Sunday, October 31, 2010

Night of the Living Trekkies

Night of the Living Trekkies
Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall
2010 Quirk Books

Trekkies and geeks and zombies, oh my!

Jim Pike, an emotionally wounded war hero, has only one mission in life - to not be responsible for anyone. That way he can't let anyone down or let anyone die because he wasn't there to keep them safe. His job at the Botany Bay Hotel and Conference Center in Houston is well below his abilities and potential, but he likes it that way.

Strange things always happen at sci-fi conventions. It's part of their charm. But an attacking mime? And a beheading by bat'leth? In Night of the Living Trekkies, a zombie epidemic breaks out in the Botany Bay just as it is filling up for GulfCon.

Authors Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall kept my attention throughout with unexpected twists and turns to an otherwise standard "attack of the undead" book. It reads like a spoof of a 70s horror movie and is clearly intended for a young adult audience.

Jim, his sister and a handful of unaffected congoers are quickly outnumbered and on the run. They all look to Jim to get them out alive. Our reluctant hero has to get his geek on if they have any hope at all of not becoming undead.

GulfCon being a strictly Star Trek convention, Star Trek references and trivia abound. This is a fun, quick read - especially if you appreciate, as I do, both Star Trek and zombies.

Leave a comment to enter a random drawing for your own copy of Night of the Living Trekkies. If you also tell me the name of the talkative, blue crew member on Star Trek Next Gen, I'll throw in the poster. Winner will be announced on November 30th.

Friday, October 29, 2010

TRON Legacy - First Glimpse

I drove down to San Francisco last night for a screening (23+ minutes of scenes from the first half) of TRON Legacy in 3D IMAX. Before the lights went out and the glasses went on, director Joseph Kosinski took questions from the audience -- most of which he didn't answer except to say we'd have to wait till the movie came out. A few people managed to ask questions he would answer.

From the first story session with Kosinski in September 2007, the movie was intended for 3D rather than adapted as such after the fact. It's more expensive to produce, but it presents this classic to its full potential. "The first TRON set the bar very high," Kosinski said. "It is more time and effort, but we think it will pay off in the end."

He also pointed out that you don't have to have seen TRON to follow the movie. TRON Legacy "is a stand-alone sequel." The musical score was composed by Daft Punk and recording was completed, with a full orchestra, in London a couple of weeks ago.

In TRON Legacy, Jeff Bridges reprises his role as Kevin Flynn -- and also plays his own nemesis, Clu 2.0. In the first scene of the preview, Sam's apartment, we find Flynn's son Sam driving his motor bike (that probably costs more than our two cars combined) into a cargo container makeshift abode. Sam, played by Garrett Hedlund, closes the garage door behind him and reaches for a cold one from the retro fridge and tosses his pug the rest of his fries. The place looked like something the Forgotten Man would come up with. It's only redeeming feature is the waterfront view.

He's visited by a friend of his Dad, Alan Brady, who claims to have received a page - yes page - from Sam's Dad originating from his office at the arcade that had been disconnected 20 years before. Sam doesn't need to live in his hovel. Apparently, he owns a Fortune 500 company he has no interest in running. Sam's character is a spoiled twenty-something dripping with teenage angst and abandonment issues. It was a little over the top. Alan tosses Sam the keys to his Dad's arcade and so the adventure -- and the eye candy -- begins.

Of course, in the program, it's still the future imagined (by a man) in the 80s complete with female "programs" in platform heels assigned to disrobing Sam and outfitting him for play in the game. 80s icons are interspersed here and there. In the game, death is spelled D E R E S. Players lose resolution. The CGI does not disappoint and the 3D effects during the game scenes really pop.

Sam is inserted as a player in the game and manages to survive long enough for his father's friend? assistant? Quorra to find him and bring him back for the big reunion with Dad. Sam's in the passenger seat of this high tech vehicle not knowing who is behind the helmet driving the car with precision and ease. Quorra evades their pursuers and takes the car "off the grid" where they can't follow.

When asked if there would be a sequel to TRON Legacy, Kosinski said, "That's not up to me to decide. That's up to you guys." Of course, there isn't just a movie. TRON Evolution, the video game, releases on Dec. 7 and is available for pre-order now. All game-related assets from the movie will be handed over to the game folks.

