2016年4月18日 星期一

"Anansi Boys" by Neil Gaiman (2005)

"Soon the bedroom contained only injured or dead flamingos: the ones who had broken the windows, the ones who had crashed into the walls, the ones who had been crushed beneath other flamingos.  Those of the birds who were still alive watched the bedroom door open, apparently by itself, and close again, but, being flamingos, they thought very little of it."

Neil Gaiman is a British writer who now lives in America.  He began his career in comic books, and as a novelist he's best known for his book American Gods.  This novel, Anansi Boys, was also made into a TV series.

In the book, the son of the spider god Anansi discovers a brother he never knew about.  The brothers then meet in London, and the rivalry that develops between them gives shape to the story.  It is a book full of gods, ghosts, and magic, and will be familiar to anyone who's come across Gaiman's work before.

I liked it well enough (it's funny), but I'd have to say that it's pretty forgettable.  Despite the inclusion of mythological themes and other elements, nothing about this book feels especially universal, and after finishing it I could only remember a few of the funnier moments.  From a dramatic perspective, all of the major plot points can be reduced to "magic," and an entirely unexplained sort of magic at that.  The result is a book that's somewhat unsatisfying, and entirely arbitrary.

Which is not to say it's bad.  It isn't.  It's only forgettable, and I can think of worse things to say about other books.

2016年4月14日 星期四

"The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth (2004)

"'Lower your voice!' and the tension of the day now so overwhelmed her that she lost her temper, and to the boy she had so painfully missed all summer long, she snapped, 'You don't know what you're talking about!'"

Philip Roth is an American novelist.  He received the Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for his novel American Pastoral.  He has received numerous other awards, and many of his books have been adapted into movies.  He may have retired in 2012.

The Plot Against America is a work of alternative history, and in spirit it's not all that different from Philip K. Dick's earlier novel, The Man in the High Castle.  Yet where Dick brings alternate timelines into his tale of post-WWII America, Roth's narrative is much more personal, and more concerned with what it means to be a Jew in the USA. 

In the novel, the author witnesses history unfold in his quiet, predominately Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey.  Roosevelt ends his second term with a whimper, and in the wake of isolationist sentiment the younger Charles Lindbergh is elected President.  Lindbergh, an anti-Semite and admirer of Hitler, reaches understandings with both the Nazis and Imperial Japan as war engulfs Europe.

Compared to The Man in the High Castle, it's fairly pedestrian and lacks suspense.  It's not terrible, but I can understand why it was passed over for several science fiction awards during its year of publication.  It's simply not imaginative enough for science fiction fans, and as a work of Literature it's somewhat one-dimensional.  Some of Roth's observations on what it is to be a Jew in America are very insightful, but the narrative is overlong, and most of the characters are ciphers.  The movement backward and forward through time also grows irritating, and at one point he gives away the ending before the book is really over.

Philip Roth has written some great books - American Pastoral blew me away the first time I read it - but this book is something of a dud, and is probably best avoided.  It's not bad, but there are much better books out there.

2016年4月13日 星期三

A Review of Every Marvel Movie from 2008 to the Present (Revised as of April 27, 2016)

Due to the truly astonishing number of Marvel films either released or in various stages of production, I have decided to begin the list below with the first Iron Man, in 2008.  For reviews of older Marvel films look here.

Excellent!  Had to see it twice!
Good movie with a few flaws.
Not bad, but not great.
I’d watch it once if I was bored enough.
[no stars]
Just terrible.
So bad it’s kind of good.

21. Iron Man (2008) ****

After Batman Begins, this is the other movie that reinvigorated the genre.  Where Batman Begins was dark, this one was funny.  Where Batman is driven, Tony Stark is brilliantly conflicted.  It is everything that Nolan's movie wasn't, and that's why it works.

22. The Incredible Hulk (2008) ***1/2

This movie was sidelined by the overwhelming success of Iron Man, but I loved it.  I loved Edward Norton's take on the character, I loved the script he wrote for the film, and I loved the Greco-Roman take on The Hulk.  My only complaint is that he let The Abomination live at the end.  I found this hard to believe.

