That’s All for Now

I was going to post the usual Song for a Saturday and then follow up with this on Sunday, but as Sunday is not only Easter but April the 1st I decided to not take the risk.

For a while now I haven’t had either the time or the will to post much here beyond copy and paste material, and for the foreseeable future that is going to get even worse, as real world demands (nothing bad, in fact mostly quite good, but hellishly time consuming)take precedent over such fripperies as blogging.

So for the next few months, apart from the occasional filler content post as Black Static reviews are freed up, I’m going to leave this site to its own devices.

I hope to return at some point and become a ‘proper’ blogger again, instead of a copy and paste substitute, but it probably won’t be until 2019.

Take care.

 

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2018 Graphic Miscellany #3

I read these books during Women in Horror month (February), so naturally I focused on graphic novels with female protagonists.

Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears – Baby Talk

Written by Dennis Hopeless, illustrated by Javier Rodriguez

Back in the day, the character of Spider-Woman was introduced to the Marvel Universe to prevent other companies using the name, and since then she has been through numerous reincarnations, of which I believe the stories collected in this volume are from either the fifth or sixth iteration (I have the entire first series, all fifty issues, bagged and boxed somewhere in the garage – collectors please send your bids in sealed envelopes). This time round Captain Marvel is her best friend, journalist Ben Urich is her partner in a detective agency, and the Porcupine, who used to be a bad guy in a silly suit is now a good guy in a silly suit who helps out with the superhero workload. Excelsior! Oh, and our heroine (real name Jessica Drew) is pregnant, which adds an interesting twist as she takes on Skrulls while visiting a hospital in deep space. Overall it’s a lot of fun, with some dazzling artwork, Rodriguez given a wealth of alien creatures to work with and succeeding admirably in bringing them to life on the page. Characterisation is done well, with people and situations you can believe in, and the whole thing with the baby is handled with panache, deftly categorising the perils and problems of having a young one to care for while struggling with the obligations of a superhero, at the same time quite clearly showing the benefits of said infant. It was something different, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Spider-Woman: Shifting Gears – Civil War II

Written by Dennis Hopeless, illustrated by Javier Rodriguez, Veronica Fish & Tigh Walker

More of the same in this follow up volume. There’s fisticuffs with Tiger Shark to start the book, a visit to Canada where a plague of wendigoes gets stomped on, and to round matters off we have Jessica and baby at the beach while Porcupine tackles the Sandman. All these though are just side orders to the main event, which has Jessica hired by Captain Marvel to investigate a psychic, this in turn leading to a falling out between the two fast friends as it becomes clear what Marvel intends to accomplish using the psychic’s gifts, a standoff that mirrors that between Iron Man and Captain America, Civil War style. To be honest, fun as they were, the side orders were all a bit lightweight and contrived, with the conflict between Jessica and Marvel the real meat of the book. Physically it’s a no-brainer, as Captain Marvel has Spider-Woman totally outgunned, but the emotional turmoil and ideological slant of each character give the narrative its focus. There is a choice too for the reader as to who we support – the one who wants to stop crime before it happens or the one who believes somebody is innocent until they act. There’s also an element of humour to the story, which adds a nice balance to the book as a whole, especially when Jessica, to all intents and purposes, flounces. Add to that some striking artwork, and you have an all-round entertaining book.

Ms Marvel: Crushed

Written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Elmo Bondoc & Takeshi Miyazawa

I believe I also have the entire 25 issue first run of the Ms Marvel safe in the garage, though I could be wrong. Her real name was Carol Danvers and she went on to become the Captain Marvel mentioned above. This time round the identity is assumed by Kamala Khan, the first Muslim character to headline a Marvel comic book, and she owes her shape shifting powers to the effects of terrigen mist (also responsible for the Inhumans). The adventures collected together here bring her into conflict with Loki, a renegade sect of Inhumans who wish to supplant human rule, and a bacteria that turns her classmates into mush monsters (for the latter she has a little help from agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). It’s all good stuff, the super heroics complemented by exploration of what it feels like to be a teenage girl, a Muslim, and a super powered being, taking in the difficulties of dating, and of conforming to the cultural expectations of her family. These themes, all of them in their way just variations on the conceit of the outsider, are handled in a non-judgemental way with intelligence and style. The artwork I felt was a bit uneven, with some panels that really grab you and others where everything seems a little washed out and contorted, with odd angles and distortions of perspective that didn’t really agree with me.

Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian

Written by Gail Simone, illustrated by Aaron Lopresti & Bernard Chang

There’s a lot going on in this book. Wonder Woman must fight the monstrous Genocide, a creation of Cheetah and her allies, whose power is enhanced by the absorption of WW’s lasso. While the Justice League and Green Lantern Corps are helpless, WW must watch Genocide attack all who she holds dear and fight to save them as best she can. Meanwhile Zeus has decided to release the Amazons from their peace keeping mission and replace them with a race of male warriors led by the Olympian, only these warriors think the path to peace requires them to disarm everybody else. Back of it all, with an agenda of his own, is the evil Ares, the two plot strands intertwining and culminating in a moment when Wonder Woman turns her back on the gods of the Amazons. It’s marvellous stuff, the bleakness of the action colliding head first with the beauty of the artwork, with a cast of larger than life characters and epic events that undermine and transform our understanding of Wonder Woman’s world and purpose. Ultimately it questions the role of the gods and argues that their time is past. While it doesn’t have the quite the same sense of cohesion, in many ways this story reminded me of the glory days of the Thor comic, with its epic falling outs between Loki and the God of Thunder, and Odin’s often miscalculated interventions. I loved it.