TRON Legacy premieres on Dec. 17. Watch trailers, enter sweepstakes, play the video game, etc. at I'm a fan of TRON and after just 23 minutes, I'm a TRON Legacy fan as well.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Clare Deming reviews Close Encounters of the Urban Kind

Clare and I go way back at OWWW. That's Other World's Writer's Workshop. If you haven't checked them out, you should. In addition to a great SF/F critique group, the site overflows with wonderful writing resources. They also offer classes. Go explore after reading Clare's review.

Clare L. Deming lives in New Jersey where she spends her nights working as an emergency veterinarian. During the day she writes science fiction and fantasy, while trying to keep five cats off the keyboard. Her writing has appeared in A Fly in Amber e-zine and medical publications. Clare is a member of the Other Worlds Writers Workshop and the Science Fiction Association of Bergen County. Other interests that fill her days include fencing, flying and snowboarding.

Close Encounters of the Urban Kind
Ed. Jennifer Brozek
Apex Publishing, 2009

In Close Encounters of the Urban Kind, editor Jennifer Brozek has put together a collection of short stories in which urban legends are explained by alien encounters. The level of explanation varies, as do the types of aliens involved. Many of the urban legends used as inspiration for the tales are well-known, others are local phenomena, while some are new legends created by the authors. I thought it interesting that alien explanations for urban legends are not more common after reading Close Encounters of the Urban Kind.

A short note from the author follows each of the twenty stories explaining the urban legend within. I found this useful for those legends with which I was not familiar. As Jennifer Brozek states in the foreword, the aliens' motivations and the reasons behind their actions are unknown to us in the early stories. Later in the collection, we are offered more explanation and greater interaction between the humans and those other beings. At the end of the volume, there are biographies for all the authors. I have highlighted some of my favorite stories below:

"Lollo" by Martin Livings

While many people apparently have a fear of clowns, I had thought I was immune. In this first story, Jenny, the babysitter, has an easy time until Domenic, one of her young charges, asks her to cover a black and white clown doll with a blanket so that he can go to sleep. After the terrifying events that ensue, I will never look at clowns the same way.

"Headlights" by Jennifer Pelland

In this story, Jennifer Pelland relates the misfortunes of three high school students in search of alcohol and entertainment on a dark New England night. The "bad boy" of the group drives with the headlights off, waiting for another car to flash its lights at them. This echoes the urban legend of a gang initiation ritual in which the prospective member shoots the first person to flash their lights in such a way. Things do not go as planned, and I found the ending gratifyingly unpredictable and creepy.

"Frames of Reference" by Nathan Crowder

Do you remember the alien autopsy that was on television some years ago? This story relates the legend of snuff films to the treatment of aliens in movies and television. Greg is hired to examine an unusual film, but discovers that the truth is out there, and they're not happy about it.

"Two Out, Wendigo" by Rosemary Jones

This was a nice change of pace and setting, using the midwestern wendigo to explain the Chicago Cubs' failure to win the World Series. The story is set in the first half of the twentieth century and follows a nurse, Josephina, whose father had taught her how to recognize a wendigo before he died. When she finds that one has entered the hospital where she works, she flees as her dad had instructed her. Yet, she knows this is no solution, and she must find a way to contain the monster.

"Roadkill" by Rick Silva

Rick Silva's offering opens with a man counting road kill and trying to identify each species as he drives down an empty road. Distracted by thoughts of a recent fight with his girlfriend, he accidentally runs over a box and stops to see what he hit. What he finds is disturbingly alien and mimics an urban legend in which small children hiding in a pile of autumn leaves are run over by a swerving car.

"Mastihooba" by Joshua Palmatier

This tale combines the New York state legend of Masty Huba, a bogeyman based on a real drifter, with an unfriendly version of E.T. who is trying to find its way home. When Devon's son goes missing, he searches for him in the sewer pipes where he had encountered Mastihooba as a boy. The descriptions are colorful and all the details come together for a satisfying conclusion.