23. Punisher: War Zone (2008) *

A more violent take on Frank Castle.  It's a solid film, but maybe a little too depressing for its own good.  I consider it an improvement on the first.

24. X-men Origins: Wolverine (2009) *

This movie is standard popcorn fare, much along the lines of Ghost Rider. Hugh Jackman goes through the motions, an attempt to bring Deadpool and Gambit into the mix is handled badly, and by the end you're thankful that it's not as dreadful as X3.


25. Iron Man 2 (2010) ***

I liked this almost as much as the first one.  Downey Jr. is given even better one-liners in this film, and Mickey Rourke characteristically chews the scenery.  Sam Rockwell is also great as Justin Hammer, and my only complaint is that Don Cheadle isn't given enough to do.

26. Kick-Ass (2010) **

I have friends who love this movie.  I don't.  I think the first half is good, but after Big Daddy dies it just gets silly - especially the jet pack.  A nice warm up for The Amazing Spider-Man, however.

27. Thor (2011) *

Considering how hard it must have been to adapt Thor to the big screen, I would consider this movie a success.  Still, compared to other movies Marvel Studios has made, I think this is the weakest one.  I've never been a big fan of Kenneth Branagh.

28. X-men: First Class (2011) ***

Michael Fassbender makes this movie.  Forgive the pun, but he is positively magnetic as Magneto.  I thought the end was weak, but it's still miles ahead of the first three films.

29. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) ***

Still one of my favorite Marvel movies.  It might seem a bit slow for some people, but the mixture of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark really worked for me.

30. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Ghost Rider journeys to Europe on an extremely low budget.  The screenplay was probably good, but the direction is all over the place and Nicholas Cage overdoes the "manic" elements.  The only good thing I can say about this film is that the actress who plays "the Devil's baby-momma" is extremely beautiful.  Fun Fact: Idris Elba, who appeared in Thor the year before, is Johnny Blaze's sidekick.

31. The Avengers (2012) ***1/2

There are entire websites devoted to how awesome this movie is.  It's a good film, but not one of the best.  Considering how difficult it is to put characters as diverse as Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor into the same movie universe, this one is an unqualified triumph.  I'm only sorry the Oscorp Tower didn't make an appearance.

32. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) ***

This is a good movie, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.  Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone have some terrific chemistry, and it's a solid effort.  The Lizard is a bit too Hulk-like for my taste, but this is a vast improvement over Spider-Man 3.

33. Iron Man 3 (2013) *

I was super excited about this movie, but walked away from it disappointed.  It starts out well, but neither of the villains are very compelling, and the stunt work is too over the top.  My biggest complaint is the ending, which gives us a Tony Stark who no longer has any reason to be Iron Man.

34. Kick-Ass 2 (2013) **

It's not a great movie, but it's not bad.  There are some funny scenes in this one, but it could have been a lot better.

35. The Wolverine (2013) **1/2

I had high hopes for this one, but it wasn't all that good.  It's certainly much better than X-Men Origins: Wolverine and all the other X-Men films, but that's not saying all that much.

36. Thor: The Dark World (2013) ***

This was a great movie.  I didn't love the first Thor, but this one was a vast improvement.  Reminded me a lot of the Walt Simonson run on the comic book.  Hoping to see Beta Ray Bill in Thor 3!

37. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) **1/2

Steve Rogers struggles with the modern world and his role in S.H.I.E.L.D.  After encountering the Winter Soldier, he has even more reasons to doubt the nobility of certain causes.  A very topical movie, with some great action sequences.  Didn't like it as much as Thor: The Dark World, but it was well done.

38. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) **

Too much CGI, but some great performances from Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  I liked this movie more than "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," though the action sequences in Cap were better.  This film has more dramatic tension, better ensemble performances, and more heart.  Looking forward to the third film!

