Tag Archives: science fiction

review – the ballad of halo jones

halo-jonesYes, the writing’s distinctly crafty as only Moore can pen, but the pacing and thematic development of The Ballad of Halo Jones is really a treasure, a clinic for aspiring writers needing a lesson in concise simplicity. Along with his Future Shocks, this is likely one of the works I imagine Alan Moore knew from the get-go that he had the goods to become his future current self.

It’s impressive to read how these seemingly disparate installments appearing in various 2000AD progs are feathered together to form this bittersweet ballad. Indeed, as this collection is universally hailed as classic space opera, the slow momentum from which it begins seems anything but.  It starts with an all too common motif, the boredom and need for wanderlust in and for a distant future when even space itself has not only been conquered but hotly contested.  Swiftly though, it changes to something more complicated, as life is wont.

Refreshingly, this is not a superhero story. It’s hard science fiction, cosmically emblazoned within the sharpened panels characteristic of 2000AD’s art and galaxy building. It’s not necessarily speculative on our future (other than our cetacean friends reclaiming Earth upon our folly) but on the human condition, that specifically after another few millennia or so, human nature (the best and worst, of course), still won’t change much. Written with subtle strength from the female vantage, as so many top sci-fi stories have been, Halo Jones is ultimately, believably not super, but heroic nevertheless.

But with all Moore’s clever plotting and the roguish, keen sketching from Ian Gibson, this is the story of no one, or perhaps anyone who at the seductive scent of adventure, is brave enough to claim their own future, accepting the good and not-so-good outcomes with each step.

review – planetary

Full disclosure: I am an ardent Warren Ellis sycophant. Though I haven’t yet read all his work, his fiction hasn’t yet disappointed. That’s putting it boringly. Rather, I should write that he hasn’t yet not astounded me with his breadth and acumen for writing speculative, traditional and historical science fiction. So rather than simply slew gratuitous praise, I’ll say a few words about Planetary.

Planetary defines the science fiction genre, whether in graphic form or otherwise. Science creating fiction, and fiction literally inspiring science. Constantly feeding off one another. Inventive and all-consuming with magnitudes of possibility. Ellis’s imagination is only tempered by the scope of the four volume arc in which his characters unearth mystery incarnate. If it weren’t for said characters, he’d have a wild, unboundedly orgasmic multiverse to populate on paper. Something never be fully realized, of course; so we have but a corralled current of enthrallment, advancing via strangely disparate heroes less captivated with themselves than the mystery of possibility itself. Briefly, Planetary involves restoration and preservation, of memory, old friends, of the past, of earth and most everything on it; not just earth but more importantly what the earth offers the nascent potential to reveal. Secrets in plain sight, others buried deep or quarantined by other unseen authorities. Joyous secrecy from a group of unlikely archivists.  Secrets in space, earth civilization, multidimensional factions and realized fiction.

As far as character development, I’ll venture that Ellis deliberately understates, instead focusing on the expeditious mind-bending flashes in which they participate. That he never explicitly explains the abilities of Elijah Snow and Co. is for the better, leaving the reader to surmise their perhaps unearthly origins. On the other hand, his is the first example I’ve come across to deftly shatter the “black man always dies at the start” premise. No, it is better to invite the fascination from such issues as “Mystery in Space/Rendezvous”, “Magic & Loss”, “Creation Songs” and “The Gun Club”, all top tier stories and so nebulous as they linger in the reader’s mind.

Planetary is just writing and illustration of awe. Universal awe of not what can be achieved in human endeavors, but comprehended.  A bit tangential, but that’s what both science and imagination do. Carrying one to places never thought possible.

review – yellow blue tibia

As far as Soviet-era UFO conspiracy pastiche can be punted with an iron boot, Yellow Blue Tibia has proven refreshing.  It’s good to know the USA doesn’t own a monopoly on the probing perspective by curious interstellar visitors, as Englander Adam Roberts skillfully speculates upon the Soviet scenario in which our visitors radiate their presence.

Roberts combines clever science fiction with a well developed sense of Soviet drollery in his story, concentrating upon the events surrounding Konstantin Skvorecky, aging translator and former writer of science fiction.  The plot is straight forward enough, whereupon Skvorecky and a cadre of  top Soviet sci-fi fictioneers collectively conjure (Communism at work, comrades), at the behest of Stalin himself, a short-lived interstellar invasion only the Soviet aspirational supremacy can envision.  The project is mysteriously halted yet decades later, Skvorecky attempts to understand and confront the emerging realization of his shared literary creation.

Roberts goes to great lengths to super soviet-ize his story.  The milieu is concentrated all within Skvorecky’s persona, the stereotypically resigned, hyper-intellectual, confined only by the absurd yet ever rigid Party line.  Consequently, Skvorecky’s weapon of choice is pure, radiant and sarcastic drollery, directed near mostly everyone, with extended dialectical exchanges in which thoughtful Russians are inherently apt to engage. Encountering clueless KGB, scheming Scientologists, eccentric cabbies who dabble in nuclear physics, or even fellow academics, eager to loudly pronounce that aliens “like to probe the rectum”, I fondly recall Skvorecky’s likely American counterpart Fox Mulder, in his stoic attempts to discover some granular truth in his personal UFO sojourn.