"Dead Letter Drop" by Pete Kempshall

In another change of setting, "Dead Letter Drop" takes place in post-war Berlin. We follow a starving girl through her daily struggle for food and safety. She encounters a blind old man who asks her to deliver a letter for him, with a possible reward of food. The result of her trip is not what you would expect, and the urban legend behind the resolution of the tale is disturbing, yet intriguing.

Before beginning this book, I was concerned that an anthology with such a specific theme might grow predictable and redundant. I knew that an extraterrestrial explanation would underlie whatever strange or frightening myth began each story. Yet, I enjoyed how each author took the overall theme and twisted it in their own unique way. Each successive story retained my interest, and I found myself eager to discover those urban legends that were new to me. I would recommend this collection particularly to readers that love tales of aliens among us, unexplained disappearances, or those ghost stories told around the campfire when we were children.

Friday, October 22, 2010

When Young Folks Get Steamy: What’s a Parent to Do?

'Firefly' artwork courtesy of Brigid Ashwood
So Miss Teenage Daughter, a.k.a Kyra, had her boyfriend over for a visit again. And things were awfully quiet upstairs. Not wanting to miss another opportunity to impose my “mature morality” upon her, I ascended the stairs quietly. Were they in “both feet on the floor” mode in her room?

No! They were not in her room at all.

Hoping to avoid the dreaded "Sorry, we lost your son" conversation with the boyfriend's parents, I began searching for them. I did a room by room sweep of the house, but there was no sign of them.

There was only one more place to check ... the garage. I quietly opened the door from the back room to the garage. There, on the far side of the garage, from behind the workbench, I saw smoke rising. I walked directly up to the bench, way beyond stealth mode now. And there they were, soldering! Yes, they had one of my solder guns out and were busy attaching wires to LEDs, batteries, a tiny fiberglass circuit board. Their project? A crystal, lit by LED power. Their tiny creation made multiple colored LEDs light the crystal in a myriad of slowly changing color patterns. Strictly decorative, but very cool.

I counted my blessings. The smoke was not from one of those other sources. How could I complain? It was actually one of the first times any of my daughters had demonstrated even passing interest in things electronic. Or mechanical. Or having anything to do with engineering or technology (not counting their cell phones, MP3 players, or laptops, of course). I had long since given up on the notion that the family engineering gene would find a toehold on their generation.

Since then, the two young creators have been spending afternoons and weekend hours putting together all sorts of jewelry and gizmos, using parts from old clocks, watches, and all forms of discarded machines, objects scavenged from garage sale, flea market bins, and the neighborhood Goodwill store. This was just their latest steampunk technology project. They are into it: steampunk as art, a way of channeling all that creative, crafty DIY (do it yourself) energy into personal expression. And what’s not to love? They are even going to this month’s Sadie Hawkins dance in full steampunk regalia.

Steampunk is leaving its tracks elsewhere in mainstream media on a regular basis. Just last week, ABC’s Castle TV series aired a steampunk-themed episode. ( And of course, Castle’s star, Nathan Fillion, is himself a veteran of arguably one of the most popular scifi cult classics of recent years, Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Firefly could well be described as a steampunk story, with its Old West slash space opera mashup.

Work that falls under the broad definition of steampunk predates the coining of the term (references to K.W. Jeter’s l987 letter to Locus abound). Those who have been immersed in the steampunk world since then have lots to say about its virtues and limitations. Two print publications with some great articles on the steampunk theme include the September issue of Locus and the October issue of Analog. The Locus issue has several outstanding articles and essays about the history and state of the steampunk universe. The October Analog’s “The Reference Library”, a column by Don Shakers, nicely covers some of the history while introducing recent entries into the field. If you are looking to learn more about the field, whether you consider it to be old or new, get your hands on a copy of either of these recent magazines or check out the myriad of great on-line articles available now. I like the Wikipedia article:

If you are looking for reading suggestions, check out Paolo Bacigalupi's Windup Girl, a recent Locus award winner and Hugo nominee. There is also Soulless, from Gail Carriger. (See Ann Wilkes' review here.) And Cherie Priest's Boneshaker. Note that both Gail and Cherie are on the cover the Locus issue mentioned above.

