Monday, May 31, 2010

Fables: The Great Fables Crossover

Ever since discovering Fables I have loved each and every collection. When I review them I often run out of superlatives to lavish upon them. Sooner or later most creative endeavours have to hit a road bump and I believe that The Great Fables Crossover is one such obstacle for the Fables book.

In the comics world crossover is code for: we've run out ideas or we need to shift more of one particular title, sometimes both. Sadly Fables is no exception.

The collection started promisingly. With Brock the Badger starting a cult around Boy Blue and insisting that their hero would return from the dead with the unshakeable faith of the true fanatic. Bigby and Beast were going at it, blood and fur flying, until Snow stepped in and gave Bigby a right royal telling off. It was actually rather amusing to see this huge wolf, spattered in blood, with a shame faced look on his face allowing a slender, but angry woman to send him off like a naughty child.

The action briefly crossed back to Fabletown where it appeared that the sinister Mr Dark was launching a serious bid for control over more of the Mundy world than just the now ruined Fabletown.

The 2nd chapter saw the return of Jack and the real beginning of the crossover. Most of the story covered some nonsense that Jack had gottem himself involved in with some characters called the Literals, who wielded various measures of control over fictional characters. The main problem was that one of them; Kevin Thorn, had gone rogue and was trying to destroy the Fables.

For most of the collection it just felt like Snow and Bigby had been dropped into this for their Fables connection and the fact that they're popular with fans. The story could have been adequately covered in Jack's title with a guest appearance from some of the other Fables.

There was also a side plot about a child Jack had with the Snow Queen back in the Homelands, he was Jack Frost. Again this was a story that could have been quite easily accomodated within Jack's own title, as it concerned him more than any of the other Fables.

I had the feeling that Bill Willingham set everything up in The Dark Ages, but then having completed a major story arc he didn't quite know where to go, but still had to fill a few issues, so he came up with the crossover concept. Given how ultimately disappointing this collection turned out to be I think it would have been best to put Fables on hold for a while until it's new story arc could be properly written. As it stands The Great Fables Crossover is an unnecessary blight on Fables.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

An Anchor That's Going Places

A weird title, but very apt for the actual chapter.

It begins with Cerebus being roused out of his possibly prophetic dream. He's still in the cell with Astoria and now Powers has come to check with him. He also informs Cerebus of an imperfection with the sphere and that it has to be recast. He points out that Astoria is unlikely to provide much information with a gag over her mouth.

Grumpily Cerebus removes the gag and Astoria almost immediately launches into a diatribe that their God Tarim is not male, the name is Terim and it's a female, which is why no male will ever ascend and why Terim keeps knocking the tower over.

Cerebus confesses that the only reason he wants to ascend is to prove that he beat Weisshaupt by outliving him.

The conversation degenerates into Cerebus and Astoria screaming 'Tarim' & 'Terim' at each other according to their beliefs.

Dave uses an interesting technique to tell his story in these chapters. The panels are mostly irregular rectangles focussed on whoever has the stage at the time, as the chapter is largely a two hander between Cerebus and Astoria, with a cameo from Powers this is an effective way of drawing it, it also allows for minimal backgrounds and more words than most comics use.

This was the first time I could remember Terim figuring so largely in the story and looks like it may have been the beginning of the anti feminist stance that would prevail for the rest of the book's run.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fables: The Dark Ages

I read this collection some time ago, but I've been busy with other things and it's a deep emotionally affecting collection. It's not an easy one to review.

After the war was over and the good guys had won you would have expected things to get better for our Fables, however the title The Dark Ages did not really hint that would be the case.

The first issue was a one shot set in Fabletown and featuring Gepetto. Pinnochio had insisted that his father be brought from the Homelands, but it was not going to be easy for him to assimilate and the Fables weren't greatly accepting of a man they believed to be guilty of genocide.

Trying to let him see the new world he was now part of was probably a good idea, but was doomed to failure. Gepetto is a nasty old man who cannot come to grips with the fact that he has lost the power he once wielded. He had a screaming match with Snow White, was nearly lynched by an angry mob and caused Kay to gouge his eyes out again.

It was a rather uncomfortable issue and the way Michael Allred drew Pinnochio was just wrong. Mark Buckingham has always drawn the puppet turned boy as a rather nasty looking little kid, you can believe he was once carved out of wood and that he has lived as a young boy for centuries. The other artists who have drawn him have followed Buckingham's lead, but Allred drew him as a sweet looking little boy, it was just so at odds with the other depictions of the character that I could not come to terms with it.

The next 5 issues were the title story arc. The action began back in the Homelands with 2 rogueish treasure hunters called Freddy and Mouse, most people believe them to be an homage to Fritz Lieber's barbarian adventurers Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and I agree. They come across what they believe is abandoned treasure in a castle and open a large box. A white skinned cadaverous creature emerges from the box. He kills the two adventurers and takes control of them. He goes by the name Mr Dark and he spells bad news for the Fables.

