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PostPosted: Sat Dec 08, 2018 5:37 am 
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Let me just add that frigid is right on the money about Monstress and Kings of the Wyld.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 18, 2019 9:31 pm 
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Rat Queens Vol 5: The Colossal Magic Nothing
Written by Kurtis Wiebe, art by Owen Gieni


Welcome back folks and welcome to the first review of 2019! Let me just say I hope your holidays were fun and relaxing and get lets right into it. We're opening the year with Volume 5 of Rat Queens. Created and written by Kurtis Wiebe, a Canadian comic book writer who has written for Grim Leaper, Debris, and also created the World War II comic Peter Panzerfaust. This volume's art was brought to us by Owen Gieni, a veteran artist who has worked on comics and webcomics since at least 2001. Mr. Wiebe has had some trouble keeping an artist, the first artist was dismissed when he was brought in on charges of domestic violence and since then artists have either had to quit due to ill health or conflicts between them and Wiebe. I cover this in greater detail in past reviews of Rat Queens. Speaking of, it's been a bit since we discussed Rat Queens so let me touch on the core concept of the series.

The Rat Queens are a group of lady adventurers out to slaughter monsters and make money; living in an anachronistic world of fantasy that would most likely remind you strongly of an old Dungeons and Dragons campaign. I call it anachronistic because the Rat Queens and other characters of the series don't feel like medieval characters but modern westerners living in a world where the technology just hasn't caught up to them. That said this is a fantasy so magic often steps in making up for the lack of technology. The Rat Queens are a group of friends who you sometimes wonder how they can stand each other but despite that, they're all willing to go to the wall for each other. Our characters are the wildly dysfunctional elf sorceress Hannah, the ever-sunny Halfling rogue Betty, the introverted human cleric Dee, the shockingly sensible Orc barbarian Bragi (seriously this woman is a responsible homeowner who invests her profits with an eye to retire while traveling a career path of murderous rage) and the dwarf warrior Violet who is the adult in the room whether she likes it or not. The worldbuilding in the story is honestly uneven in my opinion, there are parts that are great and interesting and there are parts that don't hold up so well. Which lends itself to the feeling that this world was born on a tabletop somewhere. The strength of the Rat Queens series, however, lies in these characters and their relationship to each other. This is not a smooth harmonious group, there's friction, conflict, resentments but there's also friendship and serious desire to do right by each other and that can carry you fair distance. The group is also buoyed by a revolving but strong support cast of characters like Dave the Orc Druid, or Sawyer the repentant assassin turned Captain of the Guard and Hannah's on and off boyfriend/sex toy among others. That said these girls aren't the heroines of epic fantasy; they're mercenaries willing to do a good deed, but they wanna be paid for the trouble and they intend to spend their pay partying hard enough to do a fair amount of damage to any town they save in their own right.

The series has had some rocky parts in its brief history including having to go on hiatus until returning after volume III in a soft reboot of sorts. This volume sets out to explain the reboot in-universe and bridge the gap between volume III and volume IV. To make the story short, volume III ended with Hannah tossed into an interdimensional jail (for attempting to rescue her father from a death sentence) and about to cut a deal with a demon to escape. Volume IV has everyone back in town as if nothing happened. I'll admit this drove me a bit nuts as the events of Volume III clearly happened in some form but there was no explanation. Well, this novel sets out to explain what happened and why there was such a change between the two volumes. It does so by tying in a mystery that only Betty our drug loving sneaky halfling can answer. People are disappearing and worse no one remembers the people who disappear into thin air. Except for Betty, so she has to figure out why the people around her are vanishing and what if anything she can do about it... Before she's gone too. Betty takes center stage here and we get a full look into her past which has been hinted at before and we also get a bit of a peek into Betty's mindset and how she views the world. Which is interesting all on its own.

There is a theme of loss and regret running through the volume and how we deal with it as well. Of how we deal with lost loves one, missed opportunities, or how we deal with the hole in our lives and relationships when someone we care about is gone and the effects on our remaining relationships. Even if we can't really remember who is gone, that hole is still there and has an effect. How we deal with that is shown in the contrast between Betty and our villain who I won't name because of spoilers. I will say it's an interesting way of having the Queens create their own nemesis and I'm really eager to see where it goes from here. This volume of Rat Queens worked a lot better for me than the last one, but I feel we're not quite at the glories of the opening volumes just yet but I can see the path back from here. Rat Queens Vol 5: The Colossal Magic Nothing gets a B from me.

So quick note, February we'll be looking at Philip K Dick, the writer of so books that you have actually watched as a movie. Movies like Bladerunner, A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report and more. We're gonna jump right to Bladerunner or as the book is titled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” this February and look at the movie and the sequel as well as discuss its impacts. Which I've touched on before but we could stand to take a longer look at.

Before we do that though, we got one more January review. Let's look at what happens when an empire collapses. Keep Reading.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 25, 2019 9:35 pm 
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The Collapsing Empire
by John Scalzi

John Scalzi was born in Fairfield California on May 10th, 1969. He was a 3rd generation Italian American, with his grandfather coming to the United States when he was a young child. He was also one of three children to a single mother, which meant that often his family struggled. He covers this in his essay entitled Being Poor. He was, however, able to get a scholarship and attend the Webb school; a private boarding school in California, and later the University of Chicago where he graduated in 1991 with a bachelor's in philosophy. He began writing professionally in 1990 freelancing for the Chicago Sun-Times. After graduating he wrote opinion columns and movie reviews for the Fresno Bee. He would get married in 1995 and the next year moved to Washington DC to take a job as an in house editor and writer for AOL. He was laid off in 1998 and since then has been a full-time writer. His writing career has been a memorable one, his first published novel Old Man's War (I highly recommend it) was published by Tor in 2006. It was nominated for a Hugo and Mr. Scalzi would publish additional works in that universe. He is also well known for the novel RedShirts in 2012 (The audiobook is read by Will Wheaton and it is an absolute treat). Mr. Scalzi has received enough rewards that going into them wouldn't leave us with enough space to review the novel. Let me just say that John Scalzi is a very respected author and he has earned that by writing good stories.

The Collapsing Empire takes place thousands of years in the future. Humanity lives scattered in the 48 star systems of the Interdependency, all of them connected by the Flow. The Flow is a poorly understood natural phenomenon that allows for faster than light travel along fixed streams from system to system. The economic and political systems of the Interdependency are centered and built around encouraging stable trade among the systems. This is done by traveling one-way paths within the Flow called streams. They sort of function as FTL rivers or currents pushing ships from system to system. When I say built around encouraging trade, I may be understating it a bit. With the exception of a single system, there are no habitable planets in the 48 systems of the Interdependency. The vast overwhelming majority of humanity lives in orbital habitats and none of the systems are completely self-sufficient. The systems are controlled by entrenched noble houses with trade being handled by Merchant Houses who have been granted total monopolies over certain products. This structure is undergirded by the Interdependency Church, a religion founded by the first Emperox (it's a gender-neutral title) that holds up the current social system as divinely ordered. The result is what we would call a hydraulic empire. A classic hydraulic empire is an empire that maintains control of its territory by controlling who has access to water, whether that be through flood control or irrigation. In fantasy and science fiction other resources often take the place of water (He who controls the spice controls the universe). In this case each of the Merchant Houses control resources or skills that you need to maintain human life in artificial habitats isolated in the void light years from any natural environment that humans could live on and each Merchant House lives under the gun of at least one Noble House with the Imperial House controlling both the center of the trade nets (so it can cut anyone who gets too troublesome off) and in theory enough military force to squash any single House (The Interdependency exists on a political tripod, the most unstable of structures. I can go on with the Dune references…). It's an incredibly stable and unmoving system as long as there are no problems with resource access.

As you might have guessed, there is going to be a problem. It turns out that those fixed streams in the Flow? They’re not actually that fixed after all. In fact, the entire Flow is shifting and moving, on a timescale measured in centuries or perhaps millennia but unfortunately for us, it's moving day. To be fair, it's not like humanity didn't have a warning here, the Flow cut off contact with Earth over a thousand years ago in the story and more recently another system was cut off, so it's clearly possible. However, no one wants to consider that the very bedrock of the system that has lasted for a 1000 years could simply decide to up and move away, except for a couple of scientists and their patrons. One of those scientists is Count Claremont, who was sent to End. End is the one system in the whole empire that has a planet that people can live on without much in the way of technology. However, it's poorly placed in regards to Flow streams, having only a single stream connecting it to Hub, the center of the Empire. As a result, End is a dumping ground for rebels, lunatics, and troublemakers who are allowed to fight it out amongst themselves as much as they like as long as they keep it confined to the planet surface and don't trouble the rest of the Empire. Count Claremont was sent here by the Emperox of the Interdependency so he could work without anyone bothering him and his work could be kept utterly secret. Because the Emperox was utterly sure that if the work became public that the vast majority of humanity would refuse to believe it and would waste time and resources fighting him instead of preparing for the disaster to come. Because if Count Claremont is right, each system is about to be cut off from one another for a very long time. Perhaps even forever and that means the only place where humanity is more or less guaranteed to survive is End. The place where they parked all their maniacs.

