Tom King is the author of the 2012 book, A Once Crowded Sky. (See the SF Signal Review.) Following the attacks on September 11th, King worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as an Operations Office. Prior to his service, he interned with Marvel and D.C. Comics. He recently had a moment to speak with us about his first novel:
SF Signal: Hi Tom, thanks for taking a couple of moments to speak with us! My first question is one you probably get a lot: how do you go from interning with comic book companies to the Central Intelligence Agency?
Tom King: The basic answer is 9/11. After the attacks, I was one of the millions of people who volunteered to help. The way I chose to do it was to apply to the CIA; I just figured they’d be the closest to the front lines. It was a new and righteous war. I wanted to be in it. I wanted to save the world. I was very young.
After working our way through the pulp era, it’s time to begin looking at the ‘Golden Age’ of Science Fiction. Many people felt that this movement began with John Campbell Jr.’s work at Astounding magazine, and there’s no better way to start off this movement than examining the magazine that helped bring science fiction out of the pulp magazines.
Go Read John Campbell Jr. and Astounding Magazine over on Kirkus Reviews.
Catherine Lucielle Moore was one of the earlier female authors to have been writing within the genre, with her first stories published in the early 1930s to a great success. Her career and life was a fascinating one: her own beginnings in the magazines, to her marriage with Henry Kuttner and their subsequent collaboration
Today at the Kirkus Reviews blog, you can read up on The Many Names of Catherine Lucille Moore.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A great follow up to Control Point.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of Control Point, Col. Alan Bookbinder finds himself reassigned to FOB Frontier after finding that he’s a Latent. Once there, the base comes under attack, and he must lead the entire base to safety, aided by the man who put the base in danger in the first place.
PROS: A solid improvement from Control Point, with a fantastic set of new characters.
Myke Cole’s debut novel was a fun story, a blend of magic in the real world, and the military’s response to a justifiably complicated problem. Where Control Point took on the coming of age / learning to control one’s powers style of story (See Harry Potter, The Magicians, Name of the Wind, Circle of Magic, etc), the second novel in the Shadow Ops series takes on the Quest story that’s so popular in fantasy, and completely succeeds. Fortress Frontier is a second novel, and shows that Cole hasn’t experienced a sophomore slump.
The internet is abuzz with the possible news that J.J. Abrams will be directing the newly announced Star Wars Episode VII. Ever since the announcement that Disney had acquired LucasFilm Limited, a parade of potential contenders have surfaced among fansites: Matthew Vaughn, Steven Spielberg, Neill Blomkamp, Alfonso Cuarón, Darren Aronofsky, Joss Whedon, Jon Favreau, Joseph Kosinski, Colin Trevorrow, J. J. Abrams, Brad Bird and Rian Johnson. Out of that list, there are some who are better candidates than others – and Abrams is in the top tier, and appears to be the one.
Consider his resume: He’s managed several highly successful television shows: LOST, Alias, Fringe, and Felicity (the first two of which belonged to ABC, which is in turn owned by Disney), and a number of highly successful films: Mission Impossible III, Super 8, and Star Trek (with the second Star Trek: Into Darkness, coming out this year). His name is invariably attached to a huge list of other projects at any given time.
In my previous Kirkus Reviews column, I talked about E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith and his stories that kickstarted Space Opera. This week, we’re going back a little further and looking at pulp author Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the characters for which he’s known: John Carter and Tarzan.
Go read Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Moons of Mars over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
Space Opera is said to have begun with a fellow known as E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith. Last time we talked about science fiction, we left with Hugo Gernsback and his contributions to the genre, and between his work and the beginnings of John W. Campbell’s Golden Age, Smith’s a major figure to look at. He’s a fascinating character, and his contributions to the genre deserve quite a bit more notice.
In a lot of ways, Smith invented the intergalactic space opera, from which so many well known books, television shows and films owe their existence.
Read up on The Amazing Stories of E.E. Doc Smith over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
In December 2011, we had a week where three movie trailers hit the web: The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit and Prometheus. They looked stunning: these were perfectly crafted marketing tools from films with slick visuals, a promising story, and an unheard of amount of hype around their production. 2012 was shaping up to be an incredible movie year. The Avengers looked quite good good, although it’s trailer was released at a different point in time.
