Saturday, October 31, 2015

Book Blogger Hop, Halloween Edition October 30th - November 5th: The Fiat 127 Was One of the First Modern Supermini Cars

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: If you could give away books instead of candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween Night, what would the titles be?

I think I would give out some books that might be a little obscure, so as to introduce trick or treaters to some stuff that they might not have already read before. I'd give away copies of John Bellairs books, starting with volumes from his Johnny Dixon and Professor Childermass series like The Curse of the Blue Figurine, and  The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt. Then I would move on to the books featuring Lewis Barnaveldt and Rose Rita Pottinger such as The House with a Clock in Its Walls and The Figure in the Shadows. Finally, I would give away copies of the Anthony Monday series, starting with The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn.

If I ran out of Bellairs books to give away, I might switch to handing out copies of books from Charles Gilman's Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series such as Slither Sisters or Substitute Creature.

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Friday, October 30, 2015

Follow Friday - The Giant Panda Mei Xiang Weighs About 233 Pounds

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Kayl's Krazy Obsession and Confuzzled Books.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: What are your favorite books that have been made into a movie?

I have seen many of my favorite books made into movies. The only trouble is, many of my favorite books have been made into pretty bad movies. For example, I love Frank Herbert's Dune, but the Dino de Laurentis film adaptation of the movie is really not very good, and even though I like the mini-series adaptation, it isn't a movie and has some pretty noticeable flaws as well. I also like Robert A. Heinlein's book Starship Troopers, but the Paul Veerhooven adaptation of the book is simply atrocious. Tolkien's Hobbit is a fantastic book, and yet Peter Jackson managed to turn it into not one, but three really terrible and tedious movies (although I am quite fond of the Rankin-Bass animated adaptation of that same book). And so on. One of the down sides to being a science fiction and fantasy fan is that if someone makes a movie out of a book you love, there is a pretty decent chance that it will be a fairly bad movie.

This rule isn't universal - there have been some movies made out of fantasy or science fiction books that have been good. Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games series has been adapted into a pretty good series of films, and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books have been adapted quite ably into movies. I suppose my best-loved book that has been adapted reasonably well for the big screen is the Lord of the Rings. I have some issues with the three films that Peter Jackson made out of the trilogy, but on the whole it is a decent retelling of the story. I am also partial to the PBS made for television movie that adapted Ursula K. Le Guin's book The Lathe of Heaven, but I seem to be in a fairly small minority on that opinion.

Subsequent Follow Friday: Cato the Elder Was Born in 234 B.C.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review - All-New Invaders, Volume 3: The Martians Are Coming by James Robinson, Steve Pugh, and Marc Laming

Short review: The Invaders must deal with Hammond's madness while Tanalth and Makkari meet in secret. Iron Cross calls upon her allies to deal with some neo-Nazis and then the Inhumans turn everything into a family squabble.

Old Martian menace
Two enemies meet in secret
Let's fight some Nazis!

Full review: The Martians Are Coming is the third and final volume in the All-New Invaders series, closing off some of the story lines, giving answers to a few of the mysteries, but also leaving numerous plot points open as well as a pile of unanswered questions. As happened with Original Sin, the story in this volume suffers somewhat due to the reliance on events that took place in other Marvel properties that are only described in passing. On the other hand, this volume delves even deeper into Marvel history, referencing not only heroes from Marvel's World War II era, but going back further to feature heroes from Marvel's World War I era. The central problem with this volume is that it serves mostly as exposition, laying the foundation for a payoff to come in some future book that is not part of this series.

The volume opens with the Invaders dealing with the fallout of their confrontation with the disguised Martian Dagmar in Original Sin, chasing an enraged and apparently insane Jim Hammond about the globe trying to find and help the wayward Human Torch. This team, which includes the original members, but also adds the German hero Iron Cross and the Japanese heroine Radiance, presents the reader with a much more international group that seems to symbolize the transition of the former Axis powers from enemies of the United States to allies. The one other substantial change to the Invaders is Steve Rogers, who has aged and seemingly lost his powers - but this critical development takes place outside the scope of this series. When a reader of the All-New Invaders saw Steve Rogers he was a hale and hearty Captain America fighting Deathloks and Martians, giving metaphorical soldierly fist-bumps with Colonel Manning, and standing guard over Toro's cocoon-like pod. By contrast, the first time he shows up in The Martians Are Coming he is a grey-haired man who speaks through a view screen because he is too frail to actually come on the mission. For anyone who has not read the other Marvel titles in which this transition took place, this is likely to be at least a little bit jarring.

Soon the book turns to the strength of the series with a flashback to World War I in which Union Jack, Sir Steel, Iron Fist, the Crimson Cavalier, and the Phantom Eagle confront an unexpected menace in London: The Martians that the title of the book warns are coming seem to have actually arrived in 1917. The group, known as Freedom's Five, are interrupted while planning an attack on Ursula Frankenstein's castle while having dinner at Union Jack's gentleman's club and have to face the defend the city's terrified citizenry from the invading aliens. The battle is tense until unexpected help arrives that seems a little bit like a deus ex machina, and after the aliens are put on the run, the help vanishes as quickly and as mysteriously as it arrived. This sequence the reveals that this account is being read years later by the Union Jack's successor as well as Spitfire and the Mighty Destroyer who are seeking information about the Martian attack they recently fended off, an encounter that was teased in the last pages of the previous volume. This leads to yet another surprise revelation as the Winter Soldier shows up with Killraven, a veteran of the fight against the Martians.

At this point the story bogs down a bit as the scene shifts to deep space where Tanalth the Pursuer of the Kree Empire is secretly meeting with Makkari of the Eternals on an ancient play board used by a long extinct and forgotten race of space titans. This meeting is ostensibly so that Makkari and Tanalth can exchange information, as they both have the vague uneasy feeling that their respective realms are threatened in some way, but it turns into little more than extended expository infodumps, and in some cases redundant infodumps as the pair pass along information that the reader already knows. In a bizarre twist, they also pass along exposition that is reliant on material not in this particular series, managing the somewhat dubious accomplishment of providing the reader with information they already have and information that is handed over without any context at all. This entire section of the book is essentially the price one pays for reading a story set in the Marvel universe, as it serves basically no purpose other than to sum up the state of the story and provide some groundwork for plot points that will pay off in some entirely different series put out by the publisher in the future. In the end, this portion of the book ends with a brief fight and then a whimper as the two wary almost-allies part ways after essentially saying "let's keep in touch".

It is somewhat odd to follow-up a sequence that serves to deposit a pile of exposition on the reader with another sequence that, in large part, does much the same thing, and yet that is what this book does, moving on to a conversation between Hammond and Toro as they update the reader on Toro's status and engage in some brief but fairly critical character development for Hammond that highlights just how alienated from humanity he feels as a result of being an android. The sequence is intercut with a scene of Iron Cross fighting a neo-Nazi super-villain named Uber Alles, leading eventually to a climatic scene in which the Invaders, including Radiance and Toro but not the Winter Soldier, come to her aid. This sequence also shows Sam Wilson in his new role as the new Captain America, a development that was kind of given away by his appearance in the costume on the cover of the volume. This fight is extremely convoluted, as first the Invaders arrive, Toro's Inhuman nature manifests itself, the Inhuman renegade Lash arrives to try to persuade Iron Cross, Toro, and Uber Alles to join his cause, and finally the Inhuman Royal House under Medusa's command shows up to oppose Lash.

