I had read about a third of this one before getting distracted by other books, so I ended up going back and starting over. I caught up the 90 or so pages I'd previously read in a day and finished it in less than a week. The narrative greed (readability) here is super high, keeping me coming back to see what was going to happen.
It's a great counterpoint to Starship Troopers, with the character and author definitely not being gung-ho about war, and the narrative showing the effects of time dilation on a war campaign and its participants. (To say nothing on the economy and conditions back home.)
The book is definitely for mature readers, as it's got a substantial amount of language and a lot of frank discussions of sexuality (though without any actual explicit sex). I *am* a bit curious what a gay reader would think of some of the twists and turns humanity takes in its view of hetero and homosexual relationships (and how the POV character thinks about those issues).
I often say I'm not a fan of cinematic universes because they, by definition, lower the stakes in any given film (not necessarily in concept, but definitely in practice). So what I love about the whole concept of an "Elseworld" title is that it stands on its own, not tied to previous continuity, and can just focus on telling an awesome story.
Superman: Red Son is a great example of doing it right. It answers the question: What if Superman hadn't crashed in Smallville, but rather in the Soviet Union? Rather than defending the American way, what if he was a committed Communist?
I've seen glimpses of the Red Son version of Superman in other comics ("Convergence" most recently), so it was cool to finally fill in the blanks. I also loved that several other Justice League members made appearances, albeit in very different forms. Of these, I felt that only Wonder Woman was badly served (love interest / damsel in distress doesn't really fit).
This is also probably my favorite portrayal of Lex Luthor, who comes across as pretty sympathetic here, as you might expect since Superman is, in a sense, the Big Bad of this graphic novel.
Finally got around to wrapping up the few stories in this collection I hadn't already read. (On the way back from a work trip in Italy; great place for an anthology.)
As with any collection of short stories, there are some ups and downs here, but overall it's an absolutely tremendous collection of terrific stories.
Some of my favorites:
"Kaddish for the Last Survivor" - A very personal story, obviously, given the author's Jewish faith and heritage. It's hard to conceptualize that the world could ever forget the Holocaust, but this story convicted me to make sure I don't contribute to its being forgotten.
"TeleAbsence"/"TelePresence" - An interesting pair of stories dealing with virtual reality and its potential for future education. Unfortunately, it could end up being not available to those who could benefit the most from it.
"Broken Symmetry"/"Absent Friends"/"Reality Check"/"Empty Spaces" - Easily my favorite section of the collection, even though I'm desperate for another story in the series. Get on it, Michael! (Pretty please.) The story series brings in the potential effects of multiple universes on such things as high-energy particle physics. Or more properly, the effect of high-energy physics on multiple universes. Great hard science fiction here.
"Time Ablaze" - This one felt like a great episode of "The Outer Limits" or another anthology show. Traveling in time to observe and record a tragic (and forgotten) event is fine, right up until you start to get to know the people involved.
"Sanctuary" - A great space opera-ish story of xenophobia and prejudice, told from the perspective of a Catholic Priest. I love the respect Burstein gives Catholicism even though he doesn't share the faith. The story seems to have been inspired by the M*A*S*H episode "A Holy Mess," going beat-for-beat with the developments of that episode, but I don't mention this as a criticism. The SF setting and differing circumstances easily make it into a great adaptation of the former story.
"I Remember the Future" - This story is a great sandbox that Burstein plays in, using a fictional author's work as an excuse to write in the styles of several different eras of science fiction. We talked with Michael on Take Me To Your Reader about this story (and its short-film adaptation) and his career and life. Make sure to check that out.
It's hard to pin down exactly how I feel about this graphic novel. First, it's a bit genre-bending, mixing traditional graphic style with intersections of prose. Second, it's not exactly light reading. The story is dark, the philosophy heavy and depressing, and many of the characters are less than redeeming.
For all that, it's extremely compelling. My favorite bits were the parts where the main narrative was told in alternating panels along with a character reading Tales of the Black Freighter. The way the two stories interpreted and complemented each other was fascinating and it's pretty genius the way Moore pulls the feat off.
