Monday, March 31, 2008


Bob Clampett's John Carter of Mars

(via) An intriguing little glimpse into what might have been.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


More Primal Fury

Behold, a new trailer for Jungle Fury 2: Primal Fury.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Through a Golden Frame

Over on his blog, James Gurney shares the story behind this piece, done for National Geographic's centennial.

I was raised on National Geographic, and even now, years later, just the glimpse of a yellow square-bound spine brings with it the promise of something interesting, exotic, or new. I've been a subscriber (do they call them subscribers? I suppose I'm technically a "member," aren't I? But that just seems pretentious...) for much of my adult life. In the last couple of years, we've pruned most of our subscriptions, since they would invariably collect dust unread on the edge of a table for months at a time. So away went the Entertainment Weekly, the Scientific American, the Smithsonian Magazine. But when it came time to get rid of National Geographic, I found I just couldn't do it. Like anyone who subscribes, I've got whole shelves and stacks of back issues, many of which I've never had a chance to do much more than glance at. But when I was just starting out as a writer, back in high school and college, the vast majority of the first-level research I did was in the pages of National Geographic. The surnames of virtually all the Te'Maroan characters, from Clockwork Storybook days through to the present, came from a single article about Polynesian sailors I read more than twenty years ago. I couldn't help but picture Georgia, years from now, finally noticing the huge library of magazines in the house, all of them bordered in a frame of golden yellow, and discovering what lay within those pages all on her own.

In the end, we renewed our subscription, and delivery of National Geographic continued uninterrupted. Just the other night Allison, Georgia, and I paged through the latest issue around the kitchen table, Georgia pointing out the animals she recognized. Seeing that image of Gurney's this morning, I was immediately tempted to go dig up the older issues I've got, and see what I might have forgotten, or what I might have missed. There's always something new in there.


Dark Night of the Novelist's Soul

Over on the Magical Words group-blog, CE Murphy shares one of the secret fears most writers share: that the thing we're writing is awful.
I’m in the middle–and I do mean middle, as I’m 90K into what I’m beginning to be depressingly certain will be a 165K book–of writing my sixteenth full-length novel.

These are my observations at this point:

- this is the worst thing I’ve ever written

- none of it hangs together

- there is no integral structure

- the end is so far away I will never be finished writing, but I am more than ready to be done

- my editor is going to burst into tears when I finally do turn this horrific lump in to her

- she is then going to have to find a way to break it to me gently that perhaps I should consider a career in shoveling elephant dung, because my writing life is over and cleaning up behind elephants is sure to be a less smelly job than what I’ve just delivered to her

The bitter thing is that I recognize this stage. This happens every time. It means that things are probably going along just fine, even though my inclination is to say, “No, no, I know I’ve said this before, but this time I think I’m right. This really is terrible.”

Recognizing this does not make me feel any better at all.
I invariably go through this stage somewhere between the one-third and two-third mark. And like Murphy, when Allison invariably tells me "You say that every time," I always answer, "Well, this time I think I'm right."

I'm reminded of the chart that Maureen McHugh posted last year, illustrating the process of writing a novel:

Invariably, when it's all said and done, I'm pretty happy with the completed draft. And by the time it's all polished, edited, and ready for the reading public, I'm proud of the work I've done. But that middle period, that Dark Night of the Soul when the novel is nothing but awful and I'll never finish writing it, is still a stage I go through on every book.

Last Thursday I finished work on Three Unbroken, sending off the last third of the "hexagram" chapters to my masters at Solaris. While most of my novels take a month or two to write (with a variable number of weeks and months of preproduction outlining and researching in advance), Three Unbroken was something of an experiment, since I wrote it in three separate chunks, doing other projects inbetween. The first third of the book was written the first two weeks of October, after a couple of weeks of outlining in the end of September. The next section was written in January, again at the end of a couple of weeks of research and outline. And the last section was written over the course of March, following a few weeks of research in February. So from start to finish, the whole thing was nearly six full months. But even spread out, since I was only writing two "hexagram" chapters a day, and sometimes only one, the actual writing itself took more working days than normal, as well.

