The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus: A Lis Carey Review

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The Voices of Martyrs by Maurice Broaddus
Rosarium Publishing, ISBN 9780996769259, February 2017

By Lis Carey: One of the fun things about reviewing books is that you can be offered a book for review that you might never have noticed on your own. For me, this is one such book.

It’s a collection of short stories with settings ranging from ancient Africa to the slave trade, to the Jim Crow era in the US to alternate histories and the far future. Some are clearly science fiction or fantasy, while others have the barest possible fantastic content. Even those with little to no fantastic content, though, are written from s background and viewpoint that is outside my cultural background or usual reading experience. It’s as challenging as any “unknown world” in science fiction, the more so because of the knowledge that it reflects the experience and cultural background of someone really living in the same world I do, and living that alien life here.

The protagonists here are men and women, young and old. There’s even one white viewpoint character–the captain of a slave ship, who expects to make his fortune on his one distasteful journey, and go back home to his wife and child. There’s a woman cast out from her tribe, but determined to right one terrible wrong. A woman becomes a soldier in the service of a new imperialism, and a young man who thinks he’s just out for his weekly night on the town, who discovers he’s destined for something much more momentous, and so is the music he loves. The settings feel real and palpable, and if the characters are not people I know, they certainly feel like characters Broaddus knows.

This isn’t a collection to be rushed through; it’s best savored more slowly and thoughtfully. But read it you definitely should.

Highly recommended.

 

Filer Review: Meditations on James Gunn’s Transcendental and Transgalactic

Transcendental (2013) and Transgalactic (2016), by James Gunn

By JJ: One of my favorite types of stories is the galaxy-spanning, epic space opera with strong character development — and a good mystery pretty much seals the deal for me. So the synopsis for Transcendental pretty much had me at “Hello”.

The book opens in a dingy spaceport on a remote, forsaken planet a thousand years from now. Humanity, when it finally developed the technology to travel to the stars, discovered that the space beyond their solar system was already amply populated with numerous alien races who had forged a peaceful Galactic Federation — with little room for human expansion. The appearance of violent, territorial, and acquisitive humans was perceived as a threat to the rest of the galaxy, and a bitter war was fought which finally ended in an uneasy truce, with humans joining the Federation.

All races have both societal and personal “pedias”, devices with encyclopedic knowledge to which they refer constantly. The high-level societal pedias have taken over most of the basic manual labor tasks, as well as all of the intensive calculations required to run technological devices. Personal pedias provide a constant source of up-to-date information which assists individuals in decision-making. Beings from all races have come to depend on these artificial intelligences, and do not question or doubt the competency or benign intent of their AIs.

Riley, a special-ops soldier during the war, is now at loose ends; he no longer has the excitement-and-danger-driven purpose that he craves. He, along with numerous other aliens, is here in the spaceport to board a ship which is to set out on a pilgrimage. Rumors have been flying around the galaxy about a Transcendental Machine — a technology by an ancient race purported to transform beings who enter it into vastly-enhanced, elevated, and powerful versions of their previous selves. It sounds ridiculous — but the stories swirling around the Federation of a “Prophet”, someone who actually went through the transcendence process, are so convincing that many people have decided it’s worth risking everything to find out whether the stories are true.

But Riley has a secret: he’s been provided with an augmented personal pedia with special powers to read information about the people around him, and paid an exorbitant amount by a mysterious employer to serve as a spy on the pilgrimage ship — to determine which of the other passengers is the Prophet, to kill them, and to destroy the Transcendental Machine. Such a device, if it exists, would enable the race possessing it to enhance their abilities and tip the balance of galactic power in their favour. So each race has a strong motivation to attempt to gain the device for themselves — or if that proves impossible, to destroy it so that no other race gains the advantage.

Once aboard the ship, the passengers discover that they are entrusting their lives to a poorly-maintained, unreliable ex-warship — with a crew that seems strangely even less capable than the pilgrims. And it becomes clear that Riley is not the only one on the ship who is hiding a secret, and that there may be several different outside agencies attempting to control or destroy the ship.

