Alan Moore’s Nemo: Heart of Ice

This week on the Kirkus Reviews blog, I take a look at Alan Moore’s Nemo: Heart of Ice.

From the post:

Moore revisits the world he created in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman in a new book, Nemo: Heart of Ice, which focuses on Janni Dakkar, daughter of Captain Nemo, and her trek across Antarctica to prove herself by recreating Nemo’s own Antarctic expedition. Moore draws from several sources, including H.P. Lovercraft, to create a dark and mysterious continent full of dangers and madness. As a character, Janni feels the weight of the Nemo name and legacy set squarely on her shoulders, and struggles throughout the book to come to terms with that.

Click on over to the Kirkus Blog to read the rest of the review.

Today at Kirkus: A Review of Lazarus One

This week on the Kirkus Reviews Blog, I take a look at Lazarus One from Image Comics.

From the post:

In the future, the world is split not into countries, but fiefdoms controlled by the Families.  The human population is divided into three segments: Family, who control everything, Serfs who have the skills and intelligence necessary to serve and be useful to the Family, and the Waste, who serve no purpose at all.  Each Family has one member who is trained to be something more.  Warrior, messenger, protector, envoy – whatever the situation calls for, the Family Lazarus is there to further the Family’s ends, and protect them from all threats, internal and external.  The Lazarus can be shot, cut, beaten, blown up, take an enormous about of damage, and walk away – eventually.  Their bodies can heal themselves, bones can reset and nit, cuts close, bruises fade.  A Lazarus is nearly indestructible.

Click over to the Kirkus Reviews Blog to read the rest of the review.

REVIEW SUMMARY: A decent offering marred by an art style so grotesque as to be horribly distracting.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After battling a menagerie of his enemies, The Flash (Barry Allen), wakes up to find the world has changed. Atlantis is at war with the Amazon’s of Themyscira, who have destroyed Europe, and claimed the United Kingdom as their own. In this alternate world, it’s up to Barry Allen and this world’s version of The Batman to set things right again, or die trying.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Decent story; nice to see Barry’s version of The Flash in an animated feature; this Batman is interesting (not all alternates have been); another fun romp through the ‘what if’ catalogue of stories.
CONS: The physical representations of the heroes (the art) is weird, grotesque and distracting; even without having read the original comics, the twist was predictable.
BOTTOM LINE: As a fan of the animated movies DC has been pumping out, this one is much better than the previous few and well worth your time.

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Higher Earth: An Epic SciFi Comic

Over on the Kirkus Reviews Blog today, I have a new post up on Boom Studio’s Higher Earth, written by Sam Humphries.

From the post:

Heidi lives on a trash planet. Bright circles in the sky open up and dump trash everywhere. People fight over the scraps dumped on them. Heidi lives alone and fights hard to keep what little she has. Rex is a soldier. He travels from Earth to Earth. Is he running from something or to it? When he finds Heidi, everything changes for them both. Rex convinces Hedi she needs to come with him, and drags her first to a Sunshine Earth full of refugees, then to an Earth that never had an extinction level event and is full of dinosaurs. Everywhere they go, they are pursued and attacked by the agents of Higher Earth. When Rex is badly wounded, Heidi learns the truth about who she is, why she was living on that trash planet, and has to make a choice to either trust Rex and embrace her destiny, or run for her life. Forever.

Click over to the Kirkus Reviews Blog to read the rest of the review.

Previously, I reviewed Gail Simone’s first volume for the rebooted Batgirl series, The Darkest Reflection, which is a part of DC’s New 52 initiative. In the review, I mentioned my appreciation of Gail Simone’s writing, and how the series was off to a great start, and how I was looking forward to the next volume, which we now know is called Knightfall Descends.

The question at such a point, of course, is whether the second volume can match the first volume, and whether it can exceed expectations.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: 8 standout stories + 24 good stories – 3 stories mediocre or worse = a collection on par with previous editions.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the thirty-five best stories of 2011.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: 30 stories worth reading, 7 of which were outstanding. Being exposed to new writers and a rapid-fire stream of ideas as compared with novel-length stories.
CONS: 3 stories didn’t strike me as qualifying for “best”.
BOTTOM LINE: A valuable anthology providing a snapshot of the year 2011 in sf.

