man remembers the truth, and sets out to overthrow an entire world, and set things back on the right path.

Brian Michael Bendis is a very solid storyteller, and he doesn’t falter here. His sweeping story manages to showcase the drastic new direction the world has taken, while at the same time giving us a cast of characters to follow. He manages to hit some interesting depths as well, including a discussion on the ethical “rightness” of destroying one world, even if it is artificially constructed, for the sake of returning things to the original world. Combining action and a great plot, Bendis makes this one a real winner, and a great jumping on point for new readers. A great start to my surge into the newer X-Men series.


A Cup of Normal by Devon Monk

NOTE: A Cup of Normal was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

Devon Monk is a new author for me. I have seen a few of her books at the store from time to time, but not being much of a fan of urban fantasy, I never gave them a look. However, when I received a copy of her first short story collection, A Cup of Normal, it looked to be quite different than her novels, and, intrigued, I dove into the stories.

“Dusi”: This story of a mythological monster with a case of the lonlies was a light, fun tale, and a solid start to the collection.

“Beer with a Hamster Chaser”: Another light story, this time of a science experiment and an awkward guy, this one was also fun, but brief.

“Probe”: Machines and robots work to avert catastrophe in this solid tale.

“That Saturday”: A story of a girl, her undead dog, and living stone heads. Okay, but a little too much on the stupid side of silly for my tastes.

“The Wishing Time”: The first of a couple of anti-Santa Christmas stories, this one is of a troll who wants his family back. Okay, but the light and brief tale is starting to suffer from too much lack of depth.

“Bearing Life”: The best story of the volume, this tale explores a queen who is in an unwinnable war. Nice character depth and solid storytelling.

“Stitchery”: A good story, this quirky tale of a woman whose animal dies manages to be both fun and engaging.

“Last Tour of Duty”: A ghost war story, this one is another strong contribution to the collection.

“Oldblade”: The story of a sword held by an evil, undeserving man, this one seemed a little too excited about the concept of the sword’s point of view, and not enough of a full, good story, but wasn’t too bad.

“Skein of Sunlight”: While the vampire romance subgenre isn’t too much to my liking, this one managed to be just quirky enough to be endearing, and a fun story. Not my favorite denouement, but not bad.

“Stringing Tomorrow”: A story of a working man in the future, this one just didn’t grasp me much at all. Too little to like in this one.

“X-Day”: Another story that leaves Santa in a bad light, this tale of a girl and her cherished doll had too little detail to back up the “What?”s and “Why?”s to be much more than a forgettable if mildly entertaining short.

“Menders”: An odd little tail of aliens and slavery, this one was okay without ever hitting really good.

“Leeward to the Sky”: Her self-described “rhythmic fairytale” captured none of the magic of fairytales, and wasn’t an engaging story. Very short, but still one I decided wasn’t worth finishing.

“Fishing the Edge of the World”: A story that captured a neat style and mood, this post-death story of a suicide victim was, as became a trend, simply okay.

“Moonlighting”: A fun story in the midst of some downers, this was a welcome change up, and was an engaging story of a pixie and an ogre.

“Christmas Card”: Another okay one, this story of Christmas and a magical deck of cards didn’t do much for me.

“Ducks in a Row”: A good, almost Matheson-esque story of a kid at a carnival with a dark past was one of the most engaging in the collection.

“Singing Down the Sun”: This one flopped for me. A myth of sorts, on the origin of music, I couldn’t get through it.

“Here After Life”: Another after-death story, in a way, this one was engaging, and had an impact to it that I felt much of this collection was lacking.

“Falling with Wings”: Another story that I found too hard to get into, so I let it go. A weak end to the collection.

“When a Train Calls Lonely”: See the one directly above. Same thoughts for this one, verbatim.

This collection had some very entertaining stories, but they were far too few. Many of these pieces were just light fluff, and while that is good some of the time, too much of it made it suffer, similar to what happened when I read The Holler by Marge Fulton. There aren’t characters to connect with. There isn’t enough plot or detail to make the actions matter to me. And the ones that did have that had too weak of a story to make them very readable.

The biggest problem with this collection was that it simply suffered from being very okay, but not anything better overall. The layout was odd as well, with a lot of upbeat stories at the beginning, and closing out with a number of depressing tales that clashed badly with the opening pieces. All in all, this may appeal to people who are big fans of Monk’s novels, but I didn’t find enough here to recommend it to the average reader.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Sword of Justice by Chris Wraight

NOTE: Sword of Justice was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by the Black Library.

Warhammer Fantasy has a lot of famous characters: Gotrek & Felix, Malus Darkblade, The Blackhearts, etc. However, a number of characters from the game haven’t received much face time from Black Library, and they are working to alleviate that gap with their new series, Warhammer Heroes. Each book focuses on a major figure in the Warhammer Fantasy setting, and gives some more depth into their background and story. The first volume, Sword of Justice, follows Ludwig Schwarzhelm, champion of the Emperor. It looked like a neat idea for a series, and an exciting starting novel.

However, I jumped in and found it not at all to my liking. The beginning is an extended fight scene with no rationale. Why are the imperial warriors, gathered from the dregs of what was left with another army on campaign, at this location? Why was it critical to the war effort? Why were the beastmen attacking? These and a host of other questions left me baffled without answer, and it didn’t help that the beginning hardly featured Ludwig Schwarzhelm, who took his own time showing up, and didn’t make a huge splash.

This novel turned out to be not at all what I was expecting, and not much to my liking. Some reason for the huge violence of a story is necessary for me. I like fight scenes as much as the next person, but without some reason behind it, it becomes a pointless and meaningless part that doesn’t do much for me at all. I found this one unfinishable. Let it go, but keep your eyes peeled for the next one, by C.L. Werner, which has quite a bit of potential.

The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume One: Threshold by Roger Zelazny

NOTE: The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume One: Threshold was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

The New Wave of science fiction was a movement that revolutionized the genre, moving away from the pulp and towards a new, highbrow literary style. Michael Moorcock’s work as editor of New Worlds really ushered in the movement, with authors such as Samuel R. Delany (Dhalgren), Brian Aldiss (Report on Probability A), Thomas M. Disch, Philip Jose Farmer, and Harlan Ellison (both as author and as editor of the core New Wave anthology, Dangerous Visions), among many others, contributing to this new mood in the genre. The movement rocked genre fiction, and changed the face of it permanently, even after its decline, when it was replaced with the new burst of Hard SF led by Gregory Benford, Greg Bear, and David Brin, and the cyberpunk movement epitomized by William Gibson’s Neuromancer.

One of the key figures of this era of science fiction was Roger Zelazny, who exploded on the scene, putting out classic stories early and often. NESFA Press has recently released a six volume set of the complete short works of Roger Zelazny, from his early beginnings through to the end of his career. Each volume contains a huge amount of content, and is a treasure trove of classic works. I jumped in right at the first volume. The stories begin after an editorial note and two introductions, “Out of Nowhere” by Robert Silverberg and “Before Amber” by Carl B. Yoke.

“A Rose for Ecclesiastes”: This was my introduction to Zelazny, as I was reading The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume One. I was curious how it would hold up on re-reading, and it acquitted itself quite well. This tale of a poet on Mars is a very well-wrought piece.

“And the Darkness is Harsh”: The first of Zelazny’s high school tales, this one is quite forgettable. I can’t explain much without giving away all of this two page story.

“Mr. Fuller’s Revolt”: Another of the high school era tales, this one follows Mr. Fuller in a post-life utopia of sorts, and shows some of the depth and irony that would infuse later works.

“Youth Eternal”: Another high school age story, and another forgettable one. A rendition of the over-done “Them darn kids!” stories.

“The Outward Sign”: The only college-age tale of Zelazny (who was focusing on poetry at the time), this one also proves to be rather unimpressive, but the fable-like style of this story of a holy man turned to sin becomes important in later Zelazny works, such as Lord of Light.

“Passion Play”: Finally reaching Zelazny’s professional career stories, we get this tale of robots enacting a very unique religious celebration. It isn’t on the same level as many of the other stories, but it is still entertaining.

“The Graveyard Heart”: Another Zelazny classic, this story of cold sleep through the ages weaves an intriguing love story with a crushing ending through intense emotional responses to outliving what you created. A solid piece of work.

“Horseman!”: While almost overly-stylized at times, with incessant and uncontrolled metaphors, this story takes a nice twist to that of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, when a horseman arrives in town and can’t find his companions.