The thing is, in my opinion, none of these movies really held up to the hype. I liked them okay: The Dark Knight Rises was good, but not as good as The Dark Knight (my all-time favorite comic book film), The Hobbit was quite good, but it lingered in almost every scene when it didn’t need to, and Prometheus, well. I liked Prometheus for all the wrong reasons: it’s execution was pretty bad, even as it looked wonderful. The Avengers was the best of the lot, even if it felt like every moment was designed by committee. I fell to the trap of the film’s marketing departments, who knew just what worked to draw audiences to the theaters.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A unique and interesting resource when looking at history.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Science Fiction tends to be closely linked with contemporary history in more ways than one would expect. In this collection of papers, historians examine the parallels between real-world history and the Star Wars franchise.
PROS: A neat and interesting way of looking at history.
CONS: Oversteps its bounds at points.
BOTTOM LINE: Know a Star Wars fan who’s having trouble with history? This volume might be the best way to get them interested.
When I was in grade school, I had trouble reading early on: the books that I had for my classes weren’t doing it for me, and it wasn’t until my parents gave me a couple of youth mystery novels (Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys), that my appetite for reading was realized, and I began consuming books with an ever increasing pace. I bring this up because this was the first thing that sprang to mind while reading through this history text: this is THE book for any kid in high school who’s struggling with the basics of history, and simply needs to look at it in a different light.
Star Wars and History examines various types of real-world history by comparing it to the events in the Star Wars franchise, and for the most part it works. As a fan of George Lucas’s franchise and as a professional historian, the mere existence of this book is exciting, because it combines two passions. On the face of it, it looks like a bit of a strange mash up much like those Victorian era novels juxtaposed with zombies or androids. But, the book reaffirms my belief that science fiction is an inherently political and relevant genre at the time of it’s creation: Star Wars being no exception. Cobbled together from a variety of source material, this book links a number of connections between the franchise and the real world. The topics are pretty far reaching, too: subjects such as insurgency and rebellion are covered, women in warfare, the American Civil War, leaders and power, trade and a whole host of others.
Recently, T.H. White’s novel The Once and Future King has appeared on my radar quite often, in no small part due to fantasy author Lev Grossman’s repeated efforts to raise its profile. For all the attention that White’s book has received over the years, there’s been little about White himself.
Check out T.H. White’s “Once and Future King” over on the Kirkus Reviews blog.
The Hobbit is upon us. The deluge of marketing was compounded by word that Peter Jackson managed to work out a third film, turning the Hobbit into the Lord of the Rings Prequel Trilogy. If there’s anything that I’ve learned this year, it’s that the SF movie world is turning me more cynical, especially when one is at the receiving end of marketing that really has a disconnect from the finished product.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A redundant and uninteresting read.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Jack Casey, retired soldier in England’s collaborator army, is brought back to track down a renegade friend in a reverse-colonization novel set in England.
PROS: Writing is solid, flows well.
CONS: Boring, redundant, and elements of racism present.
Land of Hope and Glory by Geoffrey Wilson takes its name from the patriotic British song that most Americans would recognize as Pomp and Circumstance (if you’ve ever sat through a graduation, you’ll know it). The association here is linked to a tightly nationalistic one, where a country’s people can band together under a common appreciation for the simple fact that they live within the same borders as one another. Never mind that this is an enormously complicated issue, one that seems to be the driving force behind the first book in this series. In an alternative history, magic is present in the world, and in a stunning twist of fate, England has been colonized by India, where the English find themselves under harsh foreign rule.
It’s been a little while since we’ve done a Weekend Playlist feature, which has moved to occasional status as we’ve drifted to various projects. There’s been a whole slew of great geek-related music that’s come out recently, and it’s too good to pass by. For your listening pleasure:
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.
Check out There and Back Again: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit.
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.
Read J.R.R. Tolkien and the Great War.
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.
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.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A dark, gripping character novel.
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…