Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review: The Third Lynx by Timothy Zahn

When last we left Frank Compton, he had successfully destroyed the Modhri and saved the universe... or so he thought. Races, chases, intrigue, murders, and a few good old switcheroos will leave the reader looking for more, and our friend Mr. Zahn delivers in a fantastically fun way.

Timothy Zahn's second entry into what I refer to as 'the Galactic Railway' series picks up almost exactly where the first book, Night Train to Rigel, left off. The first book, a charming story of an interstellar railway system run by beings known simply as 'The Spiders', used many Hitchcockian tropes to take our hero and his companions into a dangerous conflict with an alien called the Modhri. The second book is no less a life or death struggle, and contains no fewer surprises and references to Hitchcock than the first, but here the story ends in its similarity. Where in the first book, much of the story was spent on discovering who and what the villains of the piece were, now Frank is secure in his job working for the Spiders and their masters, and the Modhri is much diminished in power with its major colonies having been destroyed.

This is, by no means, the only difference to the two books. While Night Train to Rigel was heavily invested in Hitchcock references, The Third Lynx is more of an homage to Dashell Hammet's Maltese Falcon and Poe's Purloined Letter. Although the referents may be different, this in no way detracts from the story, and in fact it makes the book even stronger. The Third Lynx has a distinctly more noir feel to it, and it carries through with all of its ideas with a panache that beggars the imagination.

THAC0: 6

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0 from the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The idea is that the lower the number, the lower you need to roll to score a hit. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number I believe, on a scale of 1-20, that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In & Out on 12/15

Another exciting week is over and a new one is just beginning. Last week saw action, adventure, excitement, and a distinct lack of Dewey decimal system usage by the Librarian as well as a whole lot more.

To start, last week had the distinct honor to have three fun SFSNNJ events in it. Suspense Central started the week with a visit from author E.J. Rand as we discussed his award winning first book Say Goodbye. Next was a holiday edition of our comics discussion group at New Moon Comics, Drawing a Crowd. Last (and most important) was our annual Face the Fiction Holiday Party featuring the NJ Devil Hunters Society and folklorist Sandy Schlosser (I won't go into how wonderful both groups are here since there is a much better review already written on our forums).

I managed to miss most of the cool TV entries last week, but I plan on catching up when I have a chance. For those that saw them, the new Heroes, Sarah Conner Chronicles, and 11th Hour were supposed to be good. I managed to catch up on an episode of Fringe that I missed, but was disappointed as they seem to be copying scripts from Strangeworld wholesale. TNT released its (alleged) final chapter in the Librarian series, but it seems likely that as interest has not abated in this franchise, there will be further films, though I have the feeling that they will be without Noah Wylie (I haven't seen it yet, so I cannot comment further).

In the theatres, The Day the Earth Stood Still yawned its way to the top. With a depressing $30M in boxoffice for the weekend, it is a massive let down from the $70M+ entries of both Quantum of Solace and Twilight from just a few weeks ago. Strangely both Twilight and Bolt seem to be holding their own in the 3rd and 4th slotseven after two weeks, though their box offices are distinctly unimpressive.

Coming up this week? New episodes of Sarah Conner and Chuck, and not much else on the tube. In theatres, expect to be excited by the Tale of Despereaux and we can look forward to Valkyrie and The Spirit coming next week. In the SFSNNJ< we will be at Panera on Route 17N in Ramsey on Wednesday for Films to come, where we can talk about the best and the worst of 2008 and beyond!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: Nightlife by Rob Thurman

While browsing around the Borders in Ramsey the other day I stumbled across just such a book, and so I read through the beginning of the book. Ms Thurman, you had me rooted to the spot. I immediately bought all three of the current series (Nightlife, Moonlight, and Madhouse), and I did not even make it to my car when a friend of mine pilfered book one from my Borders bag. Considering that I am the literary version of a crack dealer in our group, I graciously allowed my friend Ann Marie to steal book one and read it ahead of me. First taste is free and all that.

So, you are asking, why all the excitement? Well, it is no mystery that there is a lot of modern fantasy going around night now. It started with characters like Anita Blake and expanded with the success of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files and Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood series which had both great books and TV shows. Now, the publishers cannot put out enough of these kinds of books. Authors like Simon Green are at the top of their game with this style, and newcomers like Mark delFranco are wow-ing readers across the board, but how do you separate the gold from the dross in this ever-expanding genre? Reviews, help, but it is more trial and error than anything else.

Now, on to why this book and series is so spectacular. Nightlife is the story of two half-brothers, Caliban and Niko, who are on the run and hiding out in New York. Sons of a gypsy fortune-teller, none know who Niko's father is, but Caliban's father is a monster. Not a John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy type monster, but a fangs, claws, and glowing red eyes kind of monster. A monster who wants his son for some reason known only to him. Enough about the set-up, though, let's get to the meat of the matter.

Nightlife is a great character study, and a wonderful introduction to the world that Rob Thurman is working in. Strangely, for a first book, Nightlife seems more like a second book, concentrating on character and story development more than the formulaic origin story that most first books tend to fall back on. Sure, the origin story is in there, but it is carefully woven into the narrative in flashbacks, and does not take up any significant part of the book. The main thrust of the story strikes directly into the relationship of the two brothers, and highlights all of their worst fears and horrors. The ensemble cast of Cal, Niko, and their new friend Robin Goodfellow (who remains my personal favorite) try desperately to do their parts in a story that is lager than any one of them. The fact that they all undergo massive changes and character development in the course of this book is a testament to the amazing work that Thurman is putting out.

If you are looking for style, substance, relatable characters, and horrifying scenes, then this is your one stop smorgasbord.

THAC0: 3

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0. The idea is that the lower the number, the better this is at being an actual hit in terms of game mechanics. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number I believe, on a scale of 1-20, that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

In & Out on 12/8

Well, I apologize for the week off, so this will be an expanded, extended, exciting edition of In & Out for this week (actually I am lying through my teeth).

As December rolls into full blast, many shows go on hiatus, many groups go into hibernation, and many activities get put off in favor of Holiday celebrations and other fun stuff. Due to last week's hectic work schedule, the only thing I got to see was Heroes, and right now, I am even blanking on that. I do remember seeing the beginning of 11th Hour and was suitably unimpressed by that one (had something to do with the Bends). No noteworthy film releases last week, though the release of The Transporter 3 brought back memories of deja vu as we all watched Jason Statham perform the exact same film for the 3rd time.

What is coming up? Well, tonight at 8pm Deadly Ink Press's celebrated and award winning author EJ Rand will be joining us for burgers and murders at Fuddruckers in Paramus. We will be discussing his fantastic book Say Goodbye and maybe getting some glimpses into the sequels. Should be great. We also have continuing game campaigns, and, of course, the absolutely fantastic SFSNNJ Annual Holiday Party, which will feature folklorist Sandy Schlosser as well as members of the Jersey Devil Hunters Society. Details can be found at in the Face the Fiction section.

On the big screen, Keanu Reeves will be commanding the robot Gort to wipe humanity from the face of the Earth in the remake of The Day The Earth Stood Still. I plan on re-watching the original so I can see how far the new one falls short, since it seems to be a significant change in tone and concept from the original film (at least in the trailers).

Who knows what else the future holds? Not me, I'm way too busy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review: Paul of Dune

Very rarely will I review an item I did not like. I much prefer to recommend things that I think are good and ignore things that I think are dreadful. In the case of Paul of Dune I am torn. While this was not a great book, neither too was it so awful that I would refuse to mention it. Perhaps, my review should simply be that I was disappointed by its mediocrity.

Paul of Dune is essentially a bi-polar book. There are two stories being told here, and while one is contemporary to the time period between Dune and Dune: Messiah, the other story is a flashback from the period prior to the original Dune series. The real meat (i.e. the enjoyable part of the story) is the tale of the initial transition of the House Atreides into the role of Imperial leaders and the beginnings of the Jihad. Sadly, the rest of the story is a tedious, unnecessary, and blatantly stupid subplot about Duke Leto getting married to the daughter of Armand of Ecaz.

Wait, you are saying, didn't we already do this? Yup. Remember the tedious prequels in the Houses of Dune series? Yeah, there was that really ridiculous War of Assassins between House Moritani and House Ecaz, and Leto's betrothed was murdered. Apparently she had a sister and Duke Leto was going to go through the marriage plans with the new girl, relegating Jessica to the role of 'the bit on the side'. All I can say is, "Why?" There is no apprent motivation or reason. Most of the rest of this subplot is equally ludicrous.

Meanwhile, we have a pretty good story about the Court of Paul Muad'dib and his Jihad. We watch as Gurney and Stilgar try to ride the tiger of the fanatical Jihadis, showing us exotic battlefields and amazing scenes. The Court scenes are equally impressive as we watch Alia earn her props as a political insider and leader in waiting. One thing that I really liked is the portrayal of loyal and noble Irulan, and her relationships with her estranged family who are exiled to Salusa Secundus. The scenes with Shaddam and Wensicia are well done, as are many of the scenes between Hasimir Fenring and Paul. Sadly, the whole education of Marie Fenring among the Bene Tleilax is handled poorly and resembles the flashback in structure and style (i.e. poorly thought out and badly plotted).