“The Teachers Rode a Wheel of Fire”: A very good story of aliens trying to teach another species about technology, and what they didn’t mean to teach him but did anyway. A nice tale with a nice ending.

“Moonless in Byzantium”: In the robot controlled future, one man feels the poetry in his heart, and may die for sharing it. This is a fun story, and a nice tip of the hat to William Butler Yeats.

“On the Road to Splenoba”: A fun combination of war in Russia and country vampires, this tale works on tying the two together, with an ending that worked quite nicely.

“Final Dining”: An artist uses a material that may be more than just the ground rock he thought it was, in this tale of betrayal and tragedy. Not my favorite of the pieces at first, the end makes up for some of the weaker points at the beginning.

“The Borgia Hand”: An intriguing tale with a nice twist that runs throughout, but may only be caught by a few readers before the notes at the end explain it, this tale does a nice job of combining the legend of the Wandering Jew and…a man not known for being a lover of Jews. Well written.

“Nine Starships Waiting”: To my mind, this was the low point of the Zelazny stories post-college. An at times overly obscure tale of a formerly-dead assassin who is sent to stop an uprising, this one just flopped. I can understand why this one was previously uncollected.

“Circe Has Her Problems”: A fun, fast, and flippant tale of Circe, post-Odyssey, who has moved into space and seeks to find a man who can overcome the curse of Sappho.

“The Malatesta Collection”: A very engaging tale of a future that is strangled by censorship, and finds that the works of the past may be too much for “modern” sensibilities. A nice combination of many literary names and titles and a bid against censorship.

“The Stainless Steel Leech”: A vampiric robot in a civilization of robots finds only one companion: an actual vampire. A nice story, although not as emotionally effecting as I had thought it could be.

“The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth”: For my money, this is the best story in the collection. Zelazny’s story is like a Moby Dick on a Venus of the pulp era, but manages to be all Zelazny at the same time. A man becomes obsessed with capturing an Ikky, the great sea beast of the seas of Venus. Exciting, engaging, and powerfully written, this one is everything that is good about Zelazny.

“A Thing of Terrible Beauty”: A being in the mind of a drama critic tries to discover the meaning of pity, as the clock ticks down on planet Earth. A tale that uses emotional depth, or lack thereof, to great effect.

“Monologue for Two”: The gimmick of using nothing but one person’s side of a conversation works well here, in this story of a woman who finds a doctor that owes her a spot of revenge. Very good.

“Threshold of the Prophet”: A tale of the poet Hart Crane in the future, this one was okay, but didn’t do a whole lot for me.

“A Museum Piece”: A man decides that, if his art doesn’t imitate life, then his life will imitate art. A bizarre story that was, again, okay but not great.

“Mine Is the Kingdom”: The story of the last man on Earth, an unwilling ambassador to the alien Puffy race. This story was engaging, but not the best.

“King Solomon’s Ring”: A man who has “the gift of tongues” goes out to meet and communicate with alien races, but finds his mental match. A good story, although I’m not sure that the extended letter pastoral style was the most effective way to put this story.

“The Misfit”: The story of a man conscious of the fact that he is trapped in his dreams, with an ending I loved. A nice story, neatly wrapped up.

“The Great Slow Kings”: A fun story of two ancient kings who live life at a very slow pace, and their sole subject: a patient robot. Nice humor makes this one a winner.

“Collector’s Fever”: The story of a man who finds a sentient rock. Okay, but not great.

“The Night Has 999 Eyes”: In all honesty, I didn’t really get this one. Overly dense, with a page-long sentence, this one did nothing for me at all.

“He Who Shapes”: A very long novella about a man who shapes dreams as a psychiatric technique, it manages to be the most densely crowded with allusions, metaphors, legends, etc., of the stories in this volume, but also, behind “The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of his Mouth,” one of the most engaging contained here. A very intricate plot makes this one resonate well when finished.

Intermixed with the stories are selections of Zelazny’s poetry. Volume one contains the following poems: “Braxa,” “Ecclesiastes’ Epilogue,” “Bok,” “Diet,” “Slush, Slush, Slush,” “The Agnostic’s Prayer,” “On May 13, 1937,” “The Cactus King,” “One Wintered Way Through Evening, and Burning Bushes Along It,” “In the Dogged House,” “Future, Be Not Impatient,” “Flight,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “The World of Stat’s a Drunken Bat,” “The Cat Licks Her Coat,” “From a Seat in the Chill Park,” “Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’,” “To His Morbid Mistress,” “Old Ohio Folkrag,” “How a Poem Means,” “Concert,” “Iceage,” “Hart Crane…,” “Southern Cross,” “I Used to Think in Lines That Were Irregular to the Right,” “Hybris, or The Danger of Hilltops,” “St. Secaire’s,” “In Pheleney’s Garage,” “The Black Boy’s Reply to William Butler Yeats,” “Rite of Spring,” “Decade Plus One of Roses,” and “See You Later, Maybe…” I’m not brilliant at explaining why I do or don’t like a poem, but I can say, without whys, that the poetry collected here is very enjoyable, and worth a read.

After the stories and poems, we have two articles:

“Sundry Notes on Dybology and Suchlike”: This essay doesn’t do a whole lot on the proposed subject of writing science fiction and fantasy, and is rather unimpressive, in all honesty.

“‘…And Call Me Roger’: The Literary Life of Roger Zelazny, Part 1” by Christopher S. Kovacs, MD: A very well done biographical piece that covers the same portion of Zelazny’s career as covered by the stories in this volume. A large number of references allowed for direct quotes of Zelazny to make up a nice chunk of the content, adding a lot to the otherwise well-researched and well written segment. The only downside to this that I saw was that it seemed to repeat content contained in the afterwards on occasion. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, having sat down to read through the book, it meant that those afterwards were still fresh in my mind, and thus I felt it detracted a bit from the otherwise good biographical segment.

Things are then wrapped up with a few “Curiosities”:

“Conditional Benefit”: The first part of the earliest Zelazny story on file, this one certainly reads like he was very young at the time, but it is still not a bad piece, nevertheless. An insurance man on Venus finds an interesting client.

“Hand of the Master”: Another fragment, this time concerning a dead man brought into a new body hundreds of year in his future. Not enough here to make any real judgment on it.

“The Great Selchie of San Francisco Bay”: Part of a script for a story about a selchie, or “sea-folk,” who has a love that visits a coffee house. Again, not much content to go on here.

“Studies in Saviory”: A long story about two monsters, Zlaz and Yok, who must stop Hell from unleashing its armies on the city of monsters above it. A very fun tale, indeed.

That is a lot of content to cover in one review, but here is the overall look: This is a collection that fans of the genre need. Not those who just like the occasional science fiction or fantasy, but those who are interested in the history of the genre, in the movements of it. Fans of Roger Zelazny will get a lot out of this as well, as the presentation of his stories in the order they were written and/or published gives a whole new perspective on Zelazny’s growth as an author. While there are stories above that I said weren’t too excellent, they really showed how the author was emerging, how he was taking elements of okay stories and tying them together to make great ones. There are lots of bits and pieces of his life tied in as well, which do a lot to add to his story as a whole.

Those looking for a fast-paced, exciting story won’t find that here. Zelazny piles on the references, allusions, subtleties, and detailed in-jokes to the extent that, even with the notes after each story (which were a godsend), I still doubt I got everything out of them. However, you don’t need to get all of the references (or any of them really) to enjoy the stories, in most cases. And with the notes, everyone can piece together even the most dense of passages. Zelazny wrote engaging, intriguing, thought provoking stories. One is likely to get the most out of this by reading these through over a longer period, enjoying a couple, then coming back, instead of over-indulging, although immersing yourself in his rich fiction has a joy all of its own. This is for those who are looking for the non-straight-forward, deep thinking science fiction and fantasy, ones that you may read a few times before you fully get it, but that reward you each time for the reading. Any collection of Zelazny is far more than the sum of its parts.

Pick up a copy of this, and see the birth of one of science fiction and fantasy’s most important authors. It won’t be an experience that you will soon forget.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Fragment by Warren Fahy

Sometimes what you are looking for is a story rich with literary girth, exploding with allusions and metaphors. And that is exactly what I will be looking at next, with The Collected Stories of Roger Zelazny, Volume One: Threshold. However, other times what you need is a thriller that gives you monsters and explosions. Novels like Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, Meg by Steve Alten, or Arena by Matthew Reilly give you a mix of science (occasionally a very small amount, sometimes a lot), excitement, and a plot that keeps you from putting it down. Looking for something in that vein, I stumbled upon Fragment, which is new to mass market paperback.

