I saw Star Trek Into Darkness last week, and quite enjoyed it… although overall, I tend to agree with those critics, like Gary Westfahl at Locus Online and Keith Decandido at Tor.com, who’ve pointed out that it’s kinda a mindless action flick with more in common with contemporary summer blockbusters than Star Trek. Still, my kids loved it — and so did the packed house — and I firmly believe that any filmmaker who can successfully re-imagine Star Trek, and ignite fresh interest in a whole new generation, deserves praise. Even if it’s not exactly the same Star Trek I enjoyed 40 years ago.
Besides, no one’s done anything to tarnish that Star Trek. So I’ve been quietly enjoying it at home. I watched “Space Seed” on DVD, and Star Trek The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan on Blu-Ray. And I’ve recently discovered a host of Trek-themed advertisements from the 80s, including this delightful ad for a British power company starring William Shatner and James Doohan:
If that’s not enough for you, there’s also this AT&T ad from the late 80s, featuring virtually the entire cast… and a nice surprise at the end.
Over at Tor.com, Mordicai Knode has captured a lot of my own thoughts on First Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Here he is on Gary Gygax’s original Monster Manual:
Even if you don’t play the game, you can still flip through it and think chimeras and hook horrors and mindflayers are awesome. Which follows through; even if you aren’t going to use any given monster, you can still find them interesting, and who knows, maybe flipping through you’ll find something that inspires you. I’ve built entire adventures, campaign tent poles, around a monster that tickled my fancy… I was very impressed with how closely the 1e Monster Manual adhered to my monster design philosophy: make every monster a mini-game.
Yes — exactly that. Even today, virtually every new adventure I design begins with flipping through MM (or MM II) until I see something that inspires me. These are books I’ve used more or less continuously for three decades. That’s my definition of a classic.
Here’s Mordicai on the Dungeon Masters Guide:
The items, frankly, are neat as all get out. There is a good reason that all of the items here have been re-imagined in every subsequent edition — they are fantastic… The section on artifacts is…a mixed bag. First off, the Hand of Vecna! We all agree that the Hand and Eye of Vecna are the best artifacts, right?… While the backstories are wonderful, and I appreciate the impulse to leave artifacts open for DMs to tweak…a blank list of powers is just not helpful. Which is what you get, literal blank lines printed in the book. Come on, at least give a default suggestion!
Two weeks ago I talked about the city vs. country tension that’s often found in literature, and how it might have contributed to the rise of the barbarian hero in our own genre. Now I’m wondering whether we haven’t seen a fine-tuning of that same tension in a more familiar guise: the buddy movie, or, more to the point for us genre types, the buddy adventure.
Like some of the other stuff I’ve been talking about, I don’t think this concept is something that’s just shown up recently. In Don Quijote – widely considered to be the first novel, though you won’t get many who’ll agree on what genre it is – we have the titular Don himself, but we also have his travelling companion and side-kick, Sancho Panza.
But, you might argue, Sancho is a side-kick, and not an adventurer in and of himself – though again, you’ll find those who’ll dispute that, and maybe even convince you that, title aside, the book really belongs to Sancho. But let’s think about the implications here for genre heroes. When is a character a side-kick (pray note that I don’t qualify that by saying “just”) and when is the character a co-hero?
Friday, May 24th, 2013 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard
Mac Raboy succeeded Austin Briggs in illustrating the Flash GordonSunday strip from 1948 until his death in 1967. As an artist, Raboy was heavily influenced by the strip’s creator, Alex Raymond, and did a fine job of continuing the series. Dark Horse reprinted the entire Mac Raboy run in four oversized monochrome trade paperbacks a few years ago. Titan Books will reprint the series in full color as part of their ongoing hardcover reprints of the entire run of the series. At present, I have only two Mac Raboy stories (one early and one late-period) as a sample of his two decade run on the strip.
“Yeti” was serialized by King Features Syndicate from July 21 to November 17, 1963. Raboy’s artwork was not as strong by this point as it had been earlier, but having succeeded Don Moore in writing his own scripts, it is clear that Raboy was taking a cue from Dan Barry’s concurrent daily strip in moving the series away from Alex Raymond’s original template.
Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Sue Granquist
I might be one of the few fans of the Marvel comic Blade to actually admit to liking the screen adaptations staring Wesley Snipes.
New Line Cinema released the trilogy of Blade movies between 1998 and 2004. They were based on the half-breed vampire slayer character created for Marvel Comics by Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan debuting in 1973′s The Tomb of Dracula #10.
Granted, not all three movies were created equal, but I thought the first one was solid and though by the third installment, Blade Trinity, fans of the comic might not have recognized much, the snappy dialog written for Ryan Reynolds and the overall eye-candy made it at least entertaining, if not wildly successful.
In fact, at this year’s C2E2 I overheard an interesting bit of Blade Trinity trivia which maybe helps explain why.
Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt — who played weapons expert Hedges in the third Blade movie – was signing autographs. He told a fan that all those Ryan Reynolds’ sophomoric one-liners followed by Wesley Snipes’ dead pan stares were largely the result of Snipes not speaking to screenwriter / director David Goyer.
Apparently Snipes would only communicate to Goyer via post-it notes and generally refused to cooperate during the production, causing the rest of the cast to take up the uncomfortable slack in an attempt to save the film. Oswalt explained:
We would all just think of things for him (Reynolds) to say and then cut to Wesley’s face not doing anything because that’s all we could get from him (Snipes). That was an example of a very troubled shoot that we made fun. You have to find a way to make it fun.
Even more so when you consider that the entire franchise might be getting a chance at a Snipes-free redemption.
I encountered The Watchers for the first time during my last trip to Barnes & Noble. There I was with an arm full of paperbacks, making my way to the register, when I spotted it on a display in the middle of an aisle.