Back in Fabletown things are going wrong at a great rate of knots. An earthquake levels the Woodlands and the Fables lose most of their treasure. Baba Yaga gets free and Boy Blue has to have his arm amputated due to an infection caused by a shred of the witching cloak that got into his arm when he was shot by the enchanted arrow.

The Fables are forced to move en masse to the firm and Blue's condition is worsening, even though Dr Swineheart removed the thread by amputating his infected arm. Rose has taken up with Sinbad, possibly because he was the one with Charming when the Prince selflessly gave his life for the rest of the Fables.

Rose, knowing that Blue is dying, goes to him and pledges her love. Blue refuses it, Rose seems to want whatever she can't have and Blue is determined that he won't be her 'forever lover' because he's dead. Despite everyone's best efforts Blue dies. He is buried in Haven, where Ambrose and his people will remember him and what he did for them forever. Mr Dark has crossed the worlds and taken over what used to be Fabletown.

Can things possibly get any worse?

Waiting For The Blues which is an epilogue for The Dark Ages shows Blue's funeral and the belief that he will come back as Fables sometimes do. Brock the Badger looks set to begin a religion around Blue himself and that belief. Gepetto gets cornered by some of the animals on the Farm and goes missing. The Beast and Bigby throw down as everything begins to fall apart.

The last few issues cover what has been turned the Homeland Recovery. Mowgli and Bagheera along with Bigby's brothers go back to the Jungle Book lands to reclaim them from the Adversary's forces. They meet a clockwork tiger called Mountbatten (I wonder how many people got that joke?) and with the help of Bigby's brothers send the goblins packing. At least one Homeland is ready for repatriation.

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Cover

I don't very often do this, but when I saw this (courtesy of James at Speculative Horizons I just had to share.

The UK cover for Scott Lynch's long awaited 3rd volume of his Gentleman Bastards series, Republic of Thieves.

It's a departure in style for the series, the covers for The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies focussed more on the surrounds than individuals. I have to admit that I love this cover. It makes me want the book that much more, it's scheduled for a northern hemisphere Spring 2011 release, which means anywhere from March to May. Most sources believe it will be March.

There's also discussion about the cover over at: Or you can make a comment here if you like.

Turn Coat

Turn Coat is the 11th book in Jim Butcher’s Urban Fantasy series The Dresden Files.

For those out there that haven’t yet met Wizard for Hire Harry Dresden I’ll see what I can do to bring you up to speed. The books are narrated by the title character. Harry is a somewhat down at heel modern day wizard who makes a living by hiring out his rather specialized services. As Harry is mostly based in Chicago the majority of the books are set in the mid western metropolis. I can’t find any information indicating that Butcher has ever spent any length of time in Chicago (he lives in Independence, Missouri), but Harry’s descriptions of the city display a good deal of knowledge about it and deep affection. As a wizard Harry Dresden owes more to Philip Marlowe than he does to Gandalf and for that reason the books have a rather noirish feel to them. Butcher’s dialogue, however is more inspired by Joss Whedon than Raymond Chandler, and is liberally littered with pop culture references. Harry refers to his teenage apprentice; Molly Carpenter, as ‘grasshopper’ and in Turn Coat Harry compares his own intellect with that of Wile E. Coyote. Over the course of the previous 10 books readers have met the White Council of Wizards, 3 separate Courts of vampires (White, Red and Black, mention has also been made of the Jade Court, but they’ve yet to appear), at least one loosely organised pack of werewolves and various faerie organisations, to name a few. Butcher has also developed a large cast of supporting characters to help or hinder Harry and move the narrative along. The supporting cast is now large enough that the author can drop even a fan favourite for a book or two and still keep most of his readership happy. In Turn Coat Harry’s familiar Bob the talking skull only appears briefly and isn’t really missed.

Turn Coat begins with one of the White Council’s most trusted soldiers; Warden Donald Morgan, turning up seriously wounded at Harry’s apartment. To say that the relationship between wizard and Warden is strained would be understating it somewhat. The Wardens are the Council’s enforcers. Harry was once a wanted wizard and the man most after his head was Donald Morgan. The Warden claims to have been framed for the murder of a prominent Council wizard and has the Council’s attack dogs out for his blood. He came to Harry for two reasons. One is that it would be the last place anyone would expect, and two, Harry has a strong sense of justice because he himself was once unfairly accused, and he’s had success with similar cases in the past.

Once Harry agrees to help Morgan he puts himself and his apprentice in danger from the Council and unwittingly draws a number of his allies; feisty, little Chicago detective Karrin Murphy, his half brother White Court vampire Thomas, the Alpha pack of werewolves and his army of faery solidiers, led by the unforgettable Toot Toot, into a web of intrigue and stalking death in the form of a ‘skinwalker’ (an ancient Native American legend known as a Naagloshi). Only Harry can prove Morgan’s innocence and at the same time prevent the Council from destroying itself from within.