The upshot was that I lived in that "Dark Night of the Soul" that McHugh describes in her chart, the "this is awful" stage that Murphy mentions, more than once (visiting it at least once in each of the three writing legs) and for a greater number of days than normal. Which, ultimately, made me miserable to be around, I'm sure. Allison, for one, was so glad to have Three Unbroken done and me at the end of that long race that she baked me a chocolate cake on Thursday, just to celebrate.

I don't know that I'll write a book on that kind of schedule again. So much of my writing process is involved with getting up a certain amount of inertia, getting my brain distorted in a shape appropriate to a story and the world in which it takes place, and then building up a good head of steam. Writing in discrete chunks, as I did, starting and stopping three separate times, meant that I had to do all of that building-up-inertia business each time.

Next up is a bit of franchise work. I'm reading a big stack of Warhammer 40,000 novels at the moment, and noodling with characters and outlines. Then I'll be doing a Celestial Empire novella for a market that's requested one, and after that doing some revisions to my space opera. And then, who knows? It'll depend on which of the various irons I've got in various fires pays off. For the moment, though, I'm just trying to get used to the notion of not being anywhere on the chart that McHugh drew up, if only for a few days, for the first time in a long time.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Predator Rap

"This Video was written and created by Mouthmaster Murf and Dj Mayhem, members of up and coming band The Anomalies. It took about 9 months to create, and the finished product is amazing!"

That's their flack, see if you agree...

Thursday, March 20, 2008


Space Cowboy on the Moon

Hey, remember the Space Cowboy?

Well, he's back!


Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp

(I've got another day to go on Three Unbroken, so it's still mostly video clips this week.)

Words can scarcely express my fascination for Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp as a kid. I mean, it's spies, which I loved, and chimps! Come on, what could be better? (That the show wasn't actually, you know, very good, hardly factored into the equation...)

And as an added bonus, here's Lancelot Link and the Evolution Revolution.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The Daves I Know

And "These are the Daves I know."


My Indian Drum

For no reason whatsoever, here is the first Kids in the Hall bit I ever saw, in a hotel room in Washington, DC, in '90 or thereabouts.

I remember thinking, "What the hell is this...?"

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Field Music's "You're Not Supposed To"

I've had this song stuck in my head for the last three months.

My earwig, let me share it with you...

Monday, March 17, 2008


The Doctor's Watch

I don't go in much for replicas and suchlike bric-a-brac, but this is kinda cool.

From the episodes "Human Nature" and "Family of Blood". The Doctor went into hiding from the villians "The Family". He hid his essence and Timelord abilities within this watch and assumed the identity of "John Smith". Smith was a teacher in pre-WWI England. Being human sure wasn't as easy as one might think and by opening the watch, he regained his Timelord abilities.

The watch features: speech, light, sound effects, and chain.


Robinson Returns

I've raved before about James Robinson's Starman, which was a huge influence on me in my late twenties. His Golden Age remains a particular favorite of mine, as well, as does his early run on the relaunched JSA.

Now comes the news that he'll be writing a new Justice League book for DC. Who'll be on the team? Green Arrow (Oliver Queen) and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) to start.

Okay, strong start. Who else?

Supergirl. Batwoman (this one, doubtless). Ray Palmer (though not as the Atom). And Freddy Freeman (“ideally with the blue costume and a new name”, which sort of makes the still-unfinished Trial of Shazam a bit of a lame duck).

Still good. Anybody else?

Mikaal Tomas, “The blue alien from Starman."

Okay, very good. Anyone else?

Oh yes, and Congorilla.

As Robinson explains, "He’ll be the oldest character in the book – he’s 90 years old, his human body has been destroyed, and he’s trapped in the body of a gigantic, magic, golden gorilla. Congorilla will be on the team."