The cover looked intriguing, in a spooky, gas-lit London sort of way. But was it fantasy? I don’t want to get stuck with another Da Vinci Code clone.
The Booklist quote on the cover called it “A seductive cosmic thriller.” What the heck did that mean? Cosmic, like Elder Gods cosmic? Thanos versus The Avengers cosmic? Or 700-pages-that-feel-like-they’ll-never-end cosmic?
The back cover text wasn’t much help:
Every hour, childlike Marc Rochat circles the Lausanne cathedral as the watchmen have done for centuries. Then one day a beautiful woman draws him out of the shadows — the angel his mother once promised him would come.
But Katherine Taylor is no angel. She’s one of the toughest and most resourceful call girls in Lausanne. Until something unnatural seething beneath a new client’s request sends her fleeing to the sanctuary of an unlikely protector.
Into their refuge comes Jay Harper. The private detective has awakened in Lausanne with no memory of how he got there — and only one thing driving him forward: a series of unsettling murders he feels compelled to solve.
That doesn’t even tell me what era it is. Present day? 1880s? Were there private eyes in 1880s London? Look, is this a fantasy or not? All these books I’m holding are getting heavy.
Thursday, May 23rd, 2013 | Posted by Sean McLachlan
In part one of this series we looked at the Alcázar in Segovia. Now we’re going to look at another Spanish castle that makes for an easy day trip from Madrid. This one is one of my favorites. It’s in Chinchón, about 50km from the Spanish capital on a a regular bus route.
I got my first taste of Greek mythology from D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths. Later, when I was old enough for Bulfinch’s Mythology, I thought I had graduated to the real thing. Homer came to me by way of a dusty turn-of-the-century book with a title along the lines of The Boy’s Own Homer, with glorious color illustrations. D’Aulaire gave me the Norse myths, too, though I didn’t get The Ring of the Niebelungen until a friend gave me a mixtape that included Anna Russell’s brilliant twenty-minute Ring cycle sketch.
When my parents realized I knew nothing whatever about the Bible — I was ten — they rectified my cultural illiteracy with Pearl Buck’s two-volume The Story Bible. Of all those beginner versions of classics, only Buck’s biblical books kept all the sex and violence in. Imagine my shock when my mother handed me Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Mandelbaum’s complete and very faithful translation. I was twelve. What was she thinking? If the Metamorphoses were a blog, every post would have cut text with PTSD trigger warnings.
Mark Rigney’s post on how old a kid should be before reading or watching The Hunger Games touched on a problem I face often as a teacher of teenagers, some as young as 13. Since I’m a freelance teacher, making house calls, my students’ parents are sometimes directly involved in the question of how old is old enough for which book. Other times, especially when the parents don’t speak much English, I actually wish I could involve them more directly than the language barrier allows.
I’ll face the age question all over again, differently, when my own kids can read on their own. Inevitably, I come at the predicament through my own history as a reader — which stories I was denied too long or permitted too early. As a maker of stories, I’m fascinated also with seeing what of a story can survive the translation into the consciousness of the young, either through the efforts of adult writers who reinterpret the stories, or through the efforts of kids themselves when they try to make sense of them.
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Sean Stiennon
By Harry Connolly
Self-Sabotage Press (E-book, $2.99, November 2011, available on Kindle and Nook)
This seems as good a time and place as any to say a word about the tragic fate of the Twenty Palaces series. The books gathered critical accolades, high Amazon.com rankings, and a blurb from the prince of urban fantasy, Jim Butcher himself. However, after the third novel in the series, Circle of Enemies, the series was cancelled by Del Rey due to underperforming sales. Harry Connolly had a fourth novel — a prequel exploring Ray Lily’s introduction to the bloody world of the Twenty Palaces society — already written. Rather than allowing it to be consigned to the bottom drawer of his dresser, the deepest recesses of his hard drive, or the bottom of the Hudson River, Connolly did the world a favor and produced it as a self-published e-book.
I’ll be writing reviews of the second and third volumes in the series (watch this space!); but for this week, I wanted to look at that prequel, Twenty Palaces, for three reasons. First, sales of this book will put more money in the author’s pocket than sales of remaining copies of the other books, and I’m a big enough Connolly fan to think his labors deserve it. Second, if you’d like to give the books a shot, but are too profoundly avaricious to lay down $7.99 for Child of Fire, you’ll be delighted to learn that Twenty Palaces is available on Kindle and Nook for the fantastically low price of $2.99, payable in one easy installment. Third, it’s a good book.
Fantasy readers expect the world of a fantasy novel to be different from our mundane reality.
There’s magic afoot – of course the world operates differently. The author paints the fantastical milieu and we enter it primed to believe, donning those 4-D glasses that let us accept strangeness. It’s a more-than-willing suspension of disbelief.
We don’t ask for justifications, as long as the fantastic elements of the world are internally consistent. It’s in the tradition.
But with fantasy as re-imagined history or a re-imagined place, we enter a slightly different relationship with the story. Now we’re in a realm that is accessed, not through a portal or straight immersion in a new world, but through a delicate balance of writer allusions and reader indulgence. Readers know they’re being seriously mucked with. And the author must go the extra mile to pull it off.
There’s something logically different about creating an imagined world — like Middle Earth — versus fiddling with the actual world and its history. After all, it already happened the way it did. So the reader must swim against the mental tide of a different narrative, that of history.
Depending on your preferences for justification, you may want an explanation of how it all came to be, or you may wish the author would just get on with it.
One way to coax the reader into abandoning “real” history is with parallel worlds. Michael Moorcock uses this framing device in Gloriana, the Unfulfill’d Queen, set in a twisted Elizabethan-style court and a very changed history.