I wanted books
for Christmas. I got them (well, okay, I bought the Koontz one myself a
couple days after, but I consider it a prezzie to myself). In addition to
the ones mentioned above, I was given six ElfQuest books and two books
about the works of Stephen King … and the only thing better than books
about Stephen King are books by Stephen King. At any rate,
it goes to show that people actually paid attention to my wish list and
the resulting bonanza of books kept me busy for exactly eight days. I’m
an obnoxiously fast reader. Luckily, I’m also one of those people who
can enjoy re-reading a book, or else my appetite for fiction would surely
bankrupt me. In last issue’s
column, What’s Your
Fantasy, I wrote about superheroes. In the course of so doing,
I mentioned (nay, raved about!) the Cyber Age Adventures project, headed
by Frank Fradella. At that time, I’d only read the first of the
anthology novels and the role-playing game. Now I’m pleased to review
the second and third volumes of this fun and fascinating series. Cyber Age
Adventures is set in a world very like our own, in which certain people
happen to have developed powers that set them apart from the rest of
humanity. But while they are set apart by these gifts, they are still
human and still have to deal with the trials and tribulations of daily
life. They have to pay the bills and deal with their relationship
problems, and in a touch rarely seen in the superhero genre, risk getting
sued for doing what has to be done.
I wanted books for Christmas. I got them (well, okay, I bought the Koontz one myself a couple days after, but I consider it a prezzie to myself). In addition to the ones mentioned above, I was given six ElfQuest books and two books about the works of Stephen King … and the only thing better than books about Stephen King are books by Stephen King.
At any rate, it goes to show that people actually paid attention to my wish list and the resulting bonanza of books kept me busy for exactly eight days. I’m an obnoxiously fast reader. Luckily, I’m also one of those people who can enjoy re-reading a book, or else my appetite for fiction would surely bankrupt me.
In last issue’s column, What’s Your Fantasy, I wrote about superheroes. In the course of so doing, I mentioned (nay, raved about!) the Cyber Age Adventures project, headed by Frank Fradella. At that time, I’d only read the first of the anthology novels and the role-playing game. Now I’m pleased to review the second and third volumes of this fun and fascinating series.
Cyber Age Adventures is set in a world very like our own, in which certain people happen to have developed powers that set them apart from the rest of humanity. But while they are set apart by these gifts, they are still human and still have to deal with the trials and tribulations of daily life. They have to pay the bills and deal with their relationship problems, and in a touch rarely seen in the superhero genre, risk getting sued for doing what has to be done.
Volume II: A Private Little Corner of the Universe is edited by Sean Taylor and includes stories by Tom Waltz, Bill Purcell, and Sean Taylor. We are introduced to heroes who must deal with some of the scariest villains ever to exist - the inhuman concepts of drug abuse, rape, failure, and death. These villains don’t have capes and boots and doomsday devices, but they are as sinister and pervasive as a foe could be.
But the book isn’t all grimness and gloom. The accidental transsexual, tagged with the moniker Fishnet Stockings by a reporter, makes for an amusing look at what can happen when one is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and how the press can be as exasperating as a rash. The book is also about love, and the story “Once Upon a Time” in which the superheroine Starlight must face any parent’s worst fear, stands out to me as a piece that is at once chilling and emotional.
review by Christine Morgan
Volume III: The Timelessness of Ghosts is written entirely by Frank Fradella and is tied together by the theme of ghosts, whether in paranormal fact or in the memories of the living. It pulls no punches. There is death, there is remembrance, and there is rebirth. The characters are burdened by concerns rarely seen in the comics, and are very much ‘real people.’ Even the occasional alien, vampire, or synthetic lifeform evidence souls.
One of the most striking aspects of this book, for me, was the way real-life events were integrated. The submarine Kursk, for instance, and the media-circus surrounding Elian Gonzales. I can’t help but wonder if and how CAA will handle the tragedy of September 11th; it is a touchy subject indeed. Would it be better to turn a blind eye to it and mention it not, or would that be disrespectful to those whose lives have been ended or forever changed? I know this is a question that a lot of writers will have to give careful consideration (I am a member of the Gargoyles fandom, based on a show set in New York, and the same question has already been posed and pondered to those who write set in that world).
Favorite moments of mine in CAA Vol. III would have to include the apologetic conversation between the hero Troubleseeker and the villain Entropy, in which the former explains to the latter that he’s sorry, but he’s got to beat him up now. Or the applied physics lesson used by superspeedster Rush. And the spine-tingling conclusion to the “Letters to the Dead” … brr!
