Sunday, September 26, 2010

Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects by Ken Scholes

Note: Diving Mimes, Weeping Czars and Other Unusual Suspects was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Fairwood Press.

Ken Scholes can tell a good story. In his first collection, Long Walks, Last Flights and Other Strange Journeys, he blew me away with his storytelling gusto. He has since gone on to write the very well received Psalms of Isaak series, which began in the novel Lamentation. Fairwood Press and Scholes have teamed up to release a second collection of Scholes’ stories.

Fans of Scholes’ novel series will find a couple pieces of particular interest, as two stories take place in the same setting. Set well before the novels, “A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon” sets up a number of engaging elements that make this a wonderful story, even for those who, like me, haven’t read the series yet. “Of Missing Kings and Backward Dreams and the Honoring of Lies” works as a follow up to “Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise” (found in the previous collection, Long Walks, Last Flights). The story is as brilliant as its predecessor, and shows the richness of the world Scholes was creating. Another must read.

Other top stories, in my mind, include “Four Clowns of the Apocalypse and the Mecca of Mirth,” “The Boy Who Could Bend and Fall,” and “There Once Was a Girl From Nantucket (A Fortean Love Story).” However, that isn’t to say that any of the stories are lacking. You would be hard pressed to find a non-great story in this volume. Fans of the genre must pick this one up.

Barbarians at the Jumpgate edited by Bruce Gehweiler

Note: Barbarians at the Jumpgate was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Padwolf Publishing.

I’m slowly broadening my military science fiction reading from the big names and Black Library to the small presses. I took a look at the first volume of Dark Quest Books’ Defending the Future series, Breach the Hull, and I wanted to continue on that train of thematic relevance. Thus I picked up a new Padwolf Publishing release, Barbarians at the Jumpgate.

Barbarians at the Jumpgate turned out to be a simply excellent anthology. The theme of alien/human conflict played out wonderfully over the stories told. The stories range from John Sunseri’s “Biological Imperative,” with its wonderfully adaptable aliens, that shows that alien conflict can be just as richly imaginative, to the hilariously intelligent “Furlough,” where Patrick Thomas takes his Murphy’s Lore series into space. Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “Building Blocks” took a sort of Weinbaum-ian look at aliens who are truly alien, in her tale of the slow offensive of an entire planet.

Other top stories include Robert E. Water’s exciting “Pest Control,” “The Hardest Glory” by co-conspirators C. J. Henderson and editor Bruce Gehweiler, the tale of a frontier planet, and “The Levee Song” by Bernie Mojzes, which keeps the mystical, mythical resonances from The Evil Gazebo, but placing them in an all new, science fiction setting.

Overall, there are very few stories in here that won’t grip you. The writers formed action-packed tales that don’t forget about plot, strong characters, and vibrant settings, and give you the feel of the science fiction of before, with a sense of wonder available to those looking for it. A very worth-while collection for all fans of science fiction to pick up.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mystic Investigators by Patrick Thomas

NOTE: Mystic Investigators was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

The whole urban fantasy/paranormal mystery scene isn’t one I am too familiar with. I know who Jim Butcher is, and thought about reading some of his books, but never have. Same goes for a couple others. For whatever reason, the genre just doesn’t really appeal to me. However, I’ve read some of Patrick Thomas’ work, and enjoyed it, and fans of his many series characters liked the book, so I gave it a spin.

If this is what the rest of the genre is like, I’m missing out. Thomas presents a collection of stories that is hard to beat. His tale of the Nightcriers (“Night Cries”) was a wonderful mystery of discovering the truth behind the legends, while stories like “A Stitch in Time” really resonated with the pulp-ish feelings. “Put Your Demon on My Shoulder” turned up the humor, yet stories such as “Working Girl” showed a slightly more series side (that still hits at some dark humor). There isn’t a dud to be found in this collection. Beyond the above stories, other standouts include “Tesque, Tesque,” which had a truly rich setting and wonderful main character, “Cardiac Arrest,” featuring Agent Karver of the D.M.A., and “Attack of the Trouser Snake,” featuring the ever-popular Terrorbelle. Those last two are also nice lead-ins to upcoming titles here at Luke Reviews, Fairy With a Gun: The Collected Terrorbelle and Dead to Rights: The D.M.A. Casefiles of Agent Karver.