As Skvorecky ambles through the story, Roberts cleverly enmeshes his science fiction with cosmic philosophy.  He provides brilliant, resonating soliloquies regarding the nature of radiation as well as finely-tailored usage of the more popular parallel multiverse conjectures making their rounds.  The story of Chernobyl is cleverly fictionalized too, and given the current meltdown in Japan, is perhaps not too circumstantial a reminder of the effects of unregulated nuclear reactors.

Not too many drawbacks to the book, with the possible exception that I was left wanting more background from several peripheral characters, most notably the eccentric Saltykov as well as Dora, Lunacharsky and the enshrouded Frenkel.  There was considerably more action than I anticipated, but overall, this is a thinking geek’s UFO speculation and should be applauded.  So comrade, grab a seat, light some glorious Russian cigarettes and radiate some nostalgic patriotism by reading this fine Soviet sci-fi satire.

review – stories of your life and others

It’s doubtful I’ve ever had a more daunting though rewarding belly-flop into science fiction than after reading Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang. Curiously, for someone who hasn’t written a whole lot, readers most likely won’t find a more highly praised and deserving work of short stories. Apparently he can literally write no wrong.

Perhaps it’s because Chiang restores a sense of balance in what we have conceived as science-fiction. Many, perhaps most writers in the genre focus solely on the fiction, and relegate the science to some fantastical, nebulous and/or contrived aspect of the story that is ultimately incomprehensible but nevertheless important somehow; we as readers and viewers simply have to take the scifi aspect on faith, which is irony stabbing us in the eye when closely pondered. It’s the current mentality you’ll see on TV, whereby viewers are force-fed tried and boring apocalypse movies, criminally underwritten Star Wars remakes and even more inane mecha-squirrel vs. dino-possum nonsense that really should be categorized under horror and general stupidity, or worse, willful lack of imagination rather than “science-fiction”.

That being said, the stories written by Chiang are slow, complex and require effort. They take time to comprehend, but if the reader follows closely enough, his stories build a momentum of brilliance. Admittedly, even I was doubtful as the stories are literally surrounded, even choking on the multitude of blurbs, from cover to cover. Chiang uses several familiar settings like alien visitations, mad scientists, rogue collectives, and even cybernetic experimentation, but with a tender detachment and unexpected conclusions. Despite the effort required, the reward is certainly worth the effect of emerging a more enlightened reader than a merely entertained one. My favorite entries include Understand, Story of Your Life, Seventy-Two Letters, and Liking What You See. It’s literature that’s more than just science, more than just fiction.

review – light

For those with even the slightest interest in reading Light by M. John Harrison, two words of caution…be patient.  Be patient with three seemingly (and I stress seemingly) unrelated (in time or space) storylines, be patient with the author’s constant digressions into the semi-erotic genre, and be especially patient with the endless stream-of-consciousness like spew of space-pop jargon, regurgitated with often scant explanation. Be patient with it all. Or, think of it as a roller coaster ride, whereby one can enjoy the rush of it all in their face rather than getting caught up in any one loop or curve.  Do that, and you might just find a handful of brilliance in this work, other than referencing the title.

What Harrison does really well in this novel is his ability to provide glimpses of a future where everything looks different, but retains the essential human condition.  For all the advances in quantum physics and popular chemistry, the hazy lure of the twink-tanks, interstellar travel and adventures of the K-captain, Harrison essentially writes of the frailty and fear that humanity just can’t seem to shake.  That, and the sheer wonder of the connections between time, space and the human brain’s potential.

Unfortunately, what Harrison takes for granted is the casual reader’s attention span given an ultra thick space-stew of components that comprise  the mystery of the Kefahuchi Tract.  While it still remains mysterious after reading, I don’t think he quite pulled it off by rapid-firing its components rather than aiming at the whole.  The impulse and insanity of human beings is accelerated to the nanosecond, but the Tract in its obscurity remains.

That being said, if one is patient, there is a fine reward in seeing the connections blossom between Seria Mau, Ed Chianese, and Kearney, culminating in the mystery surrounding everything around and beyond The Shrander.  It’s a really imaginatively conceived story, if you are willing to survive the whole ride.

review – cosmicomics

A perfect exposition of science fiction, Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics is a tender and dreamlike weaving of stories that touch upon the sheer wonder both the universe and consciousness itself. Calvino begins each story with an established scientific conjecture, thereafter placing an anthropomorphic and wildly fictitious annotation of the universe at various stages or for lack of a better word, times. Narrating from entities personified through equations and representations, predominantly through the central character Qfwfq, Calvino wistfully describes the universe through fleeting instances of love, attraction, loss, creation and change.

The stories range from the concrete to the fluid, including a time when reaching the moon is as simple as climbing a ladder, the astronomical paranoia induced from simple messages sent from distant observers and millennia, where a dinosaur ponders the significance, perhaps even the power of its own extinction, to the familial colloid particles, uncertain of their new inertia, being torn apart in the creation of matter and planets. Though all have a human feel, it is a joyous exposition of the unfathomable, alien events we cannot ponder enough.

The sentience that Calvino gives to the entities persisting and changing throughout Cosmicomics is an appreciation not only of the scientific beauty of the universe, but of the beauty of his fiction.

the horror…

Just finished At the Mountains of Madness by Lovecraft.  Fascinating, no dialogue whatsoever.  A good book to cleanse one’s reading palate, though I admire Lovecraft’s gift for vivid description.