It’s not all about Victorian gowns and goggles, though I love a good bodice as well as the next typical male observer. Whether you consider steampunk to be a trend, a fad, a movement, a passing fashion statement, a philosophy, a distracting hobby, an emerging lifestyle choice, or simply as anachronistic entertainment with style, enjoy it! Any sub-genre that legitimizes fun while also selling books gets at least one thumb up from me.

"Firefly" Article Image © Brigid Ashwood 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

New reviewer, Deirdre M. Murphy and a two-for review

Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys welcomes yet another reviewer! Meet Deirdre M. Murphy, another Broad Universe member with big ideas and big, bad skills.

As a writer, musician and artist, Deirdre has spent most of her life squeezing her creative pursuits into whatever nooks and crannies of “spare time” she can create. When she was a kid, she wanted to learn everything and read all the science fiction and fantasy ever written. As an adult, she realizes that’s not a realistic goal, but she believes in dreaming big.

This year, in addition to pursuing traditional publication, Deirdre has been involved in creating Torn World, an online science fantasy shared world. She blogs at Deirdre’s work can be found online and in print, including stories in Crossed Genres magazine, in The Best of Friday Flash, Volume One, and upcoming in the Magicking in Traffic anthology.

Deirdre lives in a Victorian house overlooking rose and herb gardens. She has three cats, an ever-changing number of tropical fish and dabbles in taming feral kittens.

Her debut review is a two-for.

The Aphorisms of Kherishdar by M. C. A. Hogarth

tsekil [ tseh KEEL ], (adjective) -- sick; refers only to soul-sicknesses

"Our lord is sick," the noble said, and added, "Speak."

"How did it begin?" I asked, my eyes focused politely on the House marking on her stole. She was our lord's sister, the quick wit and sharp edge to her brother's gentleness.

"He has been out too often," she said. "Surveying all that must be done in the district and conferring with others whose districts are unsettled. His mind is disordered... he broods." She sighed. "You are one of his favorites, Calligrapher. Heal his spirit."

In America we are all given words to live by. Most of those words are cold and stark, outlining duty as narrow and comfortless, imagination as wasteful, and beauty as frivolous. Artists are seen as empty-headed dreamers, destined to starve in a basement or attic, somewhere out of the way.

In this beautifully illustrated book, M. C. A. Hogarth shows us a people who look to their artists for wisdom; where these guiding words are rendered as works of art, to be hung in a place of honor in their homes where they can inspire its occupants and visitors to live more beautiful and harmonious lives. Don't get me wrong, duty is important to Hogarth's people--but it is not seen as a grim way to avoid fire and brimstone in the next life.

This is the tale of a Calligrapher of this alien race, told as a series of very short stories. In each, someone has embarked on aquest for wisdom--not a stereotypical once-in-a-lifetime journey into the wilderness, but an everyday quest to a public servant living in the heart of the city. Each time, the Calligrapher is challenged to not only know what to write to inspire the client to make their world a better place, but to do so in beauty. The Calligrapher is expected to perceive his or her client's needs and place in society clearly. The Calligrapher's success as an artist and public servant depends not merely on the beauty of the penned lines of ink, but on how they affect the client and the client's society. Each challenge is new, and introduces us to a new word in their language. People come to the Calligrapher for themselves or their employers, at the behest of their parents, or even to reconnect with their own people after working too long with Terrans.

You can read this lyrical book all at once, and immerse yourself in a complex and clearly-imagined alien society. Or you can choose to read each story separately, savoring them one at a time. This book is a gentle, enchanting read with beautiful illustrations, also by the author. For me, reading these Aphorisms was a pleasant change of pace from the action-packed fantasy I usually read.

Readers may wonder as I did, "If my city had a Calligrapher, what beauty and wisdom would he pen for me?"

The Admonishments of Kherishdar by M. C. A. Hogarth

I should have known I'd be caught. I'd never heard of anyone getting away with a lie this big. But even as the Guardians took me from my shop, I nursed a fierce satisfaction. She'd been an uppity Noble and I'd gotten her stripped and chained up in a public square. They'd take me to our Regal, now, and I'd get a sharp talking-to, but it was all worth it.

But then the Guardians marched me out of our district.

"Where are we going?" I asked. None of them answered.

In the Aphorisms of Kerishdar, we see the actions of a public servant, a scribe, whose job is to memorialize the Ai-Nadar's cultural ideals, and to do so in a way that helps and inspires the readers of his work to live up to those ideals.

