Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Week - Part 2

Why the Hulk doesn't get to play Santa at the Marvel Christmas party anymore:

(Reviews to continue after I don't have to worry about falling behind on my reading due to holiday activities. Besides I haven't done a lot of comics stuff lately since I've almost exclusively been catching up on about 10,000 pages of Lone Wolf and Cub and Usagi Yojimbo. Sadly that page count is not an exageration.)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Week - Part 1

Question: how do you retheme your existing art for Christmas?

Answer: Draw holly over the existing lines.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Review - "The Cookie Monster", "Legions in Time", and "A Study in Emerald"

Bob Eggleton
2004 Hugo Winner for Best Professional Artist

I thought Eggleton's cover for this recent reissue of John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up was an interesting choice since it is part of Brunner's doomsaying series that he wrote in the late sixties and early seventies. Stand On Zanzibar won a Hugo for showing a world dying of overpopulation while The Sheep Look Up features pollution.

All three of the 2004 Hugo winners for the short fiction category are available in Science Fiction: The Best of 2003. Unfortunately it has a foil cover which is completely glared away when scanned though I could post a picture of a silvery blur, I suppose. Swanwick's "Legion in Time" is also available in his single author collection The Dog Said Bow-Wow and it can be found online. As for "A Study in Emerald", it was originally found in the themed anthology Shadows Over Baker Street which features a blend of Sherlock Holmes and H. P. Lovecraft; it has been on my "I need to read that" list for some time.

For the first time in a while I really enjoyed all three short fiction winners. There's one exceptionally good story and two very entertaining pastiches which were right up my ally.

"The Cookie Monster"
by Vernor Vinge
2004 Hugo Winner for Best Novella

In the not too distant future a customer service representative at a software company receives a mocking e-mail on her first day filled with personal details. It also has clues that send her on a journey to find that things are not what they seem with her new employer.

I think it's safe to say that you can count on Vinge to take even old ideas (which the characters in "The Cookie Monster" helpfully point out) and spin them into something very different. From that brief description it could easily spin into about thirty common cliches. Vinge starts setting them up and then spins the results into a very different place. Even when I started to see the shape of what was going on he still managed to twist it into something else.

This is a very plot driven story and while the characters aren't quite at the level of cardboard cut outs they don't have a great deal of depth to them either. That didn't bother me though since at its heart "The Cookie Monster" is a short mystery and the development of that arc is what counted. I found it to be a fascinating story and well worth checking out.

"Legions in Time"
by Michael Swanwick
2004 Hugo Winner for Best Novelette

In 1936 a woman takes employment at a barren office where her job is to watch a closet and make sure that nothing comes out of it. After a disturbing run-in with her employer she opens the closet herself to find a gateway to the distant future where a civilization that enslaves others with its mental abilities is creeping backward in time year by year to conquer earlier ages. With the assistance of a woman from 2004 they become tangled in the war and the development of humanity.

Swanwick homages golden age pulp adventures in this story but manages to infuse the camp with some depth in the themes of how time travel would change the development of civilization. So while it features super-telepathic overlords with flying cars fighting space barbarians (and an elf!) it actually adds a touch of clever modern ideas.

In addition I found the viewpoint character to be fairly interesting as someone over their head but also unflappable. It's as though Swanwick expanded the weak characterization of golden age stories to contain something greater.

A golden age homage melded with current storytelling concept is a tricky balancing act and I think Swanwick managed to pull it off well. "Legions in Time" is 1934 SF filtered through 2004 and for someone familiar with those pulp adventures it is a fun time.

"A Study in Emerald"
by Neil Gaiman
2004 Hugo Winner for Best Short Story

It has been a few years since I read the Arthur Conan Doyle story "A Study in Scarlet" but even then the parallels between it and Gaiman's "A Study in Emerald" are very clear. Gaiman appropriates the bulk of that original Sherlock Holmes story and someone familiar with it will recognize large blocks of the text.

Toward the end of the ninteenth century a British soldier who was wounded in Afganistan becomes roommates with an eccentric consulting detective. They're called to the site of a grusome murder where the room has been painted green with the victim's blood.

Despite the fact that Gaiman liberally borrows from Conan Doyle he manages to throw in his own twists. Not just in the Lovecraftian style which was a given from the anthology it was written for but in what he does with character's histories. Someone unfamiliar with Holmes or Lovecraft would find just an entertaining story, someone who knows both of them will find some interesting twists in the tale.