11 books in and Jim Butcher has not lost his touch. I’ve liked the stories about Harry ever since I first met the wisecracking wizard in Storm Front (the first of the Dresden Files) and he is still going strong. There are hints in Turn Coat, as there were also were in its predecessor; Small Favor, that other adventures Harry has had are all leading to one giant climax. It is possible that Butcher will wrap it all up somewhere in the future, although the 12th of the Dresden Files; Changes, is out in hardcover and a 13th instalment; Side Jobs is planned for release in November of this year to be followed by a 14th; Ghost Story at an as yet unknown time in 2011.

One small criticism is that at times instalments of The Dresden Files seem like they are being written on auto pilot. Given that since 2004 Butcher has been averaging 2 books a year (he generally releases a Dresden and a volume of his ‘swords & sorcery epic’ The Codex Alera each year) this probably isn’t all that surprising, it’s a punishing schedule for any author to stick to.

I also have one other small point to make and this is not an author fault, but rather a publisher one. Since the 7th book of The Dresden Files they have taken to advertising the author’s other series; The Codex Alera, by way of an author’s note at the end of the story. I have no problem with that, I don’t have any real interest in The Codex Alera myself, but that’s just me, what I would like to see is for them to at least change the note. I can almost recite from heart this particular author’s note.

Other than that I urge people to give Harry Dresden a try. I don’t think you’ll regret the decision. He’s a fun guy and you’ll love his friends.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Odd Transformations IV

This chapter begins exactly where the last shocking one left off. It's called Odd Transformations IV. They're kind of like Mind Games chapters, although dreamier.

After violating Astoria Cerebus fell asleep. He's in that dream now. It looks like he's dreaming of his old mercenary days, he's dressed that way and on the way somewhere, to do something, he just doesn't know what and he keeps thinking about chains. That's largely because a huge chain drops on him and tries to drown him.

Cerebus wakes up and he's still in Astoria's cell, passed out on top of her. A guard comes to check and Cerebus covers up by telling the guard that he's interrogating the prisoner, the lie is somewhat spoiled by the fact that Astoria's panties are on His Holiness head at the time. Cerebus snatches the undergarments from between his ears and waits for the man to leave, then he divorces the unconscious Astoria and promptly falls asleep again.

This time he's overseeing the construction of a giant statue of himself. There's echoes of the idol the Pigts built to him, Thrunk and also evidence of Cerebus whole God complex. Cerebus climbs to the top of the hotel where his wife has planted a garden and is cooking potatoes on a fire.

Cerebus' never names his wife in this dream. She looks like Astoria, but is wearing Sophia's chainmail bikini. Dressed once again in his mercenary gear Cerebus pushes Astoria/Sophia off the top of the hotel, which looks like The Regency from the outside. The final word is Boom, and Cerebus is standing in front of a giant cannon.

I've read other dream sequences, I've seen them in other comics and I've seen them on film, but with the possible exception of some of the fever dreams that George MacDonald Fraser gave Harry Flashman, no one does them better than Dave Sim.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


I have to apologize for not doing any Cerebus recently. I do have an excuse, it's not a good one, but it is an excuse. I have a really crappy old copy of Church & State II. So old and crappy that it is literally falling apart. I could buy a new one, but why should I spend upwards of $50 to replace a copy which has all the pages, which admittedly are falling out, but they're still there at the moment. Anyway it makes the book bloody hard to read and flick through to review.

So. No, not the 80's CD by Peter Gabriel. That's what Dave called this chapter, eventually you can't think up any more cool names. It was the last word in the previous chapter and it's the first word in this one.

Cerebus confronts and chained and somewhat the worse for wear Astoria, who has admitted to killing the other Pope, the Lion of Serrea, from the conversation that she and Cerebus have I gathered she did it quite openly in front of witnesses.

Astoria contends that morally she's more in the right than Cerebus, because he's killed a number of people for no good reason. Cerebus claims that Popes are not just people, which causes Astoria to bring up Thrunk, who Cerebus blew up. Cerebus argues that he doesn't count because he was a false Pope.

Astoria then says that Cerebus owes her. If it wasn't for her, he would never have been made Pope in the first place. Cerebus' counters that if Astoria hadn't brought the Bug into things Cerebus would have been more successful than he was, so it was her fault that things didn't work out before he was handed the papacy.

Astoria then proves that she can still manipulate Cerebus by tricking him into giving her a drink of water. She then attempts to seduce him, or rather tease him. This is largely where things went pear shaped, not in the chapter, which is compelling, but more in the book as a whole and it altered readers perception of Dave. So is the controversial 'rape' issue.

Astoria attempts to tease Cerebus by offering him sex, knowing full well that he can't act on his desires because legally he's still married to Sophia and as Pope he cannot break the sanctity of marriage. What Astoria doesn't expect is for Cerebus to gag her, divorce himself from Sophia, marry himself to Astoria and then consummate the 'marriage'. Legally as Pope, as the ONLY Pope, Cerebus can do this. Morally it's completely wrong and turned a lot of people off. I believe Dave's response would be that he spent the better part of 80 or so issues of the book showing that Cerebus' moral compass was seriously skewed, so why is anyone surprised now? It's hard to know at any stage what Dave was thinking. I personally wish he hadn't put the rape scene in the book, because it forever altered mine and many other people's perceptions of the aardvark and the book.

