Category Archives: Review

Book & Movie reviews

Necrophil, I mean Necroscope don’t rock!

I have a rather long list of things that I haven’t read, but am always on the lookout for. Recently I ran across a battered collection of the first four Necroscopes. I picked them up for a song, and got ready to cross a few good reads off my list. The Necroscope series, by Brian Lumley has a large “cult” following. Necroscope fans are rabid, almost as bad as Ringworld geeks. For whatever reason, I just never had the chance to read any of the stories, even though they’ve been recommended to me many times. The Necroscope is Harry Keogh, a young Englishman who has a rather peculiar talent. He can speak to the dead. And I don’t mean using a crystal ball and a silly gown. He can carry on a conversation with anyone who has ever died. In fact, that’s one of the major metaphysical conjectures of the novel, that nothing happens after you die, you just sort of go on but without a body. Leaving that aside, Harry is able to learn from the dead, and he uses their expertise to teach himself self defense, languages, mathematics, etc… So, OK, a good concept, enough to draw me in for a good read. The problem is, it just isn’t that good.Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good, it just didn’t excite me. One of the biggest failings with Necroscope was that it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. There were lots of attempts at horror, with walking corpses and even some vampire shenanigans, but there was also a lot of science fiction. For instance, Harry contacts August Mobius (creator of the strip that bears his name) and learns a branch of higher math that allows him to manipulate space-time. There’s also the metaphysical aspect in that the dead just lie in their graves and think, frankly they get lonely and they love Harry for the comfort that he brings them.

Aside from all of that, the writing is that typically British, late 70s type of prose. If you’ve ever read any early Frederick Forsythe, then you know what I mean. It’s as if the whole thing is written as a sort of police blotter version of events. The British people that I know don’t actually talk that way, and it’s off-putting. Anyway, for a yard sale find, I could have done much worse. However, I’m not going to waste my time with the rest of the series. I’m actually a bit disappointed, as I’m always ready to latch on to a new series, but it just didn’t happen with Necroscope.

Watch the Skies!!!

OK, 2 points to anyone who knows where the title quote comes from. Any Sci-Fi commando worth his waldoes should know that one. In any case, I’m right in the middle of a re-read of David Weber & Steve White’s “The Stars at War”, and it’s a rocking good read. An omnibus edition containing two great novels, “Insurrection” and “In Death Ground”, “The Stars at War” follows an ensemble cast through two Interstellar wars. Weber is a master of space combat, as those of you who’ve read the Honor Harrington series know, and Steve White knows what he’s doing as well.
Without going into a complete synopsis of the two stories, suffice it to say that they’re both about virtually unstoppable alien warmonger’s who invade human space. After suffering initial setbacks, mainly caused by self serving politicians and liberal fascists, the honor, courage & commitment of the human armed forces saves the day.

I tend to go through cycles of reading material, moving from hard sci-fi to fantasy, to military fiction, and back. “The Stars at War” falls squarely in the military sci-fi camp, although it tends to have deeper levels of meaning. But that’s the great thing about really good science fiction, even in an old fashioned space opera, with the ray guns blasting and the warp drives singing, there’s something that makes you think about what it means to be human. And I don’t mean in the biological sense. I’m talking about the Terentius, Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto, sense here. With all of the diversity around us, the major differences in culture, religion, thought, philosophy, we all have the same hopes and dreams. A better life for our children, freedom from pain and suffering, the chance to find love, the pursuit of happiness… And some of us have had to (or are willing to) fight for those things. Creating a universe where we can explore what would happen if we all pulled together against the real enemies out there is the truest function of science fiction. It shows us an idealized mirror where our defining characteristic is not that we’re Jews or Christian or White or African, but that we’re human, that we’re people, and it let’s us imagine what might happen if we could put aside our differences and work together. Maybe that will happen someday when and if we finally do find that we’re not alone in the universe, or maybe it will remain a pipe dream, but I love Weber & White for making me think about it.