I really decided to read this one because the DC Rebirth event actually ties into it, and I'll be fascinated to see where that goes.
This is a great collection for anyone who wants a bit more background and color in the world of Fahrenheit 451. The stories in this volume aren't all directly connected to 451, but they give a view into Bradbury's evolving story for that book. Particularly when you get into the latter stories, "Long After Midnight" and "The Fireman", you have basically a couple of drafts of the later novel. So it can get a bit repetitive, but as someone who really enjoyed 451, reading this collection was a great experience.
The last three stories (a bit of a curtain call, I think, or an encore) don't connect much with the 451 universe, at least they didn't seem to, but I'd love to see an adaptation of "To the Future," because the idea of taking vacations in the past is a winner.
And if you're really interested in some discussion of 451 and its film adaptation, check out our latest podcast episode featuring Phil Nichols of the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies: Take Me To Your Reader #43.
Joseph Finder is Mr. Reliable again. Every year we take vacation about this time, and it seems like every year he's got a new thriller for me to enjoy. This was no exception, and I was glad to see another Nick Heller title, since I'd previously enjoyed Vanished and Buried Secrets.
I’m planning to do a few of these posts, but given my recent track record, this could be the only one you see. But I’ll list out the planned posts in the vain hope of actually doing all of them:
- Batman v. Superman – A bit of Miller and Moore (this post)
- Captain America: Civil War – Civil War (thought I’d be going with something else, didn’t you?
- Might also do some Ultimate Spider-Man or Black Panther here
- Daredevil Season Two – Daredevil, by Mark Waid
One of the reasons I’ve been getting into comics these days is Comixology. They tend to do digital comic sales to tie in with whatever movie or TV show is close to premiering, and I’m a fan of cheap books, even if they’re comics. (Though I’ll probably pass on upcoming X-Men sales, because the movie looks terrible and I’ve never actually read any X-Men. (But if it’s cheap enough, I might still do it.)
Since I typically watch before reading, I should probably jot down a few thoughts on Batman v Superman. Very timely of me, no?
(Ugh, do I have to?)
In no particular order, my thoughts:
- Didn’t care much for it
- Batfleck wasn’t the problem. His Batman versus Luthor’s henchmen scene was awesome.
- Wonder Woman was cool; wish I’d been watching her movie.
- Cinematic Universe setup should take a back seat to making a decent movie. The Avengers wasn’t born in a day. First they made Iron Man, and it was awesome. The Justice League setup added too much heavy lifting for this movie. There was a good story in there that wasn’t told.
- Going into this movie with a massive headache was a terrible idea. Unless the idea was to make the headache yet more massiver. And yes, massiver is definitely a word in some language.
Aaaaand that’s enough of that. So, what did I read?
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, by Alan Moore
This was actually my first Alan Moore, and it’s a terrific collection, leading off with the titular story, which was essentially the final story of the Silver Age Superman, treated like the final issue that would ever be published. As such, it unloads the rogues gallery, so there are bits with Braniac, Lex Luthor, Metallo, and any number of other villains. Plus, you get a variety of heroes in on the action, including Krypto the Superdog. (Seriously.)
It’s a great sendoff for Supes, even though it’s more or less an imaginary tale when it comes to DC Continuity. (Also, it didn’t really happen in real life, so it’s fantasy in that sense, too.)
The collection also has a Superman and the Swamp-Thing story in it titled “The Jungle Line,” which is a nice introduction to that character (which I remember reading a bit of as a kid), and we also get a fun story called “For the Man Who Has Everything,” which was nicely paralleled in Supergirl’s episode “For the Girl Who Has Everything.” (BTW I’m a fan of that show. Glad to see it move over to the CW.)
Definitely recommended reading, all of it. I also have All-Star Superman, which I’ll get to eventually. But for now, on to the Batman stuff…
Batman: Year One, by Frank Miller
This wasn’t my first Miller (having previously read The Dark Knight Returns), and this is kind of the opposite end of things, re-telling Batman’s now very familiar origin story, but in great style. There’s clear influence here on Batman v. Superman, though why they decided to show the Waynes being killed again is a mystery to me (except it set up the godawful “Martha!” crapola from the movie).