The reality show SeaLife wants to blend science, exploration, and interpersonal conflict into a show that will capture viewers across the nation. So when the SeaLife ship Trident detects an emergency signal going off at a small and extremely isolated island, the producers think it is a dream come true. However, Henders Island is no normal island. Due to geography that keeps the entire island ecosystem contained, and its location 1400 miles from any other piece of land, Henders Island has had nearly half a billion years to explore a divergent evolutionary path, creating beasts that will test humanity’s strength, adaptability, and intelligence, if they hope to survive.

Warren Fahy’s novel was a blast. He drew in a lot of science, making the plot feel that much more possible, and explored some neat avenues and fields. Most people will likely come out of this one with a few new pieces of science trivia to wow their friends with. However, Fahy’s plot never seemed to struggle with the introduction of the science, except at the occasional lecture that was a little too convenient and long-winded to entrap realism.

The characters in the novel aren’t complex, by any means, but in this type of book, that isn’t always a terrible thing, as you can full-heartedly root for the good guys and relish the bloody deaths of the bad guys (although a very sudden romance that forms near the end seemed a little too forced and unnecessary). The plot clips along nicely, tying things together satisfyingly at the end.

This is a great pick for a summer read, and you will blow through it once you start. A very enjoyable science thriller.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Path of the Warrior by Gav Thorpe

NOTE: Path of the Warrior was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by the Black Library.

It has been a while since I last dove into the universe of Warhammer 40,000 (by my reckoning, it was on May 13th, with The Book of Blood, edited by Christian Dunn). I finally made it back, with a new novel from Gav Thorpe, Path of the Warrior, the first of his Path of the Eldar series, which is only the second novel from Black Library to be entirely from an alien perspective (the first being C.S. Goto’s The Eldar Prophecy). Intrigued, I began.

Korlandril is a sculptor of some renown on the craftworld of Alaitoc. However, when his best friend returns from a long time in space, his life takes a turn for the worse, leaving Korlandril with a rage he can’t control. Needing help, he has to turn to the one place he never wanted to go: the path of the warrior. Joining the Deadly Shadow shrine of the Striking Scorpion, Korlandril works to control his depthless rage, and to focus it on a constructive task: destroying the enemy of the elder.

This was quite easily one of the best Warhammer 40,000 novels I have read. Thorpe takes the character of Korlandril and fleshes him out fully, making him a complex character without ever turning him into an alien that is an exact mirror of humans. The aliens are alien, but complete and with their own logic that is neither better nor worse than humans, just different. His novel begins in a way that most 40k stories don’t, with a long period without war and violence, building his character as a sculptor, and while at first I was worried that this would flop, Thorpe pulled it off without a hitch, giving a deep emotional reasoning behind all of Korlandril’s actions that made the novel all the more powerful.

The exploration of the world and of the warrior system was also very well done, creating great depth without endless pontification on what each and every aspect was. The world and its culture was seamlessly woven into the plot, making it feel organic rather than stilted. The war scenes were exciting but not over the top, and they never felt thrown in simply for the sake of having a fight scene.

Thorpe’s novel has started a series of novels that I can freely say I am more excited about than anything else currently on the table in 40k. Many people bandy around Dan Abnett and Graham McNeill as the best of Black Library, and Aaron Dembski-Bowden has started to get mentioned in those circles as well, but with the publication of Path of the Warrior, it would be a travesty for Thorpe’s name to not be right up there as well.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Black Gate – Winter 2010 (Issue 14) – Part 3

NOTE: Black Gate Issue 14 was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by New Epoch Press.

After looking at the first two parts of the latest issue of Black Gate, it is time to read the final third! The novellas really took the cake for the middle section, and had me really excited about the last part of this juggernaut of a magazine. This time around, we have six short stories, two poems, the book review section, and the Knights of the Dinner Table strip.

“The Lady’s Apprentice” by Jan Stirling: This story of a once powerful lady who is now old and poor was slow paced, with a conclusion that seemed like it could have been a little more developed, but it was well-written, which helped make it more readable.

“The Wine-Dark Sea” by Isabel Pelech: An assassin hidden behind a full body mask sets out to return a woman’s son to her. Not a bad tale, it had some intriguing images, but seemed to miss a bit of the zest of “Adventures in Fantasy Literature” that I was looking for in a magazine with that line on its cover.

“On a Pale Horse” by Sylvia Volk: This story of a girl who seeks to tame a unicorn is one that just didn’t grab me, and I ended up not finishing it. I suppose horse stories aren’t quite my thing, and this one just didn’t pull off the rest of the aspects to make me keep reading.

“La SeƱora de Oro” by R.L. Roth: This epistolary tale of a man out seeking gold to buy his farm from the bank is very engaging, playing with some nice horror themes, and really drawing out the protagonists character. The story races to a conclusion that was plenty rewarding. A nice piece after a couple of disappointments.

“Building Character” by Tom Sneem: An entertaining tale of a character being run through a novice writer’s series of stories, this one manages to be both engaging and funny. A nice piece to build towards the end.

“Broadcaster” by Arthur Porges: This poem builds a neat image, and flows quite nicely.

“Folie and Null” by Douglas Empringham: Another tale that just seemed to flop for me. In this case, a man on the run finds a hideout that is more than it seems, but the story didn’t do much for me at all.

“Spanish Dance” by Arthur Porges: Another nice piece by Porges. He certainly captures images nicely, and is a good fit for this magazine.

The book review section is hefty, which is a nice treat. Black Gate always has a wide variety of reviews, and this issue is no disappointment, giving reviews of a large number of books from all over the genre. The reviews are well-written, and certainly are nice to get a grasp on before setting out to buy new books, as well as introducing some volumes from smaller publishers that the average reader may not have heard about.

The volume wraps up, as usual, with a Knights of the Dinner Table: The Java Joint comic strip, in which one of the characters plans on confronting Neil Gaiman for stealing his ideas. The extra-long strip was a fun way to close such a large issue, and manages to be plenty funny.

All-in-all, the tail end of this issue was a bit of a disappointment, not giving me as many winners as I had hoped after reading the first two-thirds. However, the overall issue (please see reviews of Part 1 and Part 2 also) is a winner, giving you a lot of content, most quite good, for a decent price. Fans of fantasy are highly encouraged to grab a copy, or get a subscription, and support a magazine that is putting out some solid stories.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Matter of Matter by L. Ron Hubbard

NOTE: A Matter of Matter was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Galaxy Press.

I have enjoyed Galaxy Press’ rerelease of L. Ron Hubbard’s early stories in their Stories from the Golden Age series, particularly the short stories over the novellas, and so I was excited to receive another collection, this time the latest science fiction release in the series, A Matter of Matter, which contains four stories.

“A Matter of Matter”: Chuck Lambert is a little too given to flights of fancy, so when he sees an offer to buy his own planet, he goes for it without seeing the warning signs. After years of labor, Chuck is in for a surprise when he lands on Planet 19453X, his very own world, where things don’t seem to follow quite the same physical rules. Oddly, the title story for this volume is the weakest. Its playful nature didn’t work for me, the characters were flat, and the story felt more like an outline. Not bad, but not too memorable.

“The Conroy Diary”: The story of a man who set up humanity’s future in the stars by mocking it, this one gets a little too ridiculous at times, but is a fun tale with a twist that, while not a surprise like it wanted to be, is still satisfying.

“The Planet Makers”: In a future where planets can be designed according to blueprints, it is the job of people like “Sleepy” McGee to do the engineering. However, between someone set out to make the project fail, and Sleepy’s laidback nature, it doesn’t seem like the project will ever succeed. This story is quite a bit of fun. Sleepy is a fun character, and while he doesn’t show a lot of depth, you root for him to pull through, in part because you know he isn’t as out of the loop as he seems.

“The Obsolete Weapon”: The longest story of the volume, this tale follows an American soldier who slips back in time and fights in the gladiatorial arena of Rome. This one packs in the action and is a fun romp. The time travel angle is glossed over, so it may not be for those who need every plot point justified, but it is great for those who want a fun, fast, action-packed story.