If that wasn't enough there are a couple more problems thrown into the mix. First of all the Emperox is dying and his only son and heir was killed in a freak racing accident, shortly before he started his own slide into mortality. This leaves everything in the hands of his daughter, who was born as the result of a short term relationship while he had in college. Cardenia is a nice girl, well educated, honest and strongly motivated to do good by her fellow citizens and prevent suffering whenever and wherever she can. She's also utterly untrained and unprepared to be the sovereign ruler of the human race and not really emotionally or mentally suited for the kind of cutthroat intrigue that comes with a throne in the best of times (You know, if I were an emperor and only had one heir, I would groom a number of backup heirs…{the law limits his options, not to mention politics}). Never mind the kind of intrigue that gets kick-started when you realize the entire system that your civilization and the survival of your species is based on is about to change beyond all recognition and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it. Because where you and I gentle reader would be throwing everything we got at ensuring our survival and the survival of the people we care about, there's a certain type of person who sees this situation and thinks to themselves, how do I use this to make sure I'm at the top of the heap when it's all over. Because some folks are perfectly fine burning everything to ash as long as they get to be king rat of the ash pile when the flames die down. Unfortunately the kind of steady state with very powerful ruling classes tend to encourage that type of personality in the ranks, which mean Cardenia not only has to try and prevent a mass extinction across several dozen star systems, she also has to figure out how to avoid being murdered in her sleep by people more interested in using it as a chance to take power for themselves.

She doesn't have a lot of time either, because the streams are gonna start shutting down, sooner rather than later. In fact, the stream that lets people leave End is shutting down and when Count Claremont realizes that, he sends his son Marce Claremont to Hub to report to the new Emperox and advise her on what to do. Marce soon finds himself in a good deal of trouble as it seems a number of forces on End are willing to do all sorts of terrible things to keep him on End at all costs. Which brings in Kiva Lagos of the House Lagos, who agrees to get him off End on her ship and ends up getting pulled into the intrigues. To be honest, Marce and Kiva end up being my favorite characters in this novel. Marce is a scientist and a rather decent one who is completely out of his depth in dealing with people trying to kill him. Which is fair because if you develop a society where your physicists have to constantly fend off assassination attempts, you're likely doing something wrong and not leaving them a lot of time to do actual science. That said Marce isn't a coward or a bumbler and shows himself to be a fast learner. Kiva, on the other hand, is a foul-mouthed, oversexed, clever lunatic who isn't afraid to resort to whatever measures she needs to in order to solve the problems in front of her. If that means using an assassin as bait to blow up pirates so she can escape a system with a cargo of wealthy refugees fleeing a revolution to make up unexpected losses in trade then so be it. I'm not sure I would want to be locked in a room with her but I can respect that level of bloody-mindedness and lateral problem solving and honestly, she's fun to read. Kiva is gonna need every ounce of bloody-minded cleverness she can summon, as she is getting pulled by Marce's company into the highest level of power games where people are gambling over becoming the ruler of the human race. Whatever's left of it anyways. That said I will say Marce and Kiva kind of overshadow Cardenia because if nothing else they get to do more.

The Collapsing Empire is a book of political intrigue as society unknowingly rushes to the very brink of collapse and I imagine for a number of readers that will feel very topical on some levels. The intrigue and plotting are well done and the characters are fairly interesting, although Cardenia is a tiny bit on the bland side. I like the effort and work that Mr. Scalzi put into the book. That said I do think the Interdependency kinda opened itself up to this by working to prevent any single system from becoming too self-sufficient. Even without a habitable planet, you can create self-sufficient living spaces using the resources of a star system. Most star systems are vast territories with enough resources (yes even water and carbon) and space to keep a technological civilization going indefinitely. Our biggest issue today is accessing the resources of the Solar System as living at the bottom of a gravity well (by which I mean our planet) makes getting anywhere else very expensive and difficult. Once you're out of the gravity well it's a lot easier. Not as easy as walking, but easier. That said Mr. Scalzi does address this in the book by walking us through the thought process behind creating such a system. I won't spoil the surprise though. It's a pretty good book, but I felt the ending was a bit rushed and as I said, Cardenia comes off as a bit bland. That's all I can say about it negatively. So I'm giving The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi an A-.

Next week, we start our celebrate Valentine's day by examining the career and writings of Dick. Philip K Dick, the writer of Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau, Minority Report, Man in the High Castle and of course, the work we'll be examining this month, Blade Runner. Next week will be our first ever biographical post as I go over Mr. Dick's life and times and then we'll be reviewing Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the novel the film is based on), the final cut version of Bladerunner on the 3rd week of February and ending it with Bladerunner 2049 to see just how far Mr. Dick's influence reaches. Keep reading!

Red Text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 01, 2019 10:10 pm 
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So, before I start, it's not the intent of this overview of Philip K Dick's life and career to cast any moral judgment on the man, or to make you view him one way or another. That said Mr. Dick led a deeply troubled life and was a mentally and emotionally tormented person and I would ask everyone reading this to keep this in mind. Additionally, I wouldn't dare to consider this an exhaustive or in-depth treatment of Philip K Dick's life. In my defense, you try going in depth on a life of 52 years in just a couple of pages but I do want to give everyone a sense of the life behind the stories and the struggles that Mr. Dick was fighting while writing. As such, there is no grade attached to this, for honestly how do you grade a person's life?

Philip Kindred Dick and his twin sister Jane Charlotte were born 6 weeks prematurely in an apartment in Chicago in the month December 16, 1928. Their father Edgar was worked for the Department of Agriculture and served in the Marines in the first world war. Both Edgar and his wife Dorothy were from Colorado and born to farming families. Both Philip and Jane were very underweight and to make matters worse, Dorothy was not producing enough milk for both infants. However, no one would realize this until it was too late. Philip's life was saved when a nurse conducted a home visit in January of 1929 and realized what was going on. It was too late for Jane however and she would die on route to the hospital, not even 2 months old. She was brought to Colorado and buried in a small grave. This tragedy would be in many ways the foundation of Philip's life. He would remain obsessed with his twin until his death. He would invent imaginary friends who took her name and his imagined likeness of her. He would claim as an adult that he could hear her voice and would at times have visions of her as a full grown woman. Keep this in mind because I'll come back to this.

“I heard about Jane a lot and it wasn't good for me. I felt guilty. Somehow I got all the milk” Philip K Dick on his sister.

Edgar blamed his wife for the death of his daughter, and when Philip was about 4 years old divorced Dorothy. Dorothy kept custody of Philip however and went to work to support herself and her child. Like his father, Philip blamed his mother for Jane's death and their relationship was a deeply troubled one. While Philip admired his mother, calling her strong and intelligent, he also accused her of being a terrible Mother who was always trying to keep him down. Part of this was the insistence of many learned men (who due to the prejudices time would never bother actually caring for an infant) who insisted that it was best not to coddle infants and toddlers but to treat their physical needs without to much affectionate physical contact (which frankly explains a lot about that generation and certain things in our society I think). Dorothy being an intelligent, well-read woman whose confidence as a Mother had taken a near fatal hit, followed their proscriptions to the letter in an attempt to prevent her only remaining child from growing up into a damaged person. This not only backfired terribly but also in my view led to a lot of the issues that would prevent them from having a good relationship. Dorothy would be incredibly supportive of Philip the writer and he would constantly turn to her for advice and constructive criticism on his work but he would repeatably state his belief that Dorothy just didn't love him and was incapable of loving her children. Edgar on the other was an infrequent presence in his son's life and while Philip believed in his father's love, he also believed that his father was a weak man and not very bright. He would always maintain that Dorothy was the smarter and more driven of the two. Not that Philip was completely starved for affection, as after the divorce Dorothy's mother came to live with them, along with his aunt Marion. Philip's Grandmother treated him with the affection that was missing from his relationship with his Mother but there was a cost. Philip's Grandfather. A rather shiftless man who drifted into and out of his family's life as he saw fit, Philip's Grandfather would intrude on this life and become a figure of terror to Philip and was often abusive. While never proven, there is some evidence that his Grandfather may have sexually molested Philip as well. By the time Philip was seven however Dorothy packed up her son and moved to California, Berkeley California.

Philip would grow to adulthood there, his school attendance was a bit erratic but his grades were fairly good but by his own admission, they were never outstanding. Philip also developed a number of mental problems, he would first display the acrophobia that would haunt him on and off for the entirety of his life as well as issues swallowing food and a complete dread of eating in public (he would be able to combat this in his adult life but have relapses). Dorothy treated him in a fairly adult manner at this time, which did seem to keep him stable. It was here at the age of 12 in the year 1940 that Philip had his first experience with Science Fiction, buying an issue of a magazine titled Stirring Science Stories. He started devouring the pulps, reading any he could get a hold of. When World War II kicked off, Philip rooted for the allies but was always suspicious of FDR and the American government, wondering just how much he was told was actually true. He would start hearing voices, for example during a physics test he had a panic attack when he couldn't remember the theory the test was based on. He would then report hearing a voice that explained the theory and guided him step by step in problem-solving. He would pass the test. After high school, he moved out as soon as he could believing he needed to escape his mother's influence. He moved in with a bunch of artist friends and through them begun an exploration of classical music and literature that would continue until his death. He also started working in a record store at the age 15, where his boss Herb Hollis would become the model for a number of protagonist and antagonist. Herb lived a life of craftsmanship (the store would repair and rebuild radios as well as sell them), small business over large corporations and valuing personal loyalty, these values would really resonate for Philip and he would champion them often. That said Herb wasn't perfect, he fired Philip for consorting with another worker who was fired. I'll admit that rankles me on Philip's behalf since my view is that my employer pays me for my labor and has a right to it (the labor I mean) but doesn't have the right to dictate anything about my life outside of the time I'm being paid but let's move on. Philip would also be in and out of therapy throughout this time, seeking treatment for his phobias. Unfortunately, the understanding of the mind of the time wasn't up to the task and the therapists would often make things worse.