Spaced throughout the action in both books are Canterbury Tales-ian interludes in which various human and alien characters talk about their lives, their species, and the history of their race in terms of the Galactic Federation. Action junkies may find these interludes disruptive to the flow and pacing of the story; however, I found them quite interesting and engrossing. The author has put a lot of thought and imagination into the worldbuilding — not just of the alien races, but also of what might have been the human history of the next thousand years.

The science underlying both the basic and the more fantastical concepts in the book seems fairly solid to me. A professional physicist, engineer or astroscientist might find flaws in the scientific worldbuilding — but I found it realistic enough that I was able to suspend disbelief and just roll with the story.

The second novel, Transgalactic, picks up where the first left off — with some new mysteries, and a new storyline rather than a rehashing of the first book. Immediately after reading each of these books, I felt really satisfied — despite the fact that each ends with storylines ripe for future development. This is something I can only say about around half of the novels I read — so it is no small achievement for a book to attain that status.

I wish very much that I had read Transcendental back in 2013 — if I had, it would have been on my Hugo nominating ballot along with Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Robert Charles Wilson’s Burning Paradise, Philip Mann’s The Disestablishment of Paradise, and Ramez Naam’s Nexus (I didn’t read Linda Nagata’s The Red: First Light or Anne Charnock’s A Calculated Life until 2014, or they would have been vying for a place in that lineup as well).

I don’t think that Transgalactic is quite as strong on its own as its predecessor; however, it is still very good, and it is going on my Hugo nomination longlist for now.

You can read an excerpt of Transcendental here, and an excerpt of Transgalactic here.

Meet Carl Slaughter

The prolific Carl Slaughter is bringing his love of books and interest in their authors to File 770. (Your TBR pile is fated to grow!) His first interview, “Steve Bein Tells the Origin of the Fated Blades”, posts tonight.

Carl Slaughter has a degree in journalism and radio/tv.  For several years, he was editor of ESL Book Review. He was a stringer for the Associated Press.

He wrote many reviews for Tangent before moving to Diabolical Plots as a reviewer and later an interviewer. He conducted 50 plus interviews for Diabolical Plots before moving to SF Signal. He contributed 70 plus interviews and features for SF Signal.  He developed new features for SF Signal, such as author, book, and series profiles.

For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) in 6 counties on 3 continents. Carl has traveled to 18 countries and counting. (He’s tired.) His essay on Chinese culture was published in Beijing Review. His essay on Korean culture was published in The Korea Times, as was his expose on the Korean ESL industry. His travel/education reports about Thailand occasionally appear on the Ajarn website.

Review of Glen Weldon’s “The Caped Crusade”

the-caped-crusade-9781476756691_lgBy Martin Morse Wooster: It’s a Saturday afternoon, and you’ve just finished watching Batman v. Superman.  You’ve watched 2 ½ hours of punching, kicking, explosions, crushing, and snarling—lots and lots of snarling.

The music of Junker XL throbs through your brain like a migraine, and you hope that for the Justice League movie, Zack Snyder would choose someone more soothing—Junker L, perhaps.

Your brain is filled with questions. For example:  Bruce Wayne can have stubble, because, well, he’s a billionaire, and he can dress any way he wants.  But why can’t Alfred look professional?  Did Zack Snyder go to Jesse Eisenberg and say, “I loved your work as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.  Now give us the insane version.”

You sit through the credits and there’s a special set of acknowledgments—Mort Weisinger. Gardner Fox.  Len Wein.  You ask:  Who are these guys?[1]

In The Caped Crusade, Glen Weldon will tell you.

Weldon, who writes and comments about comics a lot and who has previously written a book about Superman, has written an entertaining and very readable history of Batman. If you want to know more about Batman’s history, this is a good book.

It should be noted that Weldon is gay, and loves to speculate about the decades when Batman was gay and the decades when he was really gay.  He also very much enjoys a typo in  the 1940 comic that introduced Robin that gays will find hilarious but which I won’t repeat because, well, it’s his joke.