But Hogarth's aliens are not perfect any more than humans are. And when they fail, there is a different public servant who is called in, one whose job it is to correct the situation.

Now, some of the things that the public servant who embodies Shame does would appear to be appropriate punishments by our standards, but punishment is not his goal. There are elements of teaching, of redemption, or rebalancing, of realignment. Some of the actions taken seem to me cruel and unusual, but these stories are not set in our world, and I'm certain some of our punishments would seem cruel and unusual (as well as impractical) to them.

It's more obvious in this book than the prior one that these stories were written about aliens, not humans. The fact that many of their values are quite different than our own is brought out in ways that were sometimes not comfortable to my sensibilities.

With my background in Anthropology, I'm not certain that the Ai-Nadari are that far from human. There are some very different real cultures on this planet, after all. But the Ai-Nadari are certainly very different from western and especially American culture, and reading each encounter gives the reader a chance to look back at our world from a different perspective, if the reader is so inclined.

Each encounter shows the servant of Shame correcting a different Ai-Nadari crime/sin/mistake (Hogarth makes it clear that their categories are not quite the same as ours). Likewise, some of the things they feel need correction surprised me.

Each story further unveils a complex and unique alien civilization, and I thoroughly enjoyed every one.

Visit author/artist M. C. A. Hogarth at

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mining and Science Fiction: Great Companions

This week the news feeds are all about the great Chilean rescue of the miners, who have been trapped a kilometer underground for several weeks. This is a great human interest story with an outstanding ending. Yet what is being referred to in many articles as the “miracle rescue” might also be considered a testament to the limitations of our technology, at least as far as penetrating terra firma is concerned. The miners’ stories will no doubt be full of inspiration, once we get to hear them ... which is once they all decide which media outlets will pay the most to hear their tales.

The whole situation reminded me of just how many great stories and films have been done with miners as characters and mines as a setting. The Video Hound's Movie List of films with or about miners and mining has literally pages of such movies.

On the Science Fiction movie front, there is the biggest box office smash of recent history. What was Avatar if not a big mining SF movie? (OK, some might say it is also a big whining SF movie, too, but I still loved it, thin story, heavy-handed message, and all.) There are lots of other examples of SF movies with a mining theme or at least a mining environment, including but absolutely not limited to Moon 44, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Abyss, and one of my personal favorites, Outland. I know a lot of people nitpicked Outland to death for its ready defiance of several of the laws of physics, but hey, it had Sean Connery! In similar company, another hit movie of recent years which also included miners was Armageddon. Of course oil drillers are miners. And they are still miners when they are drilling on a giant rock flying towards Earth at ridiculous speeds. I regard the scene with space-happy super-brain geologist Rockhound (Steve Buscemi) shooting up the drill site with a big space Gatling gun as one of the funniest, most preposterous SF movie scenes of the last twenty years. Outrageous fun, if you don't demand that your SF come exclusively in credible packaging.

Dozens of science fiction television episodes featuring mining and miners have also made their appearance. Classic Star Trek had several of them, including "The Devil in the Dark" (written by Gene L. Coon), "The Cloudminders" (written by Margaret Armen), and "Mudd's Women" (witten by Steven Kandel). Even Red Dwarf, home to the last human alive, was a mining ship.

More recent and arguably more artistically engineered movies such as the 2009 Moon, (story/direction by Duncan Jones, screenplay by Nathan Parker) come closer to grips with some of the core issues that make mining such a rich landscape we can mine for story. (Sorry, I couldn't resist). Whether the underlying theme is isolation, human vs. hostile environment, individual safety vs. corporate greed, environmental responsibility vs. corporate greed, etc., there’s lots to work with here.

Written SF has also paid due homage to mining as an extreme setting, a hostile environment, a challenge, for person and machine, and for the machined creature as well. An article from reminded me of this, the notion of the engineered miner, who is not human. The article mentions Love Among the Robots, Emmett McDowells' 1946 story of mining worms, and Larry Niven's 1968 A Gift from Earth, yet another mining worm story. And of course there is the original Dune, Frank Herbert's story of mining for stuff from worms (because what is the Spice Melange, if not worm doodoo?).

