Book Review: Invasive

Invasiveby Michael D. Pederson

 

Invasive
by Chuck Wendig
Harper Voyager, 329 pp.

Genetically engineered ants are out for blood in Chuck Wendig’s latest thriller, Invasive.

When a body is found in an isolated cabin, stripped of its skin and surrounded by dead ants, FBI consultant Hannah Stander is called in to investigate. The investigation leads her to the Hawaiian laboratory of a billionaire inventor/philanthropist. And then all hell breaks loose.

Who in the lab is responsible for creating the killer ants? What’s their motivation? And can Hannah stop them before the ants are released on the world? It’s a plot that unfolds like a standard Crichton novel (only without the “science is evil” overtones) and reads very much like Jurassic Park with very tiny dinosaurs. The body count is pretty high and a lot of it’s rather gory, the more sensitive readers may find this somewhat disturbing, horror fans will love it though.

As exciting as killer ants are (I grew up in the seventies so I have a soft spot in my heart for stories about killer bugs run amok) the real attraction of the novel is Hannah. Raised by survivalist parents, with a backstory that’s left her scarred and fearful of life, Hannah has a background that makes her capable of dealing with harsh situations and a psychological depth that makes her interesting to get to know. I tore through this novel quickly and seriously hope that it’s just the first of many in a series of Hannah Stander novels.

 

Television Review: The Tick

TheTickby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Tick
Amazon Video

Amazon Video recently rolled out the pilot episode of it’s latest incarnation of Ben Edlund’s The Tick. As part of their pilot season, they debut three separate shows and let the audience response decide which one will be picked up. I’ve followed the Tick through all of his incarnations—comic, cartoon, and live action sitcom—and, so far, I think that this one could be the best version yet. I say “could” because I’ve only seen the one episode so far, and even though it was missing some key elements (particularly the fellow heroes that the Tick frequently interacts with, who they might be depends on which of the three sources they pull from) the basics were all there and the pilot left me craving a full season binge.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. No, Peter Serafinowicz isn’t a big, burly mancake that looks just like the cartoon version of the Tick. He’s no Patrick Warburton, but damned if he isn’t the Tick. Watching him casually stroll into danger you believe that he’s nigh invulnerable in a way that you never did with Warburton’s Tick. Serafinowicz’s performance channels the goofy confidence of Townsend Coleman’s animated delivery by way of an ultra-upbeat Adam West. It’s nothing short of perfection. Where Warburton brought a charmingly naive innocence to the role, Serafinowicz reminds us that the Tick is mentally deranged (but in a good way).

The pilot episode (bookended by opening and closing narration by the Tick) is primarily an origin story for Arthur. Yes, he gets a requisite tragic back story but it’s served up in a way that manages to be both poignant and mocking of over-the-top cliches at the same time. Since his origin event, Arthur has spent the past twenty years obsessing over the Terror, a criminal mastermind that everyone believes to be dead. Arthur believes otherwise and has a Wall to prove it. We get a brief flashback scene of the Terror in Arthur’s origin story that whets your appetite for more. As played by Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen), the Terror is both comical and terrifying and it’s this tightrope balance of silly and serious that makes the episode work so well. Edlund clearly learned a thing or two about camp while writing for Gotham. In The Tick, he’s created a serious world, populated by real people that just happens to have some very weird characters in it. And it works.

Making Arthur the POV character rather than just a sidekick makes the show a lot more approachable to the average viewer than some of its past incarnations. Whenever Serafinowicz is on screen though, the screen just explodes. Exuding a contagious enthusiasm while bellowing catchphrases and pontificating about destiny, Serafinowicz makes you believe that he’s an animation come to life.

If you want more (and I sure do) you’ll need to go to Amazon Video and fill out their survey.

 

Book Review: Dark Matter

Dark Matterby Michael D. Pederson

 

Dark Matter
by Blake Crouch
Crown Publishers, 340 pp.

As science fiction continues to become more and more mainstream, I predict that we’ll start to see more novels like Dark Matter. From the author of Wayward Pines (Blake Crouch), Dark Matter is one-hundred percent pure science fiction, but written in a very approachable, mainstream fashion. It’s also being marketed as a “Thriller” instead of as an “SF” novel. And I’m fine with that. Because it’s good. Really good.

