2013年8月23日 星期五

"Soul Catcher" by Frank Herbert

"'You are the Innocent,' Katsuk said, 'But I am Katsuk.  I am the middle of everything.  I live everywhere.  I see you hoquat all around.   You live like dogs.  You are great liars.  You see the moon and call it a moon.  You think that makes it a moon.  But I have seen it all with my good eye and recognize without words when a thing exists.

"'I want to go back now.'

"Katsuk shook his head.  'We all want to go back, Innocent Hoquat.  We want the place where we can deal with our revelation and weep and punish our senses uselessly.  You talk and your world sours me.  You have only words that tell me of the world you would have if I permitted you to have it.  But I have brought you here, I will give you back your own knowledge of what the universe knows.  I will make you know and feel.  You really will understand.  You will be surprised.  What you learn will be what you thought you already knew.'"

"Soul Catcher" was first published in 1972, a very good year for Frank Herbert.  "Hellstrom's Hive" and "The Godmakers," two other great novels, saw publication the same year.  He was turning out some of the best work of his career, and starting to enjoy the fruits of his labors.  His next novel, and the third in his Dune series, "Children of Dune," wouldn't appear until 1976.

In "Soul Catcher," a Native American abducts a young boy, taking him into the Olympic National Forest and teaching him the ways of his tribe.  In doing so, the protagonist is both exacting revenge for the rape of his sister, and enacting an ancient ritual designed to bring self-awareness back to his people.  It is a dark story of survival, and is the only "straight" (non-genre) novel that Herbert ever wrote.

As Frank Herbert novels go, this one ranks right up there with "Dune Messiah," "Hellstrom's Hive," and "The Godmakers."  Despite subject matter that would have quickly grown dull in other, less experienced hands, this book held my interest from beginning to end.  Herbert obviously had a wealth of knowledge with regard to woodcraft and cosmology to work with here, and he uses nearly every idea explored in earlier novels to full advantage.  "Soul Catcher" is a great book, even if it's not science fiction.

I wish we could have seen more of this kind of book from Frank Herbert.  As it was, the remainder of his career as a writer was largely spent writing the last four books in the Dune series, only one of which was as good as "Soul Catcher".  

This can be a difficult book to track down, but you won't be sorry that you did.

2013年8月19日 星期一

"The Martian Way and Other Stories" by Isaac Asimov

You know what I like best about Asimov's stories?  No?  Well let me tell you.  I like their sense of humor.  A lot of sci-fi authors go out of their way to be so goddamn serious.  But Asimov?  He didn't need to.  He was enough of a scientist to get the science right, and enough of a writer to get the fiction right.  This left him with enough room for levity, for warmth, and for his own personality.  

I can't help but think that it is this levity, warmth, and personality that continue to make his stories popular.  There were plenty of other "classic" sci-fi authors that could go on about the mechanics of spaceflight.  There were plenty of other authors who could flesh out a terse, well thought-out storyline with believable characters.  But only Asimov could give you a story like "The Martian Way" or "Jokester."  Only Asimov could have written these stories, because they were uniquely his own.

The stories in "The Martian Way and Other Stories" were all written in the 50s, back when Asimov was making a name for himself.  They are all less crushingly serious than the Frank Herbert novels I've been reading lately, and I am thankful for that.  I will always prefer sci-fi authors who DON'T feel the need to beat you over the head with their intelligence, and even though yes, Asimov wrote a lot of crap, he is still - on average - much easier to take than many of the more "serious" sci-fi authors out there.

There are four stories in this book, which is slightly more than 200 pages long.  "The Martian Way" follows a crew of "Scavengers" as they try to supply Mars with water.  The WWII analogies are less than subtle, but it's still a great story.  

The next story, "Youth," concerns a pair of boys who've discovered extraterrestrials in their backyard.  The twist at the end of this story is fantastic, and you'll never see it coming.  

"The Deep," the third story in this collection, concerns a race of telepathic aliens who wish to colonize Earth.  It's not nearly as good as the first two stories, but still not bad.  