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Trailer Trash – Death Wish & A Quiet Place

Two for the price of one this week.

Eli Roth directs a ‘remake’ of a Michael Winner ‘classic’ with Bruce Willis in the Charles Bronson role.

What could possibly go wrong?

This looks more like it.

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Filler content eating crow

Now this is embarrassing. I found a handwritten copy of this review among my papers, but can’t find any record of where and when it appeared in print (the book is from 1997), and possibly it was never published.

So, warts and all:-

BRIAN LUMLEY – The Compleat Crow (NEL pb, 276pp, £5.99)

Perhaps now better known for his bestselling Necroscope and Vampire World books, Brian Lumley began his career with a series of short stories and novels chronicling the adventures of Titus Crow, an occult investigator and cosmic voyager battling the eldritch horrors of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. NEL have recently released the six Crow novels in two omnibus volumes and now we have this companion book collecting together, for the first time in a British edition, Crow’s shorter adventures.

“The Compleat Crow” contains ten short stories and a novella, ranging in time from 1969 to 1983. Some, such as ‘Billy’s Oak and An Item of Supporting Evidence’, are rather slight, more in the nature of anecdotes than stories. And, given that the original stories appeared in different places, an element of repetition inevitably occurs, with the contents of Crow’s library described once too often for my liking. There is plot similarity too, with ‘The Viking’s Stone’, ‘The Mirror of Nitocris’, and ‘DeMarigny’s Clock’ all unfolding more or less the same story; only the object at which wrongdoers meet their doom differing. Some stories are effective though, such as ‘Inception’, the account of Crow’s genesis. ‘The Caller of the Black’ pits Crow against a fiendish sorcerer, while in the intriguing and clever ‘Name and Number’ he takes on the Anti-Christ himself. Perhaps best of all is the novella ‘Lord of the Worms’, Crow’s first encounter with the occult, a cleverly plotted story of move and counter move.

This book should appeal to those who like Horror and Dark Fantasy, but eschew work from the more visceral end of the spectrum. My advice though, for the maximum enjoyment, would be to read the stories over a period of time rather than gulp them all down at the one sitting.

 

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Song for a Saturday – Countin’ on a Miracle

Aren’t we all?

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Filler content with grandchildren

A review that originally appeared in Dream #29:-

CLIFFORD D. SIMAK – Our Children’s Children (Mandarin pb, 186pp, £3.99)

With a unique blend of rustic simplicity, human warmth, and genuine compassion, Clifford D. Simak carved out his own special niche within science fiction. In a career that spanned nearly sixty years Simak produced over forty books and won every major award the field had to offer. Some of those books, such as “City”, “Ring Around the Sun”, and “Way Station” are deservedly acknowledged as classics of their kind. To many Simak stood for human values and optimism in a genre increasingly devoid of either. His death deprived science fiction of one of its more reasonable voices. Mandarin are to be applauded for their efforts to keep his work in print, though it must be admitted that the very comprehensiveness of their list could undermine his reputation as, like most prolific writers, Simak produced plenty of duds along with the gems.

“Our Children’s Children” was written in 1974, by which time Simak was past his best but still producing good work. The concept at the heart of this slim novel is one of his most staggering. Five hundred years in the future mankind faces extinction at the hands of a ferocious alien predator. To escape they utilise their technology to build time tunnels and transport their entire population back to the last quarter of the twentieth century. With the world reeling at the sudden influx of nearly two billion refugees the unthinkable happens; an alien breaks through to the present day and eludes the military. A biological killing machine, supremely adaptable and capable of reproducing parthenogenetically the monster represents the greatest threat mankind has ever faced.

This is a small book but it manages to cover a lot of ground, with Simak’s seemingly effortless prose keeping you turning the pages at a rapid rate. It has something for everyone, from ferocious monsters to romantic human beings, from military action to the give and take of international diplomacy, from scientific and philosophical speculation to social commentary.

What distinguishes the book from so many other potboilers though is the Simak angle on human nature. The hero is Steve Wilson, White House press agent, and several other major characters are journalists, though you won’t recognise them as such if your expectations have been shaped by the antics of the less creditable tabloids. Simak, once a journalist himself, sees the fourth estate as one of the bastions of freedom and that’s how he tells it. It’s par for the course. When the refugees first arrive, before the government step in, shelter and food is provided by ordinary American citizens taking them into their homes. Industry and trade unions rally round to help. Of course this is only part of the story. There are those – politicians, businessmen, evangelists – who try to profit from the emergency. Simak isn’t naïve about human nature. It’s simply that, whenever possible, he likes to give our finer feelings the benefit of the doubt.

Reading Simak makes me think of that other journalist turned author, P. G. Wodehouse. Simak’s books bear the same relationship to science fiction in general as the latter’s do to the novel of social realism. They are not great literature and they are not strictly accurate about many things, but more often than not they are highly readable and great fun. That sums up “Our Children’s Children” to a T, so if you’ve got £3.99 to spare and want a few hours of undemanding entertainment in a science fictional mode go out and buy the book.

 

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Trailer Trash – Ready Player One

Cinema celebrates the medium that will replace it, and so I suspect that there is an agenda and things will end badly.

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