Philip's first and second marriages kinda come from that radio store along with a good amount of characters and stories. His first marriage occurred before he was 21 and was over in a matter of months, the breaking point being when his wife informed him that she was going to keep seeing other men. Philip then went back to college and... Dropped out of college. He began to dream of mainstream success as a writer, this was something that always eluded him. He wrote a number of books that would be considered mainstream but... No publisher would touch them. Between marriages, he engaged in a number of romances, including with the woman he would bemoan as his great lost love Betty Jo Rivers. That relationship ended when she won a grant to study for her master's thesis in France and Philip asked her to choose between marriage to him and France. Betty chose France. He would then met his second wife and the editor that would help start his career. Kleo Apostolides would meet Philip in 1949 and marry him in 1950. They would remain married for 8 years and quite frankly they were likely the most peaceful years of Philip's life. Additionally, through a writing class his mother Dorothy was taking he met Anthony Boucher (who was teaching the class) the editor of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Mr. Boucher convinced Philip to give science fiction a shot and damn if those stories didn't sell. Philip sold his first story for 75$ (for comparison his monthly house payment was 27.50, we will now pause while all the millennials pull themselves together after having a fit of envy over that). Philip began churning out science fiction short stories at a rate that I only envy and fear. In 1952 he produced and sold 4 stories, in 1953, he sold 30 (7 of which he produced in the month of June alone). In 1954 he took it easy and only produced 28. These stories can best be viewed as dry runs for the works he would produce later but they're still mostly solid tales if products of their time. Philip would quarrel with the pulp edits at times because most of them had no problems simply altering his stories, he would often demand they stop doing so or he would sell to someone else. This tactic met with mixed success.

By 1954 Philip decided to turn his hand to novels. This was a good choice since this was the year that the pulp magazines would meet their deaths. Not for a lack of sales but because the main distributor of all the magazines, American News Company was dismembered by corporate raiders who were more interested in the company's warehouse spaces than anything else. The pulps who despite a wide readership didn't have much in the way of liquid capital were then destroyed as no other distributor was interested in picking them up without a large up-front payment. The publishing company Ace books would buy the novels but at frankly rock bottom prices. This left Philip combating poverty and he felt a deep sense of shame about it, something that his wife Kleo didn't share but it inflamed a number of his mental disabilities, leading to him experiencing out of body episodes. Part of the problem was the status of science fiction at the time. Ace Books was the only company for a time that published science fiction on a regular basis and the genre was disdained to depths that would seem silly today but keep in mind this is before Star Trek, Star Wars and other shows and movies would really carve out a space for science fiction in the American mind. In the 1950s, science fiction was often widely derided as a childish concern at best (I would note some people still hold that view) or the sign of a disturbed mind. Additionally, he had his only confirmed brush with the FBI, due to a number of his friends being activists. The FBI even offered him a job at the University of Mexico if they would spy on communist students according to him and Kleo. They turned it down. Philip would spend the rest of his life convinced that the FBI was tracking and spying on him looking for an excuse to kill him That Philip K Dick could only sell science fiction stories while his more mainstream works went ignored and unpublished would also eat at his self-esteem. So, of course, he began to engage in self-destructive practices. He cheated on his wife Kleo twice, the first time the marriage survived but then they moved out of the Bay area and Philip met Anne, his 3rd wife. It was 1958 and Philip was about to plunge into the best and worst of the 1960s.

Anne Rubenstein was a young widow with 3 daughters and Philip fell head over heels in love with her. They began an affair and after Philip divorced Kleo, married. Their relationship was turbulent at best, much of that driven by Philip schizophrenia but it was here that he wrote such works as The Man in a High Castle, The Martian Time-Slip and others that would build in the New Wave movement of science fiction (I discussed that a bit here in my writing on Cyberpunk so I won't repeat myself). It's here that Philip really began to develop his themes and ideas that would run throughout his notable works. The question of what is and what isn't real? How flexible is identity? A preoccupation with trying to figure out what makes human's... Human and a struggle over religious experiences and ideas. Along with his life long experiments with the I Ching, which he would at times use to plot out novels. There are also some unpleasant strains that show up, Philip was capable of writing women characters of depth and agency but often during this time period they would be single dimensional characters and increasingly any woman who was a wife existed in these stories to cause problems and trails for their long-suffering husbands. In real life, he would accuse Anne of being overly controlling and a spendthrift, despite the fact that she was running a successful jewelry business. He would also accuse Anne of killing her first husband and plotting to kill him. Some of this likely comes from his increasing abuse of amphetamines and speed, which lead to nervous breakdowns of ever-increasing intensity. Philip would also start throwing LDS on the fire. Interesting enough, it's through Anne that Mr. Dick began his relationship with the Episcopalian Church. He and Anne started attending for both reasons of wanting to experience spirituality and to network with the local community. Religious thoughts and themes would often show up in Mr. Dick's work, you can see a prime example in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

It's here that we see the pattern that would emerge in his two future marriages to Nancy and Tessa. The beginning of the relationship starts with Philip being heads over heels, insanely charming if slightly smothering and moving heaven and earth to make his love happy. Then as time goes on he becomes increasingly demanding, expecting his wife to function as a caretaker and being jealous of her time. Both Nancy and Tessa were also decades his junior at the time of their marriages to him and that added another level of strain. As time goes on he becomes increasingly critical of his wife until the relationship cannot bear the strain and breaks apart. That's not to say that his wives were saints. Anne by her own admission would throw things and pick fights, another wife would cheat on him but between Philip's visions, drug use, and erratic behavior, he was the single strain on any relationship. Another cycle we see is that Philip would always loathe whatever state he was in. When a bachelor he would be on a frantic quest for a wife and would wallow in the gutter, he would open his home to young people mostly fellow drug addicts and throw himself into unhealthy relationships where he would attempt to rescue young women. It's from these periods we see novels such A Scanner Darkly and Flow My Tears the Policemen Said. Which deal heavily with the self-destruction of drug use mixed in along themes of government heavy-handedness and fears of a police state. I should note that one strain in his 4th marriage especially was the fact that the IRS was after him for back taxes, which he compounded by joining a movement pledging to not pay taxes until the Vietnam war ended. When he was married, however, he would decry living in what he considered a plastic stale existence and often state that he found marriage suffocating despite his rush to be married. Despite this, his 3 stepdaughters with Anne, two daughters (Laura with Anne, Isa with Nancy) and his son Chris all describe him as a good father if somewhat inconsistent. What I got out of this was that Philip was hunting for happiness but had no idea what would make him happy. I’m not going to criticize him for this because frankly, I think it’s an issue for at least 3/4ths of America and who knows how much of the rest of the planet. It’s more pronounced in Mr. Dick’s life than the rest of us.

However, he would attempt to at least learn what would make him happy. He would also wean himself off of drugs and after the collapse of his 5th marriage try to learn with live with himself without the distraction of crowds of junkies and squatters in his home. He settled into an apartment and started trying at least to break his more self-destructive patterns of behavior. A chance encounter with a young lady wearing an ornate necklace with a Jesus Fish on it would cause him to have visions that he considered divine encounters. Now Mr. Dick had experienced visions and heard voices before but in this case, he was convinced that it was an outside force speaking to him. It is possible that a prior friendship with Episcopalian Bishop named Pike influenced this. Bishop Pike was on a quest to find and understand the historical Christ and often discussed his thoughts with Philip K Dick during Mr. Dicks marriage to Tessa. Throughout his later life Philip would struggle to explain and understand just what it was he was hearing and seeing. He would claim it was his long passed sister Jane, a divine force, an alien, visions from his past life as Simon Magnus, a Christian Saint Thomas. None of these explanations seemed to stick for long. Even his last unfinished novel is a struggle to understand just what he is experiencing. You can see this in the novels he did complete before his death such as Valis, Radio Free Albemuth, The Divine Invasion and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. Philip would die from a stroke that led to complications in 1982.

Before his death, he would publish 44 novels and 120 short stories in 30 years of labor. Many of those would go on to have profound influences on the world of science fiction. In addition, he would leave behind 2 daughters and a son. There are worse legacies to leave the world. We'll start by looking at Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Next week and after that examining the Blade Runner movies that were inspired by the novel.

For a more detailed look at Philip K Dick's life, I would encourage readers to try Divine Invasions A life of Philip K Dick. Which I read before typing this essay. As always keep reading!

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 08, 2019 9:39 pm 
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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
By Philip K Dick


The idea that grew into Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was planted when Philip K Dick was researching his award-winning novel The Man in the High Castle. As that novel took place in a world where the Nazi's won World War II, Mr. Dick conducted research by reading the journals and diaries of Gestapo agents that had been seized after the war. The contents of which were so disturbing that they made Mr. Dick abandon any idea of a sequel, he simply couldn't bear to go back and look at them again. In one journal an official complains about the cries of starving children keeping him up at night, this official wasn't moved by the suffering of children; instead, he was annoyed that they had the gall to do so loudly. Mr. Dick was struck to the core by the profound callousness it took to reduce human beings - children - being starved to death to a nuisance and came to consider the man and his fellows as monsters in human skin lacking in empathy. It was the ideas of human-like creatures who have no empathy and the inner life of those who carry out violent oppression on those deemed unworthy that would slowly grow into Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The novel would be released in 1968 and was well received being nominated for a Nebula and receiving a Locus award, however, it would be overshadowed by the movie it inspired named Bladerunner but we'll talk about the movie in due course, here we're going to focus entirely on the novel.