That's right, we've Robinson on a Justice League book, with the original "hard-travelling heroes" Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen, a lesbian Batwoman, a shrinking scientist, a Kryptonian teenager, the Elvis of the Marvel family, the blue alien Starman, and Con-freaking-gorilla.

Yes, please!


Novelists Strike Fails To Affect Nation Whatsoever

From the latest Onion...
LOS ANGELES—The Novelists Guild of America strike, now entering its fourth month, has had no impact on the nation at all, sources reported Tuesday.

The strike, which scholars say could be the longest since 1951, when American novelists may or may not have voluntarily committed to a six-month work stoppage, has brought an immediate halt to all new novels, novellas, and novelettes from coast to coast, affecting no one.

I made this comment a few times over the course of the WGA strike, that novelists could strike and no one would ever know. I mean, what would we do, turn in books late... Heaven forfend!


Vampire Weekend's "A-Punk"

Regular visitors to the Interminable Ramble may have noticed that I've been slacking a bit, the last couple of months. There's a good reason, I promise. I've been pushing the big rock that is Three Unbroken up a big hill, and lord-willing-and-the-creek-don't-rise, I'll have it finished by the end of this week. (And with any luck, it'll roll nicely down the other side of the hill, and not, you know, back on me...)

Next week, expect me to start running book reports again, maybe a bit more free fiction, and such like. But this week is likely going to be more video links, quotes from new reviews, and such like.

To get this week started, here's a number from a new band that I think I like quite a bit, Vampire Weekend. They remind me of the kind of New Wave we didn't hear too much of after the early eighties, but which was always my favorite of the bunch.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Free Fiction Friday: "Timmy Gromp and the Golden Hen of Time"

As I've mentioned, last week I spent a few days at the second annual Clockwork Storybook writers' retreat with all the old gang. Most days were spent with each of us working on our various independent projects while the sun was up, getting together for dinner, and then reading aloud and critiquing in front of the roaring fire through the evening hours. On Friday, though, we did something a little different.

I think the idea had originally been Bill Willingham's, in email, and it was modified and mutated a few times in the subsequent days and weeks. In it's final form, it was simply The Story Challenge.

The challenge was simple. To write a complete short story in one day. With a few... complications.

There were only a few rules. On Friday, each of us contributed one idea, an element that every story should contain. Then, from then until dinner that night, the five of us would go off to our respective corners and write. The goal was to include at least three of the ideas that everyone had contributed, ideally find a way to work in all five. Then on Friday night we'd each read our stories, and when they'd all been read we'd vote to decide whose was the best, both in terms of artistic merit and in terms of the skill with which the elements were included.

The five elements to be included (many of them references to things that had happened during the week) were "an upsidedown chicken," suggested by Bill Williams, "a cow skeleton," suggested by me, "a really excellent sword-fight," suggested by Mark Finn, "a gruesome death involving pepper," suggested by Matt Sturges, and the inclusion of the character Mike Bretz from the old Clockwork Storybook days, suggested by Bill Willingham.

All five of the competitors, as it turned out, found ways to include all five suggestions. Otherwise, though, the stories couldn't have been more dissimilar. Mark's was a brilliant tall tale involving boxers, banditos, and a border town, Williams's was part of his fascinating "hard boiled fantasy" world, Willingham's was a gem of a story in the tradition of Zelazny, and Matt's was a little bit of genius from his in-progress vampire world. And mine was the little bit of silliness that follows.

Somewhere along the way, the reading and critiquing somehow became a drinking game, wherein everyone had to take a drink whenever one of the five suggestions popped up in a story. We all got a bit toasty, which is probably the best explanation for how the voting ended up in a five-way tie. The grand prize, which was to have been to pick the restaurant on Saturday and be treated by the rest, became instead a committee decision, which was a whole other story.

The other four entries in the challenger were dandy little stories, which I fully expect to see in print in some market or another, before too much longer. My story? Well, it probably doesn't have a terribly wide appeal, so I'm sharing here with all of you nice people.