I’m pleased to say that Cyber Age Adventures has plans to go on strongly for the future. The website, http://www.cyberageadventures.com has been spiffed up and relaunched, and we are tantalized by the promise of many more anthologies in the works!
review by Christine Morgan
Moving on to my Christmas present to myself, let’s talk a little Koontz. Dean Koontz is one of my all-time top favorite authors. There was a time when he even gave Stephen King a run for his money as holder of the #1 spot. Which, given that I’ve been reading King since I was ten, was quite an accomplishment. I’d rank Koontz’s “Strangers” and “Lightning” among the books I would take to that good old desert island.
In recent years, though, I’m sad to say that I’ve been vaguely disappointed with the new novels by Dean Koontz. The author prides himself on his skill with language, and that he undeniably has, but on many occasions it seems too much. Too show-offy. Too ‘look how great a descriptive paragraph this is!’ The overall theme has taken an uplifting, spiritual turn, with stories of redemption and goodness … that’s fine, but hey, I’ve been a horror buff since I was a pre-teen here!
Too, the characters have become harder and harder for the average person to relate to. This was something I found especially true in his latest, “One Door Away From Heaven.” The book is populated more by caricatures than characters. They are all so relentlessly eccentric that it is hard to drum up much empathy for them.
The typical Koontz novel will include: a beautiful heroine with a troubled past, a tough-but-caring hero, a sickeningly precocious kid, a remarkable dog, and a sexually-bent villain. “One Door” has all of those, but the formula that worked so well in previous books has grown a little old.
This is the story of Micky Bellsong, a troubled young woman who moves in with her painfully daffy aunt and meets the gutsy, disabled girl, Leilani. Leilani’s mother is a drugged-out flower child (part Chyna Shepherd’s mother from “Intensity,” part the mother of the villain in “Dragon Tears;” in fact, most of the characters in this book feel like tired rehashes of previous ones - Leilani is Regina from “Hideaway” but without the facets that made Regina endearing).
The villain in the piece is Preston Maddoc (who has loads in common with Ray Miro from “Dark Rivers of the Heart”), a respected bio-ethicist and UFO nut who expects aliens to come and cure Leilani by her tenth birthday. The fact that Leilani’s brother disappeared shortly before his own birthday leads to the suspicion that he was not taken away by benevolent saucerians but murdered by Maddoc … and that Leilani’s fate will be the same.
A good premise, but once the weird little boy who goes by Curtis is added into the mix (and his dog, let us not forget), things turn more and more bizarre. Even the secondary characters are too extreme and quirky to connect to. I won’t go into what seemed to me to be a rather obvious breast-obsession in this one … <g>
The writing is toned-down from the overdone style of other recent books, and is much more subtle and delightful in its descriptions. But the way information was parceled out was frustrating, making me read the book more to finally find out what the hell was going on than because I was concerned about what happened.
One nice touch was the inclusion of the Cielo Vista Care Home. Koontz books are not as prone to interconnection as are the works of King, but here and there, a few do crop up. A quote from a Laura Shane novel appears in “Mr. Murder,” for instance, and the Francis Project of “Watchers” is mentioned in the Christopher Snow (‘watch me show off my surfer lingo’) books. The Cielo Vista Care Home first appeared in “The Bad Place,” as home to Julie Dakota’s brother, Thomas.
I will read “One Door Away From Heaven” again, since I always do. I’ll probably like it more the next time through since I’ll avoid the frustration mentioned above. But I miss the days when good, gripping stories like “Midnight” and “Phantoms,” not to mention my two faves, “Strangers” and “Lightning” were the sort of thing we’d see from Dean Koontz.
Even with all these gripes, I still consider Koontz one of the modern masters of fiction. He’s one of two (well, three now that I’m hooked on Harry Potter, though not at all for the same reasons) that I’ll buy in hardback. I will continue to do so, and I recommend him to fellow readers. But in the meanwhile, I’m going to go re-read “Strangers” for what’s probably the 15th time by now …
review by Christine Morgan
One of the best perks of being an author and a ‘zine editor is that I get to meet many other authors, and sometimes they send me cool stuff. Which brings me to the 4th and final book for this issue’s review.
“The Peacekeepers,” by Jeanne Foguth, is classed as ‘science fantasy,’ and it truly is a blending of the genres in a way that works far better than I would have expected. It is the story of two people from quite literally different worlds, brought together by an accident that seems to have some greater design behind it.
Nimri, the heroine, has been named Keeper of the Peace by her people, is a young lady troubled by doubt as to her own abilities. She is supposed to wield the ‘myst,’ a spiritual power, to protect her tribe from their enemies. Her world is one of simple craftspeople and herbalists … but over the course of the novel, the reader finds that not all is what it seems.
The galaxy beyond Nimri’s mild world of Chatterre is an empire on the verge of a fall, planets mined and stripped of their resources to the point that plant life is something the average person rarely sees. When Colonel Larwin Atano crash-lands onto Chatterre, he believes he has found wealth beyond his wildest dreams.