But Weldon’s assignment is to tell Batman’s history, and this he does very well. He explains that Batman is a “nonpowered super hero,” the one comic book character people can daydream about being.  He also shows that the creation of Batman was a collective effort.

Bob Kane argued that he created Batman by himself, but Weldon shows that many comic book writers and artists added their part.  Bill Finger was the most important collaborator, designing Batman’s uniform (dark, to make him a creature of the night), and, most importantly, writing the issue of Detective Comics which shows the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and young Bruce Wayne’s vow to spend his life “warring on all criminals.”  Gardner Fox (who also wrote a lot of heroic fantasy) created much of the Gothic background of Gotham City.  While Bob Kane thought up the idea of a boy sidekick for Batman, it was Jerry Robinson who named him Robin the Boy Wonder, because as a child Robinson loved N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations for Robin Hood.  Finally, National Comics editor Whit Ellsworth decreed that Batman would never use a gun.

But despite this collective effort, Bob Kane’s supremacy still lingers: while Superman is officially credited to “Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,” the Batman credit, for what I am told are complicated legal reasons, is “Bob Kane with Bill Finger.”

Weldon carefully shows Batman’s continuing evolution. Batman is the one DC superhero besides Superman to be drawn continuously for 75 years.  Most DC superheroes were suspended in between the late 1940s and 1956 in favor of sf adventure stories.  Batman in the 1950s fought robots and aliens, accompanied by Ace the Bat-Hound and Mogo the Bat-Ape.  Most of these sf elements were discarded by 1960.

In the comic books, Weldon shows Batman’s evolution. In the 1970s, the books produced by Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil reintroduced the darkness of the classic Batman.  Many comic book fans consider the Adams/O’Neil period the best Batman series.  In the 1980s and 1990s Frank Miller made Batman nasty.  Finally, between 2006-09, Grant Morrison had a “massive, slowly unfolding, meta-mega narrative” in which all of Batman’s adventures, including his ones where his battles with the Bat-Mite and the ones where he teleported to distant planets, were all true.

Weldon spends about half of his book discussing Batman on television and the movies. He credits four actors with excellent work in Batman films and TV shows.

The 1960s Batman TV series, he thinks, works primarily because of the voice work of Adam West.  Go to YouTube and look at Adam West and Lyle Waggoner’s screen tests and you’ll see that West has the rare skill of being authoritative and goofy simultaneously.  That’s a very rare skill—Leslie Nielsen and Patrick Warburton can do it, and I can’t think of anyone else.  But West’s excellent voice skill is the reason why, in his eighties, Seth Macfarlane gives West plenty of work on Family Guy.

In Weldon’s view, the 1990’s cartoon show Batman: The Animated Series is the best version of Batman ever.  The reason, he believes, is the voice work of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker.

Finally, Weldon says that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight was a “unique and unforgettable cinematic creation” thanks to “Ledger’s tiny , highly specific choices.”  Most of the time the Joker is the ultimate extrovert, who proves the timeless rule that clowns are always laughing on the outside and crying on the inside.  Ledger makes the Joker as an introvert, and subtly conveys that everything the Joker says is a lie.  Weldon thinks Ledger’s Oscar was well deserved.

The subtitle of The Caped Crusade is “Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture,” and Weldon discusses fandom at length.  In the 1960s the producers of the Batman TV series courted the editors of comics fanzines, telling them that many of the scripts for early episodes (but not later ones) came from the comic books.  Fannish pummeling of Joel Schumacher’s egregious Batman and Robin (1997) made Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News one of the web’s first superstars.  Weldon’s discussion of this period reminds me of a joke I once heard—that the most terrifying words in the English language were “a film by Joel Schumacher.”  Today, fans interact with Batman in all sorts of ways, including cosplay and fan fiction.

The Caped Crusade is a well-written, highly entertaining look at Batman which I very much enjoyed reading.