So, what do I really think about this one? It is good, but it is basically two different books badly welded together with only the thinnest of plot devices. It seems fairly certain that the flashback sequences were likely supposed to be a last novel in the Houses series, while most of the Jihad-era material was obviously inspired by Frank Herbert's original notes and story outlines. Fans of the Dune books will enjoy this latest entry (for the most part), but will likely skim through the flashback sections since they are the literary version of The Phantom Menace.

THAC0: 14

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0. The idea is that the lower the number, the better this is at being an actual hit in terms of game mechanics. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number is believe on a scale of 1-20 that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

In & Out 11/24

Well, ithas been another crazy week with a ton of really cool things going in and on and around. In the SFSNNJ we celebrated the works of Ian Fleming during Tripping the Write Fantastic at Borders Garden State Plaza with an in-depth discussion of Fleming's books and the Eon movies, and at Films to Come we talked moview, movies, movies late into the night.

In film, Twilight hit the box office like a ton of bricks, and though the Blonde Bond managed to hold onto the number 2 slot it's box office draw dropped more than $50M dollars coming in barely ahead of Disney's Bolt. Fans of animated pictures were evenly divided between the aforementioned Bolt and Dreamworks' Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa.

On the television, fans of True Blood watched the season finale and reveled in the conclusion of the story. Though several aspects were changed for better TV storytelling, the first season was remarkably close to the first book, and the end of the season pretty much mirrors the start of the second book. Kudos to the cast and crew for a brilliant series, and for following Ms Harris' story so well!

This week we have a holiday that is throwing the works off, but we do have a topic discussion on Tuesday, Themes of the Fantastic at 8pm at New Moon Comics in Little Falls. Tonight on NBC is another new Heroes episode, however there is a lot of dead air on TV, and no new or notable SF-related films coming to the theatres. It looks like this might be a good week to sit back and study up on Star Trek for the May movie.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Chapter 1 - Stars End

They called it the frontier. It wasn't. A frontier is more than just the edge of the map, it was the jumping off point for exploration, it was vital, alive, and dynamic. Sure, most frontiers were hardscrabble, desolate, and not terribly impressive, but it couldn't be argued that people still wanted to go there. This place was none of those things. Sure it was the edge, but it was more periphery than frontier. There was no further expansion from here because there was no place to expand to. Nobody wanted to come here, in fact most people wanted to leave, and the word dynamic could hardly be applied. All in all, it was less a frontier than backwater, and although it lay on the outermost edge of our galaxy it could hardly even be considered a border area.

The place was the Lupus Cluster, better known as the Wolf Worlds, a nomme de guerre that seemed more than aptly appropriate. Located far in the Galactic north, anti-spinward of the great human capitol at Terra, this meager cluster of stars huddled together on the underbelly of the Milky Way, clinging to the local galaxy like piglets to a sow. Now that I think about it, that is probably the most apt description of this backwater pesthole I am likely to find. Not that the small star cluster was all bad, it did have its high points.

I stared again into the empty shotglass on the table. The liquor that it had formerly held was the obvious fuel for my ruminations, and now that the last drop was drained, I felt that I should probably stop philosophizing about what a crummy place the Wolf Worlds were and get on with my business. Having taken my liquid courage to dhore me up, it was on to work.

Looking up from my empty glass I scanned the bar once again. I already knew what was there, but it didn't hurt to reconfirm it. Three slender humans sat at one table, a happy looking sat at another, the third was taken up by an arguing pair of bhur'tashk, and the bar held tulosh and another three humans in addition to myself. The short, blond haired lass behind the bar caught me looking one of the humans at the end of the bar, quirked an eyebrow and asked in the local dialect if I wanted to send him a drink. I smiled and replied, "Not my type."

The blond bartender pulled a serving wand out from under the bar, and moved to refill my glass. Before she had even half completed the action I had my hand held over the glass in the universal sign of 'no more please', and it was then that I realized my blunder. My hand, my dominant gun hand, was now way out of position, sloppily held to prevent the refill of my drink by a woman who was obviously doing this for just such a reason.

I cursed, trying to pull myself back into position as my target, gun in hand began to draw on me. I recognized what was going to come next, and instead of straightening up to at least try and draw, I dove away from the bar, deeper into the restaurant. Well, at least I tried to.

I must have telegraphed the move a bit too much, and the bartender, who I was beginning to suspect did not work here at all, reached out and grabbed my wrist in a vice-like grip. The bones grinded together painfully, and I fell back against the bar.

Desperate to get out of my quarry's line of fire, I grabbed at the nearest patron with my free hand. Luckily, it was the young tulosh, whose canine features were already snarling into an ugly rictus as he grabbed at his pistol. Without paying any heed to the action around him, the seven foot tall, black caninoid swiped backwards at me, and I pulled my captured wrist up and into the line of attack, hoping the bartender would release it to avoid being clawed. She did, and I got lucky again as the swipe hit me on the armorweave instead of the flesh.

The big alien completed his swing, turning to face me, and I, finally free, dove for the floor as my target opened fire with a Teiger Mark IV flechette pistol. Nasty weapon, that, and probably illegal as all hell for a civilian to be lugging around. Luckily I had a Yanov 51 long pistol, and it was even now clearing its holster as my mark started to spray monofiliment needles across the area of the bar that I had recently occupied. A few shot whistled into the angered tulosh, and a few hit the bartender. I was just thankful that none hit me.

I hit the floor with a thud, the Yanov finally up and out, and I returned fire. I knew where the dumb bastard was standing, and while I couldn't see him, I could bet on where he was moving to to get a better position to end my life. Not likely, pal. I pulled the long pistol's trigger twice, and two bursts of fire belched from the gun. The first blew a hole clear through the bar, the second cut my target off at the knees, literally.

There was screaming all around me as I rolled onto my back to plant one into the face of the snarling bartender. As I continued to shift my aim, the tulosh decided that though his honor my be wounded, taking on a crazy human with a Yanov long pistol was a bit more than was necessary to restore it. The tulosh were many things, but suicidal was not among their racial traits.

The room was a whirling mass of chaos as I rose from the floor and yelled, "Everyone get down on the floor. I am an Imperial Arbiter, on official duties, and I will judge disobedience harshly."

Things quieted down pretty fast right about then. Nobody really wanted to mess with an official Arbitration, and the scary though of being held accountable by a man who was judge, jury, and executioner was more than these civilians wanted to face.

My target was wimpering and scrabbling in vain for the Teiger that he must have dropped when he fell. I stared hard into his eyes as I rounded the bar, raised my pistol, and solemnly intoned, "Arbiter Ramilles Jones hereby passes sentence of death on Charles Onassis for the crimes of treason, assaulting an officer, and other various and sundry vicious acts in keeping with his obviously low character," I paused a moment, pulled the trigger, and continued, "Gods, I need a drink."

Sadly, the bartender was already dead. Figures. Another day in the life of the long arm of the law...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Review: Event by David Lynn Goleman

First, I apologize for the late posting of this, normal work excuse to follow.

When I see a tale set in modern times with a strong conspiracy-theory backdrop, I generally roll my eyes and await the trite and overdone Black Helicopter/Evil Government Cover-up/Waco/Ruby Ridge ranting that is endemic to the genre of speculative fiction. Luckily for me, this particular book is not done in that vein. At all. In fact, Event, attempts to humanize and explain why some of these things need to be taken care of with discretion. Don't think that David Lynn Goleman is going to handle you with kid gloves, though, because this is an author who likes to sucker-punch the reader with great surprises and really amazing ideas.

The first question that you are likely to ask is, "What is Todd talking about?" Well, I am talking about the first book in the Event Group series by David Lynn Goleman. This first story is a traditional series opener that sets the scene and the stage for the upcoming drama by throwing the new guy in the group into the deep end of the pool. Anyone who has seen a TV series on the SciFi channel (Sanctuary, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Farscape, Strangeworld, etc) is familiar with this formula and knows how it goes. Luckily, Mr. Goleman has seen those shows too, and knows that we knows how this is supposed to play out, so he tries to have fun with it and make it entertaining. Thankfully, he succeeds. The SciFi channel wishes it could put together a show so thoroughly engrossing as this book was.

At any rate, what about the story? The novel Event takes place in contemporary times and features characters who work for a secret department in the US Government, Department 5656, which is (on paper) an adjunct to the national archives. The real task of Department 5656 is the acquisition of artifacts and the learning of history on a grand scale so we can avoid that fate warned of by Santa Ana. From Noah's Ark to the corpse of King Arthur, the Event Group, as Dept 5656 is known, collects it all; sending super-scientists and US Armed Forces Special Ops teams on globe-trotting adventures. According to the leaders of the Group, no other nation has the same kind of set-up, and one of the tasks of the Group is not only to preserve these ancient relics, but to learn from them and study them, keeping them secret if they may cause too great an uproar in modern society.

Of course, all this leads us to one of their finds that 'got away': the debris and alien artifats from Roswell, NM! Sorry, no real spoiler here, the book starts of with the stealing of the Roswell artifacts from the Event Group team in 1947. The question is: what does that have to do with the plot of the book? Well, history has a way of repeating itself, and apparently the crash at Roswell was no mere accident, but the opening shot in a planned invasion. The original crash is replicated by the aliens in exact detail, with the sole deviation that a wing of US Navy F-14's open fire on one of the two flying saucers, causing both to crash. What happens next is a fast-paced, high impact thrill ride that will leave you gasping for breath at the end of each chapter.

