Monday, June 23, 2008

Some Silly Filler

I'm leaving tomorrow and busy with preparations so here's some Spore creatures I've made:

And here's an image of the fine scanning work done by Google that I found while double checking my memory on a portion of Hamlet (yeah, I have multiple copies of the complete text of Shakespeare but sometimes Google is faster):

Finally to round things out here's the cover of the issue of Jimmy Olsen before Jack Kirby took over and started the Fourth World stories:

And the cover immediately after he left prematurely ending it:

Sadly he didn't have much of an impact, did he?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Review - "The Mountains of Mourning", "Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another", and "Boobs"

Don Maitz
1990 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

"The Cover of Rimrunners"
by Don Maitz
1990 Hugo Winner for Best Original Artwork

I must be going soft in my old age because I'm going to positively gush about all three short fiction Hugo winners in 1990. Maybe I'm in a good mood with my vacation right around the corner. I'm almost tempted to continue my Nebula reviews tomorrow just so I can spit out some venom (and believe me I'm going to be venomous on the next one). These three however start at extremely good and go up from there.

The astute among you will notice that this year a new category was added to the Hugos: best original artwork. It was handed out to visual works for a few years before being discontinued. I liked the idea in theory but in practice it turned out to have similar problems to the professional artist category. People were voting for the name rather than the work and initially there was some overlap between the two. Later on the award was given to books rather than just single paintings before being completely stopped.

"The Mountains of Mourning"
by Lois McMaster Bujold
1990 Hugo Winner for Best Novella
1989 Nebula Winner for Best Novella

Let's start with the "worst" of the bunch. And by worst I mean that I can't whole heartedly recommend it to anyone who comes within arm's reach of me.

Miles Vorkosigan has completed his time in the military academy but has not received his first post. As he awaits his assignment a peasant woman arrives to speak with his father, the Count of province, demanding justice for her infant child. It was born with a minor birth defect and died a few days later; she suspects murder but her local officials refuse to investigate. The count sends Miles, who was himself born with a twisted body, to dispense justice. Complicating things is the fact that until just a generation ago it was traditional to kill any child born with a defect and those who look so different are widely despised.

I would put this near the top of all of Bujold's work with her Vorkosigan universe. It's one of the stories that takes a strong science fiction theme and follows through those consequences as opposed to being a straight adventure story like many of them are. In this case it is the clash of cultures in a world which has gone from feudalism to space faring in a few years. While she uses that as background constantly its brought to the forefront in this story.

The downside, and the reason I can't give it an unhesitating recommendation, is that the impact of The Mountains of Mourning requires that the reader be familiar with the back story. Bujold does drop fragments of exposition but (and I can't believe I'm saying this) it isn't enough. In a genre where every other thing I read has the author dropping Stonehenge plinth sized slabs of exposition on my head repeatedly she somehow manages to avoid it. Everything you need to understand the story is there but the connections between the scattered one line references are up to the reader to make. This is fine for the mystery but not quite good enough for the back story and for that reason I recommend reading one of her other Vorkosigan books first (the ones that she won a Hugo for are a good start).

"Enter a Soldier. Later: Enter Another"
by Robert Silverberg
1990 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

I mentioned when commenting on Silverberg's already good "Gilgamesh in the Outback" how I found "Enter a Soldier. Late: Enter Another" to be a much better story. Perhaps even Silverberg's best. So let me tell you why.

In the future when there's so much computing power we don't know what to do with it all (really; that's not sarcasm), a team decides to attempt to recreate historical personalities by inputting as many different biographical sources on them that they can. The idea is that their AI program can take all these different views of one life and use them to draw conclusions and recreate something that acts like the original would. After a dozen failures as they refine the structure they finally get a success with Francisco Pizarro, the conquistador who took less than two hundred men with him and conquered the Incan empire. After communicating with the simulation they decide to make another character to interact with him and see what happens. To test the limits of their program they choose someone with less confirmable information: Socrates. Philosophy ensues.

Part of the reason this story works is that Silverberg set it up to let him just drop two very different people in and have them argue. Both characters were ready made and if you don't find Pizarro and Socrates fascinating individuals then there's no hope for you. While Pizarro does get the brunt of the philosophical attack Socrates doesn't come away unscathed.

I wouldn't want to get a series of these since I suspect it would become repetitive quickly but this one makes for powerful reading. It's well worth seeking out.

by Suzy McKee Charnas
1990 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

First, I'd like to welcome all the new hits from Google by people who were searching for werewolf boobs.

A teenager undergoing the transition from girl to woman finds that her time of the month brings with it more than just her period. She also changes into a wolf to prowl the neighborhood and consume pets. If that wasn't enough for her to deal with she also has a new stepmother who she doesn't know how to react to and she is bullied in school for being the first in her class to start developing.

This story was not the first time that I encountered the concept of a werewolf's transformations being tied to a woman's menstrual cycle. What Charnas does well with the idea is the complications of it emerging in the middle of a troubled adolescence; that first period and its accompanying transformations also coming at a time when the young woman is in the most emotional turmoil. It's a recipe for disaster and compelling reading.