It's the year 2021, in the wake of World War Terminus, the warring nations of east and west have not only slain a vast number of the human population of the world but have critically injured and perhaps killed the very ecosystem of planet earth. Radioactive dust spreads across the world and in its wake entire species of plants and animals go extinct. There are only a few shrinking enclaves of wilderness inhabited by the huddled remnants of what were once the most common creatures of the world. The only animals and plants that survive are those under the direct care of humans and it is considered immoral not to have a pet of some kind. In fact, animals are now so scarce that it is utterly against the law to eat meat or use any animal products. Through social engineering and the emergence of a new religion (which I'll come back to) called Mercerism animal life has become incredibly sacred to the point that even the abuse of insects is greeted with horror and disgust. Humanity itself huddles in dying cities, slowing collapsing from lack of maintenance and resources. Much like the forests and oceans of the world, the cities of Earth are slowly dying inch by radioactive inch and humanity no longer has the will or ability to stave it off. Humanity, however, isn't just huddling and waiting for the fruits of their actions to do the whole species in. The UN which is one of the few surviving governments instead prioritizes flight, turning every resource to moving humans off world onto colonies, chiefly on Mars. Those who are not considered hopelessly damaged by the radiation are constantly tempted by commercials and inducements to simply leave everything behind for a new life. Most of humanity has done so and the percentage of the human race that lives on Earth shrinks every year as we abandon the planet we murdered in our own quarrels.

Colonization, however, is a lot of work and requires large amounts of labor. On Mars habitats must be built, soil carefully treated and enriched within artificial environments to grow food for the new Martians. Living space must be created and maintained for human life to thrive. If you're trying to tempt people over to a new world, one they know is barren and hostile to human life and they have to abandon just about all their stuff to go there... Throwing in a lifetime of back-breaking labor isn't really a cherry on top is it? Considering that housing is free on Earth, there's often plenty of places to loot and still a good amount of work both under the table and above board... You can maintain a comfortable life even on a dying planet for a lot less effort. That's where the Androids of the title come in. To be honest the androids in the novel are kinda misnamed if you ask me. Traditionally Android refers to a humanoid robot, that is one that looks like a person on the outside but is still mechanical, constructed out of steel and plastic and driven by a computer. Telling such a being apart from a biological person is as simple as a combination of x rays and metal detectors (granted I'm assuming it would have a good amount of steel in its construction instead of something like titanium or carbon fiber but if you're building a hard labor force while fleeing a dying planet, it's not really the time to get fancy is it?). These androids, however, are biological, created from specially treated zygotes and can only be told from humans by an expensive bone marrow test or the use of a test to test their empathic reactions. These tests are needed because androids are self-aware, thinking beings... Who also have no legal rights and are property. Every human who leaves Earth is awarded an android as a personal servant to aid them in their life on Mars. An Android to do every dirty, hard, dangerous job that will be necessary to make Mars fit for human life, so you don't have to. Like every other slave population in history, androids resent their lot and some of them manage to escape, often killing their owners in the process (Good). The colonies, however, aren't safe for them, so they flee to the one planet where they aren't allowed to live, to try and hide amongst the shrinking huddled masses of Earth. Because of this, the police forces of Earth maintain bounty hunters to administer the tests to suspected androids and kill them if they fail.

Our main character Rick Deckard is such a bounty hunter. He's a fairly average guy in a lot of respects: he's married, wants to do well in his job and gain the respect of his peers and desires various luxuries that most people do. At the beginning of the story, what galls Deckard the most is that he has to settle for an electric animal instead of the real thing (I'll address this when we get to Mercerism so just hold on to it). Deckard has a number of tools to support his work as an escaped slave hunter, such as a laser pistol which will burn through any android quickly and is next to impossible to dodge. He also has the Voigt-Kampff test, which uses a machine to measure empathetic responses by measuring involuntary facial muscle reactions to a series of questions (I kinda read this as the machine reading microexpressions but that's just me (You are correct)). Now the reason the test is used is that androids lack empathy, or at least they're supposed to (Sociopaths are gonna be false positives… or more likely autists, but I’ll get to that later). Deckard is about to have a hell of a day, however. His senior in the bounty hunting department, Dave, was ambushed by the android he was hunting and was beaten within an inch of his life. That's not bad enough, this android is also a member of a six android gang that escaped Mars together and they're considered armed and dangerous. No one has ever managed to retire six androids in a short period of time, so Deckard's got a day. Just in case you thought this wasn't bad enough, these six androids are all from a new model line, the Nexus Six, said to be able to calculate a million times faster than a human, physically strong and fast as well. Deckard could likely win out anyways with some good old fashion grit and luck but a chance encounter at the corporation that produces the new androids sparks something within Deckard. He ends up seeing one android as a person and when he admits that, he finds that he sees all the androids as people. Deckard struggles with doing his job while realizing just what his job is. To top it all off, he's having religious visions of Wilbur Mercer, the central figure of Mercerism (wait for it, we're not there yet!).



On the flip side of this is John Isidore. John Isidore is what's called in the book a chickenhead. Someone who has been damaged by the radioactive dust to the point that his intelligence has degraded, as a result, he is not allowed to reproduce and isn't allowed to leave Earth (Yay for Eugenics! Still practiced in the US up until 1971! If you can’t tell the Yay was sarcastic.). The government has basically decreed him a dead end and condemned him to rot. John, however, has found work for a repair company that repairs electric animals, all while posing as veterinarians. This is done so you can call the repairman for your electric sheep without admitting that you cannot afford a real animal or worse, can't be bothered to care for one. The pose is important because while Mercerism calls for empathy and the raising and care of animals as a duty to those creatures who cannot care for themselves, it's become a symbol of status. The religious idea has been cast aside in favor of using the ownership and care of a living animals as status symbols and reinforcement of a person's own social worth and well being. This is further underlined by the fact that John doesn't have an animal. No one will sell one to him, because he's a chickenhead, a worthless freak who doesn't deserve such status (Wow, the irony in that… they have animals to showcase their empathy…). John, however, continues to believe in the message of Mercer and because of that is even willing to show empathy to androids, such as the three who show up in his abandoned apartment seeking to hide from the bloodthirsty bounty hunter who will kill them if he finds them. Despite his nervousness at their own cold-blooded behavior John decides to do his best to protect them because that's what Mercer would want him to do. Even as Rick has visions of Mercer telling him to kill the androids even if it's wrong because that's what he has to do.

Let me dive into Mercerism a bit more because it's honestly a pretty important pillar of the book. Mercerism doesn't have much in the way of creed or theology, beyond show empathy to individuals and work to uphold your community. There are no temples, no churches, no rituals, no rites. Instead, there's the empathy box, a strange device that when grabbed by the handles induces a shared vision of the same experience. That of Wilbur Mercer walking up a hill, to be hit by a rock thrown by an unseen attacker. While you grab the empathy box, you feel the same emotions that everyone else whose grabbing the empathy box at the same time is feeling. So you feel their joy, their depression, their anger, everything. That said, Mercerism doesn't offer salvation or enlightenment, a fact that Mercer himself says. What it offers is an intense community experience and a pair of simple rules, which makes it a fairly simple religion that most of the characters in the book still managed to screw up. It's also part of an intense social engineering effort to guide humanity into acting a certain way before I get into it let me talk about the other part.

Mercerism and the empathy box isn't the only piece of technology capable of screwing with someone's mood in the book. There's also the Penfield organ, a machine that allows you to dial in an emotion that you will feel. Everyone not only uses it, but uses it constantly and heavily. This device operates without any physical connection to the characters as well, so I can only assume it works through some sort of field effect (Could be chemical…). This technology is fucking terrifying in it's implications, you can be literally forced to feel anything with the turn of a dial! I actually had to stop reading the first chapter a few times because the device frankly scares me more than anything else in the book and everyone treats it the same way you would treat your bloody blender (Doesn’t really scare me that much to be honest, because it’s driven by the choices of the user.). However, when I went back and read the dialogue, where Deckard's wife Iran admits that she turned it off and immediately fell into a deep depression, I realized why it was necessary. Iran turned off her Penfield organ and her T.V and was alone in a large building and felt the utter silence of it. Because there was no rain, no insects or birds to hear, no human beings in the building at that time. Just the utter silence of a soon to be dead world and the realization that they have no one to blame but themselves for it. I realized then that the Penfield organ and Mercerism were all vitally necessary just to keep the ragged remains of humanity from jumping off the nearest high ledge in despair! That should tell you just how damn bleak things are in this book and you never hear the characters talking about how bleak it is. Instead, you watch them do everything in their power to avoid realizing how bleak and empty their lives are, which only hammers in the point harder.