The last story, "Sucker Bait,"involves a team of scientists as they explore a potentially toxic new world.  This last story, while quite interesting at the outset, left me a little disappointed.  It's still good, but compared to the first three stories it falls flat.

This is a good collection of stories, and I would recommend it.  Those unacquainted with Asimov will find a lot to appreciate in these stories, and those who fail to understand the popularity of turgid later works such as "Caves of Steel" or "Foundation and Earth" will find in these stories the true reason behind Asimov's enduring fame.

2013年8月17日 星期六

"The Heaven Makers" by Frank Herbert

"The Heaven Makers" first appeared in novel form in 1968, though it was serialized a year before that.  This would put it several years after "Dune", for which Frank Herbert won the Nebula award.

The plot concerns an alien race which manipulates human history for the sake of entertainment.  This alien race, the Chem, are immortal and virtually indestructible.  About halfway through the novel, a human woman is abducted by the Chem for their sexual amusement, and her lover, a psychologist, becomes aware of how the Chem have manipulated events within their small town.

And I'll agree that it sounds like the basis for a good novel, but most of the book is taken up with courtroom drama, and the way in which the "hero" overcomes the alien at the end is both contrived and ridiculous.  Even aside from these points, "The Heaven Makers" is simply boring.  The characters are uninteresting, and their actions don't make a lot of sense.

2013年8月15日 星期四

"Gunner Cade" by C.M. Kornbluth and Judith Merril

"Gunner Cade" was first published in 1952.  The authors will be familiar to those versed in sci-fi's Golden Age (the 50s), though their names are far from common knowledge today.

This book is only 160 pages long, and it's a straightforward action-adventure piece, so there's little I can say about it.  It's set in the future, Cade is a member of a warrior caste called the Armsmen, and there is a plot involving Earth, Mars, the Emperor, and a high official called the Power Master.

It's a solid, entertaining book that doesn't ask much of the reader.  I thought it was good, but not spectacular.  It would make a decent movie, though they'd probably have to add a few subplots, and amp up the sex a bit.  The main character spends a fair amount of this book in a brothel, so that wouldn't be a difficult thing to do.

2013年8月14日 星期三

"The Green Brain" by Frank Herbert

 "Joao saw the pod's nose lift, slam down, saw white water and spume boil past where the canopy had been.  He saw a sprayrifle jerk out that opening into the river, and he wedged himself more tightly between the seats and the dash.  His fingers ached where he clutched the wheel.  A wrenching motion of the pod turned his head and he saw Chen-Lhu's arms wrapped around the seat back directly above him."

"The Green Brain" first appeared as "Greenslaves," a story serialized in Amazing Stories as far back as 1965.  It is one of Herbert's earliest stories, and shows him exploring avenues of inquiry which were later sacrificed to the more human, less ecological elements that comprised his landmark Dune novels.

It also forms an interesting pair of novels with "Hellstrom's Hive," another Herbert novel about the interactions between humankind and the insect world.  While I think "Hellstrom's Hive" is a far better novel, "The Green Brain" adds a nice bit of counterpoint to that other story of hivelike humans.

"The Green Brain" is set in Brazil, where the International Ecological Organization is attempting to eradicate all manner of pests from the Brazilian rainforest.  The local IEO representative, Chen-Lhu, seeks to further the IEO's plans for Brazil by using the lovely Rhin Kelly to seduce a local exterminator, Joao Martinho.  These three characters quickly fall into the clutches the Green Brain, a newly evolved insect intelligence.

Most of this novel is a survival story, wherein Chen-Lhu, Rhin, and Joao spend several chapters trapped together in the above-mentioned pod, attempting to float to safety.  In this respect, "The Green Brain" resembles other Herbert books such as "Destination: Void" and "Whipping Star."  These books also feature characters trapped together in some kind of craft, forced to come to terms with an alien life form.  

Unfortunately, "The Green Brain" also shares the weaknesses of these novels, in that the insect intelligence's motives are unclear, and the book seems to go on longer than it should.  Herbert's characters engage in so much doublespeak, and in so many kinds of meta-analytic acrobatics that the story becomes muddled, leaving the reader to wonder why anyone is doing anything, and to what higher purpose.  The chapters with the Green Brain are interesting, but the rest of the novel seems a bit thin.