[1] Mort Weisinger, who sold sf fiction in the 1930s and was editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories between 1936-41, was editor of the Batman comics in the 1940s and 1950s.  Len Wein wrote Batman between 1979-86, when he introduced Lucius Fox (played by Morgan Freeman in the Christopher Nolan Batman films) as Batman’s first black character.

Benford Reviews Bandersnatch

Bandersnatch coverBandersnatch: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings by Diana Pavlac Glyer, illustrations by James A. Owen (Kent State University Press, 2016)

By Gregory Benford: I recommend this excellent study, from which I learned much: about the Inklings, and how creative intersections fuel greatness. I can’t think of any depiction of group inspiration that makes it point so specifically, citing text, and so well. How unpredictable a collective of agreeable creators can be! I’d never have guessed that C.S. Lewis and Tolkien began writing their great series of novels—Out of the Silent Planet etc; Lord of the Rings etc) on a resolve to both write imaginative adventure, and decided on subject (space travel vs time travel) on the toss of a coin! What if it had gone the other way?

Bandersnatch’s more valuable lesson is showing in detail the way the writing community of Inklings worked in a range of ways, encouraging but not getting into critical derogation. Writers might well extrapolate from that to get more from their own creative communities, workshops and even online groups.

Albatross by MacAvoy and Palmer: A Lis Carey Review

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Albatross by R.A. MacAvoy and Nancy Palmer.

Sanachie Press, ISBN 2940157997915, February 2016

By Lis Carey: Dr. Rob MacAuley is a brilliant physicist from the Outer Hebrides. He’s also on the run, convicted in absentia of terrorism and murder. It’s an absurd charge against a gentle and largely apolitical man, but it’s a symptom of a Britain grown ever more paranoid, that has split from the EU at a cost its leadership could have calculated but didn’t, and where the Scottish Parliament was dissolved eighteen months ago.

Rob is, through no fault of his own, a figurehead, or perhaps mascot would be a better word, of the Scottish Separatist movement.

Oh, and he has this odd thing he does, when startled or alarmed, that he calls “flinching,” and that someone else might call moving from one spot to another without crossing the intervening distance.

Thomas Heddiman, American, machine intelligence specialist, anti-human trafficking activist, and karate expert, has a whole different set of problems. He’s currently volunteering his services to the Edinburgh police for reasons not apparent to those he’s working with.

Their paths are about to cross in a most unexpected way, in a Britain growing increasingly dark.

Thomas is very close-mouthed about what his real purpose is. Rob is sending letters under false names to physicists all over the world, asking questions that he hopes will nudge them toward the same breakthrough he’s made. He doesn’t want to be the only one who has the ability to publish and share his Unity Theory, so that it at least can’t become a weapon for just one power.

This is an engaging and challenging book, with diverse and fascinating characters. The time is just about a quarter century in the future, and it’s a recognizable but different world.

Those who fondly remember Tea With the Black Dragon will find some themes in common, but they are very different books. If one insists on placing it in a genre category, it’s fantasy.

I should probably admit, in a spirit of full disclosure, that I feel that R.A. MacAvoy hasn’t written nearly enough. I’m not previously familiar with Nancy Palmer, but regardless of any other contribution she made, another MacAvoy novel is something to be grateful for.

Go read it; you won’t regret it.

I received a free electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Non-Spoiler Reassurance About “The Dark Knight III”

DK3_MR_1_variant_MillerBy Daniel Dern: For comic book fans who were concerned that The Dark Knight III: The Master Race — Frank Miller & Brian Azzarello’s 8-part comic book/graphic novel follow-up to Miller’s graphic novels The Dark Knight Returns (“TDKR”) and its sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again — would somehow involve Nazis, I can happily report that Issue 2 (which came out this week) seems to point strongly to that not being the case, with another likely candidate for that title-starring position.

DK3-CVR-comps-KubertD-d895a-600x923(If you haven’t read tDKR and tDKSA, it’s worthwhile doing that first. Not essential, but helpful.)

Of course, it’s not impossible. But I think it very unlikely. (Remember, this is DC, not Marvel, so at least we shouldn’t have to worry about the Red Skull putting in his oar. OTOH, it’s not unfinessable.)