The final battle is interspersed with a conversation between Rogers, Hammond, and Namor on a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, as they more or less club the reader over the head by expounding on the significance of the events of the conflict. On one level this sequence is touching, as we see what amounts to three veteran soldiers catching up with one another. On another level this sequence is tragic, as it highlights just how circumstance has excluded the Winter Soldier is from the cadre of friends that he should rightfully be able to be with. And on yet another level this sequence is clumsy and ham-fisted, as it mostly amounts to one character asking "What happened to this person who isn't here", and then another tossing out a brief update on their status. The whole conversation ends with a long speech by Rogers as he more or less sums up the unresolved plot points of the series and says that everyone needs to be on their guard against these potential threats.

The final pages of the book sum up the strengths of the series, as Hammond deals with his newly-acquired mischievous super-powered cat. This brief coda is a moment of pure character development, and to a certain extent that is the core of the entire All-New Invaders series. While the larger plot developments remain largely unresolved - the Martians are, after all, coming, and not actually arriving yet - the series is primarily about character development mostly focused on Hammond, but also bringing new Inhumans such as Iron Cross and Toro into the picture. The series also throws a small spotlight on some somewhat obscure characters such as the British Invaders and Killraven, suggesting that they are likely to be important in the near future as the somewhat shadowy Martian menace lurks, seemingly not quite ready to pounce. While this book provides almost no answers, and the series as a whole presents something well short of a complete story arc, it still feels relatively satisfying due to the many character notes that it hits right on the nose. As with the other books in the series, a dedicated Marvel reader will likely get more out of this volume than a casual reader will, but The Martians Are Coming is still strong enough that even a casual reader will likely enjoy it.

Previous volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 2: Original Sin

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review - All-New Invaders, Volume 2: Original Sin by James Robinson, Steve Pugh, and Marc Laming

Short review: Ryoko wants answer about the use of atomic weapons in World War II and the Invaders mount a rescue attempt to recover Toro from the clutches of a German arms dealer.

Why drop atomic bombs?
Not mutant, but Inhuman
Plus all the Deathloks

Full review: Original Sin is the follow-on volume to Gods and Soldiers, the first installment of the All-New Invaders. Although this book suffers somewhat from "middle-volume" problems, mostly because there is very little that is resolved through its pages, it serves as a good introduction to some new heroes, expanding the team of Invaders by including heroic additions from the formerly Axis powers that are now allies to the former Allied powers. The volume also serves up some fairly interesting character development for a number of established characters, and introduces a new and potentially ominous secret threat to Earth.

The opening pages of this volume serve as a brief prologue, introducing the Japanese-American woman Ryoko Sabuki, also known as the super-hero Radiance, or as she is called in Japan, Supreme Radiant Friend. After battling villainous criminal organizations and monstrous threats in her own country while also establishing herself as a pop star, Radiance is poised to travel to the United States to make her name there. But then this installment takes a turn that highlights both the strengths of the Marvel universe, and its weakness by having the events in this book turn on events drawn from an entirely different book that is not part of this series, specifically the much wider Original Sin story line that revolved around the investigations into the death of the Watcher.

Having crossover stories span several different Marvel titles allows the publisher the opportunity to tell stories with an extremely broad scope, and also knit their fictional universe together more effectively, as events in one set of books also affect another set of books. The drawback to this style of storytelling is that it makes it very difficult for a reader who only want to read one particular story to follow along. It is almost as if Tolkien had simple left The Two Towers out of The Lord of the Rings and instead published the events that were in the middle book in another series, calling it A War in Rohan or something similar, skipping from the end of Fellowship of the Ring to the start of Return of the King without warning the reader that they needed to read this seemingly unrelated story. For dedicated comic book fans who buy multiple titles on a regular basis, this sort of storytelling device is almost invisible, as they will have read the various other sources relied on in this book. For a less dedicated Marvel reader who just wants to read about the Invaders, this method of storytelling is somewhat more problematic, as it requires them to either simply ignore that large events have taken place that are completely unexplained in the text and yet substantially impact the story in this volume, or else they will need to do some research by combing through the internet or tracking down a copy of the extraneous stories that impact this one.

In any event, the Watcher's death sparks a relevation for Radiance and she ends up taking over a S.H.I.E.L.D. base and demanding to speak to the Human Torch Jim Hammond, Namor, or Spitfire. As Hammond became a newly minted S.H.I.E.L.D. agent at the end of the last volume, he draws the short straw and ends up having to negotiate with an angry super-heroine with the ability to fire lasers from her eyes (and pretty much any other body part). It turns out that Radiance is angry about the U.S.'s decision to drop atomic weapons on Japan at the end of World War II, and specifically demands to know what role the Invaders had in making it happen. This leads to a flashback involving the restructured Invaders that included a replacement Captain America and Bucky and the Kid Commandos, a team that included Ryoko's grandmother and a dispute over a plan to have Namor create a tidal wave to destroy the remaining Japanese fleet in the Pacific. But there are civilians in the way, including innocent islanders, and the wave will kill them as well, a price that in the end the heroes decided was simply too high. As the Invaders declined to execute the plan to destroy the Japanese fleet, the U.S. turned to the use of Fat Man and Little Boy instead. In an interesting aside, Hammond states that none of the Invaders knew the status of the weapons, and speculates that if Steve Rogers had still been alive at the time, he might have been able to dissuade the U.S. government from using nuclear weaponry. This is an interesting wrinkle that highlights Marvel's long-standing willingness to comment on history and politics, often in a fairly thoughtful manner.

The entire story of Hammond's discussion with Ryoko is told as a flashback itself, as Hammond is debriefed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. psychologist who turns out to be a little bit unusual. But this sequence leads to the next part of the story in which Hammond discovers that Tom Raymond, his old sidekick Toro, has been kidnapped and the Invaders need to gather to mount a rescue mission, the second such type of mission in as many volumes of the series. The part of the story also includes a brief scene involving the Marvel universe Illuminati, although, as with the death of the Watcher mentioned above, the casual reader is given no context at all for it. The important element for this story is that it gives Hammond the opportunity to explain to Namor that Toro is not a mutant, as everyone had assumed, but is rather an Inhuman whose nature had been prematurely revealed by his contact with Hammond. This is part of what appears to be Marvel's ongoing shift from having mutants be the default explanation for characters with super-powers to the ancient meddling of the Kree in human evolution. Given the fact that the Invaders series started with the Kree seizing an artifact from Earth and attempting to subjugate the Invaders, the fact that so many of the newly introduced characters that seem destined to ultimately oppose the Kree designs are actually the products of Kree actions seems rather ironic.

