Monthly Archives: July 2014

Special bonus post: an open letter to cataloguers everywhere

I’d like to take this opportunity to post out-of-sequence for an open letter to all cataloguers everywhere:

Tables, charts, and other such things that consist entirely of text are NOT illustrations. Please stop calling them illustrations.

Also, nonroman text is also not illustrations.

Neither are title vignettes, cover art, etc.

It’s not that complicated. Is it a picture? No?

Then don’t call it an illustration.

/rant

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Bedlam

Bedlam / Nick Spencer and Riley Rossmo. Began publication in 2012

Bedlam is a creator-owned thriller series from Image comics. I came across it when my wonderful spouse (who is not into the genre in the slightest) picked it up thinking I would be interested. I went into Bedlam with no expectations whatsoever, having never heard anything about the series. I’ll note right here that it’s incredibly violent, although less explicit than The boys.

Since the series is still being published, this review is based on the first two trade paperback volumes.

Brief plot description

(not really any spoilers but the exact premise isn’t exactly revealed right away)

Fillmore Press is a slightly unstable pacifist who wants to help make the world a better place. In the first volume, he does this by attempting to assist the police in their hunt for a serial killer using his special skills and knowledge. Press was previously (unbeknownst to the world at large) known as “Madder Red”, a serial killer who terrorized the city of Bedlam and had a death toll that reached four figures before his apparent death. In actuality, Press was detained by an underground psychiatrist and eventually rehabilitated before being released to live on his own.  Continue reading Bedlam

Richard Bolitho, Midshipman

Richard Bolitho, midshipman / Alexander Kent. Originally published 1975.

And now I return to the naval novels. The Bolitho books are the lesser-known cousin of the titans of the genre, the Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin series. Richard Bolitho, Midshipman is the eighth novel to be published but the first in internal chronological order.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Richard Bolitho is a midshipman on the HMS Gorgon. He befriends another midshipman, Martyn Dancer, and they embark on a journey to West Africa, where they encounter adventure, excitement, and a lieutenant with a grudge.

Continue reading Richard Bolitho, Midshipman

The wishsong of Shannara

The wishsong of Shannara / Terry Brooks. Originally published 1985.

The wishsong of Shannara is the last book in the original Shannara trilogy and the last book by Terry Brooks that I’ll be reviewing for the foreseeable future (barring any special requests). I’ll also take this opportunity to point out that while these first three Shannara novels are frequently described as a trilogy, they don’t tell a continuous story and could just as easily be read in any order.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Brin and Jair Ohmsford are brother and sister, the children of the main characters of the previous installment in the series. Accompanied by the druid Allanon and yet another prince of Leah, the Ohmsfords are tasked with finding and destroying the Ildatch, an evil book of evil evilness.

Continue reading The wishsong of Shannara

Science fiction, prediction, and satire-ction

It seems like discussions of science fiction among non-fans always end up examining the predictive successes and failures of the genre. This approach strikes me as counterproductive. To be tautological about it, fiction is inherently fictitious. Fiction necessarily abstracts certain aspects of the real world, correctly or not. If fiction was perfectly accurate, it would be real life (à la Simulacra and simulation). Why, then is it so popular to take fiction, especially fiction that is at one additional remove from the “real world” and critique it for what it got “right” or “wrong”? If science fiction was intended to be predictive, it wouldn’t be science fiction. It’d be prophecy.

I realize that this issue has been discussed many times, by better writers than I, but it’s an issue that still continues to come up. I’ve encountered it with patrons, but I’ve also encountered it on Tor of all places.*

*One particular Tor blogger, who happens to be a multi-award winning author, is an especially egregious offender.

Continue reading Science fiction, prediction, and satire-ction

Stand on Zanzibar

Stand on Zanzibar / John Brunner. Originally published 1968.

Stand on Zanzibar is the Hugo award-winning novel of global politics in 2010. One of many late-60s and early-70s novels to present a decidedly pessimistic view of the United States in the 21st century, Stand on Zanzibar is possibly the most disturbingly prescient.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Stand on Zanzibar follows two roommates, Donald Hogan and Norman Niblock House. The world is overcrowded and is increasingly under the control of supercomputers that may or may not be self-aware. House is the vice president of a company that seeks to help modernize the quasi-fictional African nation of Beninia (The country now known as Benin was called Dahomey at the time the novel was written). Hogan is an undercover intelligence analyst who fears being forced into active duty. A scientific breakthrough in a fictional southeast Asian nation becomes cause for concern for the United States, and our heroes become more involved than they would perhaps like to be.

Continue reading Stand on Zanzibar

The space merchants

The space merchants / Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth. Originally published 1953.

The space merchants is the 1953 science fiction classic about an overpopulated, resource-starved future where rampant consumerism has caused advertising agencies to be the most powerful organizations in the world.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Mitch Courtenay is a high-powered advertising executive on a future Earth ruled by advertising agencies. Courtenay is assigned the task of creating an advertising campaign to recruit colonists for a colony on Venus.

Continue reading The space merchants

The warrior’s apprentice

The warrior’s apprentice / Lois McMaster Bujold. Originally published 1986.

The warrior’s apprentice is the second Vorkosigan book to be published, and is the first to star Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, hero of the majority of the series. Published shortly after Shards of honor, The warrior’s apprentice actually takes place about 17 years after the conclusion of Barrayar.

Brief plot description

(Possible indirect spoilers for Shards of Honor and Barrayar)

The warrior’s apprentice features Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, physically disabled but brilliant son of Cordelia Naismith and Aral Vorkosigan. After his physical handicaps prevent him from the military career he had always dreamed of, Miles travels to his mother’s homeworld of Beta Colony in an attempt to figure out what to do with his life.

Continue reading The warrior’s apprentice

Bloody Jack

Bloody Jack / L.A. Meyer. Originally published 2002.

In which the heavens open and I find a naval novel I can recommend unambiguously

Bloody Jack is the first volume in the YA historical fiction series of the same title. Set during the same time period as the Hornblower and Aubrey-Maturin novels, the series follows the adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber.

This is another series, like the Vorkosigan books, where each volume is sufficiently distinct as to warrant its own post, although I will dip into discussing the series as a whole below.

Brief plot description

(minimal spoilers)

After the death of her parents, Mary “Jacky” Faber finds herself living on the streets of London, part of a gang of similarly orphaned children. Struggling to stay alive, Jacky decides to pose as a boy and join the Royal Navy in an attempt to secure a regular meal for herself.

Continue reading Bloody Jack

On Basilisk station

On Basilisk station / David Weber. Originally published 1993.

The Honor Harrington series, of which On Basilisk station is the first, is essentially Horatio Hornblower in space. Complementing the previous entry, On Basilisk station is thematically and plotwise nearly identical to Beat to quarters/The happy return. I initially checked it out, despite the terrible cover art on every single on of David Weber’s novels (seriously, Baen. What is wrong with your marketing department?), because it seemed to combine my love of naval novels with my love of science fiction.* The fact that the main character is accompanied by a psychic cat certainly helped as well.

*Considering that The wrath of Kahn director Nicolas Meyer was attempting to recreate Horatio Hornblower in space, it’s a combination that seems to work well.

Brief plot description

(Spoiler free)

Horatio Hornblower Honor Harrington is captain of the frigate HMS Lydia cruiser Fearless, tasked with defending a remote outpost of the British Empire Star Kingdom of Manticore. The perfidious government of France The People’s Republic of Haven is attempting create an excuse to annex the outpost in order to bolster their economy. Continue reading On Basilisk station