There are dozens more great SF stories and novels where miners and mining play a significant role. I believe that this trend will continue throughout the life of science fiction because of the nature of the universe, of which the nature of mining is a microcosm. So long as there are substances with unique, valuable properties, which are difficult to create or obtain, there will be some group of women, men, and machines ready to seek those substances. For reasons of personal profit, family survival, or mere satisfaction, they will push the barriers of technology and the human spirit and, perhaps, the boundaries of ecological responsibility, to acquire, possess, process, and sell these magic materials. And in so doing, they will inspire future writers.

Let the mining continue ... let the stories continue!

(article image courtesy of ShareYourWallpaper).

Trolling the Venusian Atmosphere - It's a Drag

An interesting Gizmag article on some ingenious applications of physics and adaption of sensory gear originally designed for other purposes.

Gliese 581g - 100 Percent Chance of Life?

U of C Santa Cruz astronomy professor speculates on the chance of life on a recently discovered planet.

(Thanks to conspiracy collector Aaagghhh for the link)

Saturn Auroras - Intriguing Photography from the Cassini-Huygens Mission

Some truly stunning images.

(Thanks to game coding guru QwazyWabbit for the link)

World Fantasy Life Achievement Winners Announced

This year's Life Achievement winners to be awarded at the WFC are Brian Lumley, Terry Pratchett, and Peter Straub.

Corey Doctorow Talks about Proprietary Things

Interesting discussion at Locus on what is and is not public domain

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Introducing Lyda Morehouse and SFOO's first graphic novel review

Lyda Morehouse has been an avid comic book reader since the early 1970s, having spent many happy days in her cousin’s basement reading her uncle’s collection that included many first issues of Marvel titles like Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-Men and hundreds more. Neil Gaiman’s “Season in Mist” partly inspired her to write her first novel in the AngeLINK tetrology, Archangel Protocol, which was published by Roc in 2001 and won the Shamus award for an original paperback featuring a private detective. Currently, she writes bestselling paranormal romances and YA novels as Tate Hallaway, while also attempting to revive her science fiction career with a prequel to the angel books called Resurrection Code, due out from Mad Norwegian Press in March 2011. She lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with her partner of twenty-five years, their son, four cats, two gerbils and a multitude of fish.

And she's a fellow Broad Universe member! Broads rock! Lyda came to my aid when I asked for help with reviews and I'm so glad she can give graphic novels and comics some sun. Welcome aboard, Lyda!

Leonardo Ramirez / Davy Fisher
Markosia Enterprises (July 2010)

HAVEN (Book 1): “What We Leave Behind”
HAVEN (Book 2): “What We Hold Dear”
HAVEN (Book 3): “What We All Want”
HAVEN (Book 4): “What We All Need”

There’s something about Dante’s Inferno. In February this year, Electronic Arts came up with a high-octane adventure videogame based on Dante Alighieri’s descent into the seven circles of hell for Playstation 3/Xbox, and now that very same poem inspired a demon butt-kicking graphic novel by Leonardo Ramirez and artist Davy Fisher called Haven.

In Haven, we are introduced to Haven Irena Dante a high school senior and the current heir to the Dante Alighieri bloodline. She’s heard the story of how a relative of hers descended into hell, but what she doesn’t know is that his journey sparked an eternal blood feud between hell’s demons and the Alighieris.

The story begins at her mother’s funeral. Haven’s mother, who I’m not sure is ever named, is a stand-in for the famous Beatrice (Dante’s Muse and guide for the third section of the Divine Comedy, of which Inferno is the first part.) Haven’s mother’s death begins the original poem’s “deep woods” in which Haven quickly finds herself lost and in need of a “right path.”

However, instead of being drawn to Hell by being metaphorically assailed by wild beasts, Haven is literally sexually molested. After that all hell breaks loose… literally. The first issue ends with Haven waking up on the street, two years later, with glowing angelic script tattoos on both arms, a magic staff given to her during a brief sojourn in purgatory and, it is soon revealed, hereditary superpowers. The last three issues follow Haven’s battle to uncover the demons’ plot to infiltrate her father’s company and, like any good superhero, save the world.