Spartans Rock!

I just started re-reading one of my all time favorite novels. Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
by Steven Pressfield, is an amazing novelization of the battle of Thermopylae. Definitely not Science Fiction or Fantasy, Gates is one of those rare books that pulls you in, makes you fall in love with the characters, and you’ll read it over and over again just to spend more time with them. Told from the viewpoint of a survivor of the battle, Gates of Fire explores the lives, loves and passions of some of the 300 Spartan Knights who resisted Xerxes March on Greece in 480 BC. The same battle that inspired the movie ‘The 300’, it was quite possibly a turning point in the history of Western Civilization. Some might even say it was the beginning of the division between Western & Eastern Civilization. In any case, I leave it to you to do further research on the Battle itself, but for an amazing, emotional, inspiring read, I highly recommend Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
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Where’s the rest of the Damned World?!

I know, I know I haven’t posted in, like, a month. Sorry, but I’ve been reading a lot. Plus Kindle: Amazon’s 6″ Wireless Reading Device came out recently, so I’m excited about that. Anyway, I recently picked up Darkness of the Light (The Hidden Earth Chronicles) by Peter David. And it Rocks! Peter David is a big name comic book writer, so he really knows how to toss around some heroic action, and in Darkness he really delivers.
The basic premise is that humanity is virtually extinct, having been wiped out by a group of aliens. The twist here is that the aliens are the monsters and legends from humanity’s past, Minotaurs, Cyclops, Dragons, Mer-people, etc… Apparently they have all visited Earth in the deep past as scouts, and become part of human legend. They are actually exiled from their own planets and refer to the Earth as “The Damned World”.
Now the thing that pisses me off is that Darkness was released as a Mass Market Paperback in 2007, that’s over two years ago people. It’s supposed to be part of a larger series called “The Hidden Earth”, but I haven’t been able to find the second installment. I can’t believe that Tor (the publisher) would just kill a project that has this much merit, but I cannot find any information about it anywhere. Does anyone out there know anything about this? In any case, I’m looking forward to reading the next installment, if it ever happens.

Vampire Demons from Hell on Friday the 13th

I just had to post something on Friday the 13th.  I tend to stay away from the horror stuff, although I do enjoy reading about Myth & Mystery.  Also, I’m a bit of a history buff and I’ve always thought that the whole Friday the 13th myth arose from Phillip the Fair’s persecution of the Knights Templar, which began on Friday, October 13th, 1307.  Lately, however, I’ve read some work that suggests that the belief in an unlucky day goes (how do you spell goes?) back much farther.

Some scholars have suggested that the myth of Friday the 13th can be traced all the way back to the end of the Norse religions when Christianity subsumed the old traditions and demoted the Norse pantheon to the status of Demons.  Frigga, the Norse goddess of love & fertility was labeled a witch by the Early church, and it is from Frigga that we get the word Friday.  In any case, I’m not particularly superstitious, but I’ll still try to be a little more careful today.

On another note, and in keeping with the mystical aspect of the day.  I downloaded Digital Knight, by Ryk Spoor, from the Baen Free library. It’s basically an anthology of stories about Jason Wood, an information specialist, who gets mixed up with the world of the supernatural. Vampires, Werewolves, the usual suspects. It’s a good read so far, but I’ll tell the world what I think when I finish it. Until next time, keep your head down.

Bildungs what?

I haven’t been posting as often as I should be.  It’s just that I’ve been on a rampage of reading lately.  After being introduced to David Gemmell’s “Legend”, I pretty much went Drenai crazy.  I read basically the whole saga, and man does it rock.  One of the very interesting things about the Drenai series in general, is the way Gemmell treats many of his protagonists.  A lot of them are older warriors, past their prime but still with plenty of drive.  And as any student of kung fu movies knows, old men have the skills and experience to whip the snot out of any young whippersnappers.  Still, in a few places, Gemmell almost manages to create something new in literature, a reverse bildungsroman.  If a bildungsroman is a youth’s journey into manhood, then I guess a reverse bildungsroman would be a man’s journey into innocence.  That’s what happens often in Gemmell’s universe, a hardened warrior sees how his actions have affected the world, and moves from cynicism back into innocence.  In any case, Gemmell’s work, at least with the Drenai saga, is powerful and moving.  If you aren’t reading it, you should be. 

