With the live action adaptation of The Hobbit released into theaters soon, it makes sense to look at how The Hobbit was written in the first place. That’s what I’m doing at the Kirkus Reviews Blog today.
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of Blackbirds, Double Dead and Dinocalypse Now, and is co-writer of the short film Pandemic, the feature film Him, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.
SF Signal: Hi Chuck, thanks for taking a couple of moments to talk about Blackbirds with us! To start off, what can you tell us about your background? How did you get into writing in the first place?
Chuck Wendig: Thank you for having me! I don’t know that you… “get into writing” so much as, one day you write and if you like it, you write some more, and if you do that enough eventually someone’s kind enough to read and maybe publish your work. A lot of it is honestly just bouncing around, writing my fool head off. Games, scripts, articles, film stuff, and now, novels. I love to do it and a day writing is, for me, a damn good day.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a veteran of the 1st World War, something that I’d never examined all that closely, and for this week at the Kirkus Reviews blog, we’re examining the impact of his time on the front lines. I found the story of Tolkien and his three close friends to be the most emotional and heartbreaking episode of his life. Interestingly, this piece comes shortly after Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day elsewhere), commemorating the end of WWI.
And we’re not done with Tolkien yet, so stay tuned through December!
With October’s Horror duo over with, I decided that it was time to shift gears again to focus on some of the background on Fantasy literature. I came across George MacDonald, a major influence in the early days of the Fantasy genre who inspired numerous authors that came after him. He’s not a household name like Mary Shelley, Jules Verne or H.G. Wells, but he was no less influential in his works, which went on to inspire authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
Go read Some Kind of Fairy Tale over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
Welcome to a new column here on SF Signal: …And Another Thing, a weekly commentary on issues and news from the speculative fiction community! We feel that there’s a lot of news that comes flying out from every corner of the internet on a number of issues: the incident at ReaderCon, the extreme popularity of the summertime releases of Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, to the landing of Curiosity on the surface of Mars. This column will feature a roving band of SF Signal Irregulars and their takes on the world around us.
As John and I were getting ready to launch this, a proverbial earthquake happened: Disney announced that they were purchasing LucasFilm Limited for $4.05 billion dollars in cash and stocks. Almost immediately, my Twitter and Facebook feeds exploded with people excited, freaking out and everything in between. The noise is going to continue for a while, I suspect, and while I was initially skeptical, I realized that this isn’t something that’s unexpected.
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With October a traditionally – horror themed month capped with Halloween, it seemed appropriate to follow up Bram Stoker and Dracula with another notable horror author: H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve found Lovecraft’s stories to be delightfully macabre, and living in Vermont, I can identify with his love of the sheer age of the location, and can see just why this corner of the country is so suited for horror fiction.
Read up on H.P. Lovecraft and the Other over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Miriam Black knows how and when you’re going to die, just by a simple touch. When she meets a truck driver who’s death she’s going to be present at, she’s pulled into a plot that will test her gifts and outlook on life.
PROS: Strong, character driven novel, with a vivid, high-speed pace.
CONS: Very dark throughout, overly so at points, with a couple of untied ends.
BOTTOM LINE: Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds came highly recommended by a number of friends over the past summer, and after picking up a copy and reading through the first couple of pages, I can see why. It’s gripping from the get go, and jumps out of the gate and never slows down. While none of the characters in Blackbirds are particularly likeable, it’s hard not to root for anti-hero Miriam as she’s pulled into a plot that twists her around into knots.
With just a touch, Miriam Black can see when and how people will die. It’s a troubling gift, and its kept her up on the road, right on the ragged edge of the Mid-Atlantic coast. She’s used to the deaths that she can’t prevent, but it’s particularly troubling when she comes across a truck driver who calls out her name when he’s murdered in just a couple of weeks. In short order, she finds herself in the company of a con man and tracked by a violent pair of agents for an even scarier individual who’ll stop at nothing to take back what’s his…
It’s October, and taking off from the end of September, we’ve shifted gears from Science Fiction to Horror Fiction on the Kirkus Reviews blog, where I continue with Bram Stoker and his famous novel, Dracula.
So, to bring in a dreary and dark autumn, go read Bram Stoker’s Dracula over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog!
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A former surgeon, Dr. Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) is hired to work as a sober companion for a police consultant, Sherlock Holmes (Johnny Lee Miller) after he breaks out of rehab. Holmes begins to consult with the New York City Police Department on a homicide, with Watson assisting.
PROS: Surprisingly entertaining, with Liu and Miller proving to be a good matching.
CONS: Lacks almost all of the brilliance that makes the BBC’s Sherlock so good.