This volume also contains the usual features of the series: the foreword, “Stories from Pulp Fiction’s Golden Age,” by Kevin J. Anderson, a preview of the next volume, Greed, a glossary of potentially archaic terms, the biographical “L. Ron Hubbard and American Pulp Fiction,” and a list of all of the stories to be released in the Stories from the Golden Age series.

This volume isn’t without its issues. Beyond those mentioned in the story comments above, there are two that spring immediately to mind. First, the racism found in the stories. “The Obsolete Weapon” can’t get over “the shiny black skin” of the African gladiators, and reiterates their skin color over and over. “The Planet Makers” has Barteber, the black cook, who also happens to be the only character in the story who speaks grammatically incorrect English, along with the usual phonetically-spelled mispronunciations, and who is the only character who has to call everyone “Mister [insert name]” instead of being on a first name basis.

“A Matter of Matter” sees the natives of Planet 19453X as simple savages who are only too happy to submit to Chuck Lambert’s self-proclaimed rule. He buys a planet that is already occupied and owned by the people who live there, asserts his own authority, strips the planet of its resources, takes the credit and the reward, and still claims to be the leader of his “subjects,” in what amounts to a rather despicable glamorization of a repeat of what happened in the American west between the native tribes and the European-American settlers. This in part crushed the story for me. As a fan of early pulp era work, the occasional derogatory racial remarks do come up, even among the greats of the era (e.g. H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, etc.), and you can try to rationalize some as being the feelings of the time, and the works as products of the time, but that works in cases with Lovecraft and Howard because they don’t frequently dominate the entirety of the story. In cases like “A Matter of Matter,” when that does happen, it just loses some of its appeal.

The second issue I would cite is the value for your money. For ten dollars, you get four stories that take up only 98 pages, and that is with separate title pages for each story, occasional illustrations (which are a nice touch, but also take up extra pages), and VERY large font size. This one won’t take long to read at all. The stories in here are fun, but for a few bucks less, you could pick up copies of The Year’s Best SF 15, The New Space Opera, Legends of the Space Marines, etc., and get far more content. If you aren’t interested in the best science fiction of 2009, space opera, or Warhammer 40,000, then obviously those volumes won’t be of interest, although there are a number of other volumes out there for the same mass market cover charge. If you are a huge fan of pulp era fiction, then you may be willing to pay the high entrance fee.

Judging solely on content, not price, the volume is fun, if short. It stars on a lower note, but picks up at the end, with “The Planet Makers” and “The Obsolete Weapon” being some of my favorite works by Hubbard that I have read so far. Fans of Stories from the Golden Age will find a lot to like in this volume, and it would be a good entry point for those just wanting to get a taste.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Flights of Eagles by James Blish

NOTE: Flights of Eagles was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

I’ve been exploring James Blish recently, with the volume Flights of Eagles, and found a lot to my liking. Before I dive into thoughts on the four short stories contained within, I just want to remind you all that the reviews of the three novels in this collection can be found at the links below:

Welcome to Mars

Jack of Eagles

Get Out of My Sky

At the beginning of this volume, we are given an introduction by Tom Shippey that does a very nice job of placing the contents of this volume in the context of the genre as it was being produced, although it also gave a few minor plot points away, so it may be worth exploring after reading the rest of the volume, depending on personal preference. As to the stories:

“The Thing in the Attic”: Part of the same cycle of stories that includes Blish’s famed “Surface Tension,” this story features a group of people who live in the “attic,” a canopy above the forest floor. Honath is labeled a heretic, and sent to “Hell”: the forest floor. Tehre he must learn to survive if he is ever to return from his sentence. This is a solid story that is very engaging. A fun read.

“The Writing of the Rat”: A tale of interplanetary war unlike any other, this short story pulls off both a bit of action and some interesting thought, wrapped around a cryptographic clue that (while not at all integral to enjoying the story) is an intriguing puzzle in its own right.

“The Genius Heap”: A social experiment is set up with means that may not be as simple as they first seem in this tale that isn’t the strongest of the bunch, but is still fun. The ending thoughts on creativity and art as a necessity for society were surprisingly noncommittal.

“Tiger Ride” (with Damon Knight): Can too much protecting of humanity be a bad thing for them? The answer, especially to fans of science fiction, won’t be a surprise (John W. Campbell, Jr. in particular addressed this one quite well, making it the focus rather than the gimmick). The tale isn’t bad, but a little over-trodden, using a gimmick ending that didn’t add anything to the plot.

Taken as a whole, this volume was a wonderful trip through the work of an author far too important to the genre to be as close to forgotten as he now is. If you have read the classics of Blish, dig a bit deeper with this volume. If you are new to his work, this is a great place to start. Either way, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Get Out of My Sky by James Blish

NOTE: Flights of Eagles was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

After really liking the first two novels in Flights of Eagles, I was really looking forward to the third. As it turned out, despite being labeled a novel on the dust jacket description, it is more a novella than anything else, not clocking in at a very high word count. Regardless, I delved into Get Out of My Sky.

The planet Home has its problems: the two continents don’t get along, the rival political parties are quite truly at each others’ throats, and their world is almost completely water, not leaving much room for everyone. However, when they realize their twin planet, Rathe, which orbits with them in a binary planet orbit, is populated with another sentient race, war isn’t far off. Each feels threatened by the other, and they wind up in a stalemate of mutually assured destruction. So, when a chance for peace with Rathe offers itself, Aidregh, the First Minister of Thennen on Home, must risk the trip to the other planet if he hopes to save the future.

Blish manages to pile a lot of different story types all into one with this tale: two alien races with no humans, ESP, interplanetary struggle, mysticism. He meshes them all together quite well. What he turns out isn’t the best story in this volume (I would argue that it is “rare,” as the description states, in part because it isn’t Blish’s best work), it still is interesting. The pace is slow, and it felt like it could have taken off more than it did. This one might have worked better cut down into a short story, or fleshed out into a novel, but it just didn’t feel like it was right at this length.

However, it certainly wasn’t all bad. There were characters with plenty of potential, and an intriguing plot concept. Even the mystery brought up in the story had potential, although it went unresolved. The key problem, in my mind, was that it just tried to do too much with too little space. Cut back on some of the threads, or flesh them out. Explore them, and let them reach a conclusion. A longer novel could have been really good.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Jack of Eagles by James Blish

NOTE: Flights of Eagles was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

One sub-genre that seemed to rise during the fifties was that of ESP and psi. While we frequently hear anything involving psychics and scream “Pseudoscience!” now, at the time it was a burgeoning area of exploration. John W. Campbell, Jr. was still a force, and his interest in just this sort of thing (he was an early backer of Dianetics, another attempt for a science of the mind, this time by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; agree with it or disagree with it as you will, it is a historical occurrence, and very much a part of that time period’s trends and goals) meant that it popped up more and more. Classics of the genre include Slan by A. E. van Vogt (another Hubbard backer with Scientology, the continuation of Dianetics), Alfred Bester’s Demolished Man, and Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human. Those novels all went on to become science fiction classics. James Blish entered the fray near the forefront of the wave, with his first novel, Jack of Eagles.

Danny Caiden is about as average as you can get, working as a journalist who writes up articles about food, living by himself in a rather simple apartment. But he has a rather uncanny knack for finding things, even when there is no possible way for him to know they are there. And now he has started hearing things that haven’t happened yet, but when they finally do, he knows something is up. He approaches parapsychologists, psychic research groups, even a fraud of a medium, and embroils himself in a plot that involves the FBI, the mob, and the end of the world.

Jack of Eagles proved to be another fun adventure found in Flights of Eagles, the new James Blish collection out from NESFA Press. Like in the previous novel from this collection, Blish has the hard task of trying to overcome what may seem to be completely asinine and logic-free moments. When encountered with a bit of telekinesis, most people don’t immediately think, “By golly there must be a scientific explanation for this, and I bet it involves using a visualization of the electron cloud of every single particle that makes up the object I just moved, and then altering each ones’ subatomic structure in such a way that it causes it to lose any influence by gravity whatsoever.” Sounds ridiculous, but Blish somehow pulls it off. The novel reads very much like an action-thriller with a solid science background, rather than a pseudoscience meltdown. Blish builds Danny into a solid character (although some, like Marla, don’t get much depth). The plot twists abound, and no one is as they seem. A lark of a novel, but a fun one nevertheless.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Welcome to Mars by James Blish

NOTE: Flights of Eagles was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by NESFA Press.

