Saturday, December 10, 2016

SF&F History Month - Amber Remembered

At the end of my musings on the first few chapters of Nine Princes in Amber last week, I opined that much of the setting, or at least enough to get a handle on, would soon be explained. As we shall see, I was more or less correct.

As I suspected, Corwin's memory was soon to be returned, but not without a good bit of effort. After meeting up with one of his many brothers and discreetly dealing with the pursuers thereof, the two decide to make the journey to Amber. In a situation not unlike the Pevensies hearing the word "Aslan" for the first time, the word "Amber" conjures up in Corwin a host of associations - he doesn't know what it means, only that he belongs there.

The journey itself is an interesting affair, consisting of what seems to be a number of jumps between alternate universes. Random, the brother, is controlling it somehow, and the travelers' effects change somewhat along with the surroundings (at one point Corwin pulls a bunch of paper currency labeled in Latin out of his wallet), although he isn't able to route them around all the obstacles, including a chase scene with another brother - this one a knight with a pack of especially ferocious hunting dogs.

Corwin takes all this in stride despite his lack of memory, which he eventually confesses to Random. Happily, a solution is offered - a powerful labyrinth called the Pattern that, when navigated by a member of their family, gives their various powers and should restore Corwin's memory. Of course his labyrinth is in Amber itself, but luckily there's a duplicate located at the bottom of a nearby ocean.

Of course it works and Corwin remembers not only his activities for the past several centuries, but the true nature of Amber - ". . . the greatest city that had ever existed or ever would exist. Amber had always been and would always be, and every other city everywhere, every other city that existed was but a reflection of a shadow of some phase of Amber." Heady stuff, and an interesting reversal of the usual assumption that our Earth is the "real" one. It's also, come to think of it, again not unlike the situation in Narnia, where the world the bulk of the stories take place in turns out to be a transient copy of somewhere more real.

Unfortunately for Corwin, however, now that he remembers what Amber is he also remembers that yet another brother - this one a particular rival - is poised to take control of it. Whether Corwin succeeds in stopping him, however, will have to wait for another week.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

The Return of SF&F History Month - Zelazny Style!

So a few years back I tried to boost the idea of December as "Science Fiction and Fantasy History Month". It didn't take off, for various reasons - not the least of which is my own sporadic blogging schedule - but I've always sort of wanted to return to it. With the changes that have happened in the literary SF&F fan-world over the past couple years, this may be the perfect time to reboot it, so for today and the next few Saturdays, I'll be talking about what I hope turns out to be a few different classics.

2017 Fitness Goal: Be able to dress like this guy.
First off is Nine Princes in Amber, the first book in the "Chronicles of Amber" series by Roger Zelazny. I picked this one for a few reasons - I've seen it mentioned on a few lists of important and influential works (it is, for example, covered in Jeffro Johnson's seminal Appendix N series), I'm a big fan of Zelazny's A Night in the Lonesome October, and I suspect it's a big influence on one of my current favorite authors, John C. Wright. Perhaps most influentially, I recently came across a handsome two-volume omnibus collection of the series at my local library. This magnificent cover art by Boris Vallejo merely sealed the deal.

A few chapters in, I'm already thinking I made the right choice. It actually starts much like a contemporary thriller, with a first-person protagonist waking up with amnesia in what appears to be a private clinic. His escape from confinement and initial moves to discover his identity by tracking down the sister that had him confined there could come right out of a (70s-era) Bourne movie, with only a few hints - like his prodigious strength - that something weirder is going on. Even after he finds his sister's set of custom Tarot cards covered in pictures of what he recognizes as his family in archaic dress, it might just all be part of a weird but ultimately mundane conspiracy.

But of course, it's not - by next week, I suspect, both Corwin and I will have a somewhat clearer picture of what it actually is.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Fifty Years of Favorite Star Trek Moments

On this very night fifty years ago - Thursday, September 8, 1966 - an episode of a new science fiction television show beamed into American televisions for the very first time. When it was cancelled just three seasons later, nobody involved suspected that Star Trek would become the beloved cultural juggernaut that it has. While I've enjoyed all the different versions of Trek over the years, a large proportion of my personal favorites, no matter the decade, seem to involve the original crew:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Signal Boosts and Tab Clearing

All the news that's fit to print, but maybe doesn't justify an entire post to itself.

First off, as we were just speaking of Atomic Robo, a month or two back the spinoff comic Real Science Adventures went live as a similarly presented webcomic - as of this posting it updates Tuesday-Thursday while Atomic Robo is Monday-Wednesday-Friday. Thus far the entirety of Volume 2 ("The Billion-Dollar Plot", one of Tesla's pre-Robo adventures) has been posted, along with the beginning of "Raid on Marauder Island", an all-new Kickstarter-funded prequel to The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific. No word yet on whether any stories from Volume 1 will be making an appearance, but I imagine it's only a matter of time until they're up, complete with covers imitating hilarious old men's magazines.

Also funding on Kickstarter is a new fantasy fiction magazine that I'm quite interested in. The chief draw of Skelos: The Journal of Weird Fiction and Dark Fantasy is the promise of a never-before-published Robert E. Howard fantasy piece. which would be quite a find after eight decades. As it turns out, however, "unpublished" doesn't mean quite the same thing as "unknown":

"The REH piece in this first issue is a fictional essay in the form of three drafts written in early 1926. It's much like a prototype for Howard's later essay "The Hyborian Age" written as backstory for his Conan tales. This early essay tells the story of the rise of the Lemurians, Atlanteans, and the prehistoric Picts. It represents one of Howard's earliest attempts at true world-building and is the very beginning of the fictional prehistoric setting of the later Kull and Conan stories. The final version of this essay would eventually be inserted into the Bran Mak Morn story "Men of the Shadows" where it was narrated by the Pictish shaman Gonar."