If you are looking for a book with good solid science, action, adventure, monsters, depraved aliens, friendly aliens, more monsters, gun battles, car chases, espionage, big monsters, assassinations, strip clubs, archeology, spelunking, fighter planes, high tech gadgets, more nifty science, and more monsters, then this is the book for you. If you don't like those things, then perhaps I could recommend something a bit tamer.

THAC0: 5

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0. The idea is that the lower the number, the better this is at being an actual hit in terms of game mechanics. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number is believe on a scale of 1-20 that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

In & Out on 11/17

Well, this past week saw two great events for the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey as Suspense Central discussed Breakaway by Joel Shepherd and Drawing a Crowd discussed a plethora of super-hero secret agents. Both events showed a lot of interest, and cool writeups can be found on the SFSNNJ Yahoo Group.

In the box office, James Bond shot his way to the top with over 0070 Million Dollars as Quantum of Solace made its debut. While there was a lot of nay-saying about Daniel Craig as the Blonde Bond, the proof is in the pudding. The only concern we are seeing now is 'Is Bond becoming too much like Bourne?' Since the new series has lost the emphasis on gadgets and nifty gizmos, its appearance has become somewhat similar. Having not seen Quantum of Solace yet, I can only say that Casino Royale seemed a faithful retelling of the original story (where things made sense, they kept them, and where they didn't make sense they were changed and updated), so I can only hope to say the same about this one.

On TV, new episodes of Heroes returned with a vengeance, and we saw a bit more back story on the main cast, and True Blood keeps up the awesome pace. Though many have complained about the sort of bland storylines we are getting in Heroes, I am still enjoying the show, and watching how the back story shaped up was an interesting idea in the last episode. On another front, Fringe continues to entertain, though I still maintain that Strange World was a better series. True Blood is yet another unstoppable Alan Ball/HBO juggernaut and I hope that we get 10 seasons of this, following the books as closely as they can, and inspiring the redoubtable Charlaine Harris to even greater heights!

In Gaming news, last week saw the announcement by Topps that it would be discontinuing its popular WizKids brand. This means that popular games such as HeoClix, HorrorClix, and others will no longer be put out by Topps. If no other companies evince any interest in these products, then they will sadly pass into memory. At present, only Wizards of the Coast really has the capability to take over the WizKids brands seamlessly, but the question is: would they? Wizards recently decided to cancel its D&D Skirmish game in favor of producing miniatures solely for support of its Role-Playing Game product, Dungeons & Dragons 4.0, so the question must be asked.

As we enter the third week of Secret Agent Month, the SFSNNJ is gearing up for some more fun and excitement. This week we have a great line-up for all you spy-lovers. Monday there are new episodes of Heroes and The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Tuesday we present Tripping the Write Fantastic at 8pm in Borders at the Garden State Plaza discussing Ian Fleming, master of the espionage novel and creator of Bond, James Bond. Wednesday, Barry Weinberger leads a discussion of film at the Borders in Ramsey at 8pm, and will undoubtedly discuss the Blonde Bond's new movie. Thursday, join our Heroes and Rogues gaming group for a round of D&D Miniatures Skirmish at New Moon Comics in Little Falls, NJ. Friday has new episodes of a plethora of Science Fiction shows like Ghost Whisperer, Sanctuary, and Crusoe (which isn't really SF or Fantasy, but is a lot of fun) as well as gaming at Reality's Edge in North Arligton and New Moon Comics in Little Falls, which both regularly present Friday Night Magic. See you around!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Frontiers at the SFSNNJ

Greetings Friends,

As you can see it has been a really long time since I have had a chance to update this Blog, and I apologize for that. Sadly, work has been pushing me a lot harder than I would like, and I have needed to take a break from writing here. Luckily, my time is now my own again, and I am hoping to begin updating regularly starting on Friday, starting with some new ideas. Starting 11/17 the schedule will be:

Mondays: Week to Come, Week in Review - where I discuss SFSNNJ events and other topics that affect the SF community including movies, TV shows, books, DVD releases, and more. I will also feature an abbreviated Todd's Top Ten like I used to.

Wednesdays: Reviews - where I review a book, movie, TV show, or SF-related topic. I will try to keep this in-line with what is going on in the SFSNNJ, but I don't guarantee anything,

Fridays: Story - A new serial story series (sorry to those who were enjoying the old one, but I have been away from it for too long and have lost momentum there).

Here's to hoping that I can keep up with this. To the FUTURE!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Top Ten Revolution Stories

OK, as Rebellion month draws to a close, I am bringing a list of stories and series that salute the process and concept of the revolution. Whether social, governmental, or technological, these revolutionary stories are great examples of the ways in which civilization can change, in some cases over night.

10 - Singularity Sky by Charles Stross - What happens when a planet with anarcho-communist leans that has been under the thumb of a brutally repressive regime suddenly has access to everything that they could ever need? Overnight revolt, massive upheaval, and disintegration of the social contract for starters. This is a story where we learn the perils of massive changes that happen too quickly (especially when aided by alien influences). The story is brilliant, and Charles Stross is one of the best writers of modern SF there is. It is also the story which gives us the phrase "the sporks of freedom!"

9 - The Man Who Never Missed by Steve Perry - Can one man really make a difference? He can when he is pretending to be an entire rebel army. On the planet Greaves, Emile Khadaji is doing just that. Instead of killing enemy soldiers of the occupying forces, though, he is using a powerful nerve agent that causes a 6-month coma. Immobilizing hundreds of enemy combatants, Khadaji knows that he has a strict time limit before the coma patients start to awaken and compare notes, realizing that the 'Shamba Freedom Fighters' are really just one guy with a nifty gun. This starts of a series of amazing stories that are all part of the Matador series, which explores the concept of a non-lethal rebellion.

8 - Way of the Pilgrim by Gordon R. Dickson - In the furure, Earth is an occupied planet, with a race of strict aliens ruling the world. The aliens are attempting to force humans to fit into their mold of what is believed to be a proper culture in order to support the aliens, called Aalaag, in their efforts to survive a pursuing alien force which has no name. The idea is that the aliens are warriors, and all others are required to support those warriors in their efforts. Shane Evert, one of the few humans who can understand the aliens language begins to understand the differences between humans and the outwardly similar Aalaag, and develops a plan to overthrow the oppressive regime using grafiti. This is a brilliantly done story with an eye towards anthropology instead of technology as a cure for the injustice of oppression.

7 - The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold and Larry Niven - When a scientist crash-lands on a strange planet, it is up to him to teach the aliens how technology works. The aliens, on the other hand, are quite content to use their 'magic' to get rid of Purple the Sorcerer until they discover that Purple can teach them how to fly with his new magic. This is a great story of cross-cultural contamination as 'Purple' slowly changes the aliens' society by showing them the concept of labor for hire, assembly lines, and (gasp) denomination monetary units. To make matter even more interesting, the entire story is told from the point of view of the alien Sorcerer, who sees these changes as the death of his dominance over his people.

6 - Runner/Logos Run by William C. Dietz - Contemplating one's navel is all well and good, but Jak Rebo is not a religious man. In the first book, Jak has to help get a young religious prophet to his destination to prevent a massive shift in the normally peaceful religion if it was determined that the young prophet was the wrong choice. In the second, Jak has to revitalize technology that caused the downfall of the human races by getting the AI called Logos to the central hub where it can turn on the interstellar network of gates that will allow humanity to restore connections across the cosmos and revitalize the species. Set in a luddite future with limited access to technology, these stories of a crumbling interstellar infrastructure are a joy to read.

5 - Stardoc by S. L. Viehl - Healthcare can be a wonderful thing, unless you are the object of the experiments. Dr. Chorijo Grey Veil is running away from her father, a mad scientist who created her in an effort to make himself immortal. As she wanders the stars with her adoptive clan and husband, Duncan Reaver, she causes disruption, change, and chaos. Life and death are important to this doctor, but even more so are compassion and honor.

4 - Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. LeGuin - How do you have a revolution without having to do anything? Dream it and hope that it happens. In this classic story a young man can change the world through his dreams, and is forced to work his magic on the world, even if it doesn't want his help. The problem is that the dreams lead to an ever changing, ever more bizarre vision of the future.

3 - Insurrection by David Weber and Steve White - Colonies always suffer from the oppression of their founding cultures, we saw it in the Americas, China, Africa, and India, and in the far future, it is happening all over again. Unfortunately, this revolutionary war will be even more destructive than any of the revoloutions in history. Set against the backdrop of a humanity divided by issues of colonial rights and taxation issues, this story weaves war and strife into an amazing narrative with larger than life heroes and many shades of gray.

2 - Santiago by Mike Resnick - Though more famous for his some of his other Birthright Universe series like the Widowmaker, Mike Resnick sets a tone for a future rebellion that is far more than it seems. The outlaw Santiago is larger than life, striking everywhere and everything. The stories of Santiago are complex and strange, and it is only through the hunt for the man himself that we learn the truth of this outlaw rebel, and the facts behind this extraordinary man.

