Series Condition: Silver Surfer

More and more lately, I’ve been in the mood to read comic books and graphic novels. And more and more, I’ve wanted those comics to be bright and colorful—with fluid line-work and just a little bit cartoonishness to them. I’m really gravitating toward the work of artists like David Rubin and Andrew MacLean right now. But then the other day I realized, ‘Hey, why not check in on the modern master of bold, fun comics… Mike Allred!”

I’ve been a fan of Allred’s since back in my college days, when he drew Madman and also The Atomics. My favorite series he ever did was X-Force/X-Statix. In that series, he just went ree-dic-ulous when it came to color palettes and character designs. But also Peter Millgan’s plotting and themes on that series were surprisingly topical and hard-boiled, which was a nice juxtaposition to the art. I’d definitely recommend checking that out. But anyway…

I’d heard good things about the Silver Surfer series that Mike Allred had been working on, so I decided I should give it a try. Boy was I glad I did!

Silver Surfer
Writer: Dan Slott
Artist: Mike Allred
Color Artist: Laura Allred
Publisher: Marvel
2014-2015
15 issues (A completed series)

I can’t say I’m much of a fan of the Silver Surfer. From what I’ve seen of him, his personality seems as nondescript as his character design. Also he’s one of those cosmically powered characters who seems to be able to do anything, based on the circumstance he’s been written into. He’s a walking, talking Deus Ex Machina. Where’s the drama in that?

Series co-creators Scott and Allred avoid this problem by introducing Dawn—a plucky-yet-vulnerable earthling girl who becomes the Surfer’s companion on his galaxy-spanning adventures. Does the ‘companion’ part sound familiar? To me, it sounded a lot like Doctor Who. I like Doctor Who somewhat, but the episode ‘Silence in the Library’ kind of ruined the series for me. It was legitimately (and schlockly) scary—which I like—but also it emphatically points out the fact that the Doctor is compulsively putting random civilians in horrible danger, for the sake of intergalactic adventure. Sure the humans are willing participants, but it seems quite neglectful—even slightly diabolical—that the Doctor doesn’t offer much to protect his companions, except for a chintzy ‘sonic-screwdriver’ and the constant advice, ‘Run fast!’

This ‘Silver Surfer’ series avoids this problem of manslaughter-level adventureneering because:
A) It quickly establishes a quirky, swashbuckling vibe, and the dangers never seem that visceral or immediate.
B) The Surfer is always cosmically powerful, so he can keep Dawn safe in just about any instance.

The story begins twelve years before present time, and Dawn is a just little kid wishing on a star. That meteor ends up the being the Silver Surfer, who is in his pre-heroic phase—when we was a enthralled henchman of the planet-devouring god-villain, Galactus. Instead of wishing for something for herself, young Dawn wishes for the falling star—wishes that it will keep flying forever so that it always have the chance to grant wishes to others.

This first connection is never brought up in the series (although maybe it is revealed in the next volume), but nevertheless, the story skips ahead to present-day, and Dawn is abducted as a hostage because some enigmatic cosmic device declares that she is the most important person in the Silver Surfer’s life. How is that possible if they have never really met? The series spend a chunk of time unspooling the Surfer and Dawn’s relationship. And along the way, they find themselves in some pretty zany predicaments.

They tangle with the Never Queen, who is the cosmic entity who embodies of all unrealized possibility.

They go to a planet where everyone is obsessed with being the ONE perfect expert in their profession. On this adventure, they meet Warrior One, Banker One, Ice-Cream Maker One, etc.

They return to visit Dawn’s family just in time to face off against the obviously-name villain Nightmare. Then we’re treated to a classic ‘everybody faces their greatest fear’ adventure.

Add to that a ‘time-loop’ adventure that’s laid out so that the comic book issue can be cut up and pasted together into an real Moebius strip. Seriously.

Along the way there’s plenty of nice, smaller moments. Like the one where the Surfer has to get used to traveling across interstellar distances with a human who has to eat and drink three times a day, and pee and poop out all that stuff even more often.

But the highlight of this run is a multi-part story where the duo find a hidden planet occupied by 666 billion refugees from 666 billion worlds. Hmm, what kind of monster could have destroyed that many planets? (Burp!) and who is the former indentured servant who helped lead that monster to all these worlds? Let’s just say that the Surfer’s past comes back to haunt him, and it leads to a turning point in his Dawn and his relationship. And also a clash of cosmic powers that is actually truly memorable. The story culminates with a ‘I am Spartacus’ moment that ‘calls back’ to the Surfer’s origin story, and that is actually pretty emotional. It’s one of the best pure superhero stories I’ve read in a long time.