Normally, when I read graphic novels or comic books, I only require the artist not to distract me from the story. I’m the sort of reader who will often forgive moderate art when the storytelling is strong. However, particularly in the case of the first issue, I got the impression that under the command of a different artist, I would have found Haven’s origin story gratuitously grim. Rape! Murder! Argh, all in the first ten pages! But, Davy Fisher’s artwork elevates this graphic novel nearer to the place I think author Leonardo Ramirez intended it to be. There were moments that positively reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. In fact, a good blurb for this graphic novel could be: Sandman meets Zap! Pow! action.

The only thing that marred this collection was a few moments of clunky storytelling. When the storyline gets really pumping, the scenes also get a bit jumpy too. I was also left with some minor questions about the “whys” of Haven’s superpowers that, while not deal breakers, could use more explanation.

I can only hope that there will be another installment of this series to answer some of my questions. Despite the few hiccups I illustrated above, I found this graphic novel ultimately satisfying. Fisher’s artwork is worth the cover price alone and the premise rocks enough to forgive the minor flaws.


If you agree, you can order it here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Secret Technology - Is It More Dangerous?

I was listening to NPR last week when a news story came on about how legal bans on texting while driving may actually be increasing the number of accidents and fatalities where such laws are now in place. ( NPR STORY LINK )

The concept here is simple enough: if someone is texting while driving, they are distracted. In the two to five seconds their eyes are targeting something other than the road, they can run through a red light or over a pedestrian. If someone is texting while driving, but taking extra care to not be seen doing it, their eyes might be further away from the road, and for longer periods of time.

What plagued me about this story was the idea that technology, secret technology, might be more dangerous than technology that is known and used out in the open. This seems to me to be very much a science fiction theme. But how would this play out with other technologies? What other credible parallels can be drawn?

Part of the answer depends on what one considers to be a 'technology'. I'm rather nerdly, yet I use a fairly low-tech standard ... if I can't make it in my garage using stuff left over from the last time I fixed my backyard gate, it's a technology. (This says not very much about my gate maintenance skills, I know.)

So what are some viable candidates for this discussion? Putting the moral issues aside, because that is not what we are talking about, there are a lot of things we do as individuals to utilize technology which are not necessarily done under public scrutiny. One example: drugs. Are secret drugs, those taken illicitly, without prescription and without public knowledge, more dangerous than prescribed, legal drugs? That seems likely for a number of reasons, whether the drug is heroin, alcohol, or steroids. What about abortions? Surely the procedure of abortion could be considered a technology. Would a secret abortion be more dangerous than one performed in a public medical facility? That would also seem a reasonable conclusion.

Turning this around, I thought to look at what might be considered protective technologies, something secret that is not necessarily being done to our bodies. Would these stand up to the same sort of basic "known-is-good ... secret-is-bad" test? Let's try a couple of examples. What about bullet-proof vests? You know ... the Kevlar things they wear on all the cop shows. Would wearing one secretly put the wearer in more danger? Or less? It depends, I suppose, on how many people are trying to kill you and if they are good enough to make a headshot.

How about home alarm systems? Would a secret alarm system make one safer? That is a good question, since here we have slipped into the area of deterrence. Would the "Protected by ACME Alarms" sign on your front lawn prevent would-be burglars from breaking in any more or less than the alarm system itself? Possibly, at least if your would-be burglar could see the sign, could read it, and believed it was true (that you had the system, not just the sticker). ( eHow Alarm Stick Link )

In keeping with my ready love of all things post-apocalyptic, extending the idea to nuclear deterrence as well seemed a next logical step. Is a country with nuclear weapons somehow safer from its neighbors than a country without them? The more I thought about this, the more the whole model of the technology-secret-danger relationship became muddled up and twisted in my mind.

I finally reached a conclusion that makes some sense to me. In this new, simplified model I look at myself as a natural biotechnology, a human body, using technology as an amplifier, a mechanism to extend my basic capabilities. If I choose to "juice up" my bio-engine with some sort of drug technology, and I amplify it too much, I could die. This is true if I choose to use some illicit street drug or if I overmedicate on a prescription drug. Some statistics suggest, in fact, that the number of deaths per year in the US from accidental overdose of prescription drugs far exceeds the number of deaths from illegal drug use. So, secret or no, if I jack up my body, I might die. On the other hand, if I put on armor, such as a bullet-proof vest, to boost my body's ability to reject projectiles, I probably am safer overall, regardless of whether people know I have the vest or not.