1 - The Star Fraction by Ken MacLeod - Anarchy reigns in this alternate future London, and the new UK is divided into a sort of Balkanized version of itself, with warring factions vying for prominence. In this dystopian future, various heroes attempt various means of overthrowing the current social order with limited success. Politics, religion, technology, and economy war back and forth in the bizarre microcosm of the new UK, and as tensions ratchet upwards, the world spirals further out of control and revolution is the only way to settle things into a better future.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

She, Robot

Welcome to the future. It is a time when humanity is divided over the questions of technological ethics and the concept of biotechnological research. Factions vie for prominence across the length and breadth of the stars, and the war between the League and the Federation has widened the rift between opposing doctrines. Welcome to the future as envisioned by Joel Shepherd.

Joel Shepherd, a native of Australia, brings us an interesting vision of things to come in the far future. The most interesting thing: people are still fighting over the same things that they are squabbling over now. Do humans have the right to create truly artificial life? Today the argument is over cloning, in Shepherd's Cassandra Kresnov series, the issue is General Issue Artificial Humans, better known as GIs.

So what is the big deal about GIs? The issue is less clear than one would assume. The League believes that technology is technology and is a tool for the betterment of man, while the Federation believes that technology must be used responsibly. The core disagreement over GIs is that the League views them as tools and the Federation views them as people who have no say in who and what they are. The Federation has banned the use and development of GIs and GI -related technology, while the League uses their GIs to figh the war.

OK, so now that we understand the crux of the disagreement, it is time to focus on the key character in this series: Cassandra Kresnov. Cassandra is a high designation League GI that has gone AWOL in order to defect from the League and become a productive citizen of the Federation. Cassandra pretends to be a normal human and emigrates to the Federation world of Callay where she interviews with a series of biotechnology firms hoping to get a job. Unfortunately for Cassandra, her secret is know to members of the Federal Investigations Agency, and she is abducted and experimented on only to be rescued by Callay's own SWAT Lieutenant Vanessa Rice.

Although placed under arrest due to her biomechanical nature, Cassandra, tries as hard as she can to help and cooperate with the Callay Intelligence Agency (CIA). Eventually, while enroute to hearings being held to determine her status, Sandy gets her chance to shine. There is an assassination attempt on Callay's President, and the only reason that it does not succeed is because Cassandra is in the right place to thwart the attempt. The action and intrigue spin out of control from that point on, with Sandy and Vanessa taking the lead in guiding Callay through a series of momentous crises.

The inherent question of the series: a philosophical analysis of the classic 'I think therefore I am' statement goes deeper into than one might think. The pivotal decision that comes before the players in this little drama is whether or not a GI which can think for itself can really rebel against all of her programming and become something else. There is a great scene early in the book where Cassandra explains that she likes art, and when asked why, she in turn asks why anyone likes art: it makes her feel. Cassandra has all the benefits of being a superstrong android (though she hates that term), and could probably give the Terminator a run for its money, but she really wants to give up war and fighting for a more peaceful existence.

Philip K. Dick asked Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and caused quite a stir, but Joel Shepherd asks: can an android be more than the sum of its programming? Can a machine evolve? If it does, will it be more like us, or less? With the Terminator series of movies we have seen the evolution of machine intelligence as a frightening Frankenstein's monster paradigm. Shepherd shows us that maybe, just maybe, we can make something more human than human. It is a great concept, a great series, and a great question.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Top Ten Rebels

Whether they are storming the capitol on Coruscant, leading the Fremen against the Sardaukar, or just plain running for your life to escape a mandatory death sentence, there is something about a rebel that makes us all sit up and take notice. It doesn't matter who, how, or why, we love our rebels and we admire their guts in standing up against the forces of oppression to fight for what they believe in. This month the Science Fiction Society of Northern New Jersey salutes the rebels in all of their glory, and so I give you the top ten Rebels of all time!

10 - Madmartigan - Scoundrel, thief, and heroic swordsman, Madmartigan burst onto screens in the 1988 Ron Howard fantasy epic Willow and made an indelible impression on all of us. In the battle against the wicked Queen Bavmorda, nothing could be done without this grinning paragon of self-interest, and in the novels that followed the film (Shadow Moon, Shadow Dawn, and Shadow Star by Chris Claremont) Madmartigan continues to flourish and rise to ever greater prominence.

9 - Lady Sula - The Praxis is truth, and this pauper turned high Lady through identity theft knows it only too well. It is through the Dread Empire of the Shaa's dogmatic devotion to the Praxis that 'Lady Sula' maintain the charade of her nobility, but when the last Shaa dies and the Dread Empire fractures into warring sects, Lady Sula fights for the very system that kept her down as a child. Her role as the leader of the loyalist guerillas on rebel occupied Zanshaa marked her as a brilliant mind, an able leader, and one of the few examples of conformist rebellion available.

8 - Cassandra Kresnov - Domo arigato Miss Roboto! The League General Issue (GI) artificial human, Cassandra Kresnov is clever, beautiful, and very deadly. Designed for war, built to lead other, lower designation GI's, and sent on mission after mission with death and destruction all around her, Cassandra rebelled against her creators and fled to the anti-GI Federation. Although most Federation citizens view her as nothing more than a machine, Cassandra has found some acceptance on the world of Callay, where the debate over her rights and life have taken a far different tone. Joel Shepherd weaves an intriguing series of well-thought out espionage stories featuring a brilliant cast of diverse characters.

7 - David Valentine - What do you do when aliens who suck blood and life energy conquer your planet? David Valentine (E.E. Knight's Vampire Earth series) joins the ranks of Free Humanity and fights the good fight against the conquerors. The problem is that it is not just the aliens that he must deal with. The Quislings (humans who assist the Kurian Overlords and their Reapers) are the biggest threat that Valentine must face, and killing humans is a far different prospect from shooting Bug-eyed Monsters. Brilliantly written, this story highlights people, places, and story in a way that is hard to forget.

6 - Sten - Alan Cole and the late Chris Bunch brought us the convict turned spy turned soldier turned pilot, turned politician turned rebel named Sten. Set in a far future ruled by the Eternal Emperor whose monopoly on AM2 (a newer, more powerful version of Anti-Matter) guarantees him rulership of the universe. Sten starts off as the Emperor's loyal servant, confidant, and friend, but eventually the Emperor changes (after he returns from the dead following a successful assassination attempt), and Sten is forced to overthrow the man who once ruled with wisdom and intelligence. Sten is a great character whose life and times are as amazing as you are likely to find.

5 - Merlin Athrawes/Nimue Alban - Why is it that aliens are always wiping out the human race? In this new story from David Weber we still have no answer to that question, but we do know that Humans, much like cockroaches, are hard to stamp out. After the Terran Confederation falls to the Gbaba (and the races is presumed to be extinct) one lonely, backwards colony is left to carry on the fight. The problem is that the colonials abandoned all technology in an effort to hide from the bloodthirsty aliens. Nimue Alban takes on the identity of Merlin Athrawes and begins to establish new technology on the Luddite world, rebelling against the Church and the governments of this planet.

4 - Roy Batty - "Why come to Earth? That's unusual..." says Rick Deckard of the Replicants that have attempted to wrest the secrets of their incept dates from their inventors in the film version of Philip K. Dick's classic novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner). Batty is a rebel with a cause: he wants to live more than the four years allotted to him, and will stop at nothing to break out of the role that has been forced on him by construction and programming.

3 - The Rebel Alliance - Star Wars' key players in the fight to overthrow the tyranny of Emperor Palpatine and the Galactic Empire is probably the most well-known organization of insurgents ever. From the fight to destroy the first Death Star to the battle of Endor, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Lando, C-3PO, and R2-D2 lead the battle and strike a blow for freedom.

2 - Owen Deathstalker - Who is the most dangerous man in the galaxy? A paunchy historian with a family history of political plotting and betrayals, that's who. At the start of the series, Owen Deathstalker is a middle aged historian who wants nothing more than to be left alone. Unfortunately, his family has information that the Empress wants, and so she has him outlawed, hoping that he will lead her to the secrets that he does not even know that he knows. Big mistake. This action leads to the largest uprising in the Empire of Humanity's history, and the overthrow of Lionstone XIV. Simon R. Green weaves a fantastic tale where space opera meets H.P. Lovecraft.

1 - Paul 'Muad'dib' Atreides - Another reluctant rebel, the visionary prophet Paul Atreides, the Kwiszatch Haderach, is the epitome of the desert revolutionary. Leading his Fremen against the Harkonnen invaders and their allies, the Imperial Sardaukar, Paul must use his visions of the future to shape a new, better Empire. Frank Herbert's exciting novel, Dune, tells the tale in a larger than life way that makes one think about the truth of the prophecies and the power of one important substance. The spice must flow!

Friday, May 16, 2008


Greetings to all of you out there. I apologize for my lack of updates, but my job has unfortunately kept me very busy. Luckily I am planning on resuming proper updates next week. In the mean time, to fit in with our Rebels and Revolutionaries theme I will bring you an exciting 'What If' scenario from Star Wars a New Hope (we discussed Star Wars Infinities on Wednesday so it is fresh in my mind).

