Thursday, December 27, 2012

recent read; Atomic Robo Volume 3

In the introductions, the creators of Atomic Robo mention they weren't crazy about Atomic Robo being described as "Hellboy Lite."  I agree, and still stand by my claim that if you like Hellboy, you will enjoy Atomic Robo.  But, they approach things differently.  Hellboy is about folklore, myth and horror with action.  Atomic Robo is a about pulp science action adventure.

But if Robo ever did tackle a horror from beyond time and space...

We get to witness four phases of Robo's life as he battles a nameless monster across time and space;  the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s and 2009.  It all begins when Charles Fort and a nearly insane, gibbering H. P. Lovecraft pay Robo a visit.  In 1971, Robo calls on Carl Sagan for help with the science defying monster.

The story is fun, as usual. Clever with the timeline setup.  Plenty of humorous moments.  Robo reads The Savage Sword of Conan.  Four Robos meet in a nether-space to dispatch the monster once and for all.  They hope.

This is a short blurb of a review, I know, but you really must experience Atomic Robo for yourself.  It's one of the best comics I've stumbled on.  Definitely an amazing, high quality independent production.

I can't wait for next year's volume 8 - Atomic Robo and the Savage Sword of Dr. Dinosaur!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

recent read; Doctor Who - Daleks' Masterplan

The Daleks' Masterplan I - Mission to the Unknown by John Peel

Daleks' Masterplan was an epic, 12 episode arc during the early years of Doctor Who.  The script was co-written by Terry Nation and Dennis Spooner.  In 1989, the story was novelized by John Peel, and given the general sizes of Target Doctor Who books, it needed to be spit in half.

For those who don't know Doctor Who history, this is a "lost" story.  Not foreseeing the syndication or later home video markets, in the early 1970s the BBC purged videotapes for reuse - destroying many original episodes of Doctor Who in the process.  Only 2 complete episodes of The Daleks Masterplan are known to exist.  The only way to experience the story is to read these novelizations, or find a telesnap recreation synched to the audio (such things do exist.)

This is the last classic Dalek story I had not yet experienced.  I got an "old school" whim and decided to read this, finally.  We have a classic Doctor, classic Daleks, and a near mythic lost story.  So, how does it hold up to its reputation?

Well, the first half, Mission to the Unknown, holds up quite well.

The Doctor and his companions stumble on a Dalek plot to invade the Solar System from an outlying galaxy (just go with it, it was 1960s t.v. scifi.)  The Doctor fouls their plan by stealing the rare core element from their ultimate weapon, the Time Destructor.  With the Daleks in pursuit, the heroes desperately try to keep the core out of the Daleks' sucker arms while they try to reach Earth to warn them of the impending invasion.  Their plans are hindered not only by Daleks, but also by Mavic Chen - Guardian of the Solar System and grand traitor - who is in league with the Daleks.

It's a good romp, excitingly told with some dark moments.  Dangerous planets, spaceships, crashes and pursuits.  I enjoyed it a lot.

The Daleks' Masterplan II - The Mutation of Time by John Peel

Since the 2005 revamp of Doctor Who, Christmas specials have been the norm.  They are typical Doctor Who adventures, but with Christmas themes.  The Daleks' Masterplan is famous, or infamous, for having a Christmas episode embedded in the middle of the story.  Not only is it a theme change, the tone is one of total humor.  Historically, William Hartnell even turned to the camera, broke the fourth wall, and wished the audience a merry Christmas.

The tone change is huge.  Peel does his best with the humorous material, but the drag on the momentum cannot be helped.

We are slowly eased back into the plot of the dreaded Daleks by way of a return of the Meddling Monk.  He was the first "Time Lord" (though, no one had really created that mythology early on) to face off against the Doctor.  He returns on this story, seeking revenge on the Doctor and becoming tangled in the standoff between the Daleks, Mavic Chen, and the Doctor (quite literally, with mummy bandages at one point!)

Unlike the Doctor's arch foe, the Master, the Monk is more of a galactic childish prankster than truly evil.  He's mostly played for laughs, so he bridges the story back to the Daleks' Masterplan.  It's almost too bad Peel wasn't allowed to skip the very nonsensical stuff, though avoiding the Meddling Monk bits really wouldn't have been an option.  And, we do get a record of the complete story even with the humorous material, albeit novelized.