Conversely, Nimri believes that Larwin and his android companion GEA-4 have been sent to help her defend her tribe from the forces of Thunder Malcoeur. Demonstrations of the power of her new allies - the amazing physical strength of GEA-4, the medical knowledge Larwin applies - give Nimri’s people a new feeling of faith in their young Keeper.
It is a clash of cultures at the most basic of levels. To Larwin, the things that Nimri’s people take for granted (gardens, crafts, cooking, the fierce but docile 600-pound cat that is Nimri’s closest friend) are rare and fabulous, and he can hardly wait to come back with an invasion force and install himself as a lord. To Nimri, these visitors offer hope of reclaiming the lost history of her people and her planet.
The main drawback I found in this story was that the reader never exactly finds out what that lost history is. And this is a comparatively minor gripe stemming mainly from my own desire to know all the details. Is this our own Earth in the aftermath of some horrific cataclysm? What are the origins of the dragonlike madrox, and the kazza? (I’m a cat person at heart, and what cat person wouldn’t want a kazza of their very own?)
The stage is set for a sequel of exploration and discovery, as well as for the developing relationship between Nimri and Larwin. It is a relationship not without some difficulties. Larwin’s fears of their physical compatibility run headlong into his fascination with Nimri, and her unexpected attraction to the very man who is her tribe’s worst enemy complicates matters all the more.
“The Peacekeepers” is available through the Silver Dragon imprint of Renaissance Alliance Publishing http://www.rapbooks.com/ and the author, Jeanne Foguth, has a new novel of romance and suspense in the works.
review by Christine Morgan
When reviewing a self-published novelette like this one, a reviewer can be swayed by the herd. The herd moans and cries constantly that "a self-published novelette is not a good one". A reviewer can try to unjustly compare a writer to his or her own favorites, rather than trying to see someone's style for what it is. This trying to justify the notion that only the Big Six can pick out good literary material can cause one to overlook good work.
The Jagged Glass Ballet is good work. If one must compare it to an author who is well known, think Samuel Delaney. Imagine "Dharlgren" being told with the sparseness of "Einstein Intersection" and you have an idea of the flavor of the novelette.
Like Dhalgren's Kid, Ballet's Dragon has fallen into a world without the memory of who he is. He and the others who fall into the new world claim descriptive names for themselves. And like Einstein Intersection's Lo Lobey, Dragon eventual goes on an Orphic quest to rescue a woman (in Dragon's case she is a girl named Scraps) from the clutches of death. But unlike Delaney's heroes, Dragon is neither insane nor alien. Dragon is a very human young man who becomes focused on fighting the power of his new world outside of time and space once he gets his bearings.
The only complaint this reviewer makes about the book would be that I think he could make it longer. Add in a few sex scenes between Dragon and Scraps -- or Dragon and whomever, or tell us what various members of the cast look like unclad. Okay, perhaps that would not be a very intellectual method for story expansion. If one must play the Game of Padding, Detzner could a) start off each chapter with an obscure philosophical quote b) follow that quote with good poetry or bad poetry c) add in marginally relevant scientific, mathematical and/or mythological conversations in order to appear clever and/or d) have flashback after flashback in the plot.
Detzner is not about playing literary games, he is about telling a good story. And that is precisely what The Jagged Glass Ballet is: a good story.
The Jagged Glass Ballet gets four out of five stars. A fifth star would be had if he played the Padding Game. That way, those among us who insist that everyone draw from Greek Mythology whenever we write something, would be more at ease.
review by Cecil Washington
Some time back, I was browsing a local bookstore's science fiction section, looking for a new book to read for a trip up to visit some relatives in Missouri. I hadn't found anything that caught my eye…until I ran across a title by author Bill Baldwin, called "The Trophy". Intrigued by the cover art and the blurb on the back of the cover, I picked it up and gave it a try, since it touted itself as a space opera. Not since the original "Star Wars" have I been able to find any sci-fi books that filled that niche…
Believe me, Bill's work fits the bill! (no pun intended) Bill's signature work, collectively known as "The Helmsman" series, deals with an intergalactic struggle between star-spanning empires, more notably on how this affects the life of its lead character, Wilf Ansor Brim. At the start of the series, Wilf was a young commoner from Carescria; one of the poorest sectors of the Imperial Empire. A graduate of the prestigious Helmsman Academy (thanks to a recent law to allow other than nobles to attend), Wilf becomes embroiled in the war between the Empire and the League of Dark Stars: an oppressive state, lead by one Nergol Trannic. Through out the series of novels, Wilf fights against prejudice from noble-born officers, the enemies that seek to destroy him and his fellow crew, while at the same time dealing with an near-impossible romance with the cousin of the Empire's crown prince.