What if Tarkin had waited until his scouts reached Dantooine to destroy Alderaan? The story would have unfolded much differently. Luke, Han, Chewie, Ben, and the droids would have landed on Alderaan just before the news of the lack of a base on Dantooine reached Tarkin. The Grand Moff then decides to show Leia that he is serious by destroying Alderaan's moon (a move that would still cause the deaths of millions as well as a having a massive impact on Alderaan itself). He would then turn to Leia and calmly explain that her homeworld would be next if she was not more forthcoming.

Meanwhile on the planet, the heroes, along with Bail Organa and some loyal retainers make a run for Yavin. The Falcon is heavily damaged during the escape, but manages to make it to Yavin well ahead of the Death Star's scout ships. The defenders attack the scouts and one is captured, revealing that Princess Leia is a captive aboard the Death Star. The Rebels realize that they have very little time to act and dispatch a commando squad aboard the Millenium Falcon (Han and Chewie having been paid handsomely for their services and promised more money for the rescue of the Princess) with orders to rescue the Princess and cripple the battlestation while the rest of the rebel forces prepare to evacuate.

Tarkin determines that the Princess is too valuable a hostage to keep around and prepares to transfer her to Coruscant under the direct supervision of Darth Vader. As they are preparing the transfer, the surviving scouts return announcing that the Rebels are on Yavin IV. Seeing that the Princess has been truthful, Tarkin immediately orders that a course be set for Alderaan. At this point the Falcon arrives, and Vader advises Tarkin to take the ship aboard as he has sensed the presence of Obi Wan Kenobi and believes that he is aboard the ship that escaped the system earlier and had been reported as blasting out of Mos Eisley. The Death Star captures the Falcon, and Obi Wan remains on the main deck to distract Vader while the commandoes and heroes hide out below in the smuggling hold. Ben springs into action, engaging in a running duel with Vader as he draws off the Imperials into the cargo bay and then deeper into the station. The Rebels infiltrate while all eyes are on the Jedi vs Sith duel with one team going to disable the power systems for the tractor beam, a second going to sabotage the superlaser, and the heroes headed to free Leia (after all, Han has a contract to execute).

The commandos execute their plans and head back to the Falcon, as do the heroes, and they arrive in time to watch Obi Wan die at the hands of his former apprentice. Luke is sad. The bombs detonate, causing minor damage to the reactor and the superlaser, but Tarkin is now enraged and orders the Death Star to Yavin to exterminate the remaining Rebels. Vader, angry that Obi Wan tricked him away from the Falcon, and pushes the technicians as quickly as he can to repair the planet killing weapon. As he pushes harder\, he realizes that he sensed another presence during the fight: his son and daughter! Finally understanding that Palpatine had lied about his wife's death, Vader suffers a crisis of conscience and Obi Wan appears to explain the facts of life to him (including the fact that Yoda is on Dagobah). Vader realizes his mistake and determines to finish the job that the Rebels started and sets several thermal detonators around the station. When they arrive on Yavin, Vader launches his TIE Fighter and detonates the bombs, crippling the Death Star's defenses and opening the way for his son and the Rebels to attack the station, finally destroying it.

Vader joins the Rebels, reveals the truth to Luke and Leia, and offers to help them overthrow the Emperor. He provides them with training, unfortunately, once a Sith, always a Sith: Vader secretly plans to kill Palpatine and assume the throne with his children at his side, so he trains them in the Sith arts. Vader and the Rebels manage to get to Coruscant and into the Imperial presence, eventually defeating the guards and the Emperor. Vader reveals his true ambition to his children, and they decide to follow his advice (after all, he is father and mentor), and they rule the Galaxy as one big happy family. Han Solo, who has been paid a whole lot of money, pays off Jabba and has more than enough cash remaining to fix the Falcon up better than new.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Top Ten Anime

Animation month continues, and in spite of my irregular posting schedule, I really am trying to keep up. I hope to be able to return to regular Monday/Wednesday/Friday postings this week, though I am not holding my breath for obvious reasons. This week our Drawing a Crowd comic, manga, and anime group will be focusing on a classic, Akira. Given that, I thought that maybe this week, I would look to the far East for inspiration, and focus on the world of Anime for my Todd's Top Ten.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Top Ten Animated Science Fiction Characters

Welcome to the gates of April. This month it is an all Anime extravaganze at the SFSNNJ, with the topics ranging from Anime and Manga, to original novels that were adapted to the screen and much more. While I am not as much of an Anime fan as some of my friends (you know who you are), I do still know a few things. This list will feature characters in books and films that have made the leap to animated features and TV shows.

10 - The crew of the Enterprise - That's right, Star Trek the animated series. It was fun, it was cool, and it went where no TV show could. When Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of the crew made the transition into the 2D world, it was with great fanfare and cool episodes, proving that even Shatner could be animated with style.

9 - That Rats of N.I.M.H. - Robert C. O'Brien's brilliant tale of rats who have been given near human intelligence by tinkering human scientists made the leap from page to screen in the 1980's, and showed us that we needed to take responsibility for our curiosity. Although the Don Bluth film changes many elements of the story from the book, it is never-the-less still an excellent adaptation of this powerful story.

8 - Fiver and Hazel - Richard Adams tale of the hardships of a group of rabbits attempting to start afresh after the destruction of their warren made its bog screen debut to much interest, and managed to show that the British are able animators as well as voice actors. Well treated and respectful of the original work, the film version of Watership Down is considered a classic even today.

7 - Rowf and Snitter - Plague Dogs by Richard Adams is another brilliant film adaptation of animals with human traits. Even more different from the book, the movie version of Plague Dogs features an ending that is far bleaker, but actually a bit more satisfying than the ine in the book.

6 - Winnie the Pooh - A.A. Milne's classic fat little stuffed bear made the leap to the screen care of Disney Studios, but is the animated version truly superior to the original Shepard illustrations? Many say yes, but the truth is that both are excellent pieces of art in their own right, and the animated Disney version remains as popular today as it was in the 1960's.

5 - Arthur Pendragon and Merlin - Another animated classic brought to us by the talent at Disney, The Sword in the Stone, and one of the more classically inspired stories of its time. Disney's treatment of the classic tale of young Arthur growing up to the point where the mere boy pulls the sword from the stone to claim his birthright is fun and inventive.

4 - Neo - The Matrix has spawned a huge number of professional and amateur animated shorts and features. The version that springs most to mind is the DVD collection entitled The Animatrix, which featured a myriad of new works by noted directors and voice actors.

3 - Juan "Johnny" Rico - Many people disparaged the film adaptation of the classic science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, but Starship Troopers really found its niche when it transitioned into an animted series called Roughnecks. Though there are still many deviations from the book, and the politics of the universe are mostly glossed over, it is still a great version of this classic story.

2 - Taran - While most people find it odd to have the hero fo the story be a Wizard's assistant pig-keeper, it is this youth that makes the story so interesting in Lloyd Alexander's The Prydain Chronicles. While the Disney feature film conflates several characters and books, condensing them into the animated film, The Black Cauldron, it was still a great, fun fantasy film with some monumentally scary moments for kids. While it does not follow the story set by Alexander, it does follow the tone and style of Alexander's original works.

1 - Bilbo Baggins - Try topping the animated version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, I dare you. Well drawn, well voiced, and very faithful to the original story, The Hobbit shows how wonderful a faithful adaptation of the original work.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Dread Empire's Fall

OK, it has been a while since i actually did a three update week, but I swear that I am going to get back into the habit of doing this the right way.

Recently I had the opportunity to read through the current three novels of Walter John Williams' Science Fiction series Dread Empire's Fall. These books have been winking at me from the shelves of teh Science Fiction section for a while now, but I have been hesitant to pick them up, if only becuase I did not want to fall into another giant SF series. Luckily for me, I bought the first two books at Borders in Wayne during their store closing sale.

The series takes place about ten thousand years from now. Humans and several alien species have been living under the rule of an alien species calle the Shaa for milennia. Any sources of innovation and free thought have been ruthlessly suppressed for generations, and the Shaa have employed horrific weapons to ensure the continued obedience and loyalty of their servant species. Over the Empire's 12,000 years, the ideals of the Shaa, as embodied in a document of law called the Praxis, have become the ideals of the client species. Unfortunately, the last of the Shaa has decided to end its immortal life (presumably the rest of the Shaa had done so over the course of time leading up to this point).

The problem is that the Empire is kind of like a bonsai tree, and has been shaped and molded to the specifications of the Shaa over many generations. The vacuum of power left behind by the last Shaa has been filled by the bureaucratic Convocation of Peers, who rule as any collective would. one of the client races, the Naxids, decides that it is up to them to restore a proper heirarcy with one species on top, taking the place of the Shaa in the Empire. As they were the first conquered species, the Naxids decide that they are best equipped to run the Empire.

This series follows the course of the Rebellion of the Naxids and the careers of several very interesting characters. All of the story is told following the exploits of Gareth Martinez, younger son of a very welathy, but not prestigious family of Peers from the Empire's furthest provinces, and his on-again off-again lover Caoline, Lady Sula, last survivor of the high ranking Sula clan, whose Peerage is second only to two or three other families of humans. The rub is that Sula is not quite whom she says she is, and Gareth is an overly romantic fellow who does not understand the problems that the Lady Sula seems to have with their relationship. Set against the backdrop of this vast war (which is the first war ever fought between fleet of similar technology as well as the first combat that the fleet has seen in over 1000 years), the romance, politics, and interpersonal maneuvering make this series really stand out.