Many of these stories tread the border between urban fantasy mystery and other genres, making them accessible to a very broad audience, and Thomas’ talent with words makes every story engaging. The characters resonate well, and you won’t be able to stop yourself for looking for other adventures they have. Don’t plan on picking this book up unless you plan on keeping tabs on Thomas’ work from here on out. A gem.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny

The “Divided We Stand” storyline which ran through X-Men comics after Messiah CompleX (see Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand and X-Men: Legacy – Divided He Stands) lead to a new home and a new ideology. The “Manifest Destiny” storyline that ran in all of the books right after set up a new beginning. For the X-Men, we see this in Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny.

A prologue of sorts introduces readers who don’t follow New X-Men to Pixie, who begins to take her place as an X-Man. Then, the main storyline kicks in, with the X-Men now in San Francisco, celebrating their new beginning while struggling against a string of hate crimes against mutants, lead by the Hellfire Cult. Also, we see some short stories that explore a number of X-Men as they deal with Messiah CompleX, Divided We Stand, and Manifest Destiny.

Uncanny X-Men: Manifest Destiny contains: Free Comic Book Day: X-Men 2008 (“Pixies and Demons”), Uncanny X-Men #500, #501 (“All Tomorrow’s Parties”), #502 (“Beginning to See the Light”), #503, and stories from X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1 (“Control”), #2 (“Good With the Bad” and “Flaw”), #3 (“Abomination” and “Uncheerable”), #4 (“Mercury”), #5 (“Dazzler: Solo”).

This volume feels a bit broken up, with a number of shorter, self-contained stories of sorts. Free Comic Book Day: X-Men 2008 gives us a story of Pixie at home in Wales, as she realizes that her town is overrun with demons. It is a fun, fast-paced tale, that does a lot for the character (who otherwise I would stare at incredulously, saying “Pixie?!”).

Uncanny X-Men #500 also feels more at home as a standalone. Gala celebrations, a rather racist art display, and the attack of the first villain the X-Men ever faced cap off the anniversary issue, as well as a subplot involving the High Evolutionary that seems to be a holdover from the last Eternals series, and one that gets no mention later in the volume.

The main story begins in Uncanny X-Men #501, with the X-Men exploring their new lives in San Francisco, and dealing with the Hellfire Cult, a group that is perpetrating hate crime after hate crime against mutants. It is a fast-paced and engaging tale.

This is followed by a string of short stories pulled from the miniseries X-Men: Manifest Destiny. These seemed like an odd inclusion, on some parts. Only some of the stories, not all, were bound into this volume. Others were included in the volume X-Men: Manifest Destiny, which focuses solely on the “Manifest Destiny” miniseries. It seems they should have been collected all together, but so it goes. They were pleasant reads, not much to most of them (the obvious exception being “Abomination,” dealing with one young characters abuse at the hands of his father), but a nice end to the beginning of the X-Men in San Francisco.

In the full view, this was a nice volume, likely a great jumping on point for new readers, and one that gives you a lot of little tidbits instead of one long story.


Breach the Hull edited by Mike McPhail

NOTE: Breach the Hull was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Dark Quest Books.

Military science fiction is a passion of mine. However, it seems I am getting it more and more from Warhammer 40,000, and not from much else. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with Warhammer 40,000 (far from it!), just that I would like to see some new settings and new themes in my military SF. So, with that in mind, I picked up a copy of Breach the Hull, the first book in Dark Quest Books’ military science fiction anthology series, Defending the Future.