The book was forever changed after So, though.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dandelion Wine

Another challenge book down.

Ray Bradbury has enjoyed a long and prolific career as a science fiction and fantasy writer. His first collection of short stories was published in 1947. He's probably best known for his science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451, but he has also written a number of fantasies. Dandelion Wine is classified as one of those.

I have to admit that at times I'm struggling to understand what classifies some of the books in this list as fantasy. Dandelion Wine is one such book. It's basically a collection of short stories, woven together into a loose narrative by virtue of them all being set in the one small Midwest town in the Summer of 1928.

Bradbury has admitted that Dandelion Wine is his most personal work and at times you get the sense that it is almost autobiographical. The focus of most of the stories is 12 year old Douglas Spaulding, who is in fact a younger Ray Bradbury. The setting of Green Town is actually Bradbury's childhood home town of Waukegan. Bradbury has obviously changed the names of the people involved, although the events more than likely actually took place, although not necessarily during the one season, and the characters are based on real people.

Essentially it's a coming of age book, a heartfelt recollection of one glorious small-town Summer. Douglas was rather hard to pin down, sometimes he seemed too young to be 12 and other times far too mature, rarely did he come across to me as a genuine 12 year old boy. The town also appeared to be full of amateur philosophers, I'm absolutely positive real people don't talk that way.

If the authors of the list that recommended Dandelion Wine as a Must-Read Fantasy Novel wanted to include some of Bradbury's work, and he's an important enough writer to warrant inclusion, I'm not sure why they didn't include one of his better known and genuinely fantastical stories in Something Wicked This Way Comes.

If anyone enjoyed the stories in Dandelion Wine and the small-town coming of age theme I could recommend Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird, it deals with the far more sensitive issue of race relations and takes place over a much longer period, but Scout Finch's story is at heart a coming of age odyssey. Another recommendation is Australian author Don Charlwood's All The Green Year, while dealing with protagonists a few years older than Doug Spaulding is still a well told coming of age story, set in a small coastal town in Victoria, Australia, and it's also set in the 1920's.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pirate Latitudes

Pirate Latitudes is written by the prolific and successful best seller writer Michael Crichton. Crichton passed away in 2008 and Pirate Latitudes was discovered and published after his death.

As nearly everything Crichton wrote was either made into a film or a TV series it is unsurprising that Pirate Latitudes reads rather like a script for an adventure film.

The book was very obviously inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean and the author no doubt sought to emulate the success of that particular franchise.

Rogueish privateer Captain Edward Hunter is contracted by Port Royal's somewhat unscrupulous governor Sir James Almont to liberate a Spanish galleon full of treasure from nearby Matanceros Harbour. If he can do so then the shares in the treasure will make he and his crew rich beyond imagination, that's even after the King and Governor Almont have taken their shares. The only catch is that no one has ever successfully taken anything from Matanceros and it's brutal commander; Cazalla is not a man anyone would want as an enemy.

The story moves quickly and the action is handled very professionally. There's nothing really special about Crichton's prose, but he knows how to tell a good story, aside from his females who I found a little stereoptypical, with the exception of the gender confused Lazue, the characters were entertaining and likeable, the villains were suitably hissable. It was a rip roaring boys own adventure story, extremely readable, if somewhat forgettable.

One major criticism is the unnecessary epilogue. It tells the reader about most of the main characters fates, it seems to be an attempt to pretend that the characters were actual historical figures, which they weren't. The book would have been fine without them.

I'd rate it F for fun.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Book of Sand

The 5th of the B's and the 8th in the list of 100.

Unusual is the best way to describe The Book of Sand by respected and acclaimed Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges.

It's a very slim volume containing 13 short stories. Most were written around 1975 when the book was published, but others were written earlier.

By the time Borges wrote most of these stories he was an old man and totally blind. Many of the stories have the theme of lost youth, others contain unfulfilled love. The author uses 1st and 3rd person to tell his tales, but in nearly all 13 of the stories it's obvious that the main character is based on Borges himself, usually a younger, healthier version.

Borges was considered a fantasist and this book appeared in a list of 100 Must-Read Fantasy novels. Firstly it's not actually a novel, but a collection of short stories and secondly it's fantasy credentials are very slim as I understand fantasy. The only genuine fantasy stories are the first one; The Other, where the author somehow meets a younger self, and the 13th, the title story, which tells of an amazing book; The Book of Sand. A book with no beginning and no end, a volume that will be read differently by everyone who reads it and will never contain the same contents twice, depending on who has possession of it, it may not even appear as a book to the owner.

I have to admit to being frustrated through most of the time reading the stories, this was largely because they appeared to be fragments of larger works, thoughts of the author that he considered making into more coherent tales or the beginnings of a larger work which was never expanded upon.

Something may have been lost in the translation, but I found a lot of the prose pretentious and clumsy.

I have to conclude that it simply wasn't for me.