This story won't make much sense if you aren't familiar with Timmy Gromp, about whom I've written once or twice before. Heck, it probably won't make much sense if you are familiar with him. As for Mike Bretz, who shows up at the end, he was a shared character from San Cibola days, and all you really need to know about him is that he is the most powerful sorcerer in the universe, looks just like Drew Carey circa 1999, and is a complete dick.

Timmy Gromp and the Golden Hen of Time
by Chris Roberson

Timmy Gromp clutched the golden chicken tight to his chest, the metal cold even through the thin fabric of his windbreaker, and peered into the darkness of the dungeon passage. Now he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get home.

“Are you sure we’re going the right way?”

“Yes,” growled the little badger at his side, becoming irritated by the incessant questions. “Now hurry along, there isn’t much time.”

Timmy chewed his lower lip. Now he was seriously wishing that he’d never picked up the chicken statue in the junkshop, while his parents were next door drinking weird coffee drinks, eating scones, and checking their email and stock tickers on their phones. But how was he to know that the statue wasn’t an action figure from the Gobopokomeon cartoon show, but was actually the linchpin of all creation, the thing that held the multiverse together? It wasn’t until he’d given it a polish with the sleeve of his windbreaker and the Chartreuse Fairy had appeared that he’d realized that it was something much more than a toy from a TV show, and by then it was far too late.

“Hurry along, little master,” the badger growled. “Only moments remain before time runs out, and the Uncreator will hold sway.”

“Okay, okay,” Timmy answered, whining more than he intended. Then, under his breath, he muttered, “Assbug.”

The Chartreuse Fairy hadn’t even given Timmy a chance to back out. And it wasn’t as if he’d even paid for the statue. She’d just floated before him, all glittery and twinkling, and told him that what he held was actually the Golden Hen of Time, a central cog in the clockwork of creation, lost millennia before. And that by discovering it, he was obliged to return it to its sacred resting place in the Caves of Secrets, in another dimension, filled with all sorts of weird creatures with bad breath, all of them hungry to eat little boys from the human world.

Of course, the Chartreuse Fairy hadn’t actually mentioned the bad breath, but it hadn’t taken Timmy too long to work that one out on his own.

So while all Timmy wanted to do was put the chicken statue back on the junkshop shelf and rush next door to find his parents and their weird coffees and scones and phones, instead he’d suddenly found himself transported to another dimension, all alone under a starless grey sky, at the edge of a desert of blue sands. If not for the badger, who showed up a few minutes later, Timmy would probably be still out there, shivering in his windbreaker, waiting for some monster to come and eat him.

Of course, then at least he wouldn’t be down in this spooky dungeon, so maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad, after all.

“The left path,” the badger said, pointing with his sword as the dungeon passage branched in two before them. The flickering orange light of the torch in the badger’s other paw reached only a few yards into either branch, with only murky blackness beyond.

Timmy supposed that, with all of the other strange things that had happened to him over the years, over and over and over again, he shouldn’t be surprised when a badger in hip boots and a Three Musketeer hat with a sword at his hip appeared out of nowhere. But Timmy was embarrassed to remember that he’d wet himself, just a little, and squeaked like a mouse caught in a trap, jumping a few feet in the air in fright.

Then the badger had explained that he’d been dispatched by the Chartreuse Fairy to aid him in his quest—whatever that meant—and that he knew the way to the Cave of Secrets, at the desert’s far side.

Timmy had tried to convince the badger to take the chicken statue himself, and to let Timmy go back home, but the badger had explained that the rules governing the Golden Hen of Time were pretty strict on this point, and that having been the one to discover the thing, he was the only one able to carry it the rest of the way.

By the time they were halfway across the desert, blue sand stuck in place Timmy didn’t even know he had, Timmy was beginning to seriously hate the Chartreuse Fairy. If she was going to send some sort of animal helper for his “mission,” why couldn’t it have been a giant eagle that could fly him all the way there in seconds? Which wasn’t to say that the badger wasn’t pretty quick on his little feet, though.