Even so, it still sounds like an interesting read, and at $3 for the first digital issue there's very little buy-in if it's all one's interested in.

Also in the pop-literary-criticism vein, the Sherlock Holmes Pastiche Characters website I mentioned last fall has added an index for Win Scott Eckert's Crossovers 2 to its list of Indexes to Classic Sherlockian Works (it's currently listed as a second Volume One, but it's definitely for Volume 2). This is a much-needed and sorely appreciated project, and I for one am very grateful that it exists.

Finally, the long-awaited followups to the Crossovers books are now available for preorder from the Meteor House Press website. Now called Crossovers Expanded, they look very comparable to the original volumes, and will be shipping sometime in the late summer. The new covers look particularly slick, and so of course Sean Levin has added them to the headers of his Crossover Universe blog:

But will they have indexes?
I know I'm greatly looking forward to these, they'll be great references for a couple projects I'm working on . . .

Thursday, April 14, 2016

That Time Atomic Robo Got A Shoeshine From Short Round

So after a fairly heavy storyline in which Robo wakes up from his detour to the late nineteenth century to discover that the world in under the control of a US Government conspiracy started to oppose him, specifically, and being attacked by kaiju, the latest issue of the Atomic Robo webcomic is delving into the past for some wacky espionage shenanigans in 1938 China.

To be more precise, Robo visits the Japanese-occupied city of Shanghai, where he makes contact with a rather familiar-looking member of the resistance forces. It is, of course, Short Round, first seen rescuing Indiana Jones from gangsters in the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - the New York Giants hat is a dead giveaway. It only makes sense, after all, that even if he ended up spending some time acting as Indy's sidekick elsewhere in the world (he does pop up in this capacity from time to time in the Indiana Jones Expanded Universe, most notably in the sadly non-canonical Into the Great Unknown), he would return to his native Shanghai to help repel the invading Japanese. This would also explain what Short Round was doing while Indy was hunting for the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which also takes place in 1938.

And lest the reader think that the hat is a coincidence - it's not impossible that two such hats were floating around in Shanghai even in the 1930s - there's the little matter of the place Robo gets sent for the next meeting:

No, Robo, there is not.
While it's not quite the venerable Club Obi Wan (and yes, folks, that's a Star Wars joke), it might possibly be the same building, and it's almost certainly named after Willie Scott's memorable last performance before she got dragged into Short Round and Indy's escape. Perhaps Lao Che was in a nostalgic mood when he was doing the remodeling. We may yet find out, as Robo has yet to do more than walk in the front door of the club. Might Lao Che himself be waiting inside? It wouldn't be very much out of character for the writers of the comic - the last issue, after all, was very much a homage to Pacific Rim, while the one prior to that ended with cameo appearances from Agents West and Gordon from The Wild, Wild, West. And the name of this storyline, as it turns out, is The Temple of Od . . .

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bonne Jour Bissextile!

That's "Happy Leap Day" in French, for all my non-French-speaking readers (and if I happen to actually have any French-speaking readers, I apologize in advance and blame Google Translate).

Why French? Because following long-standing Internet Tradition, today happens to be the day for celebrating the one of the greatest French characters ever created by Marvel:

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Steampunk Sherlock

In the years since his debut, Sherlock Holmes has been a popular subject across practically every entertainment medium in existence - from his original stories, to radio shows, films, television shows both live-action and animated, and even video games, not to mention entire libraries' worth of pastiche novels.

This year, publishing company 18thwall Productions is going back to the beginning, so to speak, with a monthly series of e-novellas starring the Great Detective, replicating in a way  the original appearances of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's' shorter Holmes pieces in magazines like The Strand.

The first of these, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Doll, kicks the series off to an admirable start. The author, Heidi Hewitt, has captured Doyle's Watson-voice to a remarkable extent, and the classic elements - Baker Street, Lestrade, Holmes' eventual retirement to beekeeping- and references to other cases abound. An overabundance of these often works to the detriment of a pastiche work, but here it doesn't quite get that bad. I did question Lestrade's presence once Holmes and Watson leave London, but I suppose he also tagged along to Baskerville Hall, so perhaps his jurisdiction is flexible like that.

As the title of both the story and this post allude to, however, there's one element of this story that is distinctly un-Doyle-like - the clockwork robots that make up the client's serving staff. It takes a deft hand to add science-fiction elements like this to a historical setting without turning it into a parallel timeline, but as the story ends with the technology lost - in a fairly spectacular scene I think was the best-written in the piece - history can proceed unimpeded. The technology itself is only described in broad strokes, which makes sense as Watson is probably not up on the cutting edge of scientific theory, but a bit more explanation, even techno-babble, would have helped to sell the existence of these robots in 19th-century England, when the outpace even today's efforts.

Of course, with a mystery story the most important element is the solution, and here again is evidence of the author's painstaking craftsmanship - the denouement leaves no hanging threads (even to a seemingly unrelated robbery that I assumed was there to provide a cameo for one of the famous literary gentlemen thieves contemporary with Holmes) and, though surprising, in retrospect could have been figured out ahead of time, particularly for those with a Holmes-like memory for the details of the Sherlockian Canon. Even for readers without that, however, it was a very enjoyable story and I for one am greatly anticipating the second installment in this series.

(Disclaimer: the publisher provided me with a review copy of this story - my opinions, however, are all my own.)