Why, yes, I am way behind in my short fiction reading, thank you!

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection is the 2012 edition showcasing editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the thirty-five best sf stories of 2011. The newest edition (See also my reviews of previous editions: #19, #20, #21, #22, #23, #24, #25, #26, #27 and #28) is about on par with previous editions, which is to say that some stories are more enjoyable than others. But the benefit of short fiction goes deeper than overall quality; it is the exposure to new ideas, new writers, and new writing styles coming at the reader faster than happens at novel length that is the true power of short fiction. But some stories have to stand out for any reader. For me they were:
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Short Fiction Friday: Clarkesworld #77

REVIEW SUMMARY: A snowball’s chance journey to save a dying Earth, unwelcome visitors from “out there”, and a space salvage trip gone horribly wrong: all this and more awaits you in the February 2013 issue of the Hugo Award-winning Clarkesworld magazine.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: This issue contains three science fiction short stories, an interview with author Karen Lord, an essay on science fiction and social media, an essay on moral judgment in reading/writing and Neil Clarke’s Editor’s Desk column.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Creativity evident in each story; variety of science fictional and suspense elements; nonfiction articles are well written and offer compelling film and book suggestions.
CONS: One story is less successful in its overall execution; nonfiction articles could potentially lighten your wallet.
BOTTOM LINE: This is my first experience with Clarkesworld magazine and reading it left me very pleased that I subscribed. In my opinion the first story is the strongest but all three stories were vastly different from one another offering a variety that I suspect will result in wildly different opinions based on reader preference.

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BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars and History edited by Nancy R. Reagin and Janice Liedl

REVIEW SUMMARY: A unique and interesting resource when looking at history.

MY RATING:

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.

MY REVIEW:
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.

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With DC’s relaunch of its entire line-up under the “New 52″ umbrella, several Batman-related titles were announced, no less than ten of them! We have the main Batman title, Nightwing, Batgirl, Batman and Robin, Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, Red Hood and The Outlaws, Batwing, Batwoman and Birds of Prey. That’s one heck of an overdose of everything Batman. Plus the fact that the first twelve issues of most of these titles came under the Court of Owls crossover event, and keeping track of the various appearances and stuff is pretty overwhelming. At least, that’s one of the reasons why I avoided reading anything other than Batman by Scott Snyder, Birds of Prey by Duane Swierczynski and Nightwing by Kyle Higgins until now.

Recently, it was as if there was more and more praise for writer Gail Simone, who is penning Batgirl at the moment. It made me curious. I’ve never had much of an interest in Batgirl, a character little seen in the movies and the various TV shows alike. Duane and Kyle have both featured her quite a bit in their ongoing series, with Batgirl being one of the core members of the current incarnation of the Birds of Prey, so I wondered how she would be written in her own solo series. And how it would all tie to the various crossovers that are ongoing for all Batman-related titles. As I said above, first we had the Court of Owls crossover, and now we have Death of the Family, in which Joker returns to Gotham with a vengeance and an axe to grind.

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FILM REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Plodding, ponderous, and ultimately pretentious, Peter Jackson’s prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy never reaches its predecessor’s epic heights.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Gandalf the Gray and a gathering of Dwarves enlist Hobbit Bilbo Baggins into a quest to reclaim treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Breathtaking realization of the riddle scene and the goblin kingdom beneath the Misty Mountains; impressive rendering of goblins, Gollum, and the brief glimpse of Smaug.
CONS: Lumberingly paced; script stretching the source material to excruciating lengths; Peter Jackson’s restless yet surprisingly murky direction; 48 frames-per-second resolution giving the entire movie a cheesy look.

They’ve made a mistake.  Several, actually.  Though clogged with too many songs and meals, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, or There and Back Again benefits from a deft touch and, despite occasional lapses, an elegance in its telling, even when the twee narrative spills into the annoyingly cute.  While it occasionally touches on big themes, it recounts the adventures of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf the Grey, and a band of Dwarves out to reclaim familial treasure from the Dragon Smaug in a way that never bogs down.  Perhaps it lacks the epic sweep of The Lord of the Rings, but its relatively simple quest makes it more immediate and, in a way, more engaging.