“What’s that sound?” Timmy drew up short, peering wide-eyed into the darkness before them. A strange, clacking noise echoed out of the dungeon passage up ahead, like the sound of a hundred teeth clacking together, or a box of dominoes falling on the floor.

“One of the guardians of the Cave of Secrets,” the badger answered, tightening his paw around his sword’s handle. “Prepare yourself.”

The Chartreuse Fairy had explained that, if Timmy couldn’t return the Golden Hen of Time to its resting place in the Cave, something called the Uncreator would succeed in unraveling all of existence, winding it back to the beginning like a video tape on rewind. But instead of hitting play again, the Uncreator would just toss the tape in the trash, or something like that, and nothing that had ever existed would ever exist again.

The Fairy had also said that, now that the Golden Hen had been discovered, there would be others who would want it for themselves. That’s why the badger had come along, not only to show Timmy the way, but to defend him against anyone who might want to steel the statue from him. But the Fairy hadn’t said anything about any “guardians” they’d have to contend with, as well.

When the guardian clacked out of the darkness and into the light of the badger’s torch, Timmy realized why the Fairy hadn’t mentioned it. If she had, he’d probably have stayed up in the blue desert, and told the badger to go bite himself.

The guardian towered over them, standing eight feet tall if it was an inch. It was skeletal, without a bit of flesh or muscle, a collection of bones moving like a living being, it’s motions jerky and halting, like the stop-motion animation in the old movies that Timmy’s dad was always trying to get him to watch. It stood reared up on its hind legs, with wicked blades affixed to the ends of its forelegs, and front the sides of its fleshless skull rose long, pointed horns.

“It’s a cow,” Timmy said, gawping.

“It is a demon,” the badger said, stepping ahead of Timmy, the point of his sword raised before him. “Stand back, I’ll handle this.”

The badger rushed forward, a blur of motion, his tiny sword darting in and out, flashing in the torchlight like summer lightning.

It was, all things considered, a truly excellent sword-fight, but Timmy only caught bare glimpses of it, his hands covering his eyes, shrieking like a little girl.

“Come along,” the badger said, “we’ve lost precious time.”

Timmy lowered his hands, and saw the now immobile and lifeless cow bones scattered on the passage floor.

“Hurry,” the badger urged, pushing ahead.

Timmy clutched the cold statue to his chest and followed behind, mincing around the scattered bones.


Finally, after several more very exciting and terrifying encounters, they reached the heart of the dungeon maze, the Cave of Secrets. And there, atop a plinth of black stone, lay the altar of the Golden Hen of Time.

“Hurry, young master,” the badger said, his little black eyes narrowed to slits in his furry little face. “Only moments remain! Place the idol on the altar, or we are undone.”

“Okay.” Timmy started towards the plinth, the flickering torchlight casting strange shadows across the stone floor. He held the Golden Hen in both hands, eager to be rid of it. “Then can I go home?”

Before Timmy had gone halfway to the altar, a strange voice from the shadows stopped him in his tracks. “I’ll take that golden dingus, if you don’t mind?”

Timmy whirled around, startled. A man emerged into the torchlight. He was dressed in a cheap suit, with a blonde buzz cut, and his eyes hard and cold behind the thick black frames of his glasses. Beneath his suit-coat his shirt strained across a round belly, and steam rose in curls from the coffee mug in his hands.

“The accursed Mike Bretz!” the badger snarled, paw tight around his sword’s hilt.

The fat man sneered at the badger. “Who were you expecting, Edmund Wharton-Fogg?” He turned back to Timmy. “I’ve been looking for that little chicken for a long time, kid, so why don’t you hand it over before I do something suitably horrible to you.”

“Never!” the badger yelled. “You’ll not have it, on my life!” He glanced over a furry shoulder at Timmy, his furry face shadowed by his Three Musketeers hat. “You take care of the idol, young master, I’ll take care of this interloper.”

The badger rushed forward, swinging his sword in one hand, his torch held high in the other, a battle cry on his little black lips.