Here again, as with the aforementioned Dark Knight, you can also easily see influences into the Nolan series and beyond. I particularly enjoyed that there was quite a bit of time showing Jim Gordon’s origin as well as Batman’s.
Batman: The Killing Joke, by Alan Moore
Okay, this is more Joker than Batman, but I kept getting recommendations to read it. It’s fantastic, and a great (possible) Joker origin story. It’s also brutal. I’m not the least shocked that the DC animated film is getting an R-rating. This is the comic that has Barbara Gordon brutally shot in the spine by the Joker, who then photographs her and uses the images to torture her father, Commissioner Gordon. Brutal. But the art is stunning and the story is well worth a read.
And that’ll wrap it for this time. I think I’ll also do a “short reviews of several books I’ve read recently” post soon. Because long reviews just haven’t been happening.
This is one I’ve been wanting to read for some time, and let me just dispel the suspense right away: Old Man’s War is pretty awesome. In fact, I may break with protocol and actually continue the series. At some point, anyway.
The premise of the book is that in the somewhat distant future, you can get a new lease on life (complete with new body) after you turn 75, so long as you’re willing to join the Colonial Defense Force in your new life.
Like Starship Troopers and The Forever War (which I will totally finish someday, probably), it’s told in the first person, and as military science fiction goes, it’s top notch. Cool tech, interesting aliens (with the exception of the tiny species, which I found just silly), and awesome battles. Scalzi manages to draw you in to care about the main character in his friends, but I’ll just warn you now to not get too attached.
There’s a bit of sexy times in it, so I wouldn’t put this one in the YA category (language, too), though it’s nothing terribly graphic. But the recruits are encouraged to see what their new bodies can do, and the bodies are hot, so you do the math. Kinda makes sense, actually.
But the thing that I really enjoyed is the heartfelt sadness at the core of the book since the main character lived long enough to make the transition, but his wife did not. It’s really quite sweet.
One of the great things about it is that it manages quite a bit of world building, which is something I’m usually averse to, but not when it’s done well. Here it’s definitely done well, creating a nice, big world for a series of books. As I said, I may pick up another in the series, and I’ve been told it’s actually worth it to do so. But don’t look for me to do that anytime soon. Too many other things to read.
Speaking of which, I picked up and finished the final book in Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series, Calamity. So I’ll post a review for that in the near future.
I’ll also be posting a podcast about Colossus, and we’re currently reading 2001: A Space Odyssey and going to be covering it for April.
Colossus, by DF Jones, is sort of the reason I have a podcast. I won’t tell the full story here, since I tell it in an upcoming episode in which we cover this book and its film adaptation, Colossus: The Forbin Project. But suffice it to say that I listened to a podcast discussing the movie, and they didn’t also talk about the book!!! The horror!
I first read the book after seeing The Forbin Project listed in a “Greatest SF Movies” video. The story goes something like this:
Murica invents machine intelligence to control its defenses
Things go badly
You’ve heard this story before, right? It’s totally The Terminator. That fits the “A.I. gone bad” mold. As do any number of other titles. But Colossus isn’t Skynet, and isn’t really even evil when you get right down to it. In fact, it was constructed to take human decision-making out of the defense equation. Sound like War Games? And once Colossus is in power, it promises to protect humanity from itself. Sound a bit like “The Evitable Conflict” from I, Robot? (Actually, it sounds a lot more like VIKI from the I, Robot “adaptation” starring Will Smith (we totally covered that on the podcast, BTW).
Of course, the idea of an AI going rogue has been done over and over, as far back as R.U.R (which you might recall I reviewed), but really it goes back even further, to Frankenstein. Man cannot always control what he creates. I find it fascinating to see the various ways authors envision the story unfolding, and I particularly like when they subvert the expectation of “well, the humans will win in the end, of course.” So if you agree with me on that last point, read Colossus (or better yet, watch the movie) and stop there.