I’d highly recommend the series, if you’re looking for comic-book in the vein of Guardians of the Galaxy or Doctor Who. And the good news is that there’s a volume of Silver Surfer with the same creative team, so that means a whole other galaxy of possibilities and adventures to explore!

 

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Now available! ‘Exile!’

The conclusion to the Idyll Trilogy is finally here! Now available on Amazon.

Here is the description for Exile:

The Starboards and the Bridges are back for the pulse-pounding conclusion to the Sci-Fi Western / Dystopian IDYLL trilogy!

Now our settler heroes find themselves living in self-imposed exile on a cold and otherworldly island fortress. Their new ‘Citadel’ is arrayed with technology that’s more fantastic—and deadly—than anything they’ve ever imagined.

But their new position brings powerful enemies, and also the implacable curiosity of the Parliament, the world-shaping entity that ultimately controls all of Idyll.

Can they learn to work together—even while fostering new romances and tending to old wounds? Who is the mysteriously familiar stranger haunting their new home? And how far can their bonds of love and family hold? Beyond the threshold of death itself?

To protect their friends and their planet, Miriam, Virginia, Walt, and Samuel must prepare for the ultimate showdown. And even war.


Woo-hoo!

What else will you find in Exile?
• An honest-to-goodness pistol duel with plasma pistols.!
• A new, mysterious (alien?) life-form.
• And a debate about a virtual-reality afterlife! (I swear I wrote this before I saw Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero.’)

Check it out… I hope you will like it!

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Coming in May: Exile!

Officially announcing the release of Book 3 of the Idyll trilogy! Coming May 16…

The Starboards and the Bridges are back for the pulse-pounding conclusion to the Sci-Fi Western / Dystopian IDYLL trilogy!

Now our settler heroes find themselves living in self-imposed exile on a cold and otherworldly island fortress. Their new ‘Citadel’ is arrayed with technology that’s more fantastic—and deadly—than anything they’ve ever imagined.

But their new position brings powerful enemies, and also the implacable interest of the Parliament, the world-shaping entity that ultimately controls all of Idyll.

Can they learn to work together—even while fostering new romances and tending to old wounds? Who is the mysteriously familiar stranger haunting their new home? And how far can their bonds of love and family hold? Beyond the threshold of death itself?

To protect their friends and their planet, Miriam, Virginia, Walt, and Samuel must prepare for an ultimate showdown. And even war.

 

I just read: Twelve Kings in Sharakhai

twelve-kings-of-sharakhai-final-sm2This book didn’t really grab me until the midway point. I loved the idea of the Arabian setting, which was not the standard Medieval European backdrop that we see in so many Epic Fantasy books, but the main character, Ceda, is a pretty standard protagonist, who checks off on a lot of the typical Fantasy tropes:

– Orphan with a mysterious past
– Obsessed with revenge/redemption
– Ceda is pretty much a Mary Sue (She’s a world-class gladiator who beats men twice her size, and a world-class spy/courier. Add to that a knowledge of magical pharmaceuticals. Also, she’s gorgeous enough to catch the eye of royalty)
– And, of course, she eventually realizes that she is innately, magically ‘Special.’ She’s the only person in the realm perfectly suited to defeat her home city’s twelve evil kings. Jeez, she might as well have a lightning bolt scar on her forehead!

We spend the first half of the book rolling around in these tropes. Then, finally, Ceda finds a way to infiltrate the palace’s all-girl death squad, and that’s when the book gets interesting. I’m a sucker for a good spy story, or a ‘palace intrigue’ story, and that’s what we get here.

The best part of this book were the titular villains. Ceda is on a mission to kill the nearly-immortal Twelve Kings. Each king has a singular magical speciality, and a unique secret weakness that Ceda must find and exploit. It’s a conceit straight out of an old Kung Fu movie, or a boss-battle video game. Awesome.

I wish more of the book had focused on Ceda as a traitor in the midst of these kings, and there had been more on her discovering and solving the riddles that reveal their weaknesses. It’s hard to keep track of the twelve kings’ names and their specialties (also the names of all of their female bodyguards, and the deities that start to show up), but that was a minor quibble. A ‘palace intrigue’ story should be complex, with a lot of characters to follow.

A bigger problem I had was how ‘laissez faire’ the villains are with Ceda, once she joins up with them. Most of the palace guard don’t trust her, as a mysterious newcomer; in fact a few of them try to kill her (acting against the kings’ wishes). But then she’s also allowed to escape the palace during an attack (and to return without being punished), and then she’s allowed an apparent conjugal visit with the men who are conspiring with her. This kind of erodes the earlier tone of the book, where the palace-guard is presented as this super-efficient, super-ruthless operation. As soon as Ceda joins up, she is easily outmaneuvering her targets at every turn.