The ending did finish much stronger, with the final showdown, Chen's comeuppance and a companion's sacrifice.

So, strong start, solid finish.  Padding in the middle, which isn't at all unusual for Doctor Who stories of the time.  They often stretched out stories over many episodes to fill gaps if they didn't have other stories ready.  The difference here was the change of tone, which made the padding more obvious and far less enjoyable.

Definitely a classic and I enjoyed it overall.

Monday, December 10, 2012

recent read; Star Wars - Heir to the Empire

Heir to the Empire (Star Wars) by Timothy Zahn

I was in the mood for some space opera.  This was my first foray into a Star Wars novel.

I'll preface by saying that Star Wars was the blockbuster of my generation.  I enjoyed it at the time.  But by the time the novels were rolling out, I just wasn't enraptured of a wider Star Wars universe.   I had (and have) other fandoms - nothing against Star Wars at all.

This was written before the prequel movies arrived - it was the first novel after the Return of the Jedi movie.  So, even though sanctioned by Lucasfilm, some of the canonicity is shaky.  I've seen some readers complain, but that's not being fair to Zahn.  Like many of my generation, I don't care for the prequels, anyway.

Enough prefacing.

The story takes place five years after Return of the Jedi.  The New Republic is shakily holding its own, attempting to bring more worlds into the fold while battling their own internal political struggles.  Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Thrawn, a blue-skinned, red-eyed alien attempts to turn around the fading Empire's misfortunes.  In the middle of it all are the heroes of Star Wars - Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, Lando and the droids.

I didn't think this novel was bad, but neither did it excite me or rekindle any Star Wars flame.  While there are some decent action scenes, there was also a lot of talking and setup.  Early on in the story, it felt like Zahn wasn't sure what to do with the internal thoughts of these iconic characters.  He was feeling his way without violating any Star Wars rules but it also felt like he had to use his imagination without distinct rules and myths of Jedi being laid down for him.  And there was a ridiculous amount of squeezing - shoulders, hands, lightsaber hilts.  Reassurance, assuagement, frustration - everything was calmed with a squeeze.

By the time the action was finally holding my interest, the novel ended on a very minor key complete with "To Be Continued..."

I guess I am looking for a bit more blood & thunder.  Or at least, the derring-do Flash Gordon excitement of the first movie.  Sometime I will return to the trilogy because I own the other two books, too, and I'm slightly curious.  But I am more likely to read some classic Leigh Brackett, Henry Kuttner, or Edmond Hamilton space opera tales before I get back to the Thrawn trilogy.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December sales

I don't mean to be a pitch-man for Amazon so much, but there are some deals this month I think a lot of readers here would be interested in.  Some have already been reviewed on other blogs in my circle (Keith West,) so I thought I would note them.

I have loads of running Amazon wishlists and keep going over them constantly.  This month's deals aren't quite as stunning as last year (when Amazon dropped prices on 1,000 MP3 albums to coincide with their Kindle Fire launch) but still worth digging around.

Kindle specials;

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell $1.99

The Archer's Tale by Bernard Cornwell  $3.79

Cradle of Solitude (Rogue Angel) $1.24  (see Keith's review of another Rogue Angel title)

Daily Life in the Middle Ages by Paul B. Newman $3.99 (good reference for fantasy & historical, I would imagine)

The Serpent Sea by Martha Wells $1.99 (see Keith's review)

God's War by Kameron Hurley $1.99 (I don't know of a review in particular, but it's a Night Shade Books title, so it's probably just fine)

Seven Princes by John R. Fultz, his debut novel $2.99

Did you know that Amazon also has Bargain Books (just like the front of the B&N brick'n'mortar store?)

It's almost a wash, but you can get the Kindle edition of LeGuin's Tales from Earthsea for $1.43 - or pony up a few more cents and get the mass market paperback for only $1.51.  The same applies for The Other Wind.  I haven't read them myself, but coming that cheap, and I enjoyed the original trilogy, I had to grab these - I went for the paperback to complete my print Earthsea collection.

Similarly, the above mentioned Cradle of Solitude, is almost as cheap in mmp.  And, The Dragon's Mark, is available cheaper as mmp than e'book right now, too.

Howard A. Jones' Desert of Souls hardcover is down to $10, and it has better cover art than the more expensive paperback.

Bargains include graphic novels, too.