That said, I’m two issues in, I’m happy so far.

(At $5.99 each, I’ll respect people who want to wait until it’s done, and out in trade paperback, and then borrow it from their library.)

For Further Consideration…

The Furry Future cover COMPThe Furry Future: 19 Possible Prognostications; Edited by Fred Patten, Fur Planet Productions, January 2015; trade paperback $19.95 (445 pages). Retails on Amazon for $17.56, but the Kindle edition is $8 even.

Review by Taral Wayne: What is a book?  That question seems either too elementary or too profound to be answered by me.  Nevertheless, the question cannot be evaded while trying to review this particular book.

Its editor, Fred Patten, sent it to me for a review.  Fred has about as many oars in the water as the average trireme, and furry fandom is only one of those small ponds into which Fred puts his greatest effort.  He has edited and published five or six books along the same lines as The Furry Future, as well as on other subjects.

Is The Furry Future a book?  Well, it was published …

But what is a book?  To my knowledge, Fred’s books are either very-small-press publications, or printed “on demand” through Amazon or Lulu, and as such, I suspect, only reach a microscopic niche audience.  Modern desktop publishing has been hailed as a democratic revolution in literature … but it has also been condemned as a breakdown in a well-tested system that judged material on its merits before it was made available to the public.  Now anyone can publish a book.  Anyone can be an author.  Having a book in print may now not mean a heck of a lot.

On the whole, though, I found the stories more professional than I expected.  There were one or two dogs … and in one case I mean that literally.  That particular story said much about the author that I had already suspected, and was not at all pleased to see confirmed in print.  Other stories were mere wish-fulfillment fantasies.  As well, human intolerance toward “furries” appeared repeatedly, rendering it a mere cliché.  But three or four of the stories actually seemed to have reached a professional level.

There are 19 stories, written by 19 different authors.  It is not very clear where the stories are from – I presume they are collected from a variety of sources of fan fiction, but perhaps some were written especially for this anthology. They have at least one thing in common: some or all of the characters in these stories are anthropomorphic.  They run the gamut from talking cartoons to genetically spliced hybrids.  Technically, The Furry Future is a theme anthology, no different from collections on the theme of exploring the planet Jupiter, or if the Confederacy had won the American Civil War.  But where other theme anthologies explore different facets of science fiction or fantasy, The Furry Future is not aimed at the average science fiction or fantasy reader, but at a tiny niche audience called “furry fandom.”

I don’t think it has much purpose beyond preaching to the choir.

Each story dwells on one rationale or another for why the future must contain talking animal-people, without much benefit of logic.  Why are animal hybrids always better than ordinary humans, for instance?  Does not the superior olfactory sense of a dog also come with impaired colour vision, for instance?  And why do dog people not sniff their environment – and each other – in a manner we mere Hominins would find distracting … if not downright revolting?  Would it not make more sense to simply graft the gene for better hearing and smell into the human genome, without also cursing the offspring with tails, fur and muzzles?  Or, if it is cheap labour that is the justification for engineering animal-people, why would it be necessary to breed so many different species of them, and not just one?

Most of these stories were, in fact, constructed around the anthropomorphic idea … anthropomorphism is a given, not to be questioned and does not develop naturally from the story.   This is so much the case that one or two of the stories reduce to little more than big expository lumps, arguing the inevitability of “furries.”

“A Bedsheet for a Cape,” by Nathanael Gass, for instance, took a very unusual angle on the subject that I would spoil if I revealed too much about it.

“Trinka and the Robot,” by Ocean Tigrox also stood out, I thought, as did “Lunar Cavity,” by Mary E. Lowd.   Curiously, both were very much like any SF story I might have found in Amazing or Fantastic in the late 1950s or early ‘60s.  “Lunar Cavity,” in fact, was about an extraterrestrial race … and as such, I would argue falls outside the bounds of this anthology!

“The Darkness of Dead Stars,” by Dwale also would not have seemed out of place in a 1961 issue of Galaxy.