But still, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in Book 2. In fact, I almost wonder if a reader would enjoy the series more if they skipped the set-up in Book 1 and went straight to the additional king-slaying that will hopefully occur in Book 2.

Ranking Black Mirror Episodes, Seasons 1-3

Do you have a love/hate relationship with technology? Do you love TV shows like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits? Then you should check out Black Mirror, currently available on Netflix. At first I wasn’t too intrigued by the idea of this series. I kinda expected each plot to devolve into the ending of Superman 3.

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The most terrifying/ridiculous Superman moment ever

Sure, the plots are creepy and pessimistic on the whole, but there’s more to them than that. There are explorations of how mobile/social media and our surveillance culture speak to the seamy or sentimental sides of our human nature. In Black Mirror (I always pronounce it the way Arcade Fire sings it), technology is presented as 30% awesome, 70% revolting/dehumanizing. And we can’t turn away from that awesome 30%.

With that said, here is my ranking (in order of bestitude) of the episodes in Seasons 1, 2, and 3:     

#1
San Junipero
The premise:
I don’t want to give anything away. One of the great things about this very great episode is the mystery of it. This isn’t the first bit of science-fiction to explore this concept (It turns up to mind-blowing effect in Iain M. Banks’ Surface Detail). I will say if you’re still yearning for 80s nostalgia after Stranger Things, this will help scratch that itch.
My take: A rare optimistic episode. Some people will find it uplifting—some will find it uplifting and vaguely disturbing. But I don’t think you can deny that the story is bittersweet and beautiful. Maybe the story was particularly resonant for me because I feel like (pardon the self-promotion) my two Idyll trilogy books deal with this idea, a little (but in a more pessimistic way). Book 3, Exile, which I’m polishing now, will explore the concept further.

#2
The Entire History of You
The premise: Almost everyone has implants in their skull that record the video and audio inputs of every moment of your life. You can replay those memories at will, or project them onto a screen for others to see.
My take: I had a similar idea for a short story; I’m sure probably a lot of people have. But here, the writers take the idea and just kill it (in a good way). My story was going to involve a guy who become addicted to reliving his best days, so that he never makes any new memories. This story goes in a much better direction. Also, Robert Downey Jr. has bought the rights to turn this episode into a film.

#3
Fifteen Million Merits
The premise: More dystopian than the SNL’s The Group Hopper. Everyone wears gray sweatsuits. They pedal spin-bikes to create energy. They are inundated with screentime at every waking moment.
My take: Of all the episodes in the series, this one builds a world that is most different from our own. In fact, parts of it are a bit cartoonish. Then the episode reveals how this world deals with instant—and disposable—celebrity, and the story really takes off. Everyone is one step from becoming a reality show buffoon, one step from an American Idol superstar, one step from a porn star.

#4
Nosedive:
The premise: The world is so plugged into social media that every social interaction is logged in and rated. Social status is now absolutely quantified, and posted on Heads-Up feeds, so everyone can see where you fall on the popularity scale. If your score is high enough, it will help you qualify for loans and housing—low enough and certain places will bar you from entering.
My take: I had to stop this one midway through because it was stressing me out. Anything involving an airport snafu is like an immediate trigger warning for me. So the first half of this episode is lightly disturbing. Then the second half almost becomes a comedy, ala Road Trip or Wedding Crashers. Overall, the feel of ‘Nosedive’ is more like a parody than a cautionary tale. Ultimately, I don’t think people would buy into this concept of Facebookifying their entire lives. But 10% of the population would probably love it!

#5
Be Right Back
The premise: A tech startup can resuscitate the dead—virtually—by creating an artificial intelligence based their mobile and social media presence.
My take: Wow. The writers flesh out the characters, lay down the dynamite, and set up the viewer for a wallop. The story has some similar themes to Her and A.I.—except this ghost in the machine was an actual person at one point.

#6
Hated in the Nation
The premise:
This one is another mystery, so I won’t give anything away. A woman is murdered. And internet hatin’ is involved. At 90 minutes long, ‘Hated in the Nation’ is a movie-length capper to Season 3.
My take:
This was good. It reminded me of those buzzy, ‘viral’-type suspense movies (Nerve, Purge, Gossip) where characters get caught up in social phenomena. Also, there’s a bit of Seven in there. Now that I think about it… it might have been better if the main sci-fi element had been removed, and the story was more of a straight-forward serial killer mystery.

#7
Playtest:
The premise: A man volunteers to spend a night in a creepy house while hooked up to an augmented-reality gaming device that taps into your greatest fear. For the love of God… Why?!?!
My take: Good, straight-forward popcorn/horror fun. You can kind of see the big pay-off coming, but the path it takes has just the right amounts of twists in it.