“Oh, please,” the fat man said, rolling his eyes. Taking a sip of coffee from his mug, he snapped the fingers of his other hand.

Suddenly, the flame atop the badger’s torch raged outwards, becoming a miniature inferno, a tight ball of fire that engulfed the brave little badger completely. Already rushing towards the fat man, his momentum carried him forward even as the flames roasted him alive. Fur burned off into ash, and as the flames died back down in an instant, the smoldering carcass of the badger skidded to a halt at the fat man’s feet, the blackened sword clattering uselessly to the floor.

The fat man bent down, and taking hold of one of the badger’s little charred limbs, snapped it off and brought it to his mouth. He took a crunching bite of meat, burnt skin, and gristle, and chewed thoughtfully.

“Hmm,” the fat man said. “Could use a little pepper.”

Timmy couldn’t remember a time that he was more scared, and he was sure that he’d wet himself again, if only a little, but as he watched his brave little badger guide sacrificing himself, he knew that if he didn’t do something, and fast, he’d end up much the same way. So while the fat man wasn’t looking, Timmy had sidled over towards the plinth, and was in the process of reaching up and putting the Golden Hen of Time into place before the fat man noticed what he was doing. With the torch finally extinguished, the Cave of Secrets was lit only by a faint green glow, so Timmy wasn’t quite sure he was putting the statue in the right place, but hoped he could get it close enough to count.

“No!” the fat man said, his face twisted in annoyance, as Timmy slammed the statue home.

The green glow which lit the cave began to grow brighter, shifting up the spectrum to yellow, then orange, then red, as an eerie groaning noise issued from the walls around them.

“Can I go home now?” Timmy said, eyes wide and fearful.

The fat man rushed over to the plinth, dropping his coffee cup onto the floor without a second thought. “What have you done, you little puke?” The man reached Timmy’s side, and as the red glow glared brighter, looked from Timmy to the altar and back again. “You assbug, do you know what you’ve done?” He pointed a finger at the Golden Hen of Time, its little golden legs just visible above the altar’s surface. “You’ve got it in upside down!”

The red glow glared brighter, and shifted to white, as the eerie grinding noise grew deafeningly loud. Then there was a flash, and a bang, and…


Timmy Gromp clutched the golden chicken tight to his chest, the metal cold even through the thin fabric of his windbreaker, and peered into the darkness of the dungeon passage. Now he wasn’t sure if he’d ever get home.



Kermit for Congress

It's an idea whose time has come, I think. We've had puppets in office before, for insurance companies and big oil producers and whatever other special interests you want to name. Why not a Muppet?


Spy Hunter

I have very fond memories of the Spy Hunter arcade game. I'm not about to rush out and buy a Pontiac (I've been driving the same Ford Escort for eleven years now, and don't plan to get rid of it any time soon), but this still made me smile.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Jonny Quest

I was lucky enough to spend a few days last week at the second annual Clockwork Storybook writers retreat, along with Mark Finn, Matt Sturges, Bill Willingham, and Bill Williams. The conversation, as it so often does, turned time and again to The Venture Bros, and from there to Jonny Quest.

Now, as you're probably aware, Jonny Quest had the greatest opening credits (and closing credits, for that matter) in the history of television.

In the mid-90s, the cartoon series Freakazoid did a parody of Jonny Quest, complete with opening credits: Toby Danger.

And finally society progressed to the point that it was ready for The Venture Bros, which at its heart is just "Jonny Quest grew up wrong."

Last year, I saw the following interstitial short, "Jonny Quest: Time is Running Out," on Cartoon Network, and immediately wished (a) this game had been real and (b) I'd had it as a kid.

In amongst all the Venture Bros and Jonny Quest talk, Willingham told us about his own never realized plans for a "grown-up Jonny Quest" comic, and it's a shame it never came about. I've toyed with the formula a bit (arguably there's more of Jonny in J.B. Carmody in Cybermancy Incorporated than any other heroic model).