Throughout the series we watch as the political wrangling of the Convocation, which is attempting to run the war themselves, and whose armchair general practices lead the Empire into blunder after blunder, and we can see exactly how the galaxy has come to this dreadful pass. Through the techings of the Praxis, everyone knows that one the tried and true ideas of old are worthwhile and practicable, and thus the tactical innovations practiced by Lord Martinez and Lady Sula are looked at with disdain as being one step short of heresy. It is interesting to watch as the political interplay unfolds in the story, and how the characters are treated by an Empire that should be very grateful to have their service.

I tore through these books very quickly, and that is a testament to how much I enjoyed them as well as the ease and accessability of the writing. Walter John Williams has done an excellent job, and I look forward to reading some of his other works when I have some more time.

Top Ten Disaster Scenarios

Whether it is plagues, giant asteroids, demons, alien weapons, nuclear war, or undead menace, the Apocalypse is never complete without its own special brand of horrible happenings. Over the years we have seen movies and books portray cataclysmic events in ever more interesting fashions, but still the method of our destruction remains pretty much confined to a few plausible choices.

10 - Alien Invasion - I think that most of us are picturing the incredibly ridiculous movie Independence Day on this one. It is not the only example of Aliens committing genocide and wiping out the human race, but it is one of the most prominent (and also the silliest in many respects). Say what you like, but this one is an all time favorite, and whether you are talking about The Arrival, Titan AE, or The Thing it all pretty much amounts to the end of the world if the aliens win. The problem is that no matter how advanced, smart, or powerful the aliens are, they will always be outwitted by the clever monkeys of Earth.

9 - Climate - OK, well, if you missed the movies The Core and The Day After Tomorrow, then you have yet to see the idea of ecological/climatological disasters at their finest. Though it is hard to convincingly see the idea of the planet itself as being the method of our destruction, many have posited this idea in fiction and in real life. Check out John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up for a good example in literature.

8 - Religion - Look out, here comes Jurgen Prochnow with the memos of the end times. Seriously, though, whether we are talking about Constantine, The Seventh Sign, or End of Days, the idea of biblical revelations has been a popular one in film and in print. Luckily for us, the gods have not yet decided to destroy the world, so Ragnarok is postponed for yet another day (sorry Thule Society).

7 - Outsiders and Beings of Madness - Call them what you like, but the Elder Gods scenario (much like the religious end of days scenario) has been one in many stories and films. From HP Lovecraft's work on the Cthulu mythos through movies like Hellboy, creatures from beyond the comprehension of many have always been a threat to the continued survival of mankind.

6 - Evolution - I am sure that the Neanderthals are laughing themselves silly over this one, but there have been a number of really great stories and TV shows about the evolution of humanity to its next step, and how that next step will eventually destroy modern man much as we destroyed the Neanderthals. My favorite example of this one is the TV show Prey which did not last anywhere near long enough to reach its cool prospective payout, but other good versions of this idea are things like X-Men, Firestarter, and Scanners (don't laugh).

5 - Frankenstein's Monsters - Man has a talent for inventing the method of his own destruction. Sometimes the destruction is more along the lines of a transhumanist concept, like the one in Netwon's Wake by Ken MacLeod, but more often it is something akin to the Terminator franchise. The issue here is, to quote from Jurrasic Park, "God creates dinosaurs, God kills dinosaurs, God creates man, man kills God, man creates dinosaurs..." "Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the Earth..." Killer robots, genetic experiments, and such will always be a staple of disaster stories.

4 - The Chain Reaction event - Much like the ecological and climatological stories, the Chain Reaction story relies on massive changes to the Earth usually brought about by things that are beyond our control. Unlike Climate-style disasters, Chain Reaction events are not the fault of humanity, but rather a more natural turn of events. Films of this type include such things as Sunlight, and similar themed movies and books.

3 - War - Although the Cold War is long over, the idea of war being the end of all life on Earth has still not disappeared from the collective unconscious. Although we are no longer balanced on the knife edge of mutually assured destruction, films like those in the Defcon series, as well as movies like The Day After, By Dawn's Early Light, and Failsafe still have a massive impact (just look at the TV series Jericho if you don't believe me).

2 - Meteors/Comets/Impact Events - These are always a lot of fun because in the long run there is really nothing we can do to stop a massive chunk of rock from hitting the Earth (assuming we even see it coming). Frankly my favorite of these films is Deep Impact which treats the subject seriously and works hard to make the story and the characters believable. Still, there is something to be said for the plethora of meteor disaster films.

1 - Plague - The Stand is but one of many stories that revolve around a world destroying plague. This idea has been around for a very long time, and will continue to have impact. Given disease scares like Avian Flu, Ebola, and others, the idea of the global pandemic is still topical and still really frightening. The long and the short of it is that this one is numero uno on the End of the World list because it will always be a potential problem, and is so common an occurance that it scares us all deeply.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Top Ten Post Apocalyptic Tales

I must again apologize for the delays, but unfort

March is here, and with it comes our Secret Conspiracies, Apocalypses, and End of the World Cults Month (just try fitting that on a placard). OK, so if the end of the world is nigh at hand, what happens next? After the world-shattering event there are going to be survivors, and so let us take a look at some of the best tales of 'after the bomb' living...

10 - Deathday/Earthrise by William C. Dietz - Remember the movie Independence Day? Well this series of novels posits a similar scenario with the simple correction that the aliens are not total morons (and that you cannot hack into an alien computer, even with Linux). The aliens wipe out 90% of the population of Earth and enslave the rest. It is a pretty brutal existence, but then again, what isn't.

9 - The Marked Man by Charles Ingrid - This is a story of life in California long after the Earth has been struck by a massive meteor. Humanity, well un-altered humanity anyway, was wiped out in the cataclysm, but a number of altered variant humans have survived, and some of these are trying to breed back real humans through natural selection. A brilliantly told story of a hardscrabble life that makes a whole lot of sense (after all, the most important location in the story is the Water Treatment Center in San Marin County).

8 - The Forge of God/Anvil of Stars by Greg Bear - An alien civilization does not like noisy neighbors, and sends self-replicating devices of supremely destructive power to wipe out life on Earth. This is a tough story because it involves two alien factions, one of which is trying to preserve as much of humanity as it can, and the other of which may (or may not) be long dead. The survivors, which the good aliens have planted on Mars, are forced to cope with the loss of billions of their people, and must send out a crew to bring justice to the aliens who wiped out their home world. This is a remarkable series on a number of levels, and really shows how tenacious children can be.

7 - I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - Well, there have been three movies that have totally missed the point of the book, but in the end it is this seminal tale of a lonely survivor in a vampire infested world that stands the test of time. Poor Robert Neville must learn to cope with days filled with emptiness and nights filled with horrible creatures that want to get him. This does not sound like fun.

6 - Dahlgren by Samuel R. Delaney - Often described (and decried) as one of the most difficult SF novels of all time, this particular tale of the time after Armageddon is a lyrical and bizarre story of characters trapped in an eternal now. Maybe. Actually, I am not entirely sure about that either... Anyway, it is a great book.

5 - Vellum/Ink by Hal Duncan - Surprisingly this series by Scottish newcomer Hal Doncan is as complicated and difficult as Dahlgren, but with a twist: you can actually understand what is going on. This series takes us through a semi-scientific and semi-supernatural apocalypse that leaves immortal super-beings strewn across the map of time like poorly squished roadkill. Beautifully written and combining stories from past, present, and future, this series will provide you with hours of discussion and thousands of questions.

4 - Eternity Road by Jack McDevitt - Much like the Marked Man series, this takes place in a far future, where the apocalypse is a distant memory. A group of scholars set out on the road to find a hidden library of knowledge from before the fall of man. These folks understand the idea of some of the mechanical innovations that came before (like submarines and cars), although they do not really comprehend how to make them work. There is a great scene in the story when a building's AI asks the explorers to kill it.

3 - The War Against the Chtorr by David Gerrold - When a series of nasty plagues wipe out most of the population of Earth, the survivors must try to band together to defeat an alien infestation that may have started the massive die-offs. In turns this series is strange and common, and it makes one really think about how man would cope in these situations. After all, it is hard enough dealing with the deaths of billions without the threat of being eaten by caterpillars the size of Volkswagens.

2 - A Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller - Set in the years after the nuclear war that almost destroyed mankind, a young Jewish engineer converts to Catholicism and starts a monastic order dedicated to the preservation of works of science and technology in a world gone suddenly luddite. The story follows characters over three time periods as man strives to fins a new way in the age after the Flame Deluge.

1 - The Stand by Steven King - And speaking of plagues, here is the granddaddy of all plague stories, with 95% of the population of the Earth dying from the 'Captain Tripps' version of the super flu. Good and evil duke it out between Boulder and Las Vegas, and life, as always, finds a way. Filled with suspense, action, and great characters, this is a classic of many genres.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Chapter 7 - Maiden Voyage

It didn't take me long to settle into the routines of the ship. After all, most ships are run in the same manner, it is only their tasks that are different. Over the next few days we prepared for an extended patrol, taking on provisions and some new crewmen, and I learned quickly the names that matched with the faces of officers and men.