What I found was a bit hit-or-miss. While I think calling “Cryptic” by Jack McDevitt military science fiction is a bit of a stretch, it slammed a home run to start the proceedings, with a story of wonderful science fiction. It, along with other strong contributions such as Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s “In the Dying Light,” packed into the story a wallop of suspense and excitement, not just at the gunfights and violence, but weaving a strong story through the action. The stories worked on their own, not just as a vehicle for the action associated with the genre.

However, other stories seemed to not hit those high notes quite as well, such as editor Mike McPhail’s “Wayward Child,” which felt a bit flat throughout, lacking that engaging sense of suspense that made some of the other stories such winners. I found myself not finishing all of the stories, as the anthology lost momentum, instead skipping around a bit.

Not all is lost, however, with appearances by the brilliant Jack Campbell (under his real name, John G. Hemry), and the ever-popular Patrick Thomas, who has an entry into his 142nd Starborne series. All-in-all, this volume fills out well, not using many big names, but hitting a number of authors with a lot of work out from smaller publishers, and searching for the new breed of story to be found, not in the big publishers, but in the hands of authors and fans of the genre.

This isn’t necessarily the best anthology you will read, but in a subgenre dominated by a few big names, it is nice to see a fresh take at the stories that made the genre exciting to read. And even if they don’t all succeed, they serve as a platform to keep the genre alive.

Monday, September 6, 2010

X-Men: Powerless

Going back a little while, I read the string of issues from late 1999/early 2000 that were being republished, in the volumes X-Men: The Shattering, X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 1: The Twelve, and X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: Ages of Apocalypse. That segment continues in a brand new volume, X-Men: Powerless.

After the stunning events of The Twelve and Ages of Apocalypse, the team is in shock. Cyclops appears to be dead, Jean Grey leaves the team, and everyone needs a break. The X-Men take a day off, only to receive a most unwelcome visitor, the High Evolutionary, who has drastic news: to save humanity, he has eliminated the ability to use the x-gene, thus turning all mutants into normal humans!

X-Men: Powerless contains: Uncanny X-Men #379 (“What Dreams May Come…”), #380 (“Heaven’s Shadow”), Cable #78 (“I Still Believe I Cannot Be Saved”), X-Force #101 (“Learning to Fly”), Wolverine #149 (“Resurrection”), X-Men #99 (“Oh, the Humanity!”).

One immediate downside: the main storyline is carried just in the X-men books. While Cable, X-Force, and Wolverine deal with the effects of the High Evolutionary’s blocking of mutant abilities, they have no real tie to the main story. Thus, after one chapter to kick off the event and start the main story, we leave that story for half of the book. That jump felt abrupt, and meant going a long time without any real meat to the plot, just more day in the life scenes. Also of note, the issue of Cable was more an epilogue to X-Men vs. Apocalypse, Volume 2: The Ages of Apocalypse. The Powerless storyline doesn’t arrive until the very last page, in a full page panel. No other attachment. I imagine that these issues were included because, in order of least to most important, A) they do show the effects of the loss of powers, B) it fills out the book to a normal size of six issues, and C) it makes a nice capping point, before the Revolution event and the return of Chris Claremont.

On the plus side, the story is fun. The Cable issue drags a bit, but it was nice to see some closure from The Ages of Apocalypse. X-Force was a nice standalone piece that explored bullying, a common theme for X-Men comics. Wolverine was nothing but a robot slaughter, guest starring the New Warriors (including Nova, who has risen to some prominence lately). Action? Yes. I good story? Any real plot worth following? Not really.

The issues of X-Men and Uncanny X-Men tell the overarching story, and it is one that is much better than the three standalone pieces. The idea of blocking mutants to make everyone human raised questions of making the whole world white to stop racism, or to make everyone heterosexual to stop homophobia. This event made a nice parallel that was also explored in the issues by characters in dialogue. The pace was right, and the story a nice, fun, short one after the epic length and time scale of X-Men vs. Apocalypse.

The X-Men story is a plus, and the other three issues a not-so-much, but all-in-all this was still a fun volume. Consider just reading the X-Men issues. You won’t miss anything important to the story.