When Elementary was announced last year, the backlash was immediate; the team that brought the BBC’s Sherlock to the small screen threatened a lawsuit if there were too many similarities, and fans everywhere panned the news of another modern-day Sherlock Holmes story being brought to American television. Despite that, Elementary is surprisingly watchable, despite being a lackluster weekly procedural.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: When a nuclear submarine is ordered to fire on Pakistan, the crew requests confirmation, only to be attacked by another submarine. On the run, the crew takes refuge from their attackers, intending to lay low and figure out what happened before they can return home.
PROS: A smart, fast-paced show with plenty of potential.
CONS: A tight story and lower ratings to start mean this could be a limited run.
ABC’s new show Last Resort isn’t exactly science fiction, but it feels like it could be. Taking place aboard the fictional USS Colorado, the show begins with a short introduction to the crew before quickly flipping into high gear: orders come from a back-channel to launch nuclear warheads at Pakistan. Captain Marcus Chalpin (portrayed by a fantastic Andre Braugher) requests confirmation, only to be relieved of command. His second in command, Lt. Commander Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) likewise questions the command, and their submarine comes under attack from another sub, the USS Illinois. Effecting repairs, they commandeer a NATO facility and launch a nuke over Washington DC when they find that they’ve been discovered, and let the US know that they’ve got 17 more if they’re troubled further.
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BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A mysterious event knocks out the planet’s technology: no more cars, electricity or conventional society. Fifteen years after the blackout, a small band of adventurers venture out of their home community after a death at the hands of the local militia.
PROS: A show with plenty of potential and room for growth.
CONS: Bland characters leave this pilot with room for improvement.
NBC’s latest speculative fiction outing aired last night, Eric Kripke’s Revolution, produced by J.J. Abrams, and with a ridiculous sounding plot: a global catastrophe knocks out the world’s technology – mostly. Cars shut down, the lights go out, and planes fall out of the sky. Fifteen years later, the society and government of 2012 has collapsed, with much of the population moving out of the cities and into rural America, where regional warlords have taken over. When militia soldiers kill Ben Matheson and capture his son, Danny, his daughter Charlie Matheson travels to the ruins of Chicago along with Ben’s girlfriend Maggie and friend Aaron, to find her uncle, who might know the key to the blackout.
My latest post for the Kirkus Reviews blog is now online! While he’s most famous for his Sherlock Holmes stories, Arthur Conan Doyle was a prolific author who also dabbled in science fiction. His novel The Lost World captured my imagination as a young teenager, and I was surprised to learn that there was more to that series.
Read Exploring Lost Worlds: Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger over at the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
Over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog, we take a look back over the last couple of months to review some of the foundational stories in science fiction: the Science Romances!
Hop on over and read >Rounding Out the Science Romances.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A somewhat entertaining, but incoherent novel.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Fifteen years after the Spacer War, Cesar Vaquero returns to his home station of Ithaca after numerous adventures in a SF retelling of The Odyssey. It’s returning home that’s the greatest challenge.
PROS: An imaginative take on Homer’s epic, with a vivid world replacing the Mediterranean.
CONS: Poor writing and structure completely undermines the story in this novel, coupled with pacing that spikes the action far too soon.
Most of our stories use very old building blocks, and it’s not uncommon to see newer stories incorporating them: just look at the popularity of the Jane Austen mash-ups or John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation to see workable concepts. On the face of it, Spin The Sky looks like it might have a good take on Homer’s ancient story, The Odyssey, updating the story with futuristic warfare and a man trying to return home.
Over on the Kirkus Reviews today, I take a look at the Philip K. Dick stories that inspired a number of films, from Minority Report to Screamers to Total Recall.
Read the entire post over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
This time, I look at English author Olaf Stapledon and his legacy in the genre. Stapledon was an interesting author, and the scale of his works and the themes behind them set him apart from just about everyone. His works also helped to inspire a number of notable authors down the road, such as Arthur C. Clarke.
Read Looking Far, Far into the Future: Olaf Stapledon over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog!
My latest post for Kirkus Reviews is now up online, where I talk about Jules Verne’s short novel From the Earth to the Moon! July 20th is the anniversary of the landing of Apollo 11, although in this case, it would be better to think about Apollo 8. Why? Go read Jules Verne’s Moonshot over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Years after Earth is visited by an alien presence, individuals known as Stalkers move in and out of the Zones to illegally collect artifacts left behind. Red Schuhart is one of these Stalkers, and encounters many strange things over his years of collecting.
PROS: Fantastic and plausible conceptualization of the nature of alien contact, with vividly drawn characters.
CONS: Pacing wasn’t to my liking.
BOTTOM LINE: A brilliant, thought-provoking novel.
I’ll confess that I’d never heard of Roadside Picnic before it was re-released recently by the Chicago Review Press earlier this year. This new edition is the preferred text, following a dramatic history with Soviet censors when it was first published in the 1970s. This edition has a particularly good introduction by Ursula K. LeGuin. Read the rest of this entry