#8
White Christmas
The premise: A bonus-length, Christmas episode that works in two sci-fi ideas: 1) digitally copying your mind to create your own digital house-slave, and 2) turning social media ‘blocking’ into a real-world thing.
My take: This is another very dark episode, and the concepts and core characters are pretty mean. If you know someone who’s freaked out by artificial intelligence, don’t let them watch this episode.

#9
Shut Up and Dance
The premise: Verrrrry dark. This episode feels close to modern times. A teenager has his laptop hacked, and he ends up being FaceTimed during his ‘personal’ time. The troubles only get worse from there.
My take: The characters’ decision-making seemed over-the-top for a lot of this episode. And did I mention this one is verrrrrrrrry dark? Then there’s a sort of hurried, garbled phone conversation that ends the proceedings with one final, icky cherry on top. Did I hear what I thought I heard? Is it true? Seemed a little confusing to me. Good use of a soundtrack, though.

#10
National Anthem
The premise:
Someone has kidnapped England’s most beloved princess, and they want to extort the Prime Minister to do something very embarrassing.
My take: A short episode, and not a whole lot to say about technology in general. Except that the web completely cuts through the reins that the British government’s try to put on their traditional news outlets.

#11
Men Against Fire:
The premise: High-tech soldiers fighting a mysterious hostile species called Roaches. I won’t give away anything else, because this one is also set up as a mystery.
My take: I feel like I figured out the mystery way too soon, then the story seemed to drag while I waited for everything to play out. An interesting idea though; and Doug Stamper’s in it.

#12
The Waldo Moment
The premise: A comedian who voices a vulgar cartoon bear finds himself mixed up in a national election.
My take: Again, Black Mirror takes on politics. This episode reminds me a bit of House of Cards, real people caught up in diabolical political schemes. Shadowy  strategists decide that an irreverent, populist cartoon bear is the perfect candidate, and their argument actually kind of makes sense

#13
White Bear
The premise: 90% of the population have mysteriously turned into gawkers. All they ever do is wander the earth mutely and record stuff on their phones. Society has broken down, and the remaining 10% of the population react to this new status quo in one of two ways. They go on Purge-style murder sprees, or they run and hide from the Purge people.
My take: A good start, but in my opinion, this is one case where the episode’s twist actually makes the story lamer.

Jekyll Island, Before the storm

I went to Jekyll Island early in October, before Hurricane Matthew rolled through. Like most of the barrier islands on Georgia’s coast, Jekyll is owned by the state park system. There are houses and businesses on the island, but I believe they all lease their property from the state. So the island usually has a very isolated, uncrowded vibe, especially on the southern end. Here’s a few pictures and movies:

Sunrise on the island:

 

Rickety walkway to the island’s southern beach:

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I ran into lots of dead horseshoe crabs:

img_1309A windy afternoon, and the buried mast of a shipwreck (a shrimp boat from the 1990s)

 

Listen to those bugs!

 

Live Oaks at the South Dunes Park:

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I just read: Packing for Mars

pfmcoverI’ve never read a Mary Roach book, although I’ve always heard good things. I knew she was the lady who wrote funny non-fiction books with pithy, mostly one-word titles: Stiff (curious about corpses?), Grunt (curious about troops), Bonk (curious about sex?), Gulp (curious about digestion?), etc.

I for one and curious about the lives of astronauts, so ‘Packing for Mars’ was the book for me. Although I’m disappointed that Roach didn’t stay on-brand and pick a title that seemed vaguely poop- or sex-related. What about ‘Thrust?’ Or ‘Moon?’ Or ‘Void?’ How about ‘Deez ‘Nauts?’

I was impressed with myself that I skimmed through some of the cruder sections. Roach dwells on tales (genuine and exaggerated) of masturbating space-chimps. Then she spends a long time searching for an authentic zero-g sex-tape. Also I thought she was way too exhaustive in her accounts of how astronauts defecate in orbit. Maybe I’m maturing, but these chapters didn’t hold my interest. Or maybe I came to the book looking for something else.

There were quite a few factoids that I did find cool. For example:

– Hot air doesn’t rise in zero-g. Which means that extra steps must be taken to ensure that machines and astronauts don’t overheat.

– Because of surface conditions (less gravity and no wind or moisture) moon dust is more abrasive than earth dirt, and moon dust has annoying static-clingy qualities.

– Motion sickness is a common ailment in space, and vomiting in a gravity-free, helmeted spacesuit can be theoretically quite deadly.

I also liked Roach’s appeal at the end that Earthlings should venture forth to the red planet. Especially considering President Obama’s recent proposals on the subject. Although if you want a book that will amp you up about a new space-race (and that viscerally explains the challenges on living in space) let me be the hundredth person to recommend that you read Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian.’ My review to that book is here.