I want my mummy!

Yes, yes, ha ha ha. Very funny title. Anyway, I just finished reading “The Buried Pyramid” by Jane Lindskold. This was the most recent free download from Tor. Being slightly suspicious after the “Spaceman Blues” fracas, I was hesitant to get started on what Tor tells me is “a marvelous ride through Ancient Egyptian myth, legend, and religion”. However, I am always ready for a bit of Ancient Egypt, so I plunged in. In short, this book is acceptably wonderful.”Acceptably Wonderful”, what the hell does that mean? Well, bibliophiles everywhere know about a certain type of book. You may have a different name for this category, but “Acceptably Wonderful” is mine. This type of novel draws you in, it has characters that you wouldn’t mind speaking with in public, pretty good plot, and a couple of twists that you didn’t (quite) see coming. In short, it’s a pretty darn good read. The only trouble is that once you finish, you just know that you probably won’t be coming back to it. And that really is the case with “The Buried Pyramid”. I loved it, but I won’t be reading it again.

“The Buried Pyramid” is a great 1890’s period piece about rich British “Archaeologists”. There’s the absent minded Egyptologist, the dashing former British Army officer with his sweetyettoughAmericancowgirl niece. There is the secret sect of desert Bedouin who will stop at nothing to protect the “Secret In The Desert”. And there is the beautiful but deadly English Noblewoman, intent on finding the treasure for herself. As enjoyable as that is, about 3/4 of the way in, the story just leads us right into Sci-Fi land. I won’t go into any more detail than that as any discussion would be full of spoilers, but it’s definitely a welcome change from mouldy mummies rising from the tomb. In fact, I have to applaud Ms. Lindskold’s creativity, even while I lament the book’s failure to connect with me.

In short, I definitely would recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in Ancient Egypt. The research was obviously intensive, as the descriptions of Egyptian dress, manners, morality & religion are stunningly depicted, and even the late 19th century scenes are impeccable in detail. All in all a most enjoyable read. So much so, that my faith in Tor is restored.

A partial review of “Spaceman Blues”

I say a “partial” review, because, frankly, I couldn’t finish the damn thing. Brian Francis Slattery’s “Spaceman Blues” is flat out weird, and I’m not talking about the 1923 magazine. The cover copy calls it a “literary retro-pulp science-fiction–mystery–superhero novel”, but I really couldn’t find much that was retro, pulpy, science fiction related, or even superhero-y. There might be some literary stuff in there, though. I can normally read most anything, but in a very few cases, I find that my time is too valuable to spend it on trying to decipher a steaming pile of crap. The main reason that Slattery’s attempts fail, is not the “stream of conciousness” style which always tends to muddy the waters, but the fact that “Spaceman Blues” is not a science fiction novel. Rather it is a novel about interactions amongst and between various New York City sub-cultures. It’s a Greenwich Village, Annie Hall, gay pride, low-rider story which is couched in a science fiction metaphor. If you consider yourself a part of any of these various cultures, then you might find something redeemable about the novel. The fact is that most of us aren’t achingly hip, gay, living on the Upper East Side (or wherever…), and so we don’t find anything in the novel that speaks to us. I can’t care about the characters, I don’t feel warm nostalgia for the settings, and the tone feels rather jarring to me.