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BOOK REVIEW: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

REVIEW SUMMARY: A dark, gripping character novel.

MY RATING:

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…

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Review: Elementary (Pilot)

MY RATING:

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.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Outcast Blade by Jon C. Grimwood

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second Assassini novel strongly continues the story of an alternate Venice in a world with Vampires, Magic and Werewolves.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Tycho, Giulietta and the rest of Venice are caught in the gaze of two avaricious and dangerous Empires–the Holy Roman and the Byzantine

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Immersive and deep writing, excellent invocation of place and character
CONS: A few plot points seem strangely unresolved. A lack of sympathetic characters may turn off some readers.
BOTTOM LINE: Excellent build on the first novel that feels like a continuation rather than a middle book.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, in The Fallen Blade [My SF Signal review here], introduced us to an alternate medieval Venice; a Venice where Marco Polo did not come back to be thrown in prison, but rather, with Mongol help (and a Mongol wife) set himself up to rule, a Venice with German Kriegshund (Werewolves), Vampires, and Magic, a Venice which is a powder keg of danger, discontent, and possibly, doom for the Queen of the Adriatic. The actions of an unlikely hero have saved the city from an enemy fleet, but even more pressing dangers remain…

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A somewhat entertaining, but incoherent novel.

MY RATING:

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.

MY REVIEW:
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.

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BOOK REVIEW: Star Corpsman: Bloodstar by Ian Douglas

SYNOPSIS: When the alien Qesh invade the planet of Bloodworld the Commonwealth Marines must fly to the rescue. Elliot Carlyle is a Navy Corpsmen on the front lines of this interstellar conflict, attending to wounded marines in the face of enemy fire.

MY RATING: 

MY REVIEW
REVIEW SUMMARY: Cool tech and interesting social progression don’t make up for utter lack of character depth.
BOTTOM LINE: As Douglas has proven in past novels, he knows his military science fiction. With Star Corpsman: Bloodstar he gives honor to Navy Corpsmen, unsung heroes of warfare. Unfortunately the plot and characters are not quite as utilized as his technical knowledge.

Elliot “e-Car” Carlyle is nearing the end of his training as a Navy Corpsmen for the Commonwealth Fleet Marine Force when alien activity is spotted near the planet of Bloodworld. Orders come down from on high and Bravo Company, the Black Wizards, deploy to investigate. What they arrive to find poses more questions than answers. Bloodworld was founded by technophobic religious fanatics and their loyalties are questionable. Have the Salvationists been conquered? Or have the Luddites allied themselves with the Imperial Qesh? One thing is certain, the Qesh are inching ever closer to Earth and the very fate of humanity may rest on the shoulders of Carlyle and the Black Wizards.
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MOVIE REVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Messy, way too long, and with far too many missteps and misguided elements, Nolan’s final chapter in the rebooted Batman franchise still remains watchable because of its outstanding cast and several breathtaking sequences.

MY REVIEW:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Batman is called back into service eight years after taking blame for the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent to save Gotham City from the psychotic Bane, and enlists the help of the mysterious jewel thief Selena Kyle.

 

MY REVIEW:
PROS:
  Visually stunning, with outstanding performances by the leads and supporting cast; incredible action sequences.
CONS:
Underdeveloped ideas and story; overlong; intrusion of science fiction elements breaks the tone of the series.

Despite the incredible high-tech gadgets, powerful souped-up vehicles, and near-magical ability of his utility belt to rescue him from any nefarious jam (much like Doctor Who twisting the knobs of his sonic screwdriver to turn any series of unfortunate events, ultimately, to his benefit), Batman is not, and never has been, part of the science fiction universe.  Large though his shadow looms over the ever-growing corner of genre populated by four-color heroes of a far more fantastic bent (from orphaned alien Superman to Amazon Wonder Woman, from laboratory success Captain America to super-science accidents Hulk and Spider-Man, incredible and amazing or not), Bob Kane’s seminal creation shares far more in common with the crime fighters of The Strand or Black Mask, a Sherlock Holmes in cape and cowl, a Continental Op who goes down the noir mean streets in operatic fashion.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Dread Hammer by Linda Nagata

REVIEW SUMMARY: A long conflict between a great kingdom and a small, isolated people is the template and background for a story of love, family and duty.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Rich character based fantasy.
CONS: Central conflict revealed a bit too slowly.
BOTTOM LINE: An unusual but not unwelcome turn into fantasy from a hard SF author.