After a week, a courrier arrived from Secretary Brill with orders. Allain managed to snag the poor fellow before he got to the capatin, who was curled up with his book on his bunk, and opened the orders without even bothering to consult with the old man. I smiled as we looked the document over.

"Hmm, seems simple enough. I guess the Secretary wants to test us on something simple to make sure we can work together," mused the young 2nd officer, "what do you think?"

Although I was well aware that this would not be the simple milk run it appeared, something in me wanted to reassure Allain and not unduly alarm him or the crew. I grinned and said, "Well, let's see if we can't show her what the best ship in the Free Cities can do. Mr. G'vaud'zshen, lay in a course for Miryor, we sail with the tide. Oh, and we need to get there as quickly as possible, so we will need to cut through the reefs."

Several of the sailors blanched at the thought, but none spoke up or commented, and with that, we embarked on one of the most unusual voyages that I have ever sailed upon.

Our orders were simple, make for Miryor with all due speed, and cut throgh the Wreckage Reefs. The reefs had always been a problem, there were a number of small islands concealed in the maze of reefs, and while some were innocent 'Tweener colonies, others were havens of pirates. Most ships avoided the reefs unless they were well armed, or had very good maps of the area. Of course the only folks with really good maps were pirates, so the possession of such charts could get you hung in some ports.

G'vaud'zshen beckoned to me from the chart table up near the tiller, and I walked across the aftcastle and climbed the stairs up to the poop deck. Allain did not follow, instead heading forward to begin the process of securing the ship for sailing. The burly Tulosh was poring over charts when I reached the main deck chart table. It always amazed me that the chart table was up on the deck instead of in the captain's quarters (where it was on most other ships), but this table had been ensorcelled by Saravoy himself and was proof against wind and weather. I had seen G'vaud'zshen leave the charts sitting on the table with no weights to hold them down during a windy day and the pages never even fluttered.

"You know that this is foolish, yes? We will be set upon the moment we enter the reefs, and the pirates will know the area far better than we. Our main advantage of speed will be negated."

I nodded slightly, but I was already coming up with a plan. "I am counting on it, old dog. Not to worry, I have a plan."

G'vaud'zshen grunted a chuckle, amused at my nickname for him. I had adopted it during our frequent games of narra in the officer's rack, and he seemed pleased that I took the time to find something less cumbersome than his true name.

"It seems like you say that every time you are losing at narra, so I will remain skeptical," retorted the navigator as he began to do the calculations that would enable us to sail with the tide in six hours.

I hurried back to the forecastle, hoping to catch Saravoy while he was on deck, and as luck would have it, the Ylvani Magus saw me coming and waited.

"I have the feeling that you are about to ask me to do something stupid. You have that look that humans get when they are about to ask a stupid question or demand an impossible action. So, what is it that you want me to do?"

"Well, it's fairly simple, really. In fact, it is so simple that I wouldn't bother you with it, but I needed it done right, so I came to you..."

The frost elf puffed up immediately at my knowledge of his obvious importance, and I seized the moment to ask my question. "I know that you have the ability to shape fire into usable constructions, so what I wanted to know is whether or not you can use your magical connection to fire to make the ship do something kind of like you did with the chart table on the poop deck."

Saravoy looked puzzled, and slowly responded, "How do you mean?"

"Well, you know how the chart table repels wind, rain, snow, and such?" he nodded, still confused, "I was wondering if you could make the hull of the March Harrier repel the reefs. This way we can still maneuver without fear of shoaling ourselves and damaging the hull."

I was pleased to note that the wizard found himself dumbstruck by the suggestion. His mouth worked slowly, as though he were chewing the problem, and he eventually replied, "I think... that might work. Basically, if I could enchant the keel it would push the ship away from any reefs in its path. The only real problem will momentum."

OK, now it was my turn to be confused, so I responded with a forthright question which beggared explanation from the wise mage, "Huh?"

The normal look of barely concealed condescencion clouded the Ylvani Yelin's face as he continued, "If the ship is going too fast and the keel tries to alter the course to avoid a reef, it will tear the ship apart. I think that i may have a better idea, though. Give me about ten hours and I can get it working."

"How will we know it works?" I asked incredulously.

"If we are drowning, then it failed, Arissa," barked the Ylvani in reply as he stomped off, down to the cargo area.

Several hours later we launched from our berth at the docks in Dahlon, and began to sail out of Saint Esta's Cove and into the seas that separated the various islands that were home to the Free Cities. Our maiden voyage had begun.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Top Ten Fantasy & Horror Couples

As this is the last week of Romance Month, I wanted to give one last Romance list. Today's list is a bit strange, relying on fantasy and horror more than Science Fiction. Here we have some great love affairs that could not be stopped, even by death, and a number of lovers whose attentions any young lady would shy from...

10 - Harry Dresden and Detective Karrin Murphy - Although Harry and Murphy have yet to discuss their true feelings for each other, it seems plenty obvious where their relationship is going. The problem that stands in the way of true love: a curse that Harry will 'Die alone'. Of course, Murphy would not be the first girlfriend of the Wizard Harry Dresden (she is proceeded by Elaine Mallory and Susan Rodriguez). Check out these books and follow the love affair from the beginning: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites, Dead Beat, Proven Guilty, White Knight, Small Favors.

9 - Robin of Loxley and Maid Marion - He is an altruistic Saxon noble who lost his lands and titles, she is a beautiful Norman Lady... well, at least in some versions of the story. Though there are many permutations of this story and these characters, it is in the various modern versions of this fantastic myth that has brought us the love affair between Robin Hood and his Maid Marion (original versions of the Robin Hood mythos had different women or none at all).

8 - Begarion of the House of Riva and Ce'Nedra Borune - When the Belgariad starts, young Garion is a farm boy with few, if any, talents to recommend him, but fate leads the boy to gather strange allies in the most unlikely of places to combat a great evil. One such ally is the daughter of the Tol Nedran Emperor (Ran Borune), and the love that grows between Ce'Nedra and young Garion, who later becomes Belgarion when his talent for magic is revealed, is as inevitable as the eventual defeat of Torak, god of the Angaraks, at Belgarion's hand.

7 - Gareth Radnor & the Lady Cosyra - Chris Bunch's stand-alone novel of piracy and the slave trade in a sweeping fantasy world features the unforgettable love affair between the Corsair Gareth Radnor, a man consume by the desire to destroy the Linyato Pirates, and the Lady Cosyra, who abandons a life of riches and privelege in order to help the man she loves on his dangerous quest. A wonderful story, by a master storyteller, Corsair shows us an unusual swashbuckling adventure and a love story that stands the test of time.

6 - Sookie Stackhouse & Bill Compton - Psychic Sookie Stackhouse is a waitress at a crummy diner in Louisiana when she meets the love of her life, Bill Compton. The only problem is that Bill is a Vampire who has recently moved back into local family estates now that the undead have moved out of the coffin and into the spotlight. Funny and engaging, it is great to watch the romance unfold with this truly odd couple (Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail, Definitely Dead, Altogether Dead, From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris).

5 - John Taylor & Suzie Shooter - The Nightside is alive and kicking, and the strange relationship between John Taylor and the infamous bounty hunter Suzie Shooter (sometimes known as Shotgun Suzie, and sometimes known as "Run for your life, it's her") is in full bloom. Though the sparks are there from their first meeting in Simon Green's Something From The Nightside, it isn't until later in the series that their love truly comes to fruition. Unfortunately, like everything else in the Nightside, the fruit of their love is bittersweet at best.

4 - Count Dracula & Mina Harker - Another classic couple, these lovers are the stuff that nightmares are made of. Count Dracula loves Mina Harker with all of his non-beating dead heart, and Mina returns that love right up until the end (when Quincy Morris kills the immortal vampire). No matter how many permutations or changes are made to the story, this couple is a definite stand out, no matter what others may say.

3 - Captain Khaavren of the House of Tiassa & Countess Daro of the House of Tiassa - These characters from Stephen Brust's incomparable Phoenix Guards series of books share a life and love set against the backdrop of cataclysmic tragedy and disaster. Khaavren, Captain of the Phoenix Guards under Emperor Tortaalik, first meets his future wife as she is being dismissed from service as the handmaiden of the Empress bare hours before the destruction of the capital city during Adron's disaster. As a retelling of the classic Dumas story of the Three Musketeers, these novels are wonderful in their style and content.

2 - Captains Hawk & Isobel Fisher (a.k.a. Prince Rupert & Princess Julia) - As guards in the city of Haven, this husband and wife team stand for truth, justice, and kicking the ever-loving snot out of villains. Investigators, enforcers, and Captains of the city guard, Hawk and Fisher are the best of the best, and they are given the worst of the worst assignments. From their introduction in the first novel of the Darkwood (Beyond the Blue Moon) as extra expendable Prince Rupert and the distressing damsel Princess Julia, this fantasy couple has cut a swath through their enemies and embraced their love time and again. Simon Green, master of fantasy and horror, gives us one of the best married detective series of all time.

1 - King Arthur & Queen Guenivere - The love of Arthur and Guinevere is epic in its scope, and even in the versions where Lancelot steps between them, their love is still incontrovertible. From The Morte D'Arthur to the modern Hollywood interpretations, Arthur and his young bride are the very definition of romance and love in fantasy.