39. X-men: Days of Future Past (2014) ***1/2

A surprisingly good movie.  As mutantkind faces extinction, Wolverine journeys into the past to change the future.  Excellent performances, and one of the most emotionally resonant superhero films to come along in quite a while.  Fun Fact: Although played by a white midget (Peter Dinklage) in Days of Future Past, Bill Duke, a rather large black man, plays Bolivar Trask in the earlier X-Men: The Last Stand.

40. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) **

A good movie, though it features too many characters for its own good.  Humor holds the film together, and makes some of the less plausible plot elements seem more plausible.  As with many other recent films from Marvel Studios, seems less inspired than calculated.  Maybe the second one will be better?

41. The Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)**1/2

I can't say it's flawless, but I did like it much better than Guardians of the Galaxy.  It's less talky than the first Avengers, and the battle between Hulk and the Hulkbuster is truly awesome.  Quicksilver seemed a bit  underused, and I would have liked to see more of the Vision, but it's still a great movie.

42. Ant-Man (2015)**

Any great scenes in this movie involve a) Michael Pena, b) shrinking, or c) both.  As for the rest of it?  It starts off well enough, but it takes too long to get going.  "The heist" at the end is a bit of a non-event, but the fight scenes between Ant-Man and Yellowjacket are good.

43. Fantastic Four (2015)*

This movie is not bad up until the four return from Planet Zero.  After that point it's a mess.  Once Reed escapes from the military facility the dialogue is awful, the characters do things that make no sense, and the movie somehow ends without building up any kind of dramatic tension.  It feels like an hour of this film was removed before it hit theaters, and Dr. Doom looks like he escaped from another, much lower-budget film.

44. Deadpool (2016)***

The good news: as far as films within Fox's X-men universe go, this one is second best.  It's not as riveting as X-men: Days of Future Past, but it's better than all the other ones.  Compared to the Marvel Studios films, I'd rank it above lesser efforts like Iron Man 2 and 3, though it comes nowhere near their best.  It's refreshingly profane, yet it struggles during most of the "serious" parts.  A sequel to this movie would probably be much better than the original.

45. Captain America: Civil War (2016) **1/2

I liked it, but it was WAY to long and that fight at the airport seemed entirely unnecessary.  The inclusion of both Black Panther and Spider-Man also did very little to advance the plot, though I was happy to finally see Marvel's approach to these characters.  I think a smaller-scale movie, concentrating on the dynamic between Steve, Bucky, and Tony would have worked much better.

On the Way

46. X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

More of a sequel to X-men: First Class, this film will focus on the origin of the mutants.  Apocalypse, always one of my favorite villains, will appear.  Using Apocalypse to discuss the "selective breeding" of mutants (a la Dune) could add a whole other level of believability to the X-Men franchise, but I doubt they'll put that much thought into it.

47. Doctor Strange (2016)

All I can say is... finally!  I've been waiting for this movie for so long.  Scott Derrickson is directing, and Benedict Cumberbatch will star as Stephen Strange.  The first trailer was released today, and it looks GREAT.  Time to get strange!

48. Deadpool 2?  X-Force? New Mutants? (2016)

The Gambit movie has been put on hold for the time being.  A Deadpool sequel so soon seems unlikely.  X-Force also seems unlikely without Deadpool.  New Mutants is a distinct possibility, however.

49. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)

Who would have thought the first Guardians of the Galaxy would be such a success?  And who would have thought that a sequel would be on the way so soon?  Most of the original cast and crew will return for this film.

50. Third Wolverine Film (2017)

Hugh Jackman and director James Mangold will be returning.  Hopefully they can improve upon The Wolverine, which wasn't the stylistic triumph I hoped it would be.  Hugh Jackman has indicated that they'll be going for "Old Man Logan," though of course Fox will need to change a lot of the story to make up for characters they don't have the rights to.

51. Deadpool 2? X-Force? New Mutants? (2017)

Fox just greenlit the Deadpool sequel, and it seems likely that it will take over Fantastic Four 2's release date.  Either that or they'll skip straight to X-Force and put Deadpool on the roster.  New Mutants is also a possibility.

52. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

The Hulk will be in it, though nothing is known about the plot.  Taika Waititi will be directing, and Chris Hemsworth will return as Thor.

53. The Black Panther (2017)

Chadwick Boseman will play the Black Panther.  Creed's Ryan Coogler is directing.  I think it's safe to say that elements of his backstory will appear in the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Nothing else is known about this movie.

54. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Sony finally set a release date for this film.  After years of negotiations with Marvel, Tom Holland will finally star as a much younger Spider-Man, with Jon Watts directing.  I thought the Amazing Spider-Man films were... OK, but I'm glad to see the character back under Marvel's supervision.  Last I heard Michael Keaton (Batman!) was in talks to play (one of the) villain(s).

55. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (2018)

It was bound to happen.  Thanos will be the villain, and his quest for the infinity gems (stones) will probably cause Earth's mightiest heroes a great deal of misery.  The interplay between this and DC's two Justice League movies will be fun to watch.

56. Captain Marvel (2018)

A female superhero film - even if it will appear a YEAR after DC's Wonder Woman.  And Captain Marvel ain't no Wonder Woman!  My guess is that Marvel will struggle with the script for a while and eventually give up.  Captain Marvel just isn't that interesting a character.

57. Inhumans (2018)

It's kind of hard to imagine the Inhumans in the absence of the Fantastic Four, but I'm sure Marvel will figure out a way to make it work.  Last I heard this movie had been delayed, and its release date may be given to another film.

58. Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018) 

No details on this movie as yet.  It was announced this week, and the release dates for both Captain Marvel and Black Panther have been adjusted to accommodate it.

59. The Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 (2019)

With a rumored budget of a BILLION dollars, this and Infinity War Part 1 will, if nothing else, be something to talk about.

60. Untitled (2020) 

Have fun guessing.  My guess is that we finally get another Hulk movie.  Yeah, I know about that business with Universal, and yes, he often works better as part of the Avengers, but a Planet Hulk or World War Hulk movie would be amazing.  Marvel also knows how bad many of us want this one.

61. Untitled (2020) 

Have fun guessing here, too.  We can safely rule out Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America.  Ant-Man's sequel and Guardians of the Galaxy 2 are also listed above.  What does that leave us?  Could Marvel have won back the rights to the Fantastic Four?  Or will it be Guardians of the Galaxy 3?

62. Untitled (2020) 

Go CRAZY guessing!  Ghost Rider?  Daredevil on the big screen?  The Punisher?  Ego the living planet?  The U-Foes?  Spider-Gwen?

2016年4月6日 星期三

Thoughts on the Future of Various Cinematic Universes

Batman v. Superman premiered two weeks ago, Civil War is due (in Taiwan) 21 days from now, and X-Men: Apocalypse is due 21 days after that.  This means that three separate cinematic universes are in full swing, and with this in mind I'd like to discuss what the future might hold for each.

1. The DC Extended Universe

We are only two films into DC's Extended Universe.  The first of these was 2013's Man of Steel, and the second is the recently released Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  A third film, Suicide Squad, will appear later this summer.

And later still: 

Wonder Woman (2017), Justice League Part 1 (2017), The Flash (2018), Aquaman (2018), Shazam (2019?), Justice League Part 2 (2019), Cyborg (2020), and Green Lantern Corps (2020).

How it's looking now: 

Batman v. Superman is a very divisive film.  Some of us love it, others hate it, with very few people in the middle.  I think it has flaws, but the initial critical reaction was far out of proportion to any flaws this movie might have.  It's not perfect, but if you really think it's worse than the first Thor, or the third X-men, you might want to question your loyalty to Marvel properties and/or your rampant dislike for anything DC.  There's a lot of "brand loyalty" at work in people's reactions to this film, both to its benefit and to its disadvantage.

Obviously replacing Snyder as director of the upcoming Justice League Part 1 would change many people's perceptions of the DC Extended Universe.  So will the success or failure of the upcoming Suicide Squad.  Yet I think that as of now the DCEU is on much firmer footing, and if Suicide Squad does well, future critics will be much kinder to Batman v. Superman.  As it is, BvS made a TON of money, and I don't think Warner Bros. has too much to worry about.