I think they've tried to relaunch the character a time or two in recent years, but I haven't found the will to check them out. There's just something about Jonny Quest in cyberspace, or whatever it was, that just sits wrong with me.


Food Court Musical

Just watch.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


RIP Dave Stevens

This is some sucky news.
I’ve just received word that Dave Stevens, the artist of the Rocketeer, died yesterday at age 52. Stevens had dropped out of sight for the most part in recent years and had been battling leukemia, a fact which he kept as private as possible.

Stevens was known for his meticulous artwork, reminiscent of the greatest illustrators of the past and the whiz bang pulpishness of the 30s and 40s. He was, of course, also obsessed with model Bettie Page. These came together in The Rocketeer, which was published by Eclipse, Pacific, Comico and Dark Horse in its various incarnations. In 1991 it was turned into a Disney film starring Billy Campbell and a young Jennifer Connelly. The film underperformed at the time but has become very fondly remembered.

I was just the right age for The Rocketeer when it debuted, as a backup in Pacific Comics' Starslayer, and followed the strip from company to company over the course of the following years. It was probably a bigger influence on me than I realize, and I've cherished those issues ever since.

Fifty-two is far, far too young, but Stevens leaves a body of work any creator could be proud of.


& Teller

Here's a little bit of brilliance for your Tuesday morning.

What does a performer do after the apocalypse? Teller tells...

Monday, March 10, 2008


New Review

The unsinkable Nick Gevers has reviewed The Dragon's Nine Sons for the March 2008 issue of Locus Magazine. And he seems to have liked it.
Chris Roberson's finest work tends to fall within his alternate history of the Celestial Empire... A certain discipline and plausibility is imposed by this timeline--a need to respect the correctness of Chinese address and nomenclature, a need to reflect the earnestness of so great an Imperial enterprise. The pulpish waywardness of much of the author's other work is thus curtailed. And The Dragon's Nine Sons, the first Celestial Empire novel, benefits from this restraint. It is a tight space-opera thriller, full of claustrophobic tension and under-pressure characterization, a sort of Dirty Dozen of allohistory.
So this book is a sobering piece of military SF, skillfully handled and morally acute. It is easily Chris Roberson's best book to date.
I quite like the term "pulpish waywardness." I may have to start using that, myself!


Thursday, March 06, 2008


SF Series

If you're curious to hear me bloviate about whether book series in science fiction drive away new readers, head over to SF Signal. And if that's not much of a draw, perhaps you'd instead be interested in hearing what saner heads like Lou Anders, Joe Sherry, David Louis Edelman, and John Joseph Adams have to say.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Danger Island

Georgia is home sick today (nothing serious, just a low-grade fever and a lack of appetite, which I suspect she picked up from Bill Willingham at dinner the other night), which means that we're spending the day on the couch, watching cartoons. This morning was all educational, PBS Kids fare. When that wrapped up, she demanded mind-rotting seventies Saturday morning fare. She's watching The All New Superfriends Hour (with Wonder Twin action) at the moment, but before that we caught the last half of a Banana Splits on Boomerang, which included the first installment of "Danger Island."

I don't know when I last saw this. When I was Georgia's age? Definitely not much older than that.

Here's a surprise hidden in the credits for the episode. Guess who directed this? That's right, none other than Richard Donner. Go figure!


Secret Skin

Michael Chabon has written a fascinating essay about superhero costumes, escapism, and transformation for The New Yorker.

The one time I felt my soul to be in danger was the Sunday Mr. Spector raised the ethical problem of escapism, particularly as it was experienced in the form of comic books. That day, we started off with a fine story about a boy who loved Superman so much that he tied a red towel around his neck, climbed up to the roof of his house, and, with a cry of “Up, up, and away,” leaped to his death. There was known to have been such a boy, Mr. Spector informed us—at least one verifiable boy, so enraptured and so betrayed by the false dream of Superman that it killed him.