I can't recommend anything similar, because I'm not generally a short story reader, so haven't come across anything quite like this collection.

Questions & Answers

This meme (whatever a meme is) was initially posted at: with an invite to answer it on your own blog. I thought I'd do just that.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack:

I hardly ever eat while reading. I just can’t do the whole dip into bowl, navigate snack to mouth thing and still concentrate on the book. My manual dexterity is and always has been shocking. So the answer is no.

What is your favorite drink while reading?

Very rarely drink while reading. If I get thirsty, I’ll put the book down and go to the kitchen to get something to drink. On the rare occasions this does happen it’ll probably be Coke.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Horrifies me, always has. Never ever do it.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

I have 2 bookmarks, one is a soft woven, Persian rug type thing and the other is a cross stitch that my wife made for me. I usually mark my place with them. Very occasionally if I know I’m not going to be away for long I will lay it flat open. Dog earing the pages is a huge no no for me. I haven’t done that since I was about 8 years old.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?

Mostly fiction. I do sometimes read non fiction if the subject interests me. The last non fiction was The Age of Wonder.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

My wife laughs at me about this. I HAVE to read to the end of a chapter or a section. Terry Pratchett annoys me because he doesn’t usually have chapters in his books.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

I joke about throwing books across the room if I don’t like them, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually done it. I rarely don’t finish a book, but if I really can’t go on I close the book, put it in another room and generally leave it there to rot.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

No, but I do try and remember it so I can check it on the computer.

What are you currently reading?

Jorge Luis Borges: The Book of Sand. Truth be told I don’t really like it much and can’t work out why he’s so respected.

What is the last book you bought?

Monster by A. Lee Martinez. I went on a real book buying spree for a while and I’m trying cut back so I can at least make some inroads into the ever growing TBR pile.

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

My wife can read more than one at a time, she has had as many as 5 on the go at the one time. I’m strictly a one at a time person, unless you count graphic novels. With those I’m usually reading the graphic novel at home and keeping the book for the commute.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?

I don’t have a specific time or place, but I do most of my reading on the train to and from work. I also try to read a chapter in bed at night before turning off the light.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

Both. It depends on the book. Stand alones don’t require you to wait in between books, but if the series is good enough and the wait isn’t too long I can do it, although A Song of Ice and Fire has turned me off buying the first book of a number of new series until at least the 2nd book is out.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

It changes, but 3 things that stay up there are: Dave Duncan’s A Man of His Word series, Tad Williams The War of the Flowers and Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)

When we get the time we try to put them on the shelves in our library alphabetically by author. Makes them much easier to find that way.


Monster is the 6th book from the inventive and chaotic mind of author A. Lee Martinez.

Martinez had me hooked after I thoroughly enjoyed his debut (Gil’s All Fright Diner), and from what little I read of Monster, before purchasing it, I knew I was in for another treat.

Don’t let the title put you off. It sounds rather like a horror novel or even a serial killer thriller, but it’s not. It’s a lot funnier for a start. It’s actually rather hard to categorize the book. It could be described as either Urban Fantasy or Comic Fantasy and the author himself disagrees with both of those. I’m going with Comic Urban Fantasy.

The Monster of the title is Monster Dionysus. Monster works for Cryptobiological Containment and Rescue Services. If you have a problem with an infestation of trolls or an army of imps have invaded your house, then Monster and his paper gnome partner Chester, are more than likely who will be sent to deal with it.

Judy is a college dropout, doing nothing with her life, who happens to find a yeti eating all the icecream in the freezer of the supermarket where she works nights stacking shelves. She calls Animal Control Services and Monster and Chester turn up to handle the invader.

Judy has a problem with creatures of a magical nature, they seem to keep turning up and they manage to pretty neatly also ruin Monster’s life. They certainly total his car, trash his house and hasten the break up of his relationship with his succubus girlfriend; Liz. This throws Monster and Judy together even though they don’t really like each other. If the two of them can’t work together the cat loving Mrs Lotus, and her mysterious stone will destroy the universe.

Author A. Lee Martinez managed to crack every funny bone in my body with Monster, he’s fast joining Sir Terry Pratchett on my list of authors not to read on the train lest laughing inappropriately earn you glares from the grey suited office drones. Early on in the book I was reminded of Men In Black, at times the book is very much the fantasy equivalent of the comedy sci-fi film. Monster is Tommy Lee Jones, Judy is Will Smith and there’s even a case to equate Chester with Frank the talking pug dog.

I loved Gil’s All Fright Diner and Monster is getting the big thumbs up too. I’m going to have to seek out the rest of Martinez’s work.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fan Fiction

I'm actually not sure why I'm writing this or if I'm even trying to make any specific point, but I came across an interesting post from George RR Martin (the author of the epic A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series) on his Not a Blog:
regarding fan fiction.

Mr Martin's post was inspired by a rant Diana Gabaldon posted on her blog about it and the 1,000+ responses that the post generated. George Martin's own post got more than 400 responses and he eventually had to lock the thread due to the sheer volume of response.