I’m not a series completist. I’m very likely to pick up the first book in a series, or maybe read the first two, and then call it quits. I did that with Dune, with A Song of Ice and Fire, and with The Dresden Files (though I’ll probably pick more of those up at some point). But I’d been wanting to check out the rest of the Colossus series, and so when Amazon had Colossus free in the Kindle store (got one for Black Friday 2015), I decide it’d be my first Kindle read. Plus, The Fall of Colossus was $1.
The title of the second book really kinda gives away the game, doesn’t it? So you pretty much go into it knowing that Colossus won’t come out on top in the end. But the story in between is interesting, and it sets up Colossus and the Crab nicely. In Fall, there’s some pretty horrifying stuff about Colossus attempting to understand human emotion by subjecting them to all kinds of insane tests. Interesting, but downright disturbing in places.
I didn’t end up buying the final book, and it’s probably because I wasn’t a huge fan of the second. It was still only $4 in the Kindle store, but I cheaped out and got it from the Kindle Lending Library, which is pretty nifty, actually. I won’t give away any of the plot since it keys so heavily on the second book.
If I had to rank the books, it’d go like this:
- Colossus and the Crab
- The Fall of Colossus
So I’m a bit meh on the series, but definitely enjoyed the first book. The thing I love about reading science fiction from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, is that it’s interesting to see what the authors thought the future would look like. And it’s sometimes hilarious to see what they got just so, so wrong. In this case, DF Jones posits a future with a United States of North America (and U.S. of South America, and U.S. of Europe), but with a U.S.S.R. that endured into the 21st Century. And there’s spectacular transportation technology, but little to no wireless communication beyond radio, and certainly no Internet. Teletype is the order of the day when it comes to communicating Human-to-Colossus. Not even a modem present.
And this is to say nothing of the guesses at social changes. Women are totally liberated and equal in the workplace, but “would you please fetch me some food, sweetheart?” wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.
This is a case in which I think the film adaptation did it better. Pulled it back into the 70s, so teletype was the state of the art, and I feel like the female characters were better served. In fact, the film went to great lengths (at least for the time) to represent diversity in the tech workplace, with black, Asian, and female engineers represented. Kinda cool, actually. The one misstep is in the voice-synthesis created for Colossus. It’s totally 70s and to me, a failure of imagination.
The highlight of the film, for me, is Eric Braeden as the main human (and title-sharing) character of Charles Forbin. There’s just something about the easy way he goes about his acting that I find magnetic. Beginnings of a man crush working here!
So, what’s my point? Well, I enjoyed Colossus quite a bit, but my admiration for the film is such that I’m recommending folks skip the book and just check out the movie. Just understand that you’ll be watching as pre-Star Wars a science fiction as exists out there. It’s every inch a movie of 1970. But I love it.
I’ll get the podcast posted in March and update this post when I do, and you can hear my co-hosts not raving about the movie. Philistines!
I suppose it’d be good to just go on record saying I loved The Force Awakens. The movie, that is. Loved it. Saw it three times in the theater. Loved it. It may now be my favorite Star Wars film. Seriously. Loved it.
(Yes, it has some problems. Don’t care. Loved it. Nothing changes my affection for the original trilogy, but still, loved the new one.)
So you could say I was disposed to also love the novelization. In fact, I’d been checking the Nook store incessantly, hoping to see its price drop below $5 so I could justify grabbing it. Didn’t happen. But my library hold came through, so I still got to read it for free.
Bottom line: I’m glad I didn’t spend money on it.
Now, this isn’t to say I found it devoid of value, but I see no reason I’d ever re-read it, and I didn’t get a great amount of enjoyment out of it the first time through. So yeah, glad I didn’t buy it.
But again, there’s some good stuff in it. Little tidbits you didn’t get in the movie, like the following (obviously there are spoilers here):
- Supreme Leader Snoke is old. Like watched the Empire rise and fall old. So the list of “who could he be?” is pretty long. I’m hoping he’s just an old Dark Jedi and not affiliated with the Sith.
- Chewie totally pulled a dude’s arm off. Rad. And it was the corpulent “one quarter portion” dude from the movie. Had it coming.