Crouch’s main character, Jason Dessen, has a good life; he’s a physics professor in Chicago with a loving wife and a teenage son. Jason and his wife both gave up promising careers (he in experimental physics and she as an artist) to raise their son, and they’re happy with their choices and happy with each other but they still sometimes wonder “what if?”. When Jason is abducted one night and shanghaied to an alternate universe (like I said, pure science fiction) he has that question answered for him. Most of the first third of the book is Jason coming to terms with his abduction and the remaining two-thirds cover his attempts to return home to his family. Halfway through Jason’s quest through the multiverse, Crouch writes an important character out of the story—they just wander off and are never heard from again—and I wish we could have had a better resolution for her story line, rather than just using her to merely advance Jason’s story, but that’s my only grievance. All of the characters are well drawn and the plot can’t help but suck you in.

More important though, Crouch addresses the questions raised by the existence of a multiverse: What is home and how do you define “self” in a sea of possible alternate homes and alternate selves? Never settling for the option of “close enough” we see over and over again how our hero becomes his own worst enemy, frequently in frighteningly literal examples. It’s a fast-paced story that has a thrilling twist in the final act that works brilliantly and has a very cinematic feel to it. Highly recommended.

 

Con Review: ConGregate 2014

congregate2014 by Michael D. Pederson

 

ConGregate 2014
July 11–13, 2014
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
http://www.con-gregate.com

Apart from it’s size (about 420 people), you’d never know that ConGregate was a first-year convention. That’s probably because they had a staff of con veterans running the show; literally decades of experience on the staff, and it showed. Their core staff has worked with StellarCon, ConCarolinas, Trinoc*CoN, MACE, RavenCon, and DragonCon—quite the resume.

Let’s start with programming… Five full tracks of programming! Even more significant than the number of panels though, was the quality of the programming. ConGregate went out of their way to make their guest experience more interactive, with several audience participation panels like Fandom Feud; Building the Big, Bad, Radioactive Bug (followed immediately by Killing the Big, Bad, Radioactive Bug); and Debate Club. I moderated Debate Club and had an absolute blast with it. I got to split the audience and the panel into two sides and make them debate classic science fiction arguments (Millenium Falcon vs. Enterprise, better vampire hunter: Buffy or Blade, New Who vs. Classic Who, etc.). Lots of fun!

As per usual, I also had the privilege of interviewing the Guests of Honor: Larry Correia and Mark Poole. I was a little nervous about interviewing Larry due to his internet reputation, but he turned out to be one of the friendliest, most down-to-earth writers I’ve had the honor to work with. Mark was equally entertaining; he had some fantastic stories about the early days of Magic: The Gathering and what it was like working for Wizards of the Coast before they hit it big. The other two Guests of Honor were Toni Weisskopf and Jennifer McCollom, two amazing women that I’m lucky to know. Toni and I did one panel together, Con-Going 101, that was very well attended and highly informative. We actually had a good turnout of people for whom ConGregate was their very first convention experience. I bet they had a great time.

I should probably mention the game room. As is frequently the case I didn’t have enough time to sit down and play anything but I did poke my head in every time that I walked past. It looked to me to be pretty busy most of the time. And they certainly had enough tables and weren’t crowding the gamers together. Again, this was one of the areas where they had decades of experience working for them.

Also, something that’s hard to come by at a first-year convention: Good room parties. I had some tasty scotch the first night but hear that I missed out on a couple of good parties Saturday night as I was busy hosting my own RavenCon party.

This was the first North Carolina convention that I’ve attended since moving back to Virginia in 2010 and I had a great time seeing old friends and making a few new ones. I’m already looking forward to returning next year.

 

Con Review: Gen Con Indy 2014

GenCon2014by Rob Balder

 

Gen Con Indy 2014
August 14–17, 2014
Indianapolis, Indiana
http://www.gencon.com

The best gaming convention in North America had another booming year.

Gen Con manages to offer the spectacular mega-con experience of a DragonCon or San Diego Comic Con (top-name guests, amazing cosplay everywhere you look, endless exhibitor space with everything a geek could want to buy or ogle, and the feeling of taking over the downtown area of a major metropolis) without losing their soul.

If it weren’t for Internationale Spieltage (Spiel) every October in Essen, Germany, Gen Con Indy would be the biggest tabletop games convention in the world, and this year’s crowd was the largest ever (56,614 attendees, topping last year’s attendance of 49,530). Among attendees and exhibitors alike, the whole vibe was upbeat and fun. Beautiful weather all weekend and excellent management by Gen Con’s experienced staff helped make it something special in 2014.

If you’re heading to Gen Con next year, book early and plan to go with friends. You’ll be spending hours with them in tournaments, or trying out the new games you’ve grabbed from independent developers on the exhibit floor. In the middle of 57,000 people, Gen Con will always be about sitting down in a group of 4 or 5 and having fun with your imagination and your friends.