James Blish is a very important author in the development of the science fiction genre, so I was saddened that my only knowledge of his work was through the only two pieces one can find easily in print now, A Case of Conscience and “Surface Tension.” So when I received a copy of NESFA Press’ new collection of Blish’s work, I couldn’t wait to dive in. It contains three novels and four short stories. I’m treating it like an omnibus, giving the novels individual reviews, and adding reviews of the short stories to the book review as a whole.

Welcome to Mars is the first piece in this collection. As a foray into YA fiction uncommon with the author, as well as a piece of the foundation of Blish’s own future history, it is certainly an interesting piece for fans and those seeking curiosities, but I couldn’t help but wonder if it had perhaps been out of print for a long time for a reason. With that hesitation, yet my above excitement, I began the novel.

Dolph is hardly your normal 18-year-old. He doesn’t play outside as much as his stepfather would like, instead spending his time in the attic of his garage working on experiments. It is on one of those days that Dolph finds a means to nullify gravity, and begins his plans to travel to Mars. However, things certainly don’t go as planned, as Dolph manages to damage the one irreplaceable piece on his ship. His friend, Nanette, is on the way, and when she arrives, Dolph realizes that, far from solving his problems, they have just begun.

Welcome to Mars is, to put it simply, a very fun read. Like in Heinlein’s “juveniles,” and other YA gerne works from that period written by authors who primarily wrote for adults, Blish’s novel doesn’t suffer at all from the dumbing down of concepts. Blish tackles the science quite freely, but doing so in a way that flows perfectly into the story, interjecting the outlandish idea of a teenager discovering gravity-nullifying technology that allows him to build a backyard spaceship with hints of a realism that make things far more easy to swallow and credible.

At times, the novel shows its age a little. Blish, despite mourning the glacial pace of NASA and taking that into consideration in his extrapolations, still managed to give their pace too much credit (which says far more about NASA than Blish, which is an entirely different post). Also, some of the attitudes of the time can come across as quaint, for lack of a better word. I don’t think that, realistically, a man and a woman in their late teens, stranded on Mars with no way to contact Earth and no real chance to expect rescue or other surprise intervention, would ever utter the words “not what a proper lady is raised to talk about” (paraphrased) when discussing a life-threatening illness.

However, those little bits seem to do more to give the text color than to hurt the reading of it. The story moves along nicely, working hard to cover each bit with at least some scientific factualization. Both Dolph and Nanette manage to be fun characters who don’t do too poorly when in over their heads. All-in-all, this one is definitely a worthwhile read (more so than most YA science fiction out there today, I would wager), and a very nice start to the Blish collection.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Essay: The Post-X-Men vs. Apocalypse X-Men

After really enjoying my current excursion back into the world of X-Men, I’ve decided to make it a more regular item. Hopefully at least once a month I can take a look into the ongoing saga. For those of you new to the whole concept, or those of you looking for a refresher, here is a rundown of the events that occur after what has just been reviewed here at Luke Reviews.

After the team is shaken up by the events of “The Twelve” and “The Ages of Apocalypse,” they are not given a chance to breath before encountering a new foe. This story is told in the upcoming X-Men: Powerless. There is a gap of about 7-8 issues for the two main comics, before we reach the next volumes, X-Men: Dream’s End, which pulls together a number of loose ends, and X-Men: Eve of Destruction, which acts as a coda to the series of sorts, before the upcoming changes in the franchise.

In July 2001 all of the core titles change. Famed comics scribe Grant Morrison takes over X-Men, and his appearance brings with it the title change to New X-Men. Joe Casey takes over the writing duties of Uncanny X-Men, while Chris Claremont, famed for his long run decades ago but who hasn’t hit the same highs since, is given a new, third core X-Men title, called X-Treme X-Men. Morrison’s ground breaking run, which became an instant classic among most fans, was collected in seven volumes: E Is For Extinction, Imperial, New Worlds, Riot at Xavier’s, Assault on Weapon Plus, Planet X, and Here Comes Tomorrow. These seven were later collected into a new, three-volume set. Joe Casey didn’t last as long, tanking quite readily in most of his storylines. Only one volume of his work was collected (Poptopia), and the rest have yet to be reprinted. Chuck Austen took over the title, finishing out the “Morrison years” with six volumes: Hope, Dominant Species, Holy War, The Draco, She Lies With Angels, and Bright New Mourning. Claremont’s series was always tied a little less tightly to the other two, forming more of a loose connection, more similar to other offshoot “X-books.” His series, along with a number of pertinent mini-series, were collected in nine volumes (1-8 plus a volume 1.5): Destiny, Savage Land, Invasion, Schism, Mekanix, God Loves, Man Kills, Intifada, Storm – The Arena, and Prisoner of Fire.

Morrison dominated this period of X-Men lore. Joe Casey floundered, and Chuck Austen (who I actually rather enjoyed) was widely panned, and Claremont sat somewhere off to the side. I read most of the New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men volumes from this period, and won’t be re-reading them for review anytime too soon, I would imagine. I thought that both the Morrison and Austen books were a lot of fun and are worth picking up. I didn’t read any of the X-Treme X-Men, and because of its position to the side of the other two, it wasn’t detrimental to miss them.

After Morrison’s tenure, Austen wrote both New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men for a couple months, leading into the “X-Men Reload” event, which wasn’t a storyline, but rather a total switch up of creative personnel. X-Treme X-Men was canceled, allowing Claremont to return to writing Uncanny X-Men, bringing with him a lot of characters and plotlines from his previous series. Austen was bumped from Uncanny X-Men, and took the reins permanently after a two month run on New X-Men, which switched its title back to X-Men. He took brought his cast and story arcs to his new title. The third core title slot was empty after the cancelation of X-Treme X-Men, and was filled with Astonishing X-Men, written by Joss Whedon. Austen’s time at X-Men was very limited, producing needing only one volume, Day of the Atom, to collect his complete work. He was replaced by Peter Milligan, whose work was collected in Golgotha, Bizarre Love Triangle, X-Men/Black Panther: Wild Kingdom, Decimation: X-Men – The Day After, and Blood of Apocalypse. For about the same span of time as Austen’s and Milligan’s combined runs on X-Men, Claremont was working on Uncanny X-Men, producing six volumes: The End of History, The Cruelest Cut, On Ice, House of M: Uncanny X-Men, End of Greys, and First Foursaken. During the entire extent of this time, and a little ways past, Whedon was working on Astonishing X-Men (at a very slow pace that frustrated many readers), producing Gifted, Dangerous, Torn, and Unstoppable.

The key event during this whole period was House of M. The main tale being told in a mini-series (which will be the next X-Men collection reviewed on the site), and the ancillary tales told both as story arcs in ongoing series or as mini-series themselves, this one set out to change the status quo of the X-Men universe, and it accomplished that very thing. The other collections from this era are either out of print or closing in on it, so I won’t be looking too closely, other than at House of M.

Following Whedon’s departure, Warren Ellis took over, producing Ghost Box and Exogenetic so far, and is still working on that title. The Astonishing X-Men cast also appeared in a number of mini-series through this time, including Phoenix: Endsong, Phoenix: War Song, Civil War: X-Men, World War Hulk: X-Men, and Secret Invasion: X-Men, as well as being the key team in House of M. When Milligan left X-Men, Mike Carey took over, and is still at work on the title. His work is collected in Supernovas and Blinded By the Light, then he contributed to Messiah Complex. After that, the title changed names again, this time to X-Men: Legacy. He continued on, writing Divided He Stands, Sins of the Father, Original Sin, Salvage, and Emplate (which brings us to the end of the current releases). After Claremont left, he was replaced by Ed Brubaker. He kicked off his run with the mini-series X-Men: Deadly Genesis, which lead right into his Uncanny X-Men run. He wrote Rise & Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, The Extremists, contributed to Messiah Complex, and wrapped up with Divided We Stand. He was replaced by Matt Fraction, who has so far contributed Manifest Destiny, Lovelorn, Sisterhood, Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia, and Nation X.

The current issues being released are focusing on a story called “Second Coming,” which purports to wrap up plots from House of M to today, forming a sort of trilogy with Messiah Complex and the Cable/X-Force-centric Messiah War. All of this will lead up to Marvel’s new rejuvenation of titles and changes of creative teams, the “Heroic Age,” which appears to be opening with an X-Men/vampires story I’m a little unsure about.