I've long known George RR Martin is an opponent of fan fiction and actively discourages his fans from writing anything based on his creations (he refers to it as 'playing in someone else's sandbox'). My main issue with Mr Martin and fan fiction is that he doesn't seem to fully understand what it is.

Some time ago a poster on his Not a Blog asked him why he was opposed to fan fiction and his response was a rather flippant comment that he was all for fans writing fiction, he'd just rather they use their own creations, not his to do it. I'm sorry Mr Martin, but that isn't fan fiction, that's fiction.

In this particular article on his Not a Blog he clarifies that position somewhat with this comment:

"One of the things I mislike about fan fiction is its NAME. Truth is, I wrote fan fiction myself. That was how I began, when I was a kid in high school writing for the dittoed comic fanzines of the early 1960s. In those days, however, the term did not mean "fiction set in someone else's universe using someone else's characters." It simply meant "stories written by fans for fans, amateur fiction published in fanzines." Comic fandom was in its infancy then, and most of us who started it were kids... some of whom did make the mistake of publishing amateur fan-written stories about Batman or the Fantastic Four in their 'zines. National (what we called DC back then) and Marvel shut those down pretty quickly.

The rest of us knew better. Including me. I was a fan, an amateur, writing stories out of love just like today's fan fictioneers... but it never dawned on me to write about the JLA or the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, much as I loved them. I invented my own characters, and wrote about those. Garizan, the Mechanical Warrior. Manta Ray. The White Raider. When Howard Keltner, one of the editors and publishers of STAR-STUDDED COMICS, the leading fanzine of its day, invited me to write about two of his creations, Powerman and Dr. Weird, I leapt at the chance... but only with Howard's express invitation and permission."

Now just because you personally don't like the name of something doesn't mean that you can ignore it to make your own argument. The accepted view of fan fiction has always been that it is a work of fiction written by a fan of a particular creation whether that be a comic book, a TV show, a movie, a book, whatever using concepts and often characters created by the original work's author/creator. What George wrote when he was a teen wasn't fan fiction, it was fiction, he used his own characters and his own world. What he wrote based on Howard Keltner's works was fan fiction, but he had the difference between George and any number of posters out there on the internet writing their own fan fictions was that he had the permission of the creator and his work was endorsed by the creator.

I found it interesting that Mr Martin throughout all his long post made no mention of Songs of the Dying Earth, an anthology published last year edited by Mr Martin and his friend and collaborator Gardner Dozois featuring stories written by George RR Martin and a number of other authors set in Jack Vance's Dying World concept and using characters created by Mr Vance. Aside from the facts that Jack Vance endorsed, authorised and got some of the proceeds, this work was fan fiction, pure and simple. Mr Martin goes on to say that if he passes away he hopes that neither his descendants or publishers allow anyone to write fiction based on his creations. I find that attitude a little churlish. I hope that when he lives to Jack Vance's age (Mr Vance is 93) and receives a submission from a younger author who idolised him and his work and was inspired by such, to put out a book with others using his ideas and characters, that he like his hero Jack Vance, endorses and authorises said work.

George RR Martin's definition of fan fiction also reclassifies a number of original works. Two that immediately spring to mind are Terry Brooks debut novel Sword of Shannara. There is no doubting that the characters and concept were inspired by Lord of the Rings, but they were definitely original, so by George RR Martin's definition Sword of Shannara should be reclassified as Lord of the Rings fan fiction. Sections of Tad Williams' stunning series Otherland are very obviously inspired by L. Frank Baum's Oz concept and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, but no one is going to reclassify Otherland as fan fiction. Bill Willingham's marvelous comic book Fables uses public domain characters from popular fairy tales and nursery rhymes, mostly the Brothers Grimm, but I haven't seen anyone classify Fables as Brothers Grimm fan fiction. In fact that's a comic book that George RR Martin heartily endorses and approves of.

I don't read much fan fiction, and I have a few reasons for that, none of which because I disapprove of it. I find a lot of it poorly written, that which is well written often doesn't properly capture the characters properly and most of it is wish fulfilment; the author writing a conclusion to things as they would have preferred to see it. My wife enjoys fan fiction on certain subjects and that's largely driven by the fact that many of the authors write pairings she'd rather see. Having said that I did write a Buffy fan fiction myself many years ago. I used as little of Joss Whedon's characters and ideas while still making it clear that it was definitely set in the Buffyverse. It was well received, but I never wrote another one, preferring to create my own worlds and characters. My attitude towards fan fiction is live and let live. It's out there, you can't stop it, it was in existence well before the internet, it just wasn't as widely distributed and as long as no one writes this stuff and then tries to sell it as their own creation I don't see the problem or the point of the opposition.

Friday, May 7, 2010


Really getting through the list now! James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus is the 4th of the B authors and the 7th in the complete list of 100 works.

I did read some Blaylock back in the dim dark ages of the 80’s when he was most prolific and kids were still riding their dinosaurs to school. I can’t remember what it was I read, but I never touched the author again. Homunculus reminded me why.