 

Con Review: Intervention 5

Intervention5by Rob Balder

 

Intervention 5
August 22–24, 2014
Rockville, Maryland
http://interventioncon.com

In the 2000s, the traditional science fiction convention scene in the D.C. area was all but dead. Big, raucous, party conventions like EveCon and CastleCon were gone, Capclave continued like the small, dense core left after Disclave went supernova, and even those occasional Star Trek conventions of the 1990s and 1-day autograph expos had gone away. Only Katsucon was really thriving, riding the ever-rising popularity of anime.

But in the 2010s, a set of bright new convention “stars” have been born in the Washington area. 2014 saw the explosive birth of AwesomeCon, a big red-giant of a downtown expo in the vein of a NYCC or a C2E2. The music and gaming relaxacon MAGFest also grew so fast it split into two events (a binary star, to continue the analogy).

But in its fifth year, Intervention remains the happy yellow Sol-class star of the D.C. con scene. With its broad range of guests (musicians, webcomics creators, bloggers, authors, podcasters, game designers, publishers, filmmakers and more), and its refreshing and practical program/workshop track (with workshops on making a business plan, tutorials for using some of the latest creative software, and core topics in various creative fields), there was something there for every area of fannish interest.

This year, they added a full arcade room of classic video games, and the lively party scene continued in the Rockville Hilton’s lounges, lofts, and suites. Intervention does an excellent job of bringing in guests who really want to be around fans and share what they do. D.C. fans couldn’t ask for a nicer, friendlier place to geek out and learn something cool.

 

Con Review: Garden State Comic Fest 2014

ComicFestby KT Pinto

 

Garden State Comic Fest
August 23, 2014
Morristown, New Jersey
http://www.gardenstatecomicfest.com

Here’s a quick bullet review of the show (with the knowledge that this is only the second GSCF ever, and in the same year):

  • The layout of the festival was pretty bad. I know a lot of the logistics is based on the availability of the hotel, but the wandering maze to get from one part of the festival to the other was a little tedious.
  • It was very wise of GSCF to put the Mandalorians in the first room attendees see when they arrive. Their presence not only let people know they were in the right place, but also set the fun, creative tone for the Festival.
  • No map/schedule. This is a mistake I notice that many new conventions/shows make. A schedule and map—even for a small event—is vital so attendees can plan their day and participate in favored events.
  • Great security! They were obviously present, but unobtrusive. There were big, burly guys, for obvious reasons, as well as wiry young men, which for a festival whose big concern would be snatch-and-runs are logical people to have on the security team. There were also two young women at the door to the vendors’ room, who made sure that everyone had an attendee badge before they were allowed in.
  • Great vendors’ room layout. The layout was convenient for people to find one particular vendor or to browse all the tables. Again though, a map of the room would have been a big help.
  • The programming was sparse, but for such a newly established show, not that bad.
  • The autograph table was in an odd location. Again, logistics tend to develop over time.
  • Pre-show promotions were very impressive!
  • They gave out goodie bags with your badge! I haven’t seen a goodie bag in AGES!
  • They validated your parking! It would be nice if some established shows I could mention followed their lead.

Overall, I think this event has done a lot in a very short time, and I look forward to seeing what they do in the future!

 

Comic Review: Batwoman, vol. 1

Batwomanby KT Pinto

 

Batwoman, Vol. 1: Hydrology
by J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman
DC Comics

A friend bought me this graphic novel; he bought it from my wish list on Amazon, and I couldn’t remember for the life of me why I had requested it. Then I remembered that this was DC Comic’s lesbian superhero, and I had wanted to see how the fan-characterized straight-laced company was going to handle this type of character.

I had high hopes for this book because it was put out in Batman’s little corner of the DC ’verse. Never much a fan of DC in general, I always liked everything about Gotham: the villains, the heroes, the story lines, the artwork, the darkness… it was always the nice, twisted dark that I like. So I was all set for Kate Kane to wow me.