(Brief side note: For those of you interested in the full Vulcan character arc that began with Brubaker’s Deadly Genesis, it continues on into Rise & Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, before exiting the main titles. It continues on in Emperor Vulcan, then moves into Kingbreaker, which works as a prologue to his part in War of Kings, one of the major cosmic storylines of the past few years, which closes the story arc of the third Summers brother.)

After looking at House of M, which is rather pivotal for all of the current storylines, I will be diving into Brubaker’s run on Uncanny X-Men. Uncanny X-Men is very much the key title in the saga, working as an umbrella title that all of the other series play within, and so that will be my focus (if I wanted to read all the series, I would be spending a rather handsome sum, indeed), starting with Deadly Genesis, working through his run and into Fractions, the goal being to get caught up and stay caught up, while at the same time picking up reprints of older stuff, like X-Men: Powerless, or even X-Men: Prelude to Onslaught.

Regardless, I hope this helps everyone get a better idea of both the series and saga as a whole, and how Luke Reviews will be exploring it. If you have any comments, ideas, or suggestions, feel free to shoot me an email (, I won’t bite!)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: Ages of Apocalypse by Karl Bollers, Ben Raab, Alan Davis, Terry Kavanagh, Joe Pruett, Erik Larsen, and Joseph Harris

Having read the first half of X-Men vs. Apocalypse, I knew I didn’t want to leave it at the cliffhanger ending for long, so I dove right back in with the second half, X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: Ages of Apocalypse.

The second book picks up where things were left at the end of X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 1: The Twelve, this book contains three major stories. The first follows those who were left behind after the fight to save wolverine, as they find that someone is hacking the databases and gathering information on killing the X-Men. Next, we see the “Ages of Apocalypse” storyline, where, after the end of Volume 1, the time stream has been distorted in an attempt to give Apocalypse the victory he has nearly in his grasp. The final story, “The Search for Cyclops,” deals with the after-effects of the battle with Apocalypse, months after the fact, as Phoenix and Cable try to save an X-Man.

X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: Ages of Apocalypse contains: X-51 #8(“Aftermath”), Uncanny X-Men #378 (“First & Last, Part 1”), Annual 1999 (“Utopia Perdida”), Cable #77(“Falsehoods”), Wolverine #148(“Same As It Never Was”), X-Men Unlimited #26(“Day of Judgement”), X-Men #98 (“First & Last, Part 2”), X-Men: The Search for Cyclops #1 (“Lost”), #2 (“Hunted”), #3 (“Am I Evil?”), #4 (“Found!”).

The storyline continues to be quite fun, although a little convoluted, in part due to the need to make two books similar in size that end at thematically appealing sections. The group left behind is hoping to make it to the main battle in Egypt in time, but based on the final chapter from Volume 1, we know they won’t. There is a months-long gap between the end of “The Ages of Apocalypse” and “The Search for Cyclops,” a time in which I know upcoming stories are set, making this one a little disjointed, if still an apt coda to the story. This book feels a touch episodic, with its three distinctly different storylines, rather than the two threads that were tightly inter-woven in the first book.

However, each manages to be entertaining in its own right. The members left behind manage a suitable series of battles in their attempt to race to Egypt, while the “Ages of Apocalypse” plays with a series of altered realities, both present and future, before wrapping up to tie back into the first storyline in this book, reuniting the team. The final portion narrows its focus to just a few main characters, and is interesting both in its tale of searching for a lost friend and in its eventual impact down the line in the X-Men series.

All in all, this is a fun book. It works as a satisfying conclusion to the plot arc, although it doesn’t maintain the suspense and epic plot of the first volume. It sometimes made it feel like the main climax was in the first book, with this just an extended denouement, but it does act as a nice in-between book, foreshadowing future events. This line of X-Men collections continues in X-Men: Powerless, released August 10.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Interview with Jack McDevitt

Most fans of science fiction will be familiar with Jack McDevitt (I finally discovered his work through his novel Infinity Beach). He very kindly agreed to answer some questions for me.

Thanks for the interview, Jack!

Right off the bat, congratulations on your latest novel, Time Travelers Never Die (I’m looking forward to its October paperback release!) What made you want to revisit the story of "Time Travelers Never Die" almost a decade and a half later? Did you always know you wanted to return to it at novel length?

It's only within the last two or three years that I'd thought about going back to expand the original novella. Not sure why, except that I'd enjoyed writing it so much the first time around, and I kept thinking about things I could have done with it. There was one aspect I wanted to get rid of, though, and that was the time disruptions. They were a bit unbelievable, so I replaced them with the cardiac effect. Easier to get hold of and, consequently, easier for a reader to accept. As to the writing, I've never enjoyed writing anything that much. Whichever version we're talking about.

I know this is stepping back about ten years, but I just recently discovered your work through Infinity Beach. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of that novel? A large part of that novel involves the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Are you involved in SETI at all, or just hold a deep interest?

I have a few friends who work with SETI, and I've had the opportunity to attend one of their conferences. I can remember when the organization was first set up, and I thought it would be only a matter of time before we heard something. But there's been a long silence, and that has undoubtedly had en effect on my science fiction. I have a marked tendency to write about universes that are virtually empty. Of course, things are spookier that way. Aliens tend to be much less interesting, in my view, when they walk on stage.

I'm not sure about the genesis of Infinity Beach, save that I've always been fascinated by the notion of hiding things in plain sight. And I had this ultimate kind of idea. No way I couldn't write it.

For those of us new to your series, can you tell us a bit about your Alex Benedict and Priscilla Hutchins novels?

Hutch is a star pilot, the centerpiece for the six Academy novels. Some years ago, I did management training seminars for the Customs Service. We staged problem scenarios, and broke the classes in groups of five who had to communicate with each other, meaning to listen and think, in order to survive. For example, we'd put them in a plane and drop the plane in the middle of the Arizona desert on a hot July afternoon. Eighty miles from the nearest town. And they have to start making decisions. Like stay with the crashed plane, or head for the town?

Sometimes we divided the groups by specialty, inspectors in one, import specialists in another, Customs Patrol people in a third. Sometimes we divided them by their Region, and so on. We never saw any serious difference in the way the various groups performed. Agents lived and died as often as the import specialists. There was only one area in which there was a marked difference: Gender. All female groups almost always survived. And who almost always died? Probably not who you think: The all-male groups did okay. Got back alive about half the time. But the mixed groups always died. We watched the same process happen over and over: In a mixed group, everybody fell into their traditional roles: the males became more aggressive, and the women more passive. Mindless aggression, of course, doesn't get the job done. I thought of it as the Testosterone Effect.

For the Academy novels, I wanted a female pilot who didn't allow herself to get caught up in the social tides. So Hutch became the character who specializes in bailing out her colleagues, both male and female.

Alex, unlike Hutch, lives in the distant future. While she's only two hundred years or so down the line, Alex operates in the twelfth millennium. He's an antiquities dealer who specializes in solving historical mysteries. What did the Tenandrome sees during its exploration mission that they're covering up, and what's its relationship to the war with the Mutes (the only other intelligent race, so far, in Alex's universe)? How did the crew and passengers of the Polaris vanish out of a starship in a distant system without using either their lander or their pressure suits? What happened to the two starships that took refugees fleeing Earth during the 27th century and vanished? (That, of course, is Seeker.) In The Devil's Eye, a well-known horror writer undergoes a brain wipe to eliminate an apparently traumatic experience. But there's no indication anything out of the ordinary happened to her.

Who and/or what are the biggest inspirations for your work, both literary and otherwise?

Primary literary inspirations are Mark Twain and Ray Bradbury. Maybe the major nonliterary inspiration was the planetarium at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It left me with a passion for astronomy, which fed my growing passion for SF. I should also mention Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. My father took me to see the serials when I was about four years old, and I fell in love with rocket ships and never recovered.

What have you read recently, in or out of genre?

Just finished reading Allen Steele's Coyote Destiny. I'm halfway through Joe Haldeman's Starbound. Waiting on my reading table are Rob Sawyer's Watch, and two books by Ben Bova, Able One, and the Sam Gunn Omnibus. Non-SF: I've just finished Idiot America by Charles Pierce, Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club, Blind Man's Bluff by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, and am now about halfway through Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. If I can find some extra time, I am also looking at a collection of stories by James Thurber, and Sherlock Holmes: The American Years, edited by Michael Kurland.

Your stories frequently fall into "hard" SF. Do you have a background in the hard sciences? If so, do you find that you have to work top put it in stories, or does it arrive there naturally?