The explicit lesson of the story was that what was found between the covers of a comic book was fantasy, and “fantasy” meant pretty lies, the consumption of which failed to prepare you for what lay outside those covers. Fantasy rendered you unfit to face “reality” and its hard pavement. Fantasy betrayed you, and thus, by implication, your wishes, your dreams and longings, everything you carried around inside your head that only you and Superman and Elliot S! Maggin (exclamation point and all, the principal Superman writer circa 1971) could understand—all these would betray you, too. There were ancillary arguments to be made as well, about the culpability of those who produced such fare, sold it to minors, or permitted their children to bring it into the house.

These arguments were mostly lost on me, a boy who consumed a dozen comic books a week, all of them cheerfully provided to him by his (apparently iniquitous) father. Sure, I might not be prepared for reality—point granted—but, on the other hand, if I ever found myself in the Bottle City of Kandor, under the bell jar in the Fortress of Solitude, I would know not to confuse Superman’s Kryptonian double (Van-Zee) with Clark Kent’s (Vol-Don). Rather, what struck me, with the force of a blow, was recognition, a profound moral recognition of the implicit, indeed the secret, premise of the behavior of the boy on the roof. For that fool of a boy had not been doomed by the deceitful power of comic books, which after all were only bundles of paper, staples, and ink, and couldn’t hurt anybody. That boy had been killed by the irresistible syllogism of Superman’s cape.
And later, on the impossibility of superhero costumes...
In fact, the most reliable proof of the preposterousness of superhero attire whenever it is translated, as if by a Kugelmass device, from the pages of comics to the so-called real world can be found in film and television adaptations of superhero characters. George Reeves’s stodgy pajamas-like affair in the old “Superman” TV series and Adam West’s mod doll clothes in “Batman” have lately given way to purportedly more “realistic” versions, in rubber, leather, and plastic, pseudo-utilitarian coveralls that draw inspiration in equal measure from spacesuits, catsuits, and scuba suits, and from (one presumes) regard for the dignity of actors who have seen the old George Reeves and Adam West shows, and would not be caught dead in those glorified Underoos. In its attempts to slip the confines of the panelled page, the superhero costume betrays its nonexistence, like one of those deep-sea creatures which evolved to thrive in the crushing darkness of the seabed, so that when you haul them up to the dazzling surface they burst.
Speaking as a member of the Geek Nation, I'm once again deeply glad that Chabon is One Of Us.

Monday, March 03, 2008


New Review

Don D'Ammassa has reviewed The Dragon's Nine Sons, and seems to have enjoyed it.
There's also a touch of dystopia here, since both empires seem rather repressive, and our heroes aren't necessarily very heroic. It took a few chapters before I felt at ease in the story, but once I was there you couldn't have pried me out before the ending. Roberson seems to get better with each new book.



New Review

Eric Brown, who previously reviewed Set the Seas on Fire, reviewed The Dragon's Nine Sons for this last Sunday's Guardian.
In a refreshingly different take on the future, Roberson posits the Celestial Empire in which the Chinese successfully continued their expansionist policies of the 14th century. By 2052 they are opposed only by the Aztec-like Mexic Dominion. The war has escalated into space and the novel opens with nine disgraced soldiers being offered the choice of execution or a place on a mission to destroy an enemy base within an asteroid. The group reach the asteroid only to discover fellow Chinese prisoners facing ritual Mexic sacrifice: what was a suicide mission becomes a rescue attempt in which each soldier confronts the demons of their past and possible redemption. Despite an occasional tendency to over-explain, Roberson has created a gripping action adventure interleaved with insightful character studies.


Saturday, March 01, 2008


Age of TV Heroes

Check out this awesomeness...

Newsarama is proud to show Alex Ross’ latest work – the cover to the upcoming Age of TV Heroes book by George Khoury and Jason Hofius, due in November from Two Morrows Publishing.

The subject of the book is pretty obvious, given the title, and the lineup – George Reeves, Superman; Adam West, Batman; Lynda Carter, Wonder Woman and Jackson Bostwick, Captain Marvel.



This week's Tom the Dancing Bug.

Come on, you were all thinking it...

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