Does this model extend if the "organism" is a nation, using nuclear technology? Probably.

Why? Because ultimately, all technology amplifies something more fundamental than our attack strength, our defensive strength, or our ability to communicate with friends near and far. Technology amplifies our basic natures: if we are behaving in a fundamentally stupid way, our technology will help make those stupid things we are doing more collossally stupid and the consequences more catastrophic. This applies to individuals as well as Group Organisms like nations.

Ultimately, all technology has the power to extend the reach of our own stupidity. The preoccupied teenager driving past the mall up the street, texting behind the wheel of mom's Ford Bronco really is, by virtue of her rolling two tons of steel, somewhat more dangerous than her Amish counterpart reading a book behind the reigns of his horse and buggy on some rural road.

I would prefer not to be run over by either of them.
The Event - A new science fiction show from NBC. If you have not seen it, catch it. If we don't watch these emerging broadcast TV science fiction shows, they might stop making them.
Changing Your Mind - This CBC documentary, airing again on October 14, sheds light on some fascinating new developments in neuroscience. SF author Robert J. Sawyer says this show offers some clues as to the subject matter of his next novel.
Justin Stanchfield in October Analog - In addition to its other fine fact and fiction offerings, this month's Analog includes an interesting story of ecoterrorism, genetic destiny, and love in space from writing colleague Justin Stanchfield. His story appears to be at least part of the inspiration for Stanley Schmidt’s “Science and Simplicity” editorial in this issue. Buy a copy.
"Live" Mystery Science Theater 3000? Close enough. Check out this multi-theater event, being conducted nationwide this October 28th. RIFFTRAX LIVE: House on Haunted Hill
A special thanks to Ann for bringing me on board as Staff Blogger here at SFOO. I promised her I would keep my accounts of alien abduction, spiritual rebirth, political revolution, and personal hygiene to a minimum. My intent is to maintain her fine standards and continue to share information of interest to science fiction fans including those who are also writers of speculative fiction. If you have some good info, please send those useful data bits on to her and to me as well.

- D. E. Helbling

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

SFOO welcomes staff blogger, D. E. Helbling

Science Fiction and Other ODDysseys will be three years old next month! Being a toddler, it needs lots of attention, so it doesn't get into mischief. So, I've asked for reinforcements. Starting later this week, D. E. Helbling will bring you science fiction news with a sense of humor and style very similar to my own. I'm so excited to have him on board, bringing fresh content and energy.

D. E. Helbling is a writer and engineer living in the Pacific Northwest. His own fiction has appeared in legacy e-zines such as Quanta and Nocturnal Ooze and more recently with Under the Moon. His technical interests include virtual world A.I., 3D digital art and paranormal research. When he is not blogging for SFOO or working on his own creations, he can be found loitering around the d. e. helbling blog, swapping critiques with fellow writers, playing a lively retro game of Q2:LOX or banging out a melancholy tune on his Yamaha P-90.

As it happens, the first story that I actually got paid for was to Nanobison, an ezine that D. E. Helbling ran for a while.

And that's not all! Ugh! I sound like an infomercial! I have reviewers, too. What I want to know is who leaked it to the publishers? Already I have five shiny new books, mostly ARCs, that I didn't even request. Books seem to be falling out of the sky. And the best thing? They're not books on history, cooking and the Tao of Noodling (which has nothing whatsoever to do with pasta, btw)! They're actually science fiction and fantasy titles from ACE/ROC and DAW!

I'm taking the rest of the year off from reading books for review, and relying on my wonderful reviewers. I will introduce my reviewers properly next week. Please cross your fingers for me that all this help will mean I actually get my own fiction pumping out the door.

Speaking of which, if anyone knows a good paying market for a YA urban fantasy, let me know. I have a story that everyone likes, but just isn't quite right for the mainstream sci-fi market. It begins with a true Pacific Northwest tragedy in the 40s and gets quickly fantastical. Think swimming dragon, Native American legend and physical transformations.