I would only recommend this book if you are a die-hard Herbert fan.  Otherwise, there are better books out there.  It isn't the worst of his books (that dishonor might go to "The Dosadi Experiment"), but it pales in comparison to his more famous novels.

2013年8月12日 星期一

"The Gates of Creation" by Philip Jose Farmer

"...the Lords have inherited their weapons.  What they haven't inherited or taken from others, they cannot get.  The race has lost its ancient wisdom and skill; it has become users, consumers, not creators.  So, a Lord must use what he has.  And if these weapons do not cover every contingency, if they leave holes in the armor, then they can be penetrated.

"There is another aspect to this.  The Lords fight for their lives and fight to kill each other.  But most have lived too long.  They weary of everything.  They want to die.  Deep in the abyss of their minds, below the thousands of strata of the years of too much power and too little love, they want to die.  And so, there are cracks in the walls."

"The Gates of Creation" is the second book in Farmer's World of Tiers series, and was first published in 1966.  I have yet to read the other books in this series.

The novel is centered around Robert Wolff, also known as Jadawin, a member of a race called the Lords.  The Lords are godlike beings, who maintain their godhood through technologies others have invented.  The Lords, powerful enough to remain virtually immortal and to create entire universes, lack the scientific understanding upon which their technologies are based.  Their machines allow them to do wondrous things, but they are like children playing with toys, unconcerned with how their actions influence others.

The Lords perpetually war against one another, and all seek to overthrow their father, Urizen, who sits over and above the World of Tiers they have created.  Urizen sets traps for his children, and delights in pitting one sibling off against another.

At the beginning of the novel, Urizen abducts Wolff's concubine, Chryseis, and forces Wolff and several other Lords into an open confrontation.  Early on the Lords are deprived of their miraculous devices, and must rely upon Wolff to lead them.  Wolff, having learned much from a brief stay on Earth, possesses a practical knowledge that all of the other Lords have lost.

In tone, the novel resembles a Robert E. Howard story, with bits of "science" thrown in for good measure.  The characters are all lustful and larger than life, and the action flows seamlessly from beginning to end.  It's definitely not the deepest sci-fi novel I've ever read, but I never felt like it was boring.  It's a lot like reading a video game, with each chapter representing another level of the game.  

I plan on reading the other books in this series, and I enjoy Farmer's more sexualized take on the science fiction genre.  While "Gates of Creation" won't blow your mind in the way that "God Emperor of Dune" or "Lies, Inc." will, it offers a well-written adventure story, highlighted by gods who are engagingly human.

2013年8月4日 星期日

"Maus" by Art Spiegelman

"Yes.  Life always takes the side of life, and somehow the victims are blamed.  But it wasn't the BEST people who survived, nor did the best ones die.  It was RANDOM!"
Uh-oh, a serious comic book!

And yeah, I know that a lot of serious comic books are lame and uninspired, but this one is different.  This one is actually good.

"Maus," recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, explored the Holocaust through the recollections of the author's father.  Much of this comic book is autobiographical in nature, and flashes backwards and forwards between the 1980s and the horrors of places like Auschwitz.  It is a very personal story, and there were parts of it that moved me very deeply.

I'm not planning to wholeheartedly switch over to "serious" comics anytime soon, but "Maus" is an excellent comic book, and as such is more than worth your time.  There are plenty of uninspired, "third party" comics out there, but this is not one of them.

"Seige: Thor" by Kieron Gillen et al.

This hardcover is very boring and generally pointless.  Half of the story is missing from it, and one would need to collect all of the other "Seige" hardcovers to get much out of this one.

The Asgardians, now dwelling in the midst of scenic Oklahoma, find themselves besieged by a host of other super-powered beings.  Thor doesn't even show up until the end, and there follows a climactic battle in which he battles the cyborg Thor seen in The Ultimates.  It's all very tedious and talky, and the lettering is hard to read.