I’m not generally familiar with Slattery’s other works, so I can’t say if this is a typical example, or make any broad statements about his talent and skill. I will say however, that “stream of conciousness” writing is best left to Bob Dylan and ee cummings. Whenever I encounter it from someone who is not an acknowledged master, I immediately know that pain and suffering will ensue. In any case, I wish Mr. Slattery the best of luck with his career, but I would advise most everyone to avoid “Spaceman Blues”.

Stay tuned, because I just got the latest update from Tor. As part of their semi-monthly ebook giveaway, they are offering “The Buried Pyramid” by Jane Lindskold. This one looks interesting and I’ll definitely be reading & reviewing it here soon. The announcement says:
“In The Buried Pyramid , Jane Lindskold sends us on a marvelous ride through Ancient Egyptian myth, legend, and religion and leaves us enlightened and amazed.”
I do so enjoy being enlightened and amazed.

Another free ebook from Tor

Tor books, that bastion of science fiction, has a new freebie floating around. If you register at their website, then every month, they will send you a free ebook. Awesome! I love free ebooks, so I was pretty excited to get my first one. It actually came some time ago, and I thought it would be a good idea to add a new feature to the blog. So, I’ll be reviewing the ebooks that Tor sends out.
The cyborgelf was originally supposed to be about “Classic” sci-fi, so why all the new stuff lately, why talk about John Carter movies by Disney, and why review new Tor books? Well, frankly because the new stuff is so good. I love Heinlein, but I can only read him in spurts. I like modern stuff, and most modern authors fell in love with SF&F because of the greats, anyway. Honestly, what modern Fantasy writer isn’t influenced by Tolkien (be that good or bad) and what straight SF’er doesn’t know the Three Laws of Robotics.
In any case, I’ve grown to feel that today’s SF is just as powerful, & certainly as good as anything that ever appeared in Analog magazine. So, I’m going to feel free, from now on, to talk as much about the new guys, as I do about the Masters.
So, in anticipation of the first ever CyborgELF review of a free Tor ebook. We will be reading Brian Francis Slattery’s “Spaceman Blues”.

See ya

Take two Asprin and laugh your ass off!

I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy kick lately, and some of the hard stuff can really bring you down. Plus it takes itself so seriously. Really, I feel like every author who’s tried their hand at fantasy over the last 50 years or so, really expects to be the next Tolkien. Is it a law, that all new fantasy novels have to be the beginning of “an epic tale of high adventure” which spans twelve or fifteen books? In any case, I’m always very interested to find a story or a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously. At this point I wanted to mention Terry Pratchett, but Discworld is so satirical and funny, that it goes all the way around and back to serious from the other side. “The Color of Magic” is Profound (I meant to capitalize that).

OK, enough of that, I sort of stumbled across a new series. It’s generally referred to as the Myth Series, by Robert Asprin. They generally center around a young magician’s apprentice named Skeeve, his mentor Aahz (a scaly green fella from the dimension of Perv who is now powerless due to a practical joke), and their various adventures. I’m not going to go into plot summary or character development here, if you want you can read them yourself. What I am trying to get at here, is how humor seems to be a take it or leave it option nowadays. If you’re reading high fantasy, something about a quest to stop a Dark Lord or something, then there’s probably not a single joke or smile in the book. Many author’s tend to get so involved in the epic nature of their story, that they tend to leave out the humanizing bit (or elfizing, or hobbitizing, or whatever). My personal opinion as a reader, is that even dark myths must have their counterpoints, there has to be at least some mood lightening occasionally, else the story becomes oppressive.

Tolkien, himself, interjects entire characters who exist mainly to lighten the mood, or to show us the innocence that his heroes are fighting to save. If you look at Merry and Pippin, they tend to represent a childlike quality that is gone from the lands that Sauron threatens. So in essence, their humor tends to reinforce the story, and to heighten the danger, rather than to minimize it. If more authors recognized this, then we might have a few more stories that are deeply dimensioned and rich, rather than single layered. Oh well, if everyone listened to me then the world would be a better place.