So why all this social engineering, why this emphasis on empathy and a new religion stressing taking care of animals and trying to preserve the shattered remains of a dead world? There are several reasons for this I think. Before I get into it I want to stress that this is my own reading of the text and I have no idea if Philip Dick would approve so take it with a grain of salt. First is the practical effect. There is a massive amount of effort needed to try and preserve as many species from the reaper when the entire ecosystem is turning into literal dust. By making it into a religious devotion, something that we do fairly well, even if we are hypocritical about it, you enhance the amount of the population that will join in and the amount of labor you have access to. This also gives the population something else to focus on besides the realization that we've murdered our homeworld while standing on it and reduces the chances of mass insanity. When you're trying to stave off the extinction of your own species, you stack whatever bonuses you can on those dice after all. Third is that this emphasizes the differences between natural born humans and their artificially created slave androids. We see this happen in history as well, for example at the time of the American Revolution, most of the founding fathers were willing to admit there was little difference between them and their slaves in terms of human potential and feelings. Fast forward some 80 odd years to the 1860s and every member of the slave-owning class was loudly declaring that Africans were fundamentally different and less than Europeans and justified holding their fellow humans in bondage because of it. Every slave system reaches out for an ideological justification and drums up some difference between the slave and slave owner. If none exist, then one is invented. While the androids do seem at best socially awkward and at worse sociopaths (one decides to chop the legs off a spider that Isidore finds because she can't believe that the spider really needs that many legs), I can't help but wonder if this is the result of socialization or some effect of their fast growth not giving them the time to learn empathy (Doing things like taking the legs off a spider is something that many children do, it’s a natural part of their development to take the world apart and put it back together. The problem here isn’t empathy, but theory of mind. Even very young children do display empathy if its approached the right way. The difference between a child and an adult is theory of mind. An adult is capable of more easily understanding the consequences of their actions and how those actions are felt and perceived by others; and this is both a matter of experience and physical brain development. This is also the primary difference between neurotypical people and autists. We have a harder time understanding the minds of others, but it isn’t a lack of empathy. In this case, as you’ve mentioned, the failure of the android isn’t necessarily in empathy, but in their social performance of empathy, as a consequence of lacking that experience. So a natural-born human autist would likely fail the test, but a sociopath would not because they’re capable of faking performative responses including facial expressions that they don’t feel.) . The Voigt-Kampff test for example that no android can pass, would be impossible for the vast majority of us to pass. One of the questions asks what you would do if given a calfskin wallet, a lack of outrage is considered a sign of being an android. Other questions involve eating lobster, sitting on a bear hide rug and so on and so forth. These are things we would consider normal but the human characters consider their disgust and outrage at such things to be fundamentally human and the androids indifference as proof of their sub-human nature. Meanwhile, the failures of humans to empathize with each other, whether it be treating John Isidore as a thing rather than a person because of the damage he's suffered, the lack of such between Deckard and his wife Iran or even empathy for the androids from humanity at large is ignored. I find myself wondering if this sense of empathy and it's definitions weren't carefully engineered in order to enhance the gap between the natural born and artificially created branches of humanity so no one will question the enslavement of the androids (Yes).

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is able to present all of this while telling a complete story of the worse day of John Isidore and Rick Deckard's lives. The day they both become legends, both touch the face of god and are forced to face the very real shortcomings of their societies and themselves. It's also able to do this in 200 pages. I find myself very impressed with this given that there are modern fantasies can't tell half as meaningful stories and character arcs in 600 pages. Deckard starts the book as a rather cold-blooded greedy social climber that I found myself disliking but warming up to over the course of the book as he came to understand what he was doing and grappling with it. That said the book isn't perfect, Iran is less of a character and more of a plot device and is quickly shunted to the side. I'm not left with any impression that she means anything to Deckard or that Deckard really means that much to her. In fact, I kinda found myself wondering why they were married at all. The book much like Solaris also raises a lot of questions without providing much in the way of answers (I'm beginning to wonder if this is just a trait of science fiction books from the 1960s). Unlike Solaris however Mr. Dick does provide a sense of catharsis and a sense of ending in the book instead of just coming to full stop. As you can see from this review there's a lot to talk about and consider in this book, and you get a pretty interesting story on top of that. I honestly have to say I think this book stands up rather well to the passage of time, perhaps shockingly so. I'm giving Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick an -A. Sit down and give it a read sometime and then just think about it for a while.

Next week we're gonna confront the biggest legacy of the novel, the film Bladerunner in all it's 80s Cyberpunk glory. Keep reading folks.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your editor Garvin Anders

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 15, 2019 10:34 pm 
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Bladerunner 1982
Directed by Ridley Scott


“You were made as well as we could make you.” Eldon Tyrell


A quick note, I will be spoiling parts of the movie here but the damn thing is as old as I am. There's a limit to demanding a spoiler-free life folks.

Bladerunner is a movie that can and has fueled a small industry on the story of its troubled birth, examinations of its troubled childhood (as I extend the metaphor) and its rise into a celebrated and respected mature pillar of science fiction film. There have been documentaries, books and more about it. So this review cannot comprehensively cover everything, so I will simply attempt to hit the highlights. Let's start at the beginning, 1968 when the novel is released, it gains attention quickly. Martin Scorsese was interested in filming the novel but never made any move to buy the rights to it. In the early 70s a screenplay was written but was widely regarded as terrible so never got close to filming. In 1977 a screenplay was optioned and producer Michael Deeley convinced director Ridley Scott to direct it, although he had originally passed on it to try and direct Dune (that would fall through and David Lynch would direct Dune but that's a topic for another day). What changed Mr. Scott's mind in many accounts was the death of his brother Frank from skin cancer at the age of 45. This was a harsh blow and this left Mr. Scott in a grim and somewhat downcast mood understandably and you see this in the film. Mr. Scott never read the novel, to be fair that was normal for the time and neither anyone else working on the movie. They didn't even use the title, strangely enough, the title comes from a completely unrelated book written by Alan E Norse written around the idea of black market doctors and the men who smuggle them medical supplies called Blade Runners. It's probably fitting that the movie that has an almost Frankenstein like beginning given it's about a race of people created in labs to be slaves.

The role of Rick Deckard proved hard to cast, months were spent in discussion with Dustin Hoffman, only for that to fall through, various others were also considered, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, and Burt Reynolds but in the end, Harrison Ford won out based on his performance in Star Wars. The role of Roy Batty however easily went to Rutger Hauer and to be honest I struggle to imagine anyone else doing as well as he did in the role. Actress Daryl Hannah landed the role of Pris, a female replicant who is basically the second female lead of the movie. The role of Rachael, the main female lead had a lot of competition as well and required several ladies to undergo repeated screen tests with Harrison Ford before Sean Young landed the role (bit of a side note, Philip Dick saw a picture of her and was instantly smitten, he asked to be introduced to her in a very, Philip K Dick style note to Mr. Scott, who perhaps wisely decided not to do so). Of course just as the casting was nailed down the money was pulled, as the company that had signed on to finance the production pulled out, Michael Deeley would in two weeks, however, drum up millions of dollars to replace the lost funds and he would gonna need every dollar. Because Ridley Scott was determined to make a perfect film, even if he had to kill everyone involved in the most expensive way possible to do it. Worse as filming began, it became unclear if was murder was actually off the table. Mr. Scott a British director was not used to American Union rules and by American standards was a micromanager. This would also set off a brief war by T-Shirt as an unfortunate remark about how British Crews were easier to work with because you just give them orders and they would comply spread to the crew and they responded. Luckily Mr. Scott was able to break the cycle with his own T-Shirts. Mr. Scott would set up a video playback booth because he was frustrated in his attempts to get ahold of the camera at times (one of the things that infuriated the crew in the first place). This leads him into conflict with Harrison Ford who now felt isolated from the director and wanted to work more closely with him as he had his own creative ideas. Remember at this point Harrison Ford was coming off of not just Star Wars but Indiana Jones so he was a tried and tested veteran who wanted to be a partner with his director, not a minion. This fed into artistic conflicts, Mr. Scott wanted to run with the idea that Deckard was a replicant (I'll talk more on that later) and Mr. Ford hated the idea. On top of that Ms. Young and Mr. Ford disliked each other so much that the crew called their love scene the hate scene. Mr. Scott drove the movie over budget and the producers begin to threaten to take the movie away from him (so he was feuding with the crew, his star and now the producers, I feel like this movie was really just an extended super expensive session of conflict therapy in a way), on top of that there was the looming threat of a directors strike. Mr. Scott's reaction to this? To whip the crew and cast through several marathon filming sprees and finish the movie. In fact, when they filmed the final scene of the confrontation of Roy Batty and Rick Deckard, everyone had been working for a straight 36 hours.

But they weren't done yet. Test audiences were left confused and dismayed by the movie so it was decided to add a voice-over by Mr. Ford. At first, was Mr. Ford was lukewarm on the idea but he swiftly moved to hatred as he was forced to voice over the entire movie, 3 times. Mr. Scott wasn't too thrilled either as he was mandated to film a happy ending with Harrison and Sean driving off into a lush forest. The movie had a good opening weekend but bluntly it opened 2 weeks after E.T hit theaters and E.T just sucked all the oxygen out of the room and left Bladerunner kinda foundering in its wake. The critics at the time weren't kind either mostly panning the film. However, the film survived as a cult classic with fans often forming Blade Runner clubs and academics would fall over themselves to analyze the film and discuss the text and sub-text. Cyberpunk works across all forms of media and across the planet would take visual and plot cues from the movie making a major influence going into the 21st century. Hell, you can see its influence on things I've reviewed in the past like Altered Carbon. New life was breathed into it with the release of the Director's Cut in 1993 with audiences declaring it a classic and Mr. Scott releasing the final cut in 2007 (which is the version I watched for this review). Given that Blade runner finds itself deeply concerned with what is real and what is artificial, I find the fact that there are by some counts as many as 7 versions of the film to be an ironic echo of the theme. But let's talk about the film, shall we? Quick reminder, that for films I as always issue two grades, the first being a grade of how the movie stands alone and the second grade how it stands as an adaptation of the novel it's based on.