The story leads Namor and Hammond to an improbable secret base where the Winter Soldier is waiting to join them. From there, the fighting seems almost like a rerun of the climatic fight of the previous volume as Namor and Hammond make a flashy assault as a distraction while the Winter Soldier infiltrates the enemy complex trying to track down something the villain wants to keep hidden. Except that the similarities are only on the surface, as this time the quarry Bucky is hunting for is just bait intended to draw the Invaders into the villain's trap, which is lined with essentially all of the Deathloks in existence. But the story leads the Winter Soldier to another new ally, the German super-hero Iron Cross, a woman descended from the Iron Cross the Invaders fought in World War II, and who it turns out is yet another Inhuman. The conflict also leads to the revelation that the villain, a German arms dealer named Dagmar, is not exactly what he seems to be. The truly key element is that despite the fact that the fighting scenes are flashy and visually stunning, they are far less important than the scenes that surround them that develop the characters and the plot. With the introduction of both Radiance and Iron Cross, the Invaders now have allies drawn from the former Axis powers, a symbolic unification of Earth's heroes in what appears to be a prelude to alien invasion. The sequence also contains a nice piece of character development as Captain America interacts with Colonel Manning, able to form a connection with the Deathlok because of their shared service as soldiers.

The final pages of Original Sin jump to Union Jack, the Mighty Destroyer, and Spitfire as they confront what appears to be a Martian menace in the Thames. This both sets up future developments in the series and also serves to call back to the older Invaders series where these characters would crop up regularly. This serves to put a spotlight on the fact that this series is, in at least some part, an exercise in nostalgia, bringing to the fore super-heroes usually attributed to Marvel's World War II era comics and using them in the modern universe as a gift to long-time fans. But it also serves to flesh out the world just a bit more, using characters that may have not gotten as much attention as they might have deserved in recent years.

All-New Invaders: Original Sin is an interesting but somewhat maddeningly incomplete volume. Because it was part of a larger crossover story, the story in this volume feels a bit disjointed as events that take place in other Marvel books impact the plot in substantial ways, but are explained in a minimal manner at most in the text of this book. Further, a decent chunk of the appeal of this book is based on nostalgia, as relatively obscure characters from old comics set in World War II crop up on a regular basis to make brief cameos here and there. Despite these issues, Original Sin remains an enjoyable book, as the handful of omitted elements don't spoil the story as presented here. While a dedicated Marvel reader is likely to get more out of the book due to their greater immersion in the fictional universe, a casual reader will find enough is given in the pages here that the story holds together, albeit with tantalizing hints that there is much more hidden elsewhere. In short, a casual comic reader will probably enjoy this book, but a dedicated Marvel reader will probably enjoy it much more.

Previous volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 1: Gods and Soldiers
Subsequent volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 3: The Martians Are Coming

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Review - All-New Invaders, Volume 1: Gods and Soldiers by James Robinson and Steve Pugh

Short review: The Kree attack the former members of the Invaders to acquire the pieces of a powerful weapon, and the Invaders reform and invade the Kree right back.

A long-lost weapon
Hidden away in three parts
Now seized by the Kree

Full review: In 1969, Marvel created the series The Invaders, featuring Captain America, his sidekick Bucky, Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Jim Hammond, the original Human Torch (who is actually an android), as well as the Human Torch's sidekick Toro. The series, based upon a couple of appearances by the characters as the "All-Winners Squad", was set during World War II, and followed the heroes as they battled the Axis forces with the assistance of some other super heroes such as Union Jack, Spitfire, Whizzer, and others. The original series ended its run in the mid-1970s, but the team has been featured in mini-series a couple of times over the years since then. In 2014, James Robinson and Steve Pugh got together and revived the team, this time pitting the four members of the team against threats in the Marvel universe "present" that originate from beyond the Earth.

The four characters that make up the Invaders don't really have much affinity for one another on a regular basis other than the odd quirk that due to various circumstances they all have managed to go from the World War II era to the present day without suffering from the effects of age - although each has avoided the travails of the passing of time for different reasons. To pull the team out of mothballs, Robinson made the initial story about them directly, having the Kree seek a device that three of the Invaders had come across and secretly hid during World War II. The Supreme Intelligence of the Kree sends Tanalth the Pursuer to collect a weapon known as the Gods' Whisper formerly used by the Nazi villain Baron Strucker to control Hela against an attack mounted by all of the Invaders save Captain America (and the Human Torch's sidekick Toro) plus the ill-fated addition Major Liberty. After they had defeated Strucker and sent Hela back to Asgard, the three Invaders elected to hide the device and wipe their own memories, having come to the conclusion that it was too powerful to be allowed to fall into anyone's hands, including their own.

Against this exposition, Tanalth hunts Namor, the Human Torch, and the Winter Solider one by one, using Kree technology to first defeat them and then revive their lost memories so her troops can locate and recover the three pieces of the device. This process takes up a large portion of the book and is told in a series of sequences interwoven with flashbacks that tell the story of the Invaders' original encounter with Baron Strucker and Hela. By telling the story in this manner, Robinson is able to dump fairly substantial amounts of background material on the reader without it feeling too intrusive, setting up and advancing the central conflict of the volume at the same time. Telling the story in this manner also allows the author to remind the reader of the heroes' younger days, before, for example, Bucky became a hunted man forced to fake his own death and live in the shadows. The structure of the story also allows for a small bit of sleight of hand on the part of the author, as it turns out that Tanalth wasn't just seeking to recover the Gods' Whisper, she also sought to abduct Namor, whisking him away to the Kree home world. This kidnapping leads Captain America to mount a rescue attempt, enlisting Aarkus, the original Vision to assist in the effort.

The title of the volume is Gods and Soldiers, and Captain America, Bucky, and Major Liberty provide the soldiers, but Hela is only one goddess. Fearing that the Kree might use their new toy to enslave Thor and the other Asgardians as Strucker had enslaved Hela, Captain America sends a message to the Thunder God, but learns that Odin had Freya construct a counter-measure long ago, apparently rendering the device useless. Unfortunately, the Invaders seem to have forgotten that the Asgardians aren't the only gods in the Marvel universe, an oversight that causes them no small amount of trouble once they arrive on the Kree home world. This plot point is quite well-placed as it shows the reader that Captain America is not infallible, which is a key humanizing element in the story as the Invaders' plan relies upon Rogers being a genius at tactical planning and execution, so much so that he outsmarts a supercomputer named "the Supreme Intelligence".

In the end, the Invaders succeed at recovering Namor and depriving the Kree of the Gods' Whisper, but the resolution of the conflict yields a collection of troubling questions. The foremost is this: Exactly what is Aarkus' agenda in the conflict? He calls Captain America his brother when they meet up in this story, but in the end he supports the commandeering of the Gods' Whisper by the Eternals. Given that Bucky, Namor, and the Human Torch had been quite adamant earlier in the story that the device was too dangerous for anyone to possess, the combined strength of Aarkus, Ikaris, and Makkari claim it or their own, which seems problematic at best - especially when it is revealed what they choose to use it for. The other unsettling question posed by the events of the story is why would the Supreme Intelligence risk offending enemies as powerful as the Asgardians, Eternals, and any other similarly situated civilizations by seizing control of the Gods' Whisper. Yes, it is a powerful tool, but it is also a clear threat to any race that would be subject to its effects. By seizing the device, it seems like the Supreme Intelligence was almost certain to spark a war against such foes had the Kree been able to hold onto it.