Honorable Mentions: I am in love with a few romances that I did not get a chance to put in here, and will list them separately. I did want to draw attention to Jackie Kessler's characters of Jezebel, Paul, Daunuan, Lillith, and Lucifer. These are all great romantic characters as are many of the characters in the Anne Rice Vampire novels. The reason that they did not get listed is that there is so much romance and so many couples that it was hard to determine who to list and where.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Walk like a Ghost

Since is it still Romance Month, I will continue on with our theme of love with another review of a book we did recently for our Modern Masters discussion group, Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott.

This book is very hard to place in any one niche. It is modern fiction with supernatural elements, but has quantum physics, historical research, animal rights, chemistry, biography, murder, horror, and a great love story. It is such a strange blend of things that one hesitates to classify it as any one genre (which is why it is shelved under regular fiction).

The story of Ghostwalk is told as an open letter or journal of the main character (Lydia Brooke) to her lover (Cameron Vogelsang), and is basically an explanation of the events that lead up to the rather shocking ending of the story. What starts out as the research project of a lifetime turns into a haunted, bizarre story of a woman trying to survive in the face of some awful truths. What exactly does that mean, you ask. Well, I shall enlighten you.

Following the death of Elizabeth Vogelsang, an historian specializing in the late 17th century, Lydia Brooke is commissioned to finish Elizabeth's controversial biography of Sir Isaac Newton and his work as an alchemist. When she is approached by her ex-lover, Cameron, to do the ghostwriting that would allow the project to be completed, she sees it as a way to help her dead friend and (subconsciously) to get close to Cameron again. Though her friends counsel her against taking the job (fearing that the all-consuming relationship with the married man will resume), she does so anyway.

This all seems normal enough as things go, but as time passes, and Lydia becomes more and more engrossed in the narrative, things become stranger and stranger around her. Suddenly it seems as though the 17th century is intruding into the modern world, and the ghosts of the past are not some insubstantial things, but rather physical beings whose ominous threat pervades Lydia's whole life. Soon, a series a murders that Elizabeth had researched are being replicated in the modern time, and the idea of ghosts goes from uncomfortable fantasy to horrifying reality.

One thing that has struck me as exciting about this story is that it seeks to treat the idea of paranormal phenomena, specifically ghosts, in a very scientific way. The idea that 'ghosts' are nothing more than quantum paired observations that exist independent of time (i.e. they are linked by space and observation regardless of time) is intriguing to say the least, and the idea that a series of murders (that did happen and are speculated about by the Historical Societies interested in the period) could form a potent focus for observation makes the idea of 'living history' more and more of a frightening prospect.

As much as this story is a supernatural, occult, physics, and historical piece, though, it is primarily a romantic love story about two people who are so deeply obsessed with each other that their primal feelings overcome their own good sense. This unfortunate circumstance leads to the deeply tragic ending of the book, and the destruction of Lydia's personal life. At the end, Lydia is left with the knowledge of the truth, which is cold comfort for her sacrifices.

Brilliantly written and innovative, Ghostwalk is probably one of the most notable books of 2007.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Top Ten Science Fiction Romances

Romance Month continues with the SFSNNJ, and to continue to promote this fun and exciting topic. Today I will be listing the best romantic couples in the realms of Science Fiction. These are characters that define true love and romance, and show love in a new and exciting light.

10 - Staffa kar Therma & Chrysla - Trained to be the ultimate defender of his homeworld, and conditioned with psychological triggers, Staffa kar Therma was to be the greatest general of his day. That was, until he fell so in love with his psychological programmer, Chrysla. When he was told of her death, Staffa went mad and left his homeworld, eventually returning as a conqueror (Requiem for the Conqueror by W. Michael Gear & Kathleen O'Neil Gear). Unfortunately, Chrysla was not dead, and Staffa is told that he has killed her during the battle, precipitating another bloody rampage and a journey of self-discovery. Staffa and Chrysla's doomed love is all the more potent for the disasters it creates.

9 - Hilfy Chanur & Tully - Hilfy Chanur, neice of Pyanfar Chanur, Captain of the merchant vessel Chanur's Legacy fell in love with their human refugee, Tully, during their long captivity and torture at the hands of the vile Kif, Akkiktimakt. Though this love could never be requited (mainly due to the difference between the Human and Hani species) it was a source of much angst and anguish betwixt the two (Pride of Chanur, Chanur's Venture, Kif Strike Back, Chanur's Homecomingby C.J. Cherryh).

8 - Captain Laurent Zai & Nara Oxham - They say that opposites attract, and nowhere is that more evident than in the unlikely love affair between Capatin Laurent Zai and Nara Oxham in The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfeld. Although divided by all conceivable divides (politics, religion, and personality), their love flourishes and grows, even in the icy depths of Nara's Antarctic home.

7 - Phaethon Prime Rhadamanth & Daphne Tercius Semi-Radamanth - Driven mad by his love for Daphne, Phaethon is sentenced to having his memories redacted to such an extreme state that he can no longer be sure of who and what he is. In the end, he learns that his love for the real Daphne has been overshadowed by his love for a specially designed AI of Daphne, which is who he truly loves, though he thinks that it is the original that he fell in love with. A truly strange set of affairs. (The Gold Age, The Phoenix Exultant, The Golden Transcendance by John C. Wright)

6 - Han Solo & Leia Organa - The greatest romance in the Star Wars universe is that between Han and Leia (in spite of what people think, Anakin is a stalker and Padme is a co-dependant girlfriend). Even Carbon Freezing cannot keep these lovebirds apart, and their love stands as a testament of their times.

5 - Duncar Reever & Cherijo Grey Veil - No greater love hath a man than that he lay down his life for another, and in this series by S.L. Vielh we witness Duncan placing himself in harms way again, and again, and again, and again. This is especially impressive considering his wife is nearly immortal and regenerates faster than most people heal little scrapes and boo-boos. Romance oozes from the pages of this wonderful medical series. (Stardoc, Beyond Varellan, Shockball, etc.)

4 - Captain James T. Kirk & U.S.S. Enterprise - 'Nuff said. This one needs no explanations. No green princess or beautiful scientist will ever compete with Jim Kirk's love of his starship.

3 - Sauscony "Soz" Valdoria & Jaibriol II - When Catherine Asaro introduced us to this doomed couple in Primary Inversion, we knew that we were onto something special. Their love for each other transcended the bounds of war and hatred between their Empires and found unity in purpose and hope on a small backwater. One could only wish the best for them in spite of the obvious problems that they would encounter.

2 - Owen Deathstalker & Hazel D'ark - When a man loves a woman he does what he can for her whenever he can. Owen and Hazel have a great reciprocal relationship, and have saved each others' bacon more times than anyone could keep track of. The problem is that when Hazel believes Owen to have died, she uses her maze enhanced super-powers to begin the destruction of the universe becoming... Well, that is a story for another time. (Deathstalker, Deathstalker Rebellion, Deathstalker War, Deathstalker Honor, Deathstalker Destiny, Deathstalker Legacy, Deathstalker Return, Deathstalker Coda by Simon R. Green)

1 - Paul 'Muad'dib' Atreides & Chani Liet-Kynes - Another couple that needs no introduction: Paul and Chani are the clock by which Science Fiction romances are set. Dune by Frank Herbert showed us a love that pushed the boundaries of space and time, and would only come to be tested and resolved over and over again.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Da Gears

OK, so this in keeping with this month's theme of Romance in Science Fiction, Tripping the Write Fantastic will be covering the works of the notable writing couple of W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neil Gear. As a prelude and preview for next weeks discussion, I have decided to spend some time here on the blog reviewing some of my favorite books by the Gears.

The Anasazi Mysteries: Although not, strictly speaking, science fiction or fantasy, this series is notable as a magnificent mystery told in two different parts. That's right, there are actually two concurrent mysteries going on in each of the books, one ancient and one modern, as archeologists Dusty Stewart and Maureen Cole unearth relic of the past and try to make sense of a horror story unfolding before their eyes. Meanwhile, 800 years before, Catkin, Browser, and Stone Ghost try to unravel the fresh mystery of bad spirits and murder in their tribe. Brilliant work all around, with a heart stopping climax in The Summoning God.

Forbidden Borders: This trilogy of stories opens an obviously far future humanity that is trapped in a rather limited section of space. Walled off by strange super-beings, these humans have fought war after war until only two super-powers and one major mercenary commander remain. The series is amazing in its scope and detail, and was the first set of Gear books I ever read. To this day it remains a favorite.

Starstrike: The nations of a pitiful backwater planet called Earth find themselves drafted by pacifistic aliens to fight an aggressive foewho apparently does not know that war is about to be declared on them. Every nation must send its best unit to work together with the Ahimsa to end the threat. Though the political scene is admittedly dated, it is still a fun story, and, for those of us who were alive at the time, will recall us to the height of the Cold War and its paranoia.

People of Spider: OK, now imagine a future where most of humanity lives either on Space Stations or Planets. Now imagine that the space stations are ruled by Managers, vastly powerful space-adapted humans with immense brain power capable of running the star-spanning space empire. Now imagine that they run into spiritual psychics descended from Navajo who were stranded on a small world by the last prison ships of the Soviet Empire of the 21st Century. Fun, huh? It gets better, and weirder.

These are a few of my favorite series by the Gears, and I hope that you pick them up and enjoy them too!