Taking place in the all to close year of 2019, Bladerunner gives us the story of Rick Deckard, a Bladerunner (a cop who specializes in killing replicants) trying to live in retirement but dragged back into the the line of duty to chase down 4 escaped replicants who are hiding out in L.A. These replicants are seeking to find a way to gain a longer life span as they are near the end of theirs, all 4 years of it. Deckard hunts down each one in turn while exposing Rachael, a new kind of replicant who was unaware of her lab-grown origins and implanted with artificial memories. It's during his battles with the 4 escaped replicants that Rick Deckard resolves to save Rachael's life (as she's fair game to any other Bladerunner that finds her) and falls in love with her. However, first, he has to survive a confrontation against a replicant that was designed to fight wars and has no problem killing to protect his own life. Throughout these confrontations, Deckard is repeatably asked “It's painful to live in fear isn't it?” as the replicants seek to express the stress of living as a slave, of being a living thinking person who is property. This is a life where you live based solely on the whim and desires of others. They mostly express this by beating the crap out of Deckard but they are only about 4 years old. Deckard's own understanding of that may be the motive for his desire to get out of the life of a Bladerunner, of course considering that Deckard is doing all of this under threat he might have a more first-hand understanding of what the replicants are going through. After all, the only reason he took the job was the fact that his Police Captain let him know if he didn't that the police department would come down on him full force. That can't be a very pain or fear-free way to live.

Bladerunner is a good movie although it's a flawed movie. The Cinematography is amazing in the movie and Ridley Scott uses the images to communicate a number of ideas and feelings. The world seems run down and decayed, while there is no lack of luxury, it seems to exists in isolated islands amidst the smoke and haze of an L.A made up of neon lights and dirty streets. The attention to detail in the settings and props is amazing even over 30 years later. The characters, even the human ones all seem very physically and emotionally isolated, everyone in this movie seems to live alone. Be it Deckard, the geneticist Sebastian, the billionaire Eldon Tyrell, no matter their station or situation everyone is incredibly isolated from their fellow human beings. No one has a live-in girlfriend or boyfriend, no one has a friend over, no one even has a generally disinterested roommate. But that plays to the theme of how no one is above from the alienation and isolation that the society of this future has forced on humanity. Even those who reap the benefits of that technology must suffer its negative effects. Technology is everywhere as well (Deckard is able to go to a biologist with a powerful microscope and computers operating out of a roadside stall for example) but has not seemed to aid or uplifted humanity in general and nature is absent, in fact every animal shown in the film is an artificial creation with the implication given through dialogue that real animals are rare and incredibly expensive to get and maintain. There are constant advertisements and encouragements to immigrate off-world to better lives. This gives us a dark future where the planet may, in fact, be dying and mankind is fleeing out to the stars to avoid the consequences of its decisions. The acting is great in this film as well, with Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah being the stands out. They had the difficult job of portraying replicants, lab created humans who only live about 4 years and spend those years in service doing jobs that no one else wants to do. Rutger plays Roy Batty, who is a military model and his girlfriend Pris is a pleasure model. Both actors were able to portray people who struggle with their emotions as they lack the context and experience to understand what they're feeling and react accordingly. One scene that really stood out to me was when Roy is informing Pris that the rest of their band is dead, killed by Deckard and Rachael. Rutger does this through using the same facial expressions I've seen on small children when I was tutor when they were deeply unhappy (sometimes over small things and sometimes upset over big things) and didn't have a way of expressing it. Pris' instant acceptance of the news and her reaction combined a small child and a feral creature's. Which made sense, for all their intellect, the replicants don't even have a handful of years and it takes humans decades to fully understand and come to grips with the emotions we're capable of. Hell some of us don't manage it even with half a century of experience! The replicant actors managed to convey a human being that is a mix of a small child trying to understand what they're experiencing and genius level super predator who will spare no effort to keep living.

This makes Roy's decision to save Deckard's life at the end all the more memorable since it would have taken no effort to let Deckard die. I've seen a lot of argument about it and frankly being arrogant enough to review this movie and the novel, I'm of course going to pitch in my 2 cents. Roy saved Deckard for a lot of reasons, but I don't think forgiveness was one of them as I've seen suggested. Rather I think it was a mix of Roy realizing he was dying whether he killed Deckard or not and thus killing him would be meaningless, a very human desire not to die alone and a simple point blank rebellion against his creators. Roy was built to kill, to be a war-machine that destroyed whoever he was told to without question or mercy. During his time on Earth, he continued this behavior has he murdered his way to his creator and when he was told that a longer life simply wasn't happening, he killed his creator as well. He also killed the one man who showed him nothing but kindness, the genetic engineer Sebastian. Which might be the one killing that he honestly regrets, as his last words to Sebastian are an apology. This time, this one time, Roy would show mercy on his own terms and prove he was his own man, not just a biological machine fulfilling its biochemical programming. Whether or not Deckard deserves to be spared is kinda irrelevant to the thought process here. It's about Roy making a decision as to whether or not he's going to spend his last moments as the piece of rampaging, malfunctioning military equipment everyone says he is or as the man he knows he is. Whether that gives Deckard any grace is completely up to Deckard's actions I would say. As you might guess this moment really stuck with me.

However, there are things I didn't care for. The pacing is kinda all over the place managing somehow to be a slow film that doesn't get enough character interaction to really cement the relations to me. Additionally, there's Mr. Scott's idea that Deckard is a replicant. I just don't see it in the film, I mean yes it's odd that Deckard doesn't have anyone in his life and there's the now-famous ending with one character leaving a unicorn origami in Deckard's apartment when he had earlier had a dream of a unicorn but that frankly lends itself to several interpretations. My own first thought was the fact that unicorns are often symbols of worthy but impossible goals. Deckard's unicorn is leaving behind an empty of violence to live in peace with a loved one and Gaff leaving that unicorn in his apartment was a silent encouragement to pursue his unicorn even if it was doomed pursuit. Because when it comes to a goal like that, the simple act of struggling to achieve it is worth something in and of itself no matter how doomed the struggle. I'm also going to note that I don't see the point of going through the trouble of making a replicant only to strip such a person of all the physical advantages that would bring. Deckard is clearly physically weaker than all of the replicants, even Pris the smallest and weakest of the replicants being meant for life in a whore house is able to physically beat the crap out of him without much effort. If you're going to design a policeman in a lab, you might as well make him capable of standing toe to toe with the people he's fighting or it's just a pointless waste. After discussions with friends who were big fans of the movie, the theory seems mostly held up by circumstantial evidence and a lot of reaching. If you disagree please, walk me through it! I would really like to hear from you in the comments.

That said let's wrap up. I think Bladerunner has earned its status as a strong science fiction influence and the film even in the face of its issues. So as a stand-alone movie I give it a B+. However as an adaptation? The plot bears next to no resemblance to the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. The only thing they really have in common is a police agent hunting rogue lab-grown human slaves in California. Entire plotlines are chopped out, characters changed (Deckard is vastly different, as is Rachael and their relationship) and erased and the whole thing is barely recognizable beyond sharing the same visuals and starting idea. So as an adaptation I'm going to have to give it a D+. See it for its own sake but read the novel as well because you can look at one without having any idea of the other.

No editor this week as he is moving across the continent to further his career. Please join me in wishing Dr. Allen well and hopefully he'll rejoin us soon.

Next week, we tackle Blade Runner 2049 to see if any of Philp Dick's influence reached it. Keep Reading!

No editor this week as he is moving across the continent to further his career. Please join me in wishing Dr. Allen well and hopefully he'll rejoin us soon.

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Feb 22, 2019 10:42 pm 
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Blade Runner 2049
Directed by Denis Villeneuve


Over the three decades since it's release the influence and popularity of Blade Runner built up to the point that the final cut had a limited release in theaters in 2007 before being sold as a DVD and Blu Ray. Despite it being twenty-five years since the first version of Blade Runner was released and the very limited number of theaters and only being in theaters for a couple months... The final cut made about 33.7 million dollars and then the money from DVD sales came rolling in. At this point, even Hollywood executives realized what they were sitting on and so they set out to make a sequel. Ridley Scott ended up as executive producer and Denis Villeneuve, the French Canadian of Sicario and Arrival was his chosen director. Unlike the first Blade Runner film, there don't seem any great legends or feuds floating around on this one. Blade Runner 2049 had a producer who was determined to create a better experience then he had and a director who had worked on a number of American movies. Which is likely all to good, another movie with the kind of production drama that the first Blade Runner had would likely turn tragic. I do want to note that a construction worker was killed dismantling the sets for this movie in Hungry, I couldn't find his name but I feel it important to note his passing. That said, let's turn to the film.