Despite having numerous moving parts and despite featuring events that take place in two time frames and on two different planets, Gods and Soldiers is a relatively straightforward story. The Kree invade Earth to recover a valuable weapon, targeting the Invaders as a byproduct of their assault. Along the way old friends are reunited, old secrets are revealed, and loyalties are tested. With beautiful artwork by Steve Pugh, this story is visually arresting as well. Anyone who loves Marvel heroes, especially the cadre of heroes that have been created to flesh out the super-powered version of World War II that took place in the Marvel universe, is likely to love this book. By throwing in the Kree and the Eternals, Robinson has expanded the stage considerably, all the while retaining the flavor of the original series. As the start of a series uniting the old and the new, Gods and Soldiers is an excellent first volume that sets the stage while also delivering an excellent story at the same time.

Subsequent volume in the series: All-New Invaders, Volume 2: Original Sin

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Monday, October 26, 2015

Muscial Monday - Vincent the Vegetable Vampire by Morgan Freeman

So, it is the season for vampires. So here's one of the best vampires ever put on children's television.

Long ago, Morgan Freeman was a regular cast member on the television show Electric Company helping teach kids to read. I'm convinced that one of the worst decisions that PBS ever made was to cancel this show. I'm also convinced that one of the worst decisions the Children's Television Workshop has made is to release only a tiny selection of the episodes of the show on DVD. If they had any sense, we'd be able to obtain and enjoy the full run of the series in a beautiful box set.

Leaving the poor decisions of the management at the Children's Television Workshop aside and turning to more important matters, this video features one of Freeman's regular characters on the show in the form of a wordy vampire who would sometimes bathe in his coffin. On this occasion he is expressing his love of vegetables in song. I'm not entirely sure how a vampire would sustain himself by drinking squash juice, but I suppose if that's what he wants, I'm not going to argue with a vampire. Especially a Morgan Freeman vampire.

Previous Musical Monday: Lame Monster Party by Paul & Storm
Subsequent Musical Monday: Where No Man Has Gone Before by Five Year Mission

Morgan Freeman     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Blogger Hop Halloween Edition, October 23rd - October 29th: 126 Is the Seventh Magic Number in Nuclear Physics

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: Name one book you've read in the past that still haunts you today.

I read it years ago, but the scariest, most haunting work of pure fiction I can recall reading is the Alan Dean Foster novelization of Alien. Maybe it is because I read it when I was thirteen. Maybe it is because I read it when I was away from home for a month to have reconstructive surgery on my hand and was already feeling a bit unsettled. Maybe it was because I had no idea that it was related to a movie and went into the book cold. No matter the reason, I remember the book being absolutely terrifying as the crew of the Nostromo seemed to be completely helpless against the alien creature they brought aboard their ship. I saw the movie years later, and I recall thinking that the alien in the movie Alien was far less formidable than the alien in the novel Alien. Somehow, Foster was able to make the crew's situation seem even more hopeless and the alien even more frightening than the movie ever did.

Another possibility would be to go with a book that relates to the real world terrors humans have inflicted on one another. I will never forget the horrific violence of apartheid as portrayed in André Brink's A Dry White Season. The oppression and dehumanization of an entire people is presented in such stark and uncompromising terms in the novel that it is impossible to either look away or to forget. The venality and brutality of humans is on full display in the book, although it is tempered somewhat by the protagonist's idealism, although his concern for the vicious nature of the regime under which he lives is somewhat belated as a result of his own unwillingness to believe the claims made by his doomed black friend. Whether we condemn our fellow man through our violence and venom, or merely through indifference, A Dry White Season gives us a haunting look at how humans are all too capable of being the worst monsters we can conceive.

Previous Book Blogger Hop: 125 Is the Cube of 5

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Follow Friday - There Are Exactly 232 Different Eight-Vertex Connected Indifference Graphs

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Kayl's Krazy Obsession and Confuzzled Books.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: If you could re write a book which one would it be and what changes would you make?

This question poses a conundrum of sorts, because books that I like, I usually would not change, and books that I don't like I usually wouldn't care enough about to bother to go to the trouble to rewrite. As a result, I don't really have an answer for this question. I suppose I could rewrite books in which favorite characters died, or suffered some other substantial misfortune, but in good books that sort of event helps to give the book meaning, so changing it would likely make it a lesser work of fiction. I think I'm going to have to decline to rewrite any books today.

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Review - Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 by David Petersen

Short review: A traitor betrays Lockhaven, a hero returns from legend, and the mice fall to open war among themselves.

Guard mice on patrol
On the trail of treachery
Return of Black Axe

Full review: Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 imagines a world in which the mice have banded together against a hostile world and a select brave few have formed the Guard, a collection of mice who patrol the wilds between the mouse towns, scout, spy, and deal with threats to mousedom. This first volume in the series mostly follows Leiam, Kenzie, and Saxon, three mice sent out on what seems to be a routine mission on the trail of a wayward grain peddler, but which leads them onto the trail of a threat to the very heart of the Mouse Guard.

In the world of Mouse Guard, mice are essentially tiny people. They talk, read, write, make maps, build castles, wield weapons, and pretty much do everything that one might have expected people to do in the 12th century. They live in fortresses like Lockhaven, or towns like Barkstone, or outposts like Calogero, many of which are built into the sides of hills or in hollowed out trees. Oddly, most other animals don't appear to be similarly anthropmorphized, as the snakes, crabs, and bees that appear in the volume seem to be nothing more than ordinary animals. There is a reference in the text to a "weasel warlord", so it seems possible that only mammals are civilized like the mice, but the answer to that question is not found in this volume. Mouse society in the book is basically human society, just with a collection of omnipresent threats that include snakes, hawks, weasels, and foxes.

The story is one of intrigue and betrayal, as Leiam, Kenzie, and Saxon discover that the grain merchant has been killed, but that he was also a traitor selling Lockbridge's secrets to an unknown enemy of the Guard. There is some added excitement in the fact that the grain merchant was killed by a snake that appears to be in the mood for some additional mouse-sized snacks. Eventually, the mice deal with the snake problem, and then head off to try to track down the traitor's contact. The narrative, although told in a fairly simple manner, with relatively limited dialog, serves to convey the character of each of the three mice: Kenzie's impetuous boldness, Saxon's weathered wisdom, and Lieam's youthful bravery and idealism. These traits are conveyed in broad strokes, but are woven into the flow of the story that one almost doesn't notice except in the few cases where character development is handled just a tiny bit less fluidly.

In the meantime, another guard mouse named Sadie is sent to the northern shore to try to find a fellow guard mouse named Conrad who hasn't been heard from in some time. This sequence highlights one of the best features of Mouse Guard by letting the images carry much of the story. Throughout the volume, the dialogue is sparse, and the exposition is mostly confined to short passages at the start of each section, while much of the heavy lifting to set the mood and tone, and even to convey the plot, is done by the lovely artwork of the book. Whereas some graphic novels are essentially simply text stories with a few images attached, Petersen is not afraid to let three or four panels, or even full pages, go by without any dialogue at all, trusting in the strength of the artwork to tell the tale visually. This reliance upon the art as the primary means of communicating with the reader is probably the most distinctive element of Mouse Guard, and is a large part of what makes it such a good series.