What I think they should do: 

a. Replace Snyder.  I think the guy's got talent, and finding another director will certainly delay production of Justice League Part 1, but it seems like the right thing to do.

b. Keep hiring good directors, and have faith in them.  Right now Marvel resembles the "studio system" of 1940s Hollywood, and DC won't be able to compete if they emulate the same system.  Instead of the top-down approach that Kevin Feige embodies, find directors with talent, and trust that they'll make a good movie without so much oversight.  David Ayer (Suicide Squad) and Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) both have proven track records, and both can deliver quality films if Warner Bros. trusts in their respective visions.

c. Beat Marvel to the punch.  What do I mean by this?  Darkseid!  Darkseid and his Fourth World mythos are to Thanos what the anthill is the the ant.  I've heard talk that Justice League Part 1 will use the Atlanteans as the villains, but hopefully Darkseid will figure into that film as well.  DC has always done villains better than Marvel, and Darkseid represents an opportunity to deliver the original article (Darkseid) before Marvel re-releases the copy (Thanos) in Infinity War.

d. Don't try to copy Marvel's formula.  A lot of the negative reaction to Batman v. Superman can be boiled down to "not Marvel."  That's OK.  Not everyone's going to get it at first.  Don't be afraid to get "dark" just because Marvel has a lighter touch.  The recent talk of Suicide Squad undergoing reshoots to make it "more fun" is worrying, and would seem to indicate a lack of confidence in the course they've chosen.

2. The Marvel Cinematic Universe

The upcoming Captain America: Civil War will be the 13th film in the series, and the first film in Marvel's "Phase Three."  It's also the third Captain America film, following 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, and 2014's Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Expectations for this movie are high.

And later still: 

Doctor Strange (2016), Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), Spider-Man (in partnership with Sony, 2017), Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Black Panther (2018), Avengers: Infinity War - Part 1 (2018), Captain Marvel (2019), Avengers: Infinity War - Part 2 (2019), and Inhumans (2019).

And of course the Netflix shows should also be mentioned, since they occur in the same universe.  Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the Defenders are all in various stages of production, though the dates of their release are more tentative.  And yes, there's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter, and the upcoming Damage Control, though - full disclosure - I have to say that I don't bother with the non-Netflix shows.

How it's looking now:

Marvel is still king of the castle, and should continue to be so with the release of Civil War.  I think Civil War will be a huge success, but the reaction to Doctor Strange will be more telling.  Marvel is well into its B-level heroes now, and by the time they arrive at Luke Cage and Captain Marvel they'll have arrived at the C-level.  Will the public get tired of their tried and tested formula?

What I think they should do: 

a. Don't be afraid to get weird.  Doctor Strange is of course their first opportunity to do this, since he's a magical hero who travels into other dimensions.  The Marvel films are definitely starting to feel a bit formulaic, and throwing in an eccentric one now and then will make their entire cinematic universe more interesting.

b. Make it topical.  Marvel does issues well, and the popularity of the Civil War idea reflects this.  Marvel has always done social issues better than DC, just as DC has always done the cosmic stuff better.  I think if the Marvel films can stay relevant they will continue to do well.

c. Don't oversaturate the market.  This is of course the biggest danger that Marvel Studios faces, aside from the soon-to-expire contracts of its leading men and women.  Success invites overexposure, and the public can only care about so many superheroes and so many storylines at one time.  "Holding back" a little will ensure that there's still an audience for these things down the line. 

d. Have a plan B.  What is Marvel going to do without Evans, Downey, and Hemsworth?  These actors will inevitably exit stage left at some point, and Marvel should be preparing for this outcome.  It is an interesting question: Will they go with newer heroes, or reboot the older ones? 

3. Fox's X-Men Film Series.

As stated above, X-Men: Apocalypse will be appearing in May, to be followed by a third Wolverine film in 2017.  X-Men: Apocalypse is the 9th movie in this series, and marks Bryan Singer's fourth outing (if you'll forgive the pun) as director.