The movie takes place thirty years in-universe from the original Blade Runner. The world has not done well for itself. While the Tyrell corporation has fallen, replicants continue to be made now by the Wallace Corporation led by Niander Wallace. Earth in the meantime has suffered an ecological collapse and a mass blackout that wiped out (nearly) all electronic records. This was accompanied by a number of replicant rebellions that led to a ten year prohibition on creating replicants (as well as a number of older models escaping out into the world to live in secret) until Niander Wallace, who made his fortune by creating ways to feed people despite the ecological collapse, received permission to restart production. Niander Wallace was played to great creepy effect by Jared Leto who stated that he based Wallace's behavior on the behavior of several silicon valley overlords he knew and turned it up to eleven (Yep! He basically dialed the standard corporate sociopath up that high. Honestly I’m not even sure he turned it up to eleven.). Niander Wallace is a man with a god complex, given that he controls the food supply of Earth and the labor force of the colonial words... He's a very powerful and wealthy man with a god complex. He is, however, a deeply frustrated man. His model of replicants, the Nexus 9, have life spans equal to humans, they are faster, smarter, stronger and always obey but he cannot make enough of them to satisfy his ambitions of spreading humanity across the galaxy (I can't say I sympathize honestly, he complains about only adding nine worlds to the total of worlds that humanity lives on, but the fact of the matter is if humanity was set up on ten worlds that would make us more extinction proof than any species in history).

This is where our main character Police Officer KD6-3.7 (A fun note, P (for police) KD come together to make the initials for Philip K Dick) comes in. On a routine run K “retires” a Nexus 8 who claims to have seen a miracle. That's when K finds a box buried under a dead tree with a set of bones in it. The bones belong to a female replicant who died doing something impossible. The bones belong to Rachel and she died giving birth to her and Deckard's child. The news hits K's superiors in the LAPD like a thunderbolt, if replicants can give birth, it is the biggest and most fragile wall separating them from natural born humans torn down. It also suggests rather firmly that the ideology that justifies enslaving replicants and treating them like objects is wrong. So, of course, there's only one thing to do here, find the child and kill it, while burying all the evidence and pretend this never happened (The systematic dehumanization of the replicants in this movie literally made me weep). So they set their super reliable hound K on the case, however, the clues and revelations that K finds on his way quickly subvert him as he begins to have suspicions about just who the child is and finds himself unwilling to carry out his orders. Especially as it comes to light that some of his implanted memories actually happened. If his memories are real... Then how much of his life is real and how Much is the lie?

Ryan Gosling plays K and I find myself split on his acting choices here. He actually does a wonderful job playing K as the submissive and down-beaten slave (sure he's paid but he's still property without any rights so I would consider him a slave). He constantly looks down and to the right (replicants have an identification code on the underside of their right eyeball so to verify you have them look up and to the left) when around humans. He hunches and keeps his body language closed and when speaking to his superiors keeps his tone as neutral and emotionless as possible. This is really well chosen as the movie takes pains to show up that natural born humans react with hostility and borderline violence to replicants. From fellow police officers screaming slurs to him, to the people in his apartment building vandalizing his door and howling diatribes at him whenever he shows his face. So a replicant like K would quickly learn to adopt such submissive postures and tone to avoid attracting additional abuse. However, when alone or with Joi (I'll get to her in a moment) his tone and expression doesn't change that much, so K is left feeling very flat as a character for a lot of the movie. I can see the argument of that's how such a person would act in real life but this is a movie and I have to sit through it (Then it is a you problem, and not an acting problem. I subscribe to that argument. You wear a mask long enough, and it’s hard to take off. You repeat the lie that you’re worthless and don’t deserve dignity to avoid a beating or execution for long enough and you come to believe it yourself, you become the mask you wear and live a life of despair. What you see is not flat acting, but a lifetime of situational depression and stockholm syndrome. {That’s great but this is a movie that I have to sit through, and it’s still Gosling being flat for over 90 minutes, having him show more emotion when alone with K would have made the audience connecting with him easier. Which is what you’re trying to do in a movie, sometimes reality has to take a back seat to audience engagement in movies about replicant cops hunting children. So yeah, it is an acting problem.}). He does get more expressive towards the back half of the movie but at this point, you've already sat through 90 minutes and the impression is made.

That said it is interesting to note that K is the only character in this movie with a companion of any kind. While Niander has the replicant Luv to carry out his will, she isn't a companion so much as a minion/tool (Because Niander is a sociopath. He doesn’t have companions. He’s incapable of attachments of that type.). Niander is shown to be always alone unless attended on by Luv (seriously I don't even see a butler or a maid), which goes for every human character in the movie as well. This carries on the theme of alienation and isolation from Blade Runner while making K the sole exception. As for Joi, she is a hologram programmed to be a live-in companion, played by Cuban actress Ana De Armas. Joi is supposed to be an artificial intelligence, at first she comes off as a very advanced chatbot but as the movie progresses, she plans, advances her own ideas and expresses her own desires and envy of others. She even shows an awareness of the possibility of death and puts herself knowingly in danger to try and help K. Which brings up the question of just how real Joi was? (My answer is this: exactly as real as K or anyone else.) I think this sub-plot is the part of the movie most influenced by Philip K Dick, as he would enjoy the idea of grappling with the question of whether or not your relationship is real or if even the other person in the relationship is even real. As the question is never definitely answered in the movie. I admit that I tend to fall on the side of if Joi wasn't a sapient person at the beginning of the movie, she was one by the end. As I pointed out, she didn't just follow her programming but adapted to changing situations, developed her own ideas and plans and had her own desires. That strongly suggest being self-aware and sapient to me. While she did make K the center of her universe, there are plenty of human beings who do that, so I don't see that as a disqualification per se. I honestly would like to hear your opinions on the matter however so feel free to leave a comment.

On the other side of Joi is Luv, a replicant specially made and named by Wallace to be his right hand. Luv is perhaps the most privileged replicant in history, as she runs the Wallace corporation in Niander's name. However, she is still property and it is perhaps being allowed to sit on the high ledges while having to live under another person's whim that creates the rage inside of her. Luv is played disturbingly well by the Dutch-born actress and model Sylvia Hoeks, who plays Luv as a woman who lives under restraint, who seems almost eager to kill humans whenever she can, to the point of murdering not just one but two police officers in their own damn police station (this is one of those things that leads to the world of Blade Runner feeling crowded but damn empty, how do you murder cops in their own station without anyone fucking noticing!?!). I'm not sure if it's because Luv resents being a slave so much as it is she resents humans getting to pretend they're better than her despite all the real power she has and knowing that her achievements only matter so far as her master and creator says they matter. We see this in the differences between her and K, she doesn't look down or hunch over when dealing with humans. However, every time she's in Niander's presence, she adopts the posture of a small child in front of an unpredictable parent and she expresses rage whenever a different natural born human asserts themselves over her (with the exception of Niander). She never had to suffer the abuse that K did but she did have to learn that all her privilege and power doesn't change her disadvantaged position in society. Which explains the happiness we see when she gets to assault one of these uppity natural born humans.

She is also determinedly hunting the child on the orders of Niander as he believes that with the child's DNA he could finally unlock the final secret and make a replicant that can have children, allowing him to make a self-sustaining workforce that can spread quickly. I have to admit I'm kinda looking cockeyed at his statement. He creates replicants as full-blown adults, while any natural born replicant would need at least a decade to grow up to be a useful laborer. Additionally, a woman, be she natural born or lab-made human can only have so many children at once or so often. While it seems to me that a factory could pump out a lot more in a year. Lastly... You can make programs like Joi, so why not just churn out robots with half of Joi's intelligence, give them replicant overseers and send them off to make planets useful for natural born human colonists? This honestly seems like an overly complicated answer to the simple question of how do we get enough labor over there to make the planet usable. But I digress.

As both K and Luv close in on the truth, they both also get closer to Deckard and frankly I don't the movie really can say whether Deckard is a replicant or not. We know that Mr. Scott says he is but well, it just isn't on screen (Does it really need to spell it out though? Having to spell it out just insults the intelligence of the audience, the film treats it as self-evident by the time he’s found.{No, the film doesn’t and it needs to provide some evidence! Which neither film does! The whole thing works just as easily with Deckard being a natural born human. In fact the idea that replicants and natural born can interbred makes for even more panic}). Niander offers the idea that Deckard was created solely to meet Rachael fall in love with her and get her pregnant but admits he can't prove it (But he is in a position to know Deckard is a replicant {Expect he isn’t, he flat out admits he doesn’t know and the only to know is to cut Deckard apart which loses the information they’re seeking}). Deckard dismisses the idea out of hand. Honestly, that idea doesn't hold water for me either, it's just to damn complicated and depends on Deckard not getting killed and frankly his courtship of Rachael (I abuse the term courtship here and I apologize) sat as much on her lack of options and desperate need for any emotional anchor in the storm as anything else. If Tyrell could have set all that up, he should have been able to foresee the need for some security in his own damn home to avoid having his skull crushed! So Blade Runner 2049 doesn't change my position on Deckard being human.