The plot moves along at a fairly rapid clip: A treacherous and cruel villain is revealed, noble mice engage in self-sacrifice, an old hero reemerges, and new heroes are forged. Eventually the book climaxes in an all-out assault upon the Mouse Guard stronghold of Lockhaven, giving the reader a ringside seat to its desperate defense. What makes the story interesting is that the villain, dark and brutal as he is, is backed by an army that seems to have at least some halfway-legitimate grievances. The fact that so much of the story is rooted in events that took place prior to the start of the book, almost throwing the reader into the action in media res, makes the world of Mouse Guard feel real and alive, as if one were reading a history rather than a fantasy. Further, despite the fact that much of the plot hinges on events that took place prior to the start of the story - including the legend that is used to rally the traitorous army, and the alleged failings of the Guard that drew the ire of its enemies, the reader never feels like they have missed something.

Overall, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 is a fundamentally simple story inhabited by simply drawn characters told in a beautiful manner. With compelling images such as Leiam facing down a mouse-eating snake single-handedly, or Conrad fighting a half dozen monstrously huge crabs with nothing but a fishhook, or the apiary keepers of Lockahaven releasing their bees as a last ditch effort to turn back the invading force, or even Midnight and Celanawe dueling over the possession of the Black Axe, the volume presents the story with arresting imagery giving the reader a visual tour through the Mouse Territories. With a story about treachery, bravery, and loyalty, featuring the smallest of the small taking bold action to protect their countrymen, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 is a spare, gorgeous, and endearing adventure.

Subsequent book in the series: Mouse Guard: Winter 1152

David Petersen     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Review - Time Salvager by Wesley Chu

Short review: James Griffin-Mars breaks the first law of time and becomes a fugitive from justice while trying to save himself, his companions, and the Earth itself.

In the far future
Men go salvage back in time
Don't salvage people

Full review: James Griffin-Mars lives roughly a thousand years in the future in a world in which humanity has colonized most of the Solar System, but in the process has consumed its resources and wrecked the Earth. Rather than merely making do with what they have left, humanity has turned to the past, sending "chron-men" like James back in time to recover equipment and other resources just before they vanish from history. All of these elite time travelers are supposed to follow the "laws of time" laid out centuries earlier by the "Mother of Time" Grace Priestly, which guide and restrict what the chron-men can and cannot do in their sojourns to the past.

Despite being at the top of the heap in an elite profession with high pay and extensive privileges, James is not a happy man. The stresses of working as a chron-man plus some pretty significant personal issues have taken their toll. James drinks heavily, fights at the drop of a hat, and is generally surly and unpleasant to most people. In addition to the progressively increasing nausea induced by time travel, the psychological toll of meeting so many people in the past just as they are about to die has begun to seriously wear upon him, reminding him of his own lost younger sister. Unfortunately, James also cannot quit, because no other profession is nearly as lucrative and he is committed to working to the end of his twenty year contract, encouraged by financial exigencies to accept riskier and riskier jobs for the larger pay outs. Eventually matters come to a head, and while on a hazardous and highly unorthodox mission to recover equipment from the Nutris Station, James violates the prime law of time travel and brings doomed researcher Elise Kim back to the future with him.

This sets the plot in motion, as James proves to be spectacularly inept at keeping his illegal companion a secret, and before too long Auditor Levin Javier-Oberon is on his trail for violating the Time Laws. As if that wasn't bad enough, Valta Corporation's Securitate Kuo forces her way into the pursuit, using Valta's economic clout to allow her to dominate the hunt with her ruthless methods, much to Levin's consternation. The story becomes an extended, high-paced, and action-filled game of cat and mouse as James tries to hide from his pursuers while also hopping back in time to supply Kim with the equipment she needs to possibly reverse the blight that has consumed Earth's oceans and also provide for the small community of scavengers with whom the pair have taken up residence. The only real flaw in the book is that Securitate Kuo is portrayed in a manner that is so unreasonably mustache-twirling evil that she is simply not believable. When she demands that villagers be moved summarily, that is callous, but she has something of a basis for her position, but when she insists that the inhabitants of an entire community be annihilated because they unknowingly traded with a fugitive, she steps into the realm of cackling cartoon villains. It seems like this extreme portrayal was included to bring her into conflict with Levin, but it seems like there should have been a better way to do this than to transform her into a Snidely Whiplash style caricature.

Time travel is an inherently difficult genre to write, as the questions it raises often sink the narrative with contradictions and plot holes. Time Salvager poses some interesting questions, at least some of which I hope will be answered in future volumes. For example, chron-men like James go back in time to recover stuff ranging from massive Titan generators to lumber and coal. But we are told that many of the problems faced in the "now" of the book are because much of the technology of the past has been lost. So why don't the chron-men go back and recover this lost knowledge? One wouldn't even have to worry about waiting until something was about to be destroyed to avoid disrupting the time stream, because you could just copy the information and bring the copy back. Given the volume of corruption that is revealed in the course of Time Salvager it might turn out that some powerful group is prohibiting such information retrievals, but thus far this seems like a relatively odd plot hole. Another plot element that I hope is addressed is that there are no time travelers from the future. Given that ChronComm is busy sending people back in time in the "present", one has to wonder if there is some organization (or organizations) in the future sending people back to now. As far as the book goes, no one seems to be aware of any people coming back to the "now" of the book from the future, and if I were an inhabitant of that time period, that would worry me. I suppose the lack of curiosity about such issues could be attributed to the fact that everyone spends much of their time scrambling just to survive in the harsh, dystopian world presented in the book, but it seems like something that someone would be thinking about them.

There are some other issues with the time travel in the book that seem like they are less amenable to explanation. We are also told that time travel is positional as well as temporal - in order to travel to an event in the past, you have to travel to the spot where the event took place. If you want to travel to an event that took place in the eastern Mediterranean, you have to go to the eastern Mediterranean and then time travel to the chronological spot you want to get to. But the entire Solar System is moving. The Sun travels in its orbit around the center of the Milky way at about eight hundred thousand kilometers an hour. Over the course of a few hundred years, that means that the Sun, and the rest of the Solar System, will move hundreds of millions or even billions of kilometers. So why don't time travelers appear in empty space millions of miles deep into the Oort Cloud? The other question the time travel in the book raises is the incredibly comprehensive nature of the records that ChronComm seems to have about the people of the past. On one of his jaunts to World War II, James has to kill a German soldier. When he returns he finds out that the soldier was supposed to survive and live for a couple of decades more before he and his family were all killed in a car crash. For a society situated a thousand years into our future, those are some incredibly accurate records. Even now our records of what happened in World War II are often sketchy, so to imagine that they will be that well preserved that far into the future stretches credulity a little bit. The other question that comes to mind is in reference the the "laws of time", which don't appear to be actual physical laws of nature, but are rather just a collection of rules that Grace Priestly wrote down. Given that, why does everyone follow them so slavishly? Why does no one even question these laws until Grace herself suggests such to Levin? The lack of curiosity and initiative displayed by many of the characters in the novel seems puzzling.