Having now read it I’m not actually sure why it qualified for the list at all. It’s best classified as steampunk. James Blaylock is considered one of the pioneers of that field. Although Homunculus was published in 1986, a year before the term was coined, it is most definitely steampunk. It’s set in and around London in 1870, whether or not this is an alternate reality is not explained.

One of a number of problems I had with the book is the lack of a coherent plot. As near as I could work out it concerned the efforts of a group of amateur scientists and inventors who called themselves the Trismegistus Club to keep the contents of two boxes (a large emerald and a tiny man; the homunculus of the title) out of the clutches of their sworn enemy; wealthy and unscrupulous Kelso Drake and his band of henchmen. There was a subplot about a homemade spacecraft built by Langdon St Ives; one of the leading members of the Trismegistus Club, an object that Drake also covets. There was a third party, a mad evangelist (aren’t they all?) by the name of Shiloh, exactly what purpose he served in the book I’m not sure, his presence seemed confusing and was not explained to my satisfaction. I’m sure he seemed like a good idea at the time.

Blaylock’s characterisation frustrated me no end. The nicest thing that can be said about the members of the Trismegistus Club is that, with the possible exception of the unfortunate Bill Kraken, they were bland. Drake and his henchmen, including the evil hunchbacked reanimator; Dr Ignacio Narbondo, were cardboard cut out villains, you half expected them to twirl their moustaches and laugh evilly.

The author seemed to have written book in 3 separate styles, part Victorian mystery, part Frankensteinesque science fiction and then steampunk fantasy. I’ve seen the melding of styles done successfully in the past, but it’s not easy to do and in the case of Homunculus it failed spectacularly, not one of the styles was written particularly well or worked well with the rest of the story. Added to that was a strange and perplexing preoccupation with fish. Barely a chapter went by that the aquatic creatures weren’t mentioned.

The pacing was also uneven, mostly the narrative moved quite slowly, the action sequences were short and sometimes abortive and came at unexpected times, except for the penultimate chapter which was a slapstick chase scene that would not have been out of place in a Keystone Cops silent movie.

In the end I didn’t know why the protagonists did what they did and overall it was not an enjoyable read. I won’t be seeking out more of James P. Blaylock’s work.

If someone would like to read something in this vein, but much better written and more entertaining, I’d recommend Australian YA author Michael Pryor’s Laws of Magic series, currently comprising 4 books (Blaze of Glory, Heart of Gold, Word of Honour & Time of Trial).

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fables: War and Pieces SPOILER ALERT

It had to happen sooner or later and in this the 11th collection the Fables go to war.

In the first issue of the collection; Kingdom Come, drawn by Niko Henrichon, Boy Blue is shipping out, but before he goes there two things he has to do. One is to let the Fables on the Farm know that if they want he'll take them to Prince Ambrose's kingdom of Haven in the Homelands, but there is one catch. In area Haven isn't much bigger than the Farm, and while they'll be free to leave, once they do so they won't be under any protection from the Imperial forces of the Adversary. It's up to the individual Farm Fables to choose. We never find out exactly who does elect to go and who decides to stay, but there are some hysterically funny conversations when the Fables try and choose between the technological advantages of the Mundy world (TV, iPods, the internet) and the lure of being back in the Homelands. The second thing that Blue has to do is tell Rose how he feels about her, especially once Stinky, sorry Brock the Badger explains to him that it's painfully obvious to everyone else that she's head over heels in love with him. Unfortunately by the time Blue gets around to this and he's shipping out Rose decides she doesn't want to open herself up to possible heartbreak if he doesn't return.

The second two issues, a two parter called Skullduggery features Cinderella in her secret agent glory. Pinnochio has been smuggled back from the Homelands. Fabletown's brains trust: Charming, Bigby, King Cole, Beauty, Beast and Frau Totenkinder believe that the puppet is extremely important to the war effort and they want him safely hidden in the Woodlands building. It's up to Cinderella to collect him from Chile and spirit him to New York, battling Imperial agents the entire way.

Once Pinnochio is secured the action shifts to the war in the main story; War and Pieces. Charming resigned as Mayor and gave the position back to Cole so he could take an active part in the war. He's one of the commanders on the Arabian built skyship Glory of Baghdad. Sinbad is the other commander. The skyship is held aloft by flying carpets and armed with modern Mundane weapons, they are kept up to date with what the Empire is doing by the zephyrs. Glory's chief mission is to locate and bomb the gates that connect the various Homelands to each other, which will greatly restrict Imperial troop movements.

The war is also being fought on other fronts. Bigby commands Fort Bravo, their duty is to protect the one remaining magic beanstalk to provide an escape route for the Fables if needed and to destroy it if the Imperial forces look like gaining control. The Farm is being used as a storage and staging depot and the Homelands building is their headquarters. Blue is supply, he uses the Witching Cloak to ferry himself, reinforcements, supplies and news between the various fronts of the war.