Sadly, she didn’t. Putting the amazing artwork aside—and the artwork was amazing—the story line and character were both lacking. Here’s a quick list of the “meh”:

  • What color is her skin? That bothered me throughout the book. Was she actually white like paper, as shown in some panels, or does she have a pale Irish skin tone like other panels showed? If she was really white-white, then why was it so difficult for Batman to figure out who the very pale woman with red hair (there were times she wasn’t in costume but still that albino white) and with enough money to be Batwoman was? And why did she keep changing skin tone throughout the book?
  • Where’s the bad guy? One of the things that I really like about the “Gotham-verse” is the twistedly insane bad guys that constantly spill out of Arkham Asylum. This story had a supernatural water-demon character that made no sense, especially since this is supposed to be part of the “New 52” reboot to make the plots and characters more understandable to fans. And then there was a super-organization that is either out to take Batwoman down, or use her as a hook to get Batman… I couldn’t tell which. But either way, none if it seemed to fit into the Gotham-verse that I was used to and liked.
  • Why is Kate Kane such a bitch? Of all the characters I’ve read and disliked, I think Kate Kane takes the cake. Spoiled, bitter, nasty… this wealthy party girl lives in a penthouse apartment (and I see so many things wrong with that gigantic tree…) and is angry with her father about the death of her mother and sister. She seems to be horrid with everyone unless she’s trying to hook up with them, and the nasty way she treated her cousin Bette—burning her Flamebird costume, calling her Plebe, dropping her without any explanation—was so blatant a set up to make Bette a victim for the bad guys. Kate even calls herself a bitch in one panel, and I can’t work up any sympathy for her at all.
  • Finally, what did she have against Batman? If you don’t want to be a part of his world, then come up with your own alternate personality instead of mooching off of his fame.

My friend had bought me Volume 2: To Drown the World as well. I will probably read it, but I’m not looking forward to it.

 

Book Review: Forever the Road

smashwords_koboby Michael D. Pederson

 

Forever the Road
Anthony St. Clair
Rucksack Press, 459 pp.

Over the years I’ve built a certain level of expectation for small press and self-published books: A good chunk of them are just flat-out bad; most of them are entertaining stories, if you can just overlook a couple of flaws; and a very very few of them are highly enjoyable reads that surprise the crap out of me.

Forever the Road left me completely gobsmacked. Great concept, fun characters, and beautiful writing.

This is the third book in St. Clair’s Rucksack Universe; part alternate history and part travel adventure with a bit of fantasy and a lot of alcohol. In Forever the Road a bartender, a world traveler, a fatherless child with an ailing mother, and an ancient man of mystery have to save the world from a long-dormant evil.

The traveler, Jay, arrives in Agamuskara, India, with a strange item hidden in his backpack, which is (of course) stolen from him as soon as he arrives in town. Recovering the backpack brings him in contact with Jigme, a teen that’s trying to care for his sick mother; Faddah Rucksack, a man who loves stout; and Jade Agamuskara Bluegold, a talented destiny-dealing bartender who quickly steals his heart. He also learns that the MacGuffin hidden in his backpack has brought him to Agamuskara to fulfill his destiny—destroying an ancient evil that has been resting in the heart of the city but will awaken during an oncoming eclipse and exterminate all life on the planet. Our hero goes kicking and screaming the whole way, believing that he is in control of his own destiny—and he’s correct.

It’s a high-stakes story, told with wit and compassion. My only nitpick is that as a long-time beer snob—and with beer playing an important part of the story—I would have enjoyed things more if the beer info had been more esoteric, rather than the Brewing 101 course of “stout is thick and lager is watery.” But that’s just me. In the end, Forever the Road’s Everest Base Camp is a pub that ranks right up there with Callahan’s and the White Hart as classic science fiction bars.

 

Book Review: The Golden Princess

GoldenPrincessGoldenPrincessby Michael D. Pederson

 

The Golden Princess
by S.M. Stirling
Roc, 420 pp.

Even though this is book number fourteen in the Emberverse series and picks up a few hours after the events of A Given Sacrifice, The Golden Princess is the beginning of a new story arc. We’re now following the third generation of people that populate the world after the Change stopped all technology and firearms from working. Even if you haven’t read any of the previous books, this is a fine starting point; new and established characters, as well as the setting are all clearly introduced in the opening chapters.

Almost immediately, we learn one thing—the world is getting bigger. In previous installments we had seen the Kingdom of Montival spread to cover about half of North America and we had learned the fate of the British Isles. Now Stirling moves to the other side of the globe, introducing characters from Japan, Korea, and Australia and even briefly mentions how things are looking in India.

Sadly though, the story is greatly lacking in plot developments. Right away we learn that the same evil forces that had driven the Cutters in previous books are also controlling Korea and that the Japanese Emperor and his daughter have come to Montival in search of an ancient sword that they’ve seen in their dreams. And then Stirling spends 420 pages in planning an expedition to retrieve the sword—it’s in Death Valley and our heroes will have to travel through the cannibal-infested remains of Los Angeles to get there.

It’s fascinating to watch post-Change Japanese interacting with the Kingdom of Montival, and as a fan of the series I found this to be an enjoyable read, but I really wish that something could have actually happened. That said, I’m sure the next book will be freaking amazing.