The final somewhat odd plot hole in the book relates to the improbably good records pf the past that this future society seems to have. The reason they need these records is that having them allows the chron-men to avoid disrupting the time stream and changing the course of history. But given that the world of the future is a horrible wreck, why is everyone so very interested in preserving it? The Earth is almost uninhabitable due to environmental decline and the ravages of multiple nuclear wars, to the extent the Solar System hasn't been stripped of resources and also devastated by war, it is controlled by authoritarian corporations that control the lives of their employees almost completely. So why would anyone be interested in preserving the timeline of history that led to this miserable dystopian future? Why hasn't anyone suggested intentionally changing the past in order to change the present? Where are the rogue time travelers who are trying to do just that? The book does show us rogue time travelers, but they only seem interested in seeking refuge in the past so they can experience hedonistic pleasure, which seems like a valid reason to stray, but doesn't seem like it would be the only reason. Surely it has occurred to someone that altering the past might actually make the world of the present a better place, so why has no one tried this? These are the sorts of questions that time travel stories always spark, and these are the sorts of questions that make them so difficult to write. I hope that Chu is able to deal with some of them in future books, because if he doesn't, it seems like there will have been some serious missed opportunities.

Is Time Salvager sunk by these issues? No. In fact, that these questions exist is a testament to how good the book is. A time travel themed book that didn't raise these sorts of questions would be unimaginative, and probably uninteresting. When one combines this collection of questions with the fast-paced and action-packed story provided in this book, the result is something that is definitely worth reading. Not only is the book full of action, it is also full of interesting characters doing interesting things, most notably Elise Kim and Grace Priestly, both of whom come from outside of the present time and manage to offer perspectives on the world that upset the assumptions of the "present day" inhabitants, a fact that I don't think is accidental. From the world-weary James, to the optimistic Elise, to the cynical Grace, to the loyal Smitt, to the idealistic Levin, to the villainous Kuo, the story offers the reader characters that are guaranteed to generate equal parts endearment and rage in the reader, and puts them ringside for a gripping plot that sends everyone on a collision course with one another.

Potential 2016 Hugo Nominees

Wesley Chu     Book Reviews A-Z     Home

Monday, October 19, 2015

Musical Monday - Lame Monster Party by Paul & Storm

So, as I said last week, Monster Mash is the most successful novelty song of all time, but the reason I posted it was, in large part, to provide context for this song. When Paul & Storm created the song Lame Monster Party, it is clear that they were creating a parody of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's 1962 song. This song imagines that the gathering of monsters outlined by Pickett in Monster Mash might not have been quite as much fun as one would have thought. In Paul & Storm's vision, it turns out that most monsters are kind of socially awkward and boring. Adding a second layer to the humor, as Monster Mash was itself a parody of popular dance songs of the early 1960s such as The Twist and Mashed Potato Time, Lame Monster Party is effectively a parody of a parody.

Despite being a parody stacked on top of another parody, Lame Monster Party is a great song, with cute lyrics and a catchy tune. The only real drawback here is that there isn't a video more interesting than a still shot of an album cover. There are no recordings of Paul & Storm performing the song live, no videos of monster movie clips, or anything similar. But at least one can enjoy the music.

Subsequent Musical Monday: Vincent the Vegetable Vampire by Morgan Freeman

Paul & Storm     Musical Monday     Home

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Book Blogger Hop Halloween Editon, October 16th - October 22nd: 125 Is the Cube of 5

Jen at Crazy for Books restarted her weekly Book Blogger Hop to help book bloggers connect with one another, but then couldn't continue, so she handed the hosting responsibilities off to Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer. The only requirements to participate in the Hop are to write and link a post answering the weekly question and then visit other blogs that are also participating to see if you like their blog and would like to follow them.

This week Billy asks: You're having a costume party with the theme "Book Characters." Who would you go as?

Dressing up as a character from a book involves an interesting paradox. One must choose a character who is sufficiently recognizable and distinctive, but also a character who is not similar to many other characters. I might want to dress as Dallben from The Chronicles of Prydain, but if I do, how would anyone tell that I wasn't dressed like Gandalf, or Merlin, or any number of other wizardly characters.

Some characters are well-known, but their usual outfit is so ordinary that it is almost not a costume. If you dress as James Bond, what form would the costume take? He's a well-known character, but there's not a whole lot about his regular attire that is obviously notable. Would one just wear a suit and carry a martini? Maybe a shoulder holster with a Walther PPK under your jacket (or perhaps as an homage to the books, a .22 caliber Beretta with a skeleton grip)? Would this be recognizable as that character by most people?

On the other hand, if you pick a very distinctive character that is obscure, then it is kind of a wasted effort, because then you're just an incomprehensible spectacle that might look interesting, but doesn't spark any recognition. Dressing up as Martel from Scanners Live in Vain would certainly result in an unusual looking costume, but few, if any, people would know what they were looking at.

So the challenge is to pick a character who is distinctive in the way they dress, not so obscure that no one knows who they are, and not someone who would be confused with another similar character. So I'm going to pick a character who has their name on their costume: Mark Watney from The Martian. The only real problem would be assembling a convincing looking Mars-suit, but since he has a name tag on it, everyone will know who I am.

Book Blogger Hop     Home

Friday, October 16, 2015

Follow Friday - "Pacific 231" Is a Short Film About the Steam Locomotive of the Same Name

It's Friday again, and this means it's time for Follow Friday. There has been a slight change to the format, as now there are two Follow Friday hosts blogs and two Follow Friday Features Bloggers each week. To join the fun and make now book blogger friends, just follow these simple rules:
  1. Follow both of the Follow My Book Blog Friday Hosts (Parajunkee and Alison Can Read) and any one else you want to follow on the list.
  2. Follow the two Featured Bloggers of the week - Kati Bookaholic Rambling Reviews and Yellow, Green, and Read All Over.
  3. Put your Blog name and URL in the Linky thing.
  4. Grab the button up there and place it in a post, this post is for people to find a place to say hi in your comments.
  5. Follow, follow, follow as many as you can, as many as you want, or just follow a few. The whole point is to make new friends and find new blogs. Also, don't just follow, comment and say hi. Another blogger might not know you are a new follower if you don't say "Hi".
  6. If someone comments and says they are following you, be a dear and follow back. Spread the love . . . and the followers.
  7. If you want to show the link list, just follow the link below the entries and copy and paste it within your post!
  8. If you're new to the Follow Friday Hop, comment and let me know, so I can stop by and check out your blog!
And now for the Follow Friday Question: If you could have any super power, what would it be?

Time travel. I would want the power to travel through time. The redhead doesn't think this is actually a super power, but I figure the ability to go back in time and fix problems before they occur would be the best super power to have. I wouldn't even need to be able to fix big problems, just the ability to fix the things that I personally screwed up.

If the redhead is correct, and time travel is not a super power, then I would pick teleportation. I really hate having to spend time going from one place to another, so the ability to just teleport everywhere I want to go seems quite attractive to me. Not quite as good as time travel, but it would be a decent consolation prize.

Follow Friday     Home

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Event - CapClave, October 9th - 11th, 2015

Our 2015 CapClave book haul
This past weekend, the redhead and I attended CapClave, the annual science fiction convention put on by the Washington Science Fiction Association that has the motto "Where reading is not extinct". Both the redhead and I are members of WSFA, so CapClave is essentially our "home" convention, and we look forward to attending every year. This is an account of my convention. Even in a relatively small convention like CapClave, it is impossible to cover everything about the event. There are usually three or four panels going on at once, as well as book launch parties, or other room parties, not to mention informal get-togethers at the hotel bar or nearby restaurants.

The convention focuses primarily on written science fiction, and the convention draws several authors, aspiring authors, editors, and publishers. This year's guests of honor were science fiction author Alastair Reynolds, and former editor and current publisher of Fantasy & Science Fiction Gordon van Gelder. In addition, this year had a ghost of honor in the form of the late, long-time fan Peggy Rae Sapienza.