And later still: 

Deadpool 2, X-Force, Gambit, and the New Mutants are all possibilities, but Fox isn't assigning release dates to their future films as yet.  I think this is a smart move, as it frees them up to pursue whatever projects seem most viable.

How it's looking now:

Deadpool was an astounding and unexpected worldwide success, produced on what was - in superhero terms - a miniscule budget.  X-Men: Days of Future Past was also well received, though it wasn't the game-changer that Deadpool was.  I would describe the anticipation for X-Men: Apocalypse as "moderate," though of course positive reviews can always change people's minds.

What I think they should do: 

a. The New Mutants.  This was a popular (if not super popular) comic book from the late 1980s, that would translate well into a film.  It would also make the X-men films much richer, showing us aspects of that world we haven't really seen before.  Magik and Warlock would also look amazing onscreen.

b. Enough with Mystique already.  I get that Jennifer Lawrence is a talented and beautiful actress, but her role in the X-men films is beginning to resemble that of Wolverine.  Mystique leading a team against Apocalypse?  Really?  Who thought that idea made sense?  This character is already far more important that she ever was in the comics, and her importance comes at the expense of other, more interesting characters.

c. Deadpool sequel please.  Of course this is bound to happen at some point, but I'm hoping it's sooner rather than later.  Cable also comes with the sequel.

d. X-Force.  It might be better to do this after a New Mutants film, especially since X-Force was a natural outgrowth of the New Mutants.  Having the mutants go "paramilitary" would be a great idea.

e. Get rid of Singer.  Really.  It's time for him to go.  I thought Days of Future Past deserved the critical praise it received, and Apocalypse may deserve similar accolades, but his version of the X-Men continues to look as if it's stuck in the past.  I'm also getting really, really tired of black leather body armor and the endless inclusion of Magneto.  Someone needs to do something new already.

f. Recast Wolverine.  Hugh Jackman has already stated that the third Wolverine will be his last run as the character.  And as much as I think the X-men film series owes its continued existence to him, it's high time we got a Wolverine that was rougher around the edges.  This, I think, should be done as soon as possible.

2016年4月3日 星期日

"The Year's Best Science Fiction" edited by Gardner Dozois (2003)

This is a BIG book.  The subtitle promises "more than 300,000 words of fantastic fiction" and I can believe it.  This "twenty-first annual collection" clocks in at well over 600 pages, and the print was so small that I found myself wishing I had a magnifying glass handy.

Not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but well worth the effort.  As with any such collection, the stories can be divided into the "terrible," "average," "good," and "great" categories, and I'm thankful to report that most of the stories below can be assigned to the "good" category.  There are even a couple great ones to be found in their midst.

1. "Off on a Starship" by William Barton

A teenager finds himself stranded on the other side of the universe, with only a robot to turn to for companionship.  Definitely the worst story here, by turns boring and juvenile.

2. "It's All True" by John Kessel

A time traveler journeys back to the distant past to make Orson Welles a proposition.  Well written, but fails to do anything interesting with either the time travel premise or Orson Welles.

3. "Rogue Farm" by Charles Stross

Bioengineering leads to an almost unrecognizable future.  This is one of the great stories in this collection.  Gloriously weird.

4. "The Ice" by Steven Popkes

A cloning experiment leads a young hockey player to question his individuality.  An engaging story, though the scientific elements aren't really necessary.

5. "Ej-es" by Nancy Kress

A group of medics travel to a distant planet to heal the sick.  Solidly written and worth seeking out.

6. "The Bellman" by John Varley

A detective story set in space.  A killer is attacking pregnant women, and three police officers attempt to find out why.  Fairly predictable, and not all that good.

7. "The Bear's Baby" by Judith Moffett

A race of extraterrestrials transform the Earth into their private nature reserve for a sinister purpose.  The protagonist is annoying and so is the story.