- Kylo Ren recognized Rey. He knows her, though she apparently doesn’t remember him.
- Rey felt the pull of the Dark Side during her fight with Ren.
The book also goes some distance toward making Starkiller Base not quite so JJ Abrams, but not far enough. In the film, the base drains a star, then uses the stored energy to direct beams through hyperspace at a target. But since space is big, no one should have been able to see it take out the Republic system. Also, wouldn’t draining a star have made it like pretty cold on Starkiller Base, at least after it discharged the weapon? And aren’t stars a long ways apart? How did it fire and then start charging again without moving light years away?
Instead, the book has it powered by a star but storing dark energy. And the planet it hits turns into essentially a supernova. Which could be seen a long ways off. Even so, the light from that nova would’ve had to travel a long ways to be seen from another system. Back to the “Space is Big” thing. Still, I appreciated the hand-waving. I didn’t need it, but I liked that explanation better. It’s just that the shot of Kylo Ren watching the beam go out from the base was so, so cool.
So yeah, there was good stuff in the book, but it just didn’t do anything for me. I suppose it’s unfair to compare it to the movie, much as it’s generally unfair to compare a film adaptation to its book, since the story you see in your head while reading is never going to be perfectly migrated to the screen. And there’s also the big hurdle that you don’t get the same charm in characters brought to life by real actors.
And maybe that’s the point. I loved the characters in the movie. Rey is seriously awesome, and I loved the bromance going between Finn and Poe. I tried to import their personalities into the book, but it fell flat, and maybe that’s just the nature of the transfer between media.
I guess I don’t have many actual gripes about the book. It’s fine. It’s just that it felt perfunctory. Like it was all rote, with little creativity. And maybe the author’s hands were tied. How much could he change, really? I certainly don’t think it’s a fair sampling of Alan Dean Foster’s writing (I’m told by my Take Me To Your Reader co-hosts that I need to read Sentenced to Prism).
Okay, it turns out I do have a couple of gripes. One, there’s a typo, unless I’m very mistaken:
“He allowed his thoughts to be briefly diverted, regretting the time that had been wasting in dealing with necessary inconsequentialities.” Srsly. I know that “time’s a-wastin’” is a phrase, but I’m pretty sure we wanted “wasted” here. Hard to blame the author for this since I’m sure an editor was involved at some point.
Two, Foster goes for too many five dollar words when he could’ve gone cheaper. Chewie is several times described as “hirsute.” Sure, it’s a fine word, but it’s as arcane as any Balderdash clue (funny thing, I learned that word from Balderdash). And yes, it means “hairy.” And if it were an isolated use, I’d have no problem with it. But it recurs at least once. Once I’d have forgiven and even praised. Twice just seems like showing off.
Three, and this is the big one, Rey’s vision sequence is all kinds of wonky. It’s less clear than in the film, which is saying something. And it doesn’t even mention the lightsaber being in the box. Seriously, check it out:
The box was not locked. She opened it.
A heavy, slow, mechanical breathing filled the room.
Notice she didn’t see what was in the box. She doesn’t look into the box at all as far as the text is concerned. Maz then shows up, like in the movie, and says this:
“That lightsaber was Luke’s.”
It’s the first mention that the lightsaber was in the box. Sigh.
I think if we’ve learned anything, it’s that all future Star Wars books should go through me. My rates are reasonable.
How to sum up? I’m not sure how things balance out here. I liked the few tidbits I mentioned, but somehow finishing this book didn’t make me happy the way almost all other books do. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment; it felt obligatory, and that’s not what I look for in my reading.
Am I alone in this? Have you read it? Did you find the experience worthwhile? Am I being too hard on it?
Next up, I’ve been reading the Colossus trilogy in preparation for a podcast about Colossus: The Forbin Project, so I’ll probably post a few thoughts here, perhaps before we get the podcast recorded. And then I’ll get back to the excellent collection of Michael A. Burstein’s fiction, I Remember the Future. (Hint: a recent podcast featured the author and the title story.)