Friday: Due to other commitments, the redhead and I didn't get to the convention until almost 5:00 PM, and we immediately headed to the registration desk where we first got our badges and then set about working as volunteers. Conventions like CapClave are run entirely on volunteer labor as dedicated fans donate their time, effort, and sometimes their money to make them happen. Our contributions thus far have been much more modest - a few hours of working at the registration desk checking people in and registering "at the door" attendees. But the size of the contribution is not as important as the fact that it is done. This is how most local science fiction conventions get put on. People show up, volunteer their time, and ask for nothing in return except a good convention.

While panels and organized events are important, a lot of the action at a convention like CapClave takes place in the informal spaces. Most of the authors and editors are there to interact with readers and with each other. Before I made it to a single panel on Friday evening, I ran into author Charles E. Gannon at the hotel bar and we ended up having an extended conversation about, among other things, our shared love of the writing of William Faulkner.

It was then time for the redhead and I to attend our first panel, titled "50 Years of Dune", which was moderated by Fran Wilde and featured Natalie Luhrs, Darrell Schweitzer, and C.S. MacCath. Fran proved to be a deft moderator, ensuring that the pace of the discussion moved quite quickly and giving each participant the opportunity to be heard. The only real problem was that it quickly became apparent that Dune, as a topic, is just too large to be adequately covered in a single hour of discussion. And that is without considering any of the subsequent novels in the series, or any of the film adaptations of the story, all of which were brought into the conversation at one point or another. Fran did finish off the hour with some amusing questions, including a "pun off" as she asked the panelists to use their favorite Dune related puns, prompting MacCath to pull out her Toto-inspired riff "I miss the rains down in Arakeen", and a couple of groaners from Schweitzer. Then Fran moved on to some rounds of "Love, Marry, Kill", matching up various characters and groups for the panelists to choose from for the game. Overall, this was an excellent panel full of interesting analysis and humor.

Lobbycon 2015 with Natalie Luhrs, C.S. MacCath, and Me.
Barely visible: Sunny Moraine, Bernie Mojzes, Fran Wilde
and Jean Marie Ward
From there we returned to the hotel bar for dinner and an ever increasing circle of conversation at "Lobbycon". Though we started with just the redhead, myself, and our friend Natalie Luhrs, the group progressively grew to include, among others, Fran Wilde, Sunny Moraine, Jean Marie Ward, Bernie Mojzes, A.C. Wise, and C.S. MacCath. Though the conversation was extensive and wide-ranging, covering a variety of topics (and sometimes no topic), this sticks out to me as the first time that someone recognized me based upon something I had written. When C.S. MacCath joined the group while we were talking about the WSFA Small Press Award nominees (of which she was one, for her story N Is for Nanomachine), and she remarked that she had read a piece where someone had claimed that the 2015 WSFA Small Press Award nominees were all better than every one of the short fiction nominees for the 2015 Hugo Awards. As she made the reference, she noticed my name badge and said "It was you! You wrote that!" I did write that, and I stand by that statement still. Plus, it is nice to know that at least someone is reading what I write. Though they aren't part of the programming, these sorts of gatherings are a large part of what is so special about small conventions like CapClave. Being able to sit around with a collection of brilliant creative people for a couple of hours is an experience that simply cannot be found in many places, and fan-run science fiction conventions are one of the few events where this is possible.

Saturday: The redhead's work schedule required her to leave me at the convention by myself for most of the day. After breakfast with Natalie Luhrs, I was faced with a surfeit of riches as there were panels on James Tiptree, Jr., Democracy IN SPACE! and the Survival of Short Form fiction. In the end, I went to the Tiptree Retrospective panel, as I love James Tiptree, Jr.'s writing. The panel was moderated by Scott Edelman and featured Jim Freund, Julia Rios, Sarah Pinsker, and David Hartwell. All five of them were clearly lovers of Tiptree's work, and provided great analysis of both her writing and the personal struggles she faced. As Hartwell worked as Tiptree's editor for a time and corresponded directly with her on several subjects, his contributions were especially insightful. One of the great things about conventions like this is the ability to participate in in-depth conversations about topics that are mostly only of interest to science fiction fans with a group of people who are as prepared to dive into it as extensively as you are. In day to day life, starting a conversation about an author like James Tiptree, Jr. will usually result in an empty look from the person you are talking to, but at a place like CapClave, it sparks an hour (or more) long discussion about her work and her life and how the two intertwined.

Later, I attended Tom Doyle's book launch party for his new novel The Left-Hand Way, which was also the book launch party for 1636: The Cardinal Virtues, Walter F. Hunt's collaboration with Eric Flint in the 1632 universe. I read The Left-Hand Way several months ago as an advance review copy, and I really liked it, and hope it does well for Doyle so that the third book in the series will be published sooner rather than later. I didn't get Hunt's 1632 universe book, but I did pick up a copy of his Victorian mesmerism novel Elements of Mind, which I hope to review in the reasonably near future. As far as I can tell, the party was a success, as everyone seemed to enjoy themselves quite a bit and Doyle even read an excerpt from the novel. I ended up sitting in the middle of a conversation between Charles E. Gannon, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Hildy Silverman, mostly about Gannon's new novel Raising Caine (which I hope to review soon) and Schoen's blog feature Eating Authors. Moments like this, when I can sit and be part of a stimulating discussion involving multiple Nebula Award nominees are why I go to conventions, and are also the moments that I would like to go back in time to tell 12-year-old me are in the future, because he wouldn't believe it.

I spent part of Saturday afternoon sitting in for Colleen Cahill at the WSFA silent auction which raises money for the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund. From there, I headed off to A panel on Non-Western Influences in Fantasy featuring Day al-Mohammed, Ann Chatham, Alex Svartsman, and Michael Swanwick. With the broadening of the fantasy field, stories that depart from the tried and true "vaguely Medieval pseudo-Europe" have become more common, and questions related to how to present such settings are looming larger in the field. The panel was quite interesting, with each author providing insightful commentary, although the working definition of "non-Western" fantasy used by some of the panelists and audience members seemed to me to include some things that I would have classified as being in the "Western" camp.

Beth Zipser, Jim Henley, Me, and Jon Zeigler
Any plans I had for the rest of the afternoon were derailed when I ran across the File 770 meetup in the hotel bar. Going in to the convention I had intended to attend this meetup, but had forgotten about it in the swirl of activity. Fortunately, Jim Henley recognized me as I was walking by and called me over. It is a curious feature of the modern world that so many of our friends are people who we have met only in electronic form, and while I had conversed with all three of the other "File 770ers" quite a bit in Mike Glyer's online forum, I had never met them in person. Going to CapClave fixed that, and we had a great time talking about books, the then impending WSFA Small Press Awards, File 770, books we were considering for Hugo nominations, Puppies, and other sundry topics. It was great to actually meet some other File 770 commenters in meatspace, and I hope that this becomes a regular event at future conventions.