The Puzzle Lands are a small realm on the borders of a noisome and aggressive kingdom determined to bring their rule and their God to their northern neighbor. The Puzzle lands, lacking numbers, are forced to use cleverness, guile, and the natural terrain to resist being conquered by the Hetawan. The tightly knit ruling family, possessing magical abilities and talents, do all they can to keep their enemies at bay, having been bound to that service generations ago.

A prodigy at killing and war, Smoke, on the other hand, is in hiding from his family in the forest outside of the Puzzle Lands.  His chance meeting with a shepherdess on the road will change him, and unwittingly bring him back to the fold of the family he has fled, for good or ill.

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“A movie needs three things,” my husband recently announced. “Horses, rocks and girls.”
“Not so!” I protested. “A movie needs butt-kicking martial arts. Also really over-the-top costumes.”

Our friend Scott shook his head sadly. “I hate to see you two arguing,” he intervened. “Especially since everybody knows what a movie really needs is a convoluted mystery.”

Not to worry. We made peace. We watched Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame.

What? You’ve never heard of it? But it won a dozen major Asian film awards! It was nominated for the Golden Lion at the 2010 Venice Film Festival, and was well received at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. It was directed by Hark Tsui, China’s number one big name director, and starred Andy Lau, a major Hong Kong leading man. It got glowing reviews in the Washington Post and 81% at Rotten Tomatoes. But, as you may have heard, Americans don’t like subtitles. In the US, it vanished like an ice cube dropped into the sun.
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SYNOPSIS: From an alternate history with both a moonbase and a global thermonuclear war, a band of stranded astronauts seek a new parallel earth to escape to.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW
PROS: Excellent use of space science; doesn’t overstay its welcome; solid prose.
CONS: An ending that feels a bit forced even given its symbolic power.
VERDICT: Interesting premise with solid, if not quite perfect, execution.

The USSR and America have ruined the world in a thermonuclear conflagration. The fate of astronauts stranded on a moonbase, their return capability extremely limited, seems to be to slowly die even as the Earth did. But fortunately, they have a Nazi wonder weapon: a device to move an area into a parallel timeline. And so the search is on for a timeline which has not died in nuclear fire, and has a space program far enough along to help them get off of the Moon.  But even when such a timeline is found, the technical challenges in getting back to Earth are not the least bit trivial, to say nothing of the psychological strains of their ordeal…

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

REVIEW SUMMARY: Marc Webb’s updating of Spider-Man’s origin story looks good but feels flat and, ultimately, too familiar.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: High school student Peter Parker’s investigation into his parents’ disappearance bring him to Oscorp, where he is bitten by a genetically engineered spider and begins to take on its powers.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Exceptional special effects; great chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone; early scenes where Peter learns to use his powers.
CONS: Lack of necessity in retelling the origins of the title character; inappropriate tone undermines the character’s primary appeal; too little humanity in the villain.

Haven’t we been here before?  It seems like only yesterday when Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man opened to rave reviews and a huge opening weekend, with the pitch-perfect casting of its title character (Tobey Maguire), love interest (Kirsten Dunst, who went red to play Mary Jane Watson), and key villain (Willem Dafoe as the Green Goblin),  to say nothing of scene-stealer J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson, exceptional dialogue, and its…well, honestly, rather substandard effects, but those didn’t detract from the action and suspense.  Raimi followed it with a superior sequel (Spider-Man 2) written by Michael Chabon and a lifeless continuation (Spider-Man 3) crammed with too many villains.  Now Marc Webb, hot off the success of indie favorite (500) Days of Summer, takes the helm to continue… Read the rest of this entry

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