I loved Walt Simonson's run on Thor, but I haven't found much to like in this character since then.  I wish they'd stop making him speak "Olde English," I wish they'd give him a satisfying Achilles heel, and I wish they'd try to make Asgard something more interesting than the local Medieval Fair.  As it is, I wanted the Asgardians to perish, if only to put their ceaseless bantering to an end.  If Walt Simonson knew anything, he knew that gods should be more than extras from a Prince Valiant comic.  Gods should be godlike.  Make them too normal, and you destroy what makes them interesting.

"The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume One" by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill

Didn't like this one as much as I thought I would.  In case you haven't seen the movie, a group of literary characters team up to battle evil.  It sounds like a great premise, but then again Philip Jose Farmer explored a similar theme in his Riverworld series - long before this comic book ever appeared.

I remain a fan of Watchmen, but I can't help but feel that Alan Moore wasn't trying hard enough with this one.  Beyond the central premise and a handful of gags, there's really not much in this comic book besides trivia.  

Kevin O'Neill's art is always great when he's drawing grotesque, futuristic machines and acts of violence, but his drawing method adds little to the talkier parts of this comic.  Unfortunately for him, this comic has a lot of talky parts.

This comic book IS much better than the movie - not that that's saying much.  Taken on its own merits, I would have to say that the creative team behind this one has done much better elsewhere.

2013年8月3日 星期六

"A Century of Science Fiction: 1950-1959" edited by Robert Silverberg

This anthology appeared in 1996, and I'm sad to say that this, the first volume, was the only one that saw print.  According to the dust jacket, MJF Books was planning six more volumes in the series, with five volumes for the remainder of the twentieth century and a single volume for the first half.  If these other volumes had seen print, I'd be tracking them down now.

The more famous authors in this anthology are Ray Bradbury, Philip Jose Farmer, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Poul Anderson, and (of course) Robert Silverberg.  Works by these "name" authors take up about half of the book, with the remaining half apportioned to authors whose fame was more specific to the 50s.  Almost all of the stories are great.  There are a couple average ones.  Only one story, "Common Time" by James Blish, would be, in my opinion, bad.

I really enjoyed this book, and I'm looking forward to seeking out some of the less-familiar authors in this collection.  After reading "Call Me Joe," I'm very eager to find some of Jack Vance's novels, and I have been encouraged to take another look at Philip Jose Farmer.  I tried to read one of his books years ago - didn't like it - and gave him no further thought, but I'm thinking that his more famous science fiction might be worth a second look.

I'll let you know what I discover.  It suddenly seems that I have a lot of reading to do!

2013年8月1日 星期四

"Superman [and] Batman: Public Enemies" by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness

This limited series was recently adapted into an animated feature which I have yet to see.  Say what you like about Warner Bros. strategy for creating a "DC Cinematic Universe" - the fact remains that they've been working overtime when it comes to cartoons.  I saw the "Flashpoint Paradox" cartoon not long ago, and I was surprised by its level of quality.

In "Public Enemies," Superman and Batman team up to foil a plan by President Lex Luthor.  Jeph Loeb tries very hard to draw parallels between the two heroes, and to provide situations in which their abilities compliment one another.  Loeb certainly shows a lot of versatility as a comic book writer, and what one sees in "Public Enemies" is VERY different from Loeb's work on "Red Hulk" or "The Long Halloween."

I'm not a huge fan of Ed McGuinness's art.  He is obviously very competent, but I can't help but compare him to Tim Sale, who drew the introductory chapter to this series.  I realize that comparing Sale and McGuinness is like comparing apples to oranges, but I can't help but think that McGuinness sacrifices style for the sake of technique, where Sale is all about style.  In the long run, I think, style wins.

I'm also wondering if Zack Snyder has read this comic.  Given that "Batman Vs. Superman" is now (officially) in the works, series such as this one might well provide a template for any script based on the two characters.  The Justice League and supervillains could easily be excised from the plot, and what you'd be left with is a solid drama about two heroes learning to work together as a duo.  This, in turn, would set up the future "Justice League" quite nicely.