Alastair Reynolds
As I noted before, CapClave is a convention focused on written genre fiction, and the centerpiece event of the weekend is Saturday night, when the mass author signing and presentation of the WSFA Small Press Award take place one right after the other. By the time these events rolled around, the redhead had returned from her exile to work, and my friend Dave, a first time attendee at CapClave, had also joined us. The mass author signing is a fantastic event, and it is exactly what it sounds like. The largest room at the convention is filled with authors ready to possibly sell some books, certainly sign some books, and spend some time talking with the people who love what they write. Almost all of the authors at the convention attend the mass author signing, and for a couple of hours CapClave essentially turns into a chaotic love-fest. I generally wait until the mass signing to start getting any books at the convention, as I prefer to get them directly from the authors, and this year was no exception. I picked up Chuck Gannon's novel Raising Caine, Alex Shvartsman's collection Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma, James Morrow's novel Galápagos Regained, C.S. MacCath's collection The Ruin of Beltany Ring, and the anthology A Is for Apocalypse. I got a second copy of Sarah Avery's novel Tales from Rugosa Coven, because I am sometimes absent-minded and forget that I already have a signed copy of a book. I was also able to spend some time talking with the authors Bud Sparhawk and Will McIntosh who, being short fiction writers, didn't have any books on hand for me to buy. I was also able to chat a bit with Gordon van Gelder, the publisher of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Neil Clarke, the editor and publisher of Clarkesworld.

Alex Shvartsman
Before long it was time for the awards portion of the evening, and everyone took to their seats for the presentation. The 2015 CapClave Chair Sam Lubell led things off by introducing a representative from the Baltimore Science Fiction Society to announce George R.R. Martin as their guest of honor for the upcoming 2016 Balticon, as well as to remind everyone that as it is the 50th Balticon, they have invited every guest of honor from the previous forty-nine Balticons to attend, and are currently raising money to allow them to be able to afford to bring them all to the event. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society also announced the winners of their Amateur Writing Competition, but I was exceptionally remiss and did not write down the name of the winner or the names of the individuals who placed second and third.

C.S. MacCath, Neil Clarke, Paul Haggarty,
Unknown, Bernie Mojzes, and Day al-Mohammed
Sam Lubell once again took the podium, this time to present gifts to the two guests of honor: A set of planet-themed drinking glasses for Gordon van Gelder and planet-themed plates for Alastair Reynolds. Sam also presented Roger Burns, CapClave's Programming Chair, with a gift to thank him for his work putting together the programming for the convention.

After Sam completed his presentations, 2014 WSFA Small Press Award winner Alex Shvartsman took over to present the 2015 Award. CapClave is a convention oriented towards written science fiction, with a special emphasis on short fiction, and that bent is reflected in the WSFA Small Press Award, which is given to a work of fiction shorter than 17,500 words published for the first time by a "small press" in the previous full calendar year. After reading off the list of nominees, Shvartsman announced Ursula Vernon's story Jackalope Wives as the winner of the award, to much happiness, as the story seems to be quite well-regarded even among Ms. Vernon's competitors. As Ms. Vernon was unable to attend, the Small Press Award committee chair Paul Haggarty accepted on her behalf and read a short statement from the author. Afterwards, all of the nominees in attendance and the designated representatives of those who could not attend lined up for pictures, closing out the ceremony.

The redhead and I had intended to go to the Eye of Argon reading after the WSFA Small Press Award ceremony. I have been to see a reading of this terrible and almost incomprehensible story before, but the redhead has not. However, for the second year in a row we got side-tracked into playing games with our friends Day al-Mohammed and her wife Renee. This time our friend Dave joined us, as did Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and a good time was had by all, so we didn't mind missing the reading too much, although from what I have been told (and the pictures I have seen of it), the reading was quite epic and even included some attempts to act out scenes from the story.

David Sklar, Hildy Silverman,
Shahid Mahmud, and Day al-Mohammed
Sunday: The last day of a convention is always sad, because, of course, the convention is about to end. On the other hand, it is also kind of a relief, because to be perfectly honest conventions can be kind of exhausting. Our first stop was a panel titled Separating the Author from the Work moderated by Day al-Mohammed and featuring Shahid Mahmud, David Sklar, and Hildy Silverman. As the panel had two publishers on it, the panel focused heavily on when one would publish a problematic author and when one would not, but it also touched on when and how a reader would support (or not support) an author who held distasteful views or who included problematic scenes in their writing. I was mildly surprised that Neil Clarke was not on this panel, as he has published a few stories from at least one author widely viewed as problematic, but on the whole the panel was quite interesting and relatively informative.

Our next to last stop of the convention was the dealer hall to round out our purchases after our book buying spree at the mass author signing on Saturday night. We picked up several books from Larry Smith, and a few of the volumes published by the WSFA Small Press. One of the books we acquired was Fran Wilde's Updraft, and since she was there, we got her to sign the book. I also picked up paper copies of the last twenty-one issues of Clarkesworld magazine from Neil Clarke at the Wyrm Publishing booth. I just wish the magazine would let people get a paper subscription, but that is probably economically unfeasible for them. After that there was time for a round of Star Realms with Day and Renee, and then the convention was over.

After the convention, I spoke with my mother on the phone. She had traveled to New York to visit my sister for the weekend, and she was somewhat perplexed that the redhead and I had gone to CapClave rather than New York ComicCon. While the redhead and I enjoy big conventions with tens of thousands of attendees every now and then - we have been to DragonCon once, and we go to GenCon every year - there is simply no substitute for the congenial and friendly atmosphere of the smaller fan run conventions like CapClave, Balticon, Chessiecon, and the hundreds of other small conventions that take place every year. The blunt truth is that the large professionally run media conventions like New York ComicCon are simply exhausting. New York ComicCon had about 170,000 attendees this year. CapClave had about 400. To attend almost any panel at New York ComicCon, you have to wait in line, often for hours. You might be able to see stars like Chris Evans, George Takei, or Carrie Fischer, but you'll likely see them from the back of an auditorium as they speak to a couple of thousand people. Or if you want a personal interaction you'll pay for the privilege, and you will likely only be able to interact with them for a minute or two. At CapClave, on the other hand, the panels are small and interactive. I have never had to spend any appreciable time waiting in line for anything. Most of the authors who attend are more than happy to sit down and talk with you, whether after a panel, sitting in the con suite, or simply while hanging out at the hotel bar. An event like New York ComicCon is a spectacle, while CapClave, by contrast, is a conversation. There is room for both in the genre fiction world, but as for myself, I prefer the conversation.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Musical Monday - Monster Mash by Bobby "Boris" Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers

There are novelty songs, and then there is Monster Mash, the king of all novelty songs. Released in 1962, this is one of the most enduring "trick" songs ever released, built around and relying upon Bobby Pickett's dead-on impersonation of famed horror movie actors Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The song itself is a pretty simple tune accompanied by some fairly clever lyrics imagining a dance craze similar to the twist or the mashed potato started by a monster. The song is essentially a silly piece of fluff, but it is an enduring silly piece of fluff, and has become a staple of Halloween music programs.

This video has the added bonus of being a montage of classic horror and monster movie clips. I love old monster movies. They usually had bad acting, frequently had terrible scripts, and pretty much always had bad special effects, but they had an awkward charm and earnestness that more than made up for any deficiencies. And, of course, these were exactly the kinds of movies that Monster Mash was referencing with its lyrics.

Previous Musical Monday: Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon
Subsequent Musical Monday: Lame Monster Party by Paul & Storm

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