Blade Runner 2049 is a very interesting movie in what it explores and suggest and to avoid spoilers I've avoided some of the more interesting parts. That said, this movie has massive pacing issues, at times moving slow enough that a tortoise in the desert could outrun it (Why aren’t you helping?) and at times so focused on its themes and their exploration that the characters and story suffer for it. It's run time is over 2 and a half hours and even Mr. Scott (a man who loves long cuts let's be honest) said it could have lost 30 minutes. It also tends to introduce plot ideas and not really do anything with them to my frustration. That said, again this is an interesting movie with a lot of ideas being dug into and there's a lot to discuss in it. The movie did alright at the box office scoring 259 million dollars against a budget of 185 million, of course, due to Hollywood math it needed to make 400 million to break even (look I'm primarily interested in books so I'm not going to spend a lot of time exploring that but seriously). So it was announced a commercial flop even as it became a critical darling winning 44 awards including Academy awards and being nominated for over a hundred in total. This led the director, Mr. Villeneuve, to declare it the most expensive art-house movie ever made. That said, the movie was one of the top sellers in 2018 for DVD and Blu Ray sales, bringing in another 21 million to the table. So much like it's parent film the final chapter is likely still be written but we'll have to see. I think that there are echoes of the themes and ideas that Philip K Dick wrote about in this work, the question of who and who isn't human, who is and isn't real is a very Dickonian question to ask in a story and it's interesting to have the characters defiantly shout out they know what's real, when the rest of the world says they don't. I'm giving Blade Runner 2049 a C+, despite the ideas and some interesting acting choices the super slow pace and the flatness of K's character works heavily against it but time will tell on that one.

Well, that's it for our first Philip K Dick Month and it's been an interesting experiment. We are slated to do this again next February will likely do something like this when Dune is released next year but until then let's get back to books! Join us in March for the end of the Warp World Series, as we review Warp World Final Revelations. Keep Reading.

Red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is your reviewer Garvin Anders

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"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2019 11:12 pm 
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Warp World Final Revelations
By Kristene Perron and Joshua Simpson


Warp World Final Revelations is the final book in a five book series, the first book of the Warp World series, entitled simply Warp World was released in October of 2012. I reviewed that book in 2014 and followed up by reviewing every other book in the series. Before I get into that, let's talk about the authors. Kristene Perron worked for 10 years as a professional stunt-woman gaining an in-depth education in all the ways a person can be hurt or killed; nomadic in many ways she lived on both sides of the equator before settling down in Canada with cats and a husband. Her stories have appeared in numerous publications and she’s won awards for those works. Joshua Simpson is a native of East Texas (The poor soul) and has a long colorful list of careers, among them long-haul trucking, safety man for a nuclear power plant, stonemasonry; and he currently works as a pain relief specialist, focusing on nerve release techniques. Which as far as I can tell means he causes you short term pain in order to bring you medium to long term relief and improvements to your health (Basically when you’re injured, even relatively minor injuries, scar tissue can form and your sensory nerves close to those areas can get stuck on the scar tissue and become inflamed. The fix is to manually unstick them, which can be painful). Continuing my stubborn tradition of full disclosure, Josh Simpson is a friend of mine and he was incredibly kind in providing me an e-copy of this book for the review. That said this is my honest opinion on the book, as I believe that's what my readers deserve. I should note there are spoilers here for the series if you haven't read the books stop here, pick Warp World up and see if you're interested.

Final Revelations brings to an end the saga of Seg Erananat, combat anthropologist, brutal reformer, unrepentant rebel and tired exhausted hero; and Ama Kalder, ship captain, rebellious slave and force of nature. They are also both hopelessly in love with each other and completely devoted to the same goals. Those goals were never humble or small either, first was the liberation of Ama's people from the colonial rule of foreign overlords, then it was the reform of Seg's people away from a system of monstrous slavery and dehumanization while huddling in increasingly smaller and smaller patches of their own planet. A planet that was being eaten by a phenomenon known as the Storm (Seg's people simply aren't very creative nomenclaturists as I've noted in the past) the Storm simply destroys any and all life it touches along with draining away the energy source known as Vita. Vita is if I just strip it down to the simplest explanation, a magical energy source created and fueled by faith and hope. Something that Seg's people were so lacking in that they developed a technology to visit other worlds to simply loot their stores of Vita; which they needed to do because the technology that powered the shields that kept the People (I mentioned not being very creative?) safeish was powered by Vita. Meanwhile, their social structure was barely held upright by the slaves they kidnapped from those same worlds and consigned to a nightmarish existence. Seg sought to turn the People to a less barbarous existence by creating a new settlement where there was no slavery and thus spread reform and liberty throughout the world. He failed and in the end, the World of the People was devoured by the Storm. There was one bright spot in this however, Ama managed to survive being exposed to the Storm and as a result, has gained new abilities and a growing understanding of the what the Storm is. However, these abilities come at a dark cost and leave Ama concerned if she is even human anymore. On top of that is another horrid wrinkle. I often wondered in my reviews why the People didn't just eat the cost of warping to new worlds to flee the storm and simply settle on a new world. This book also answered the question. Every time the People visited a new world, they opened a path for the Storm there and as a result, every world the People raided was destroyed by the Storm in a decade. The leaders of the People knew this and did it anyways for centuries, making them perhaps one of the most prolific bands of mass murderers ever as their victims could easily be numbered in the tens of billions if not more. It's interesting to note that even characters who wholeheartedly supported the People's system react with horror and remorse at this revelation, suggested that even in their degenerated brutal state some lines were simply too much.

Final Revelation takes us back to Ama's homeworld, where her people the Kenda have been rebuilding their nation free of the imperial yoke. Two groups of the People have survived and found refuge in this world. One group made up of the people who followed Seg's vision of a better world and society and the other group is a band of mercenaries and spies who were lucky enough to escape into the Warp when their world was finally destroyed. The group that followed Seg ended up in Kenda lands, the group of people that gave birth to Ama and allied with Seg, way back in book one. Things have gone pretty well for the Kenda; they achieved independence and under the rule of Ama’s cousin Brin are slowly unifying and building a cohesive nation-state so as to resist any further aggression. The other group landed in the middle of nowhere. This group is taken over by Issensio, a spy who managed to cause a good amount of grief to Ama and Seg in prior books and has now talked and shot his way to being in charge of this group of People. Despite being washed out of the same school that produced Seg, he's one of the most intelligent, driven and gifted people on any world he ends up on and he's now driven to find a solution for a pressing problem. You see, due to everyone warping over to Ama's world and dumping thousands of people on it... It doesn't have a decade until the Storm shows up, it has a year, maybe... Tops. To that end he'll even ally with Lissil, the woman who schemed, plotted and decided if she couldn't rule Seg's settlement next to him, she would burn it all down. Lissil is from Ama's homeworld to, she's a Welf, a third ethnic group that was reduced to abject servitude below even the Kenda. Lissil basically fought her way up from the very bottom of the heap based on her willpower, physical beauty, native intelligence and utter lack of anything that could even be considered a moral code. She might not as dangerous as Seg, Ama, or Issensio but that's only because she lacks their training and resources.

Meanwhile, Ama wakes up separated from everyone else in the very stronghold of her first enemies. The capital city of the Shasir, the people who colonized the Kenda in the first place. She finds herself in the midst of a political and religious dispute. It turns out that the technology worshipping religion of the Shasir has some secrets of its own. Secrets that tie back to Ama's ancestors and to hidden secrets of her own world. Like why they bothered to hide a continent from everyone and what's on that continent and what ties these secrets to the Storm? The secret may be carried by a single priest named Sa'lais, a true believer who is bound and determined not to let his people repeat the sins of the past and use a weapon so horrifying that they built an entire religion around the idea of keeping anything like that from ever being developed again. Ama has to figure this all out fast because as usual she is surrounded by people who want her enslaved or dead and is operating on a quickly shrinking margin of error. However, Ama has learned a good deal since the early books and Mr. Simpson and Ms. Perron shows us a matured Ama who is more world-wise and less foolish then earlier books. She's also however colder in a lot of ways, some of that being fueled by the changes wrought in her by the storm and others by the deep emotional and mental scars left by the abuse she suffered at the hands of the People. While that gives her the tools to survive even in the very heart of her enemies, it does show us that she had lost part a piece of her goodwill and for lack of a better term innocence. Ama no matter what she has lost though is just getting started and will save her homeworld no matter who she has to go through to do it. Seg on the other hand...

Seg Erananat has seen better days, he's once again separated from Ama and now from everyone else in a strange new place that is somehow in between the World and Ama's homeworld and operates on completely different laws. He's not alone either, surrounded by people from his past he has to figure out who his enemies and who are allies are and do it with full knowledge that history may be entirely misleading. Seg is having to deal with all of this while under the massive stress of being afraid that everyone he loves and knows is dead, devoured by the Storm or lost somewhere in a hostile universe out of his reach. He's also carrying enough grief to kill a lesser man, as he not only saw his world die (and knows his actions hurried that along) but has lost out on his ambition of saving his people and making the People into something worth saving. He's also carrying personal grief for losing his family just as he buried the hatchet with them and made peace. He cannot even be sure that he saved the people closest to them or delivered them to even worse fate. So this Seg is one who is aged beyond his years, feeling like he has failed at everything and is very close to his limit. That doesn't mean he's out of tricks or out fight though, after all, men are most dangerous when they think they have nothing left.

This book reveals to us the nature of the Storm, the hidden secrets of Ama's world and the last terrible secrets of the People. These aren't the only revelations however, as we see just what kind of deals that everyone will cut and what actions they are willing to do when everything is on the line. While everyone has been playing for fairly high stakes throughout this entire series, Ms. Perron and Mr. Simpson have found a way to bring the stakes for the last showdown to an even higher level. The result is a series ending that brings us to new levels of tension and suspense even as they wrap everything