Over time, his incredible talent and sheer luck brings him into the ranks of the Fleet Admiralty, where his friendships and his station allow him to perform the miracles that end up saving the Empire from certain doom again and again.
This brings us to "The Defiance", the seventh book in the series, where Wilf is now an Admiral sent to the grand Fleet base at Atalanta. After 'relieving' the former commander (a milksop officer who's more concerned with maintaining his offices than fighting the League), he proceeds to whip the base back into fighting trim. In doing so, he earns the respect of many of the men and women on the base including the Second-In-Command, Jim Williams and also gains notoriety for striking back against the build up of Leaguer ships in the area.
He also begins to rekindle a former love-interest from years past; the lady in charge of the civilian sector of the base, Claudia Valemont. A native of Atalanta, the slim, petite woman still evokes a passionate response in Wilf, who never really fell out of love with her, even after all of the troubles with his former romances. Even though she remains a married woman, Wilf and Claudia work out their feelings for one another, leading up to some very spicy moments later in the book.
The crux of the story however deals with Wilf having to deal with secret orders from the Admiralty and from his leader, Emperor Onrad the V. Concern over the build up of a League fort called Gontor, Wilf must spearhead a mission to breach the Leaguer control over the space around Atalanta, and recapture Gontor. The problem arises when it appears that Wilf will be accused of betrayal by another Imperial officer, which leads to the double jeopardy of the mission: if he fails, Atalanta is doomed to be occupied by the League. If he wins, he might just lose his career in the Fleet!
Overall, this is a exciting read, though a bit different from previous books from Baldwin's "Helmsman" series. Usually told from third-person perspective, "Defiance" is told from Wilf's viewpoint, which brings us closer to what goes on inside his head, but sort of leaves us out of the rest of the characters that come along. This departure wasn't as well received by some of Baldwin's fans, but it does make for a slightly refreshing change of pace.
Some of the book's passages are somewhat repetitive in style and wording (somewhat of a hallmark of Bill's books), and there are some rather adult themes going on in the book, but those are small matters next to the flash and smash action and depth of characterization that flows through this novel.
In summary, I feel this was a nice departure from the usual style that Bill's presented in the past, but I recommend that if you have to read it, go back to the first book "The Helmsman" and go from there, or else a lot of the back history will be lost on the way through this book.
This book is a good dip into the space opera pool, and with the ambiguity of the last words to Wilf from Emperor Onrad: if you thought this was good, the next book should "curl your ears!"
review by Stephen Sobotka, Jr.
From the Golden Oldies part of the shelf, where most of my older books are gathering a new layer of dust (until I read them again!), comes something you might not find in the United States; a novelization of one of the more popular TV series of the late 1970's.
I won't go into too many details on the back story of Galactica - considering that a lot of people may already be familiar with it - but, just for the odd newcomer, here's the general plot: Man has colonized twelve worlds in deep space, and for a thousand years has been fighting off a mechanized race called the Cylons. When the Cylons use a traitor to dupe the Colonies into believing that peace between Humans and Cylons are possible, the Colonies are nearly wiped out in a sneak attack. Only several hundreds of survivors managed to escape in a fleet of odd-assorted ships, which regroups under the last military ship the Colonies have; the Battlestar Galactica. Under the command of Adama, the survivors have but one hope; to outrun the Cylons and find the legendary lost colony...the 13th Colony, known as Earth.
Usually, I didn't indulge in reading novelizations of TV shows or movies, usually because of parts that didn't make it into the final reel, or that the novel just falls short of what the show or film presents. But, in the case of Battlestar Galactica, I can say that this is one of the rare exceptions to that fact! Having seen the original pilot that this novel was based from, it keeps nearly every scene intact, line for line and word for word.
The characterizations of all the primary characters are set and vibrant; Commander Adama (played by Lorne Greene), Lt. Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and even Count Baltar (the late John Colicos) are all here, as alive as if you were watching the actual show unfold before you. Also here is the opening of each chapter - entries from "Adama's Journals" - which add new dimensions to the story. The action scenes are quick and full of the epic action that we've come to expect from early sci-fi "space shows", though with imagination you can visualize the battles a bit more than just models zipping around with SFX lasers and starbursts.
From a written standpoint, the story of Galactica makes for some fine "operetta-style" action. In fact, one could say that without the aid of the moving picture-tube, you can enjoy this tale of space survival and war-torn peoples with more relish than ever before.
If there's any downside to this book is the fact that the ending is all but known to most fans of the show; which makes for a bit of a let down in the long run. Overall, it's still a classic story, and one that should be a part of everyone's collection.
NOTE: considering this book is a UK print, finding it might take some doing. If there are any US prints of the series, you might find them without too much hassle.
review by Stephen Sobotka, Jr.
I'd like to make a comment about this article.
This page has been visited times.