“Field Research,” by M.C.A. Hogarth, began well but seemed to lose its way, and came to a weaker ending than I thought it deserved.

“The Curators,” by T.S. McNally, also might have been a fine story but for a weak ending.

I did, in fact, make notes on each story as I read it.  But nineteen is a lot of stories to recall in detail, even with notes, so I was sure from the start that I was not going to review every story individually.  Instead, I would meditate on larger ideas.

One of those ideas is about the nature of published fiction.

Why is it that stories that would have been perfectly at home in a professional SF magazine in 1962 probably could not be sold to a prozine today?  Make no mistake about it … although some of the stories in The Furry Future were written well enough for publication by the standards of 1962, I doubt very much they would find a home in any of 2015’s limited number of paying markets.

I wondered long about why this should be – was it a mere prejudice against “furry” stories?  No doubt the signal from The Furry Future is geeky enough to deter almost any slush-pile reader.  But, as I noted, some of the stories entirely lack the obsessive quality of most anthropomorphic fan fiction, so they must be noncommercial for some other reason.  Far more likely, it is precisely because the stories would be so at home in a 1962 prozine.

To generalize, these are stories of asteroid miners, holstered blasters, sub-space and starships.  Even when there is up-to-date computer science involved, they just feel old-fashioned.  But the science fiction genre has moved on in the last 50 years, and not just stylistically.  The genre has left those ideas behind and occupies a more nuanced space.  For the printed word, a different vision of what the future might bring is in fashion.  There’s no going back.

Unless, of course, you resort to Lulu or Amazon to print it for you.  In this brave new world of democratic literature, anyone can be a publisher or writer.  That is no guarantee that anyone else will ever read your words, however.

Should you take The Furry Future seriously enough to buy and read it?  In good conscience, I can’t really say, “yes” … but not altogether “no,” either.  If you are a furry fan, you will find much to enjoy in the collection … much that even deserves to be enjoyed.  I hope that all such readers give serious thought to buying a copy.  But if you are like most readers of modern science fiction and fantasy, you will quickly grow tired of stories about talking-animal people who have so little original to say about anything but their own anthropomorphism.  These modern readers can find an almost infinite number of more suitable books to read, and shouldn’t waste their time on The Furry Future. 

Perhaps they should re-read a Cordwainer Smith collection containing “The Ballad of Lost C’Mell” instead.  For that matter, it would be a good idea if furry readers also did just that.

451 at 60

451 cover

The true first edition is this paperback.

By John King Tarpinian: October 19, 1953. On this day in history one of the most read science fiction novels was published. One of the few, if not only, novels of sci-fi on the majority of middle and high school reading lists.

Fahrenheit 451 is one of three books that as a young man made me think about stuff outside of my comfortable life. The other two were Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun and Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. The three making up a trio of books that woke up my little brain.

Fahrenheit 451 was made into a movie by the French director, François Truffaut. It was his first movie in color and his only English-language film. Remember the French guy in Close Encounters of the Third Kind?  That was Truffaut.

Flatscreen TVs were in this book. Bluetooth was in this book. Most people know that Ray never drove a car, remember that in the book Clarisse was killed by a speeding car. Montag was a brand of paper; Faber was a brand of pencil. Beatty was named for the lion tamer, Clyde Beatty.

Bradbury’s book rails against censorship, in any form.

Lastly, Ray’s headstone reads “Author of Fahrenheit 451.”

(Use this link to see a parade of Fahrenheit 451 book covers from over the years.)

Critical Cat

There are bloggers who regularly publish photos of the piles of new books they’ve been sent for review. I once did it myself.

Something I’ve always assumed is that no one would display their freebies in a way that might discourage publishers from sending more. The iconoclastic Nalini Haynes must feel differently.

She titled a post “Cat pissing contest: Items received recently” and filled it with photos of her cat posed beside stacks of new books. One photo has this caption:

I guess putting her scent on the loot takes higher priority. Is this a cat’s version of a pissing contest?

Ewwww…