I was an English major. I've no formal background in the sciences, but I think I've learned just enough to know what questions to ask. Fortunately, the experts are always willing to help.

Whats next for Jack McDevitt?

A fifth Alex Benedict novel, Echo, will be released in November. An adventurer who devotes his life to trying to find another alien civilization (other than the Mutes), takes a lot of criticism, is told he's wasting his life, and finally gives up and retires. A few years later, he dies in a boating accident. Forty years after his death, evidence turns up that he might have found what he was looking for. But if so, why did he keep it quiet?

Any final comments?

Writers are often portrayed as people who keep whiskey in the top drawer, who have to work too many hours, and who would be happier as greeters in the local market. I should probably confess that's a rumor we've tried to foist on an unsuspecting public to keep the competition down. I've never been involved in a more thoroughly rewarding kind of work. Even my years as a teacher don't approach writing. (I'm talking here about writing SF, by the way. I won't pretend to speak for the other stuff.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 1: The Twelve by Erik Larsen, Joe Pruett, Terry Kavanagh, Alan Davis, and Fabian Nicieza

After really enjoying X-Men: The Shattering, I knew I needed to pick up the next book in line, X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 1: The Twelve. It picks up right where the previous volume left off.

As the mystery of The Twelve and Death’s true identity deepen, this volume opens up focusing on a few plot threads that are new to readers of the previous volume. As Cable, a man from the future sent to the past to prevent it, is stalked by Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Wolverine is struck by his inner demons. After they get caught up to the beginning of The Twelve, we return to the X-Men from the previous volume, now joined by the others, as the entire plan, spanning the entire history of the X-Men, comes to fruition. All of the future is in jeopardy as a dark god of humanity’s past plays his part in the prophecy, and threatens to destroy everything the X-Men have ever fought for.

X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 1: The Twelve contains: Uncanny X-Men #376(“Filling in the Blanks”), #377(“The End of the World As We Know It”), Cable #73(“Pestilence!”), #74(“Mindgames”), #75(“Who is Worthy to Break the Seals..?”), #76(“In My Eyes”), X-Men #96(“The Gathering”), #97(“The End of the World As We Know It, Part Two”), Wolverine #145(“On the Edge of Darkness”), #146(“Through a Dark Tunnel”), #147(“Into the Light”), and two pages from X-Man #59.

Like its predecessor, this is a fun book. There is a huge cast of characters, which may be off-putting to some, but for the most part it is well handled. The beginning of the book, which strays from the original X-Men plotline, also can be a bit of an abrupt switch, but it does a nice job of telling a fluid tale that brings all of the important characters up to the beginning of the major storyline, “Apocalypse: The Twelve” (although it should be noted that one of the issues collected references X-Man #60, which isn’t included; that seems like an odd piece to leave out). Everything draws together quite nicely, taking a large number of plot threads and pulling them down into one major one, before branching out a bit at the end to two. The first half of this large story flows well, and really builds the tension for the second volume, X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: Ages of Apocalypse. I won’t miss it.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Since starting up Luke Reviews, I have come to respect the potential of tie-in fiction far more than I did previously, even though I thought I was pretty open-minded about it. However, there was a big franchise that I had yet to explore: Dragonlance. There was nothing against it, it was just that I wanted to read the “core” Dragonlance novels first, and they are the epic fantasies of Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, and I have never been a huge epic fantasy kinda guy (I didn’t like The Lord of the Rings, for example). I like action/adventure fantasy as much as the next guy, but big quest-type stuff isn’t for me as much. However, the books kept drawing my eye, so I finally took a look.

After a 5 year separation, a group of friends gets together to discuss rumors of war throughout the land. However, after getting on the wrong side of the local political/religious leader, the group makes a run for it, taking along with them two people with a blue crystal staff, the root of their problems. In a search for answers, both for the staff and the upcoming war, the companions set out, travelling through woods of the dead, fighting slave caravans, and discovering that the dragons of myth may be more real than they ever dreamed.

At first, I was a bit unsure about this one. There are a lot of characters introduced right at the beginning (listing only the important ones: Tanis Half-Elven, Sturm Brightblade, Goldmoon, Riverwind, Raistlin, Caramon, Flint Fireforge, and Tasslehoff Burrfoot), and the story seemed pretty stereotypical.

Yet, the more I got into it, the more I realized that my fears were unfounded. Weis & Hickman manage to create 8 very well-developed characters, along with a plot that was comfortably familiar, yet subverting the over-used tropes with intriguing new ones. The story carries along very nicely, with no major hick-ups. This wound up being one of the richest tie-in fantasy novels I have ever read.

I will be following the continuing adventures of the Dragonlance Chronicles Trilogy as soon as I can. Fans of fantasy, in particular epic fantasy, will find a lot to relish in this one. Yet, evidenced by my reaction, even those who aren’t quite as into epic fantasy will still find a lot to like here. This is a wonderful novel.


Monday, July 5, 2010

Mindjammer by Sarah Newton

NOTE: Mindjammer was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Cubicle Seven Entertainment.

I was thoroughly impressed by Cubicle Seven’s science fiction roleplaying release Starblazer Adventures, which really grabbed the flavor of space opera and turned it into a game rich with setting and idea that was easy to play but not simple in plot and context. That one book alone gives you veritable tons of play potential. Thus, I was intrigued to see a supplement out, Mindjammer by Sarah Newton, focusing on a specific age of space-faring, and decided to check it out.

After nearly dying of stagnation, humankind is experiencing a renaissance of the space age, reaching out to find lost colonies, uncharted planets, and meeting aliens, friendly and hostile. It is up to you to explore this newly human-occupied space, and protect its denizens from threat—or take advantage of those who need that protection.

Newton has here presented a set of more detailed rules and (mainly) additions to what was originally set up in Starbalzer Adventures. The real pleasure to be found in this volume is the great detail that is given. A large number of planets get two or three page write ups with full specs, along with special abilities common to the era, rules modifications to make these new abilities less redundant, and a full campaign that is very nicely done. It manages to achieve a number of different genres (my favorite was the horror mystery) all in the science fictional setting.

If you are interested in delving into one segment of Starblazer Adventures, and reaping the rich rewards of fleshing out the details and making the setting come even more alive, then this volume will be perfect for you, especially with the full campaign added in as a bonus. A lot of play potential has been pushed between these covers.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Interview with William I. Levy

I recently read William I. Levy’s second novel, The Starcrossed, and was really impressed. I got the chance to sit down and ask him a few questions.

Thanks for the interview, William!

Right off the bat, congratulations on getting your latest novel, The Starcrossed (out from BlackWyrm Books), published! I know this was your second novel, and ninth book, so how was the process this time around? How was working with the people at BlackWyrm?

Really great. Frankly, they took a bit of a chance on me, and I'm grateful. We're working hard to get the book out there, and Dave has done a lot to get venues, and not been shy about accepting suggestions from my own freelance experience.

Before we jump too much into The Starcrossed, can you tell us a bit about the other pieces of writing you have done?

I tend to run amuck across the genre landscape; done everything from a book about practical philosophy, several graphic and short story collections, an rpg, and even an erotic romance set in an alternate universe. Ideas don't stay in categories for me, always interested in almost everything. Which is reflected in what I write about. Start one of my stories, you may run into midget angels, bored warmechs, or living rollercoasters in love. But I try to keep it interesting.

Now, to The Starcrossed (I liked the double entendre of the title, by the way). It seemed to me that you were playing with everything from pulp science fiction to super heroes to modern military thrillers. Did you intend from the beginning to play with all of these genres, or did the story really develop beyond its original scope in the process? Were there any particular inspiration for certain elements, such as the Pact or the catmorphs?

Nifty that you noticed. Yeah, first I was digging into a 'real' version of hero, not the street gritty weirdness or the saintly pure, but an explanation that shows what drives people like Barret. More than human, but still very human without being a total neurotic.

Secondly, I was going for something between action and romance, an area we don't really explore much here in the US. The former is regarded as pure male, the latter pure female, and that's silly. Not to defy the grand and glorious market barons, but you CAN put elements of both together and the entire audience will enjoy it.

And inspirations? Well, I'm not exactly standard issue humanity. A convention organizer once described me as an oversized Klingon ogre disguised as Albert Einstein. Most of my life I've dealt with the consequences, good and bad, of being able to do more than anyone in the area. So you could say I'm an expert on the subject. And catmorphs?