8. "Calling Your Name" by Howard Waldrop

An aging widower finds a door to another universe.  It's an excellent story that doesn't feel the need to beat you over the head with the concepts involved.

9. "June Sixteenth at Anna's" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Another widower finally examines the hologram that was his dead wife's obsession.  Boring and depressing.

10. "The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter Jon Williams

This one was just trying to hard.  The idea of photosynthetic humans is interesting, but the converging narratives don't seem to converge properly.  Two halves of two good stories that don't add up to a convincing whole.

11. "The Fluted Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi

My favorite story in this collection.  A pair of sisters are transformed into musical instruments by a scheming matriarch.  Like an extremely vivid nightmare that's hard to forget.

12. "Dead Worlds" by Jack Skillingstead

A terrestrial observer uploads his consciousness to a space probe light years away.  It's a great idea for a story, but the romantic elements in it don't amount to a satisfying conclusion.

13. "King Dragon" by Michael Swanwick

One of the weirder stories here - by turns futuristic, by turns medieval.  Not bad, but not great.

14. "Singletons in Love" by Paul Melko

A symbiotic organism falls in love with another organism that isn't.  It starts out well, but the ending feels wrong.

15. "Anomalous Structures of My Dreams" by M. Shayne Bell

An AIDS patient witnesses an outbreak of nanomachines.  An excellent story and probably my second favorite after "The Fluted Girl."

16. "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge

Several people wake up to the virtual nature of their reality.  This story has some great ideas in it, but it's hard to buy into the fact that they so quickly agree on what is taking place.

17. "Joe Steele" by Harry Turtledove

A fictional labor leader, Joe Steele, wins the election instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  Brings to mind the far superior "Man in the High Castle."

18. "Birth Days" by Geoff Ryman

One of the worst stories here.  A homosexual comes to terms with his homosexuality, and along the way devises a way for two men to conceive and give birth.  The author should have better researched the science involved, because many of the ideas he proposes don't make any sense.

19. "Awake in the Night" by John C. Wright

I thought this was brilliant in the beginning - until I found out that the brilliant ideas were borrowed from another author.  As a work of fan fiction, it degenerates quickly into a ponderous story with a predictable ending.

20. "The Long Way Home" by James Van Pelt

Man contemplates his place among the stars, with the broad sweep of history as a backdrop.  Not terrible, but kind of like warmed-over Arthur C. Clarke.

21. "The Eyes of America" by Geoffrey A. Landis

Another alternative history story, along the lines of the above-mentioned "Joe Steele." William Jennings Bryan hires Nikolai Tesla as his science adviser, initiating a grudge match between himself and the other candidate, Thomas Edison.  Seemed like this story needed something more.

22. "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst" by Kage Baker

Two immortals from the future visit the Hearst Castle on assignment.  Something like an Agatha Christie story with super-powered cyborgs.  Not very good.

23. "Night of Time" by Robert Reed

A human helps an alien remember something it's forgotten.  Also not very good.  Derivative stuff like this is what keep many thinking people away from science fiction.

24. "Strong Medicine" by William Shunn

An unemployed doctor contemplates suicide on the eve of a disaster.  Short but to the point.

25. "Send Me a Mentagram" by Dominic Green

One of the best stories here.  An antarctic expedition encounters the beginnings of a world plague.  Ghoulishly great.

26. "And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon" by Paul Di Filippo

Another great one.  A surveillance specialist loses his girlfriend to his home appliances.  Yes, that's right.  His home appliances.  Weirdly great along the lines of the above-mentioned "Rogue Farm."

27. "Flashmen" by Terry Dowling

I suppose the author was trying to be enigmatic by leaving out most of the details.  To me it seems like lazy writing.  What's this story about?  I'm still not sure!

28. "Dragonhead" by Nick DiChario

A young man suffers from "information addiction."  That's it.  That's the whole story.

29. "Dear Abbey" by Terry Bisson 

A group of underground environmentalists attempt to solve the world's problems through a combination of time travel and genetic manipulation.  A good story, but not as disarmingly eccentric as some of the other stories in this collection.