Briar Rose has been dropped into the Imperial capital with Hakim, the Arabian Fable guard and one of the 13th floor Fables, the witch Mrs Someone to protect her. When the time is right she will prick her finger and the amplification that Fabletown's magic users have placed on her usual sleeping spell will put everyone0 in the city to sleep and cause it be covered by a near impenetrable thicket of thorns.

Things go smoothly until the Emperor (who is really just a giant armoured puppet) breaks free of the thorns and gets information about Fort Bravo. He travels there and the commander there fires a specially enchanted arrow at Bigby. The arrow should find it's target and kill them. Blue gets in the way and tries to shield Bigby with the cloak. Amazingly the arrow pierces the cloak and wounds both Boy Blue and Bigby, but neither fatally. Bigby takes on the Emperor and uses guile to bring him down and allow Blue to finish him off with the Vorpal Sword.

Meanwhile an Imperial dragon squad has managed to avoid detection by Glory and launches itself in a suicide attack on the flying ship. Glory explodes and Charming and Sinbad barely manage to esscape with their lives and their payload. They're grounded, but they still have one gate to destroy. At the last Charming proves that the stories about him weren't just that, he is courageous and noble and gives his life for the greater cause.

The war is over at great cost. The Fables have captured the Adversary, Pinnochio's father Geppetto. They bring him back to Fabletown at Pinnochio's insistence. I can't see this ending well.

This was a great collection. It was fitting of a big war collection, you could sense that the series had been building to this. One criticism is that there seemed a bit of an anti climactic sense to it. The war just went too smoothly for the Fables. Although the ending was tense there wasn't the same sense of loss we got seeing some of the heroes go down in March of the Wooden Soldiers. Yes, Charming died and did so nobly, but his amoral character never allowed readers to bond to him tightly. The only other Fable that I got any sense of loss about dying was Mr Toad from Wind in the Willows and that was only because I saw his grave at the end, he never spoke and I think we only saw him once in the entire series.

I'm still eager for more!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gil's All Fright Diner

Gil’s All Fright Diner is A. Lee Martinez’s debut novel and what an enjoyable entry into the field it is, too. If the title doesn’t give it away the book sits comfortably in the subgenre termed Urban Fantasy.
Duke and Earl are two good ol’ boys with a difference. Duke is a werewolf and Earl is a vampire. They spend their largely immortal lives (Duke is virtually unkillable and Earl is effectively undead) cruising around North America in Duke’s battered old pickup truck. One night they drop into Gil’s; a seedy looking roadside diner on the outskirts of the one horse town of Rockwood, (it’s never actually stated where Rockwood is, the middle of nowhere is a pretty good guess) for a bite to eat. Before they can finish their meal the diner is attacked by a pack of zombies from the small graveyard situated across the road. Having taken a liking to Gil’s owner; a plucky, plus size woman named Loretta, Duke and Earl decide to stick around to help her out. They find true love (in Earl’s case at least), face death many times and help avert the end of the world in the course of their adventure.
Gil’s All Fright Diner is best described as huge fun. The most succinct and accurate description I can come up with is: think of the first Tremors movie, make Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward (coincidentally Fred Ward’s character in that film is named Earl) into a vampire and a werewolf, and change the ‘graboids’ into zombies. There’s a lot more to it than that, but this is a good start. The continual good-natured bickering between Duke and Earl and the situation they found themselves in (which seemed pretty normal to them) reminded me a lot of the genetically-blessed Winchester brothers from the TV show Supernatural, and most of what happened in the book would not have been out of place in an episode of that particular show. There were pop culture references scattered liberally throughout the narrative, and the dialogue was also reminiscent of another supernatural TV cult favourite: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Aside from Duke, Earl and Loretta, readers are also introduced to Rockwood’s laconic law enforcer; Marshall Kopp, who takes putting down zombie cows and capturing animated scarecrows as all part of a day’s work, he also barely blinks when finding out that the two drifters who just rolled into his town are living embodiments of beings best known from old horror films. Tammy or Mistress Lilith, as she prefers to be known; a nubile high school nymphet who is using an old copy of the Necronomicon and pig latin incantations to bring about the end of the world as we know it (check page 134 for an explanation of how some dreadful actors land syndicated TV shows and multi-picture deals. I knew there had to be something evil at work behind that). Tammy’s moronic follower and boyfriend Chad. The cute guardian of the local graveyard; Cathy and her spectral best friend, the feisty terrier Napoleon.
In a field that is littered with pistol packing slayers (inevitably female and ‘hot’) and lustful vampires, Gil’s All Fright Diner is a welcome change of pace, it picks up a lot of the current concepts in Urban Fantasy, throws them to the ground and then gives them a severe kicking. Just like the evil-chasing brothers they reminded me of, Duke and Earl put everything to rights in Rockwood and then roll off into the sunset; given Earl’s natural aversion to sunlight, they actually roll off into the starlit night, but it just doesn’t sound as good. There was plenty of scope left for further adventures, but as yet the author has preferred to devote himself to writing standalones. Gil’s has encouraged me to seek out the further unrelated works of Mr Martinez, but I live in hope that we will see the further adventures of Duke and Earl sometime in the future.