Okay, so I had my hormones carbolyzed by Julie Newmar on the Batman tv show when I was entering puberty. (Let me tell you, I finally met her a few years ago, she's so sweet, smart, still sexy, and that hug was amazing!). So when I wanted a sweet, sexy, cute, alien female...

While we are on the topic of inspirations, who and what are the big ones for you and your writing?

The romance elements; pure and simple, Milady. Karen, my goddess, wife, partner, soul.

And she's gonna get so annoyed with me for saying that in print. Then she'll get all melty...

Other than that, I get so many ideas from the world at large, I don't think I'll ever run out. I read Mental Floss, Funny Times, The Week, and the papers to keep up on new stuff.

I hear you are already at work on the sequel. Can you tell us a little bit about it? Any idea of when we might see it in print?

The sequel is almost a third finished, and starts off with a glimpse of Paum and Col as children, on Preen. Then it moves to traumatic events back on Earth, as our characters and society in general try to come to grips with the ramifications of What is Human?, legally, morally, and medically. Readers will get a deeper look behind the curtain at the shadow players attempting to control the planet, and inklings of how something like the Holsai came to be.

Do you have any other works we will be seeing in the near future, or that are in the works as we speak?

Definitely. I work on multiple projects at the same time. That way when I run into a block, I drop it and go work somewhere else until I figure out a solution.

Right now I'm almost finished with an armageddon action fantasy called LORDS OF NEXUS about a plot by psycho ancient demi-gods to reboot the universe.

Also writing a serial called OUT OF SPACE which I post on Deviant Art about a not-so-secret philosophical invasion of Earth by a galactic civilization using cable television. (But it's for our own good, and quite friendly.)

A hardboiled hedgewitch series is coming along nicely, as is another about a cursed sorority house that randomly spews crazed superheroines out into the world.

And one about a ship full of rejected spys and cyber criminals, protecting a little girl.

Not to mention a mystery series about a stranded alien.

Gimme a couple of years...

What are you reading, in and out of the genre?

A lot of manga, especially some of the older stuff, Yen, and alternate comics. Tons of books; Terry Pratchett is my fave, but I've picked up on a lot of Tom Holt, Modessitt, Butcher, Weber, and a recently completed set of Strangers In Paradise. I read fast, at least a book a day. Darn near a drug habit.

Any final comments?

I couldn't do this without the feedback and support I've gotten over the years. I really appreciate it. I'll try to keep writing interesting stories.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Blockade Billy by Stephen King

After reading William F. Nolan’s latest collection, Dark Dimensions, and finding it a bit lacking in my mind, I decided to give another horror stalwart a chance, this time picking up Stephen King, whose name came up a few times in the previous review. King has just had a new collection released, Blockade Billy, that collects two of his recent stories, “Blockade Billy” and “Morality.” Thoughts on each:

“Blockade Billy”: Blockade Billy is the greatest catcher no one remembers, possibly the greatest catcher ever, but he holds a secret in his past that is darker than any of his teammates could ever imagine. King’s baseball story doesn’t have the horror that is his trademark, but it has a style and flow that is incredible. This is a crime story in the vein of his Colorado Kid, a short, brilliant tale that is far more about people and characters than the crime committed. Very solid work.

“Morality”: When a priest near the end of his life decides that he wants to see blood flow, how will it change the life of the woman he hires to do the deed? Another solid tale from King that delves into his characters, as we see how their lives are affected before and after a crime. Another non-horror piece, but wonderful, and a nice step away from King’s usual work.

This is obviously a very short collection, and quantity-wise you don’t get a lot of bang for your buck. However, quality counts, and each of these tales have that in spades. This is a must for fans of King, but also for those who like stories more about character than anything else, and that have a writing style with a master’s touch.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Dark Dimensions by William F. Nolan

NOTE: Dark Dimensions was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

William F. Nolan is a pretty big name among most genre-fiction readers. Most will recognize him as the coauthor of Logan’s Run, a classic that is sadly out of print. He plays in a lot of sandboxes, dipping his hands into science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, even some straight mainstream fiction. His latest collection, Dark Dimensions (out from Darkwood Press, an imprint of Fairwood Press), offers a bit of all of that. Below are notes on all of the stories, which begin after a brief preface from the author and introduction by Jason V. Brock.

“Horror at Winchester House”: It is a tricky thing to open a short story collection with a novella, especially when it is by far the longest story of the bunch. Stephen King pulled it off with “The Mist” in his collection Skeleton Crew, and it worked because “The Mist” is a powerhouse of a story. It draws you in, and when you’re done you are over a hundred pages into the collection, well on your way. It doesn’t work quite as well here. “Horror at Winchester House” tells the story of a haunted mansion and a paranormal investigator searching for his friend’s missing sister, and it is very much a so-so story. The pace wasn’t what I would have liked, and the investigative part was a letdown, especially having just read “The Natural History of Calamity” by Robert J. Howe from Black Gate issue 14. It seems that this one just couldn’t hold up to my recent experiences. I never felt the suspense, and I never felt tightly engaged.

“Getting Along Just Fine”: This short tells of a man coming to terms with the loss that surrounds him as he grows older, and it is an interesting stream of thought. As a story, I don’t think it did too much, but it was an engaging thought piece.

“Descent”: Back-to-back we get straight mainstream offerings from Nolan. The second, “Descent,” has more of a strong storyline, with a widower placed in a disastrous situation as his office catches flames. However, it lacked the emotional impact it should have.

“Vampire Dollars”: This mystery tale was just what I needed to revamp my interest in the collection. When a private investigator sets out to find a retired horror movie star’s daughter, he stumbles onto a much larger crime that happened years ago. The story roles right along, always entertaining, and seemed to possess the intriguing investigative aspect “Horror at Winchester House” was missing.

“At the 24-Hour”: A fun piece, this one felt like a Twilight Zone episode, with its simple setting and plot twist. A man in a late night dinner may end up having more than just that coffee he ordered. An entertaining tale.

“Zachry Revisited”: A sequel to Richard Matheson’s “The Children of Noah,” this one was entertaining, but I didn’t feel surprised by the attempted shock ending. It felt like it had been done too many times before. It did, however, make me interested in finding a copy of “The Children of Noah” to read. A couple go to the town of Zachry to find their missing brother, who disappeared a year ago.

“Child’s Care”: This was one of those tales where you saw who the evil character was from the very beginning, but it was a fun enough ride to the end that the lack of suspense was never an issue. When a busy single mom hires a new nanny, it seems that there is some subliminal evil in the works.

“The Man Who Stalked Hyde”: An author of gothic tales discovers that Robert Louis Stevenson is alive and well in Scotland, but with a terrible secret, in this short story. Again, the ending is never in doubt when the problem is explained, but the tale still manages to be entertaining, even if the entire life-threatening situation could have been avoided if he had just run Stevenson through with the sword before he turned into Hyde, or the fact that the villain’s downfall was unbelievably unsatisfying.

“The Pelican’s Brother”: A Batman pastiche, featuring an obvious copy of famous Batman-villain The Penguin, this tale has the Pelican escaping from jail and finding a bird of gold and jewels that he just must possess, if he can get past the guards, the alarms, and the Nightman. Nolan seems to be a fan of the caped crusader, as he mentions him a few times in this volume, and this one is a wonderful pastiche, from a point-of-view opposite of what we are normally used to. A very fun tale.

“A Woods Encounter”: A couple lost in the Maine woods finds a strange town that may not have been the best choice to stop. An okay short story, but the “vampire town in Maine” story has been done three separate times by Stephen King already (not to run the King name into the ground in this review with yet another glowing mention), and done to better effect.

“To Be With Amy”: A short science fiction tale in which aliens intervene to give a woman her dearest wish. This one never really grabbed me like I had hoped, but it wasn’t bad.

“Stabbed by Rob”: A first person account of the brother of a serial killer. It was an intriguing look at a point-of-view not seen often, even if I felt the protagonist may have changed in a way I found a little unrealistic.

“What Love is This?”: A short and enjoyable tale of a very odd love. A fun story, and the best of the science fiction ones in the collection.

“The Death of Sherlock Holmes”: The title gives you the gist of this one, a story of Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty that lacks the depth and engagement of Doyle. It felt rather superfluous and meaningless. A lame duck of an ending to this collection.

All in all, this collection suffered from a slow start and a bad ending, although the middle was certainly a fun set of stories. Fans of Nolan can find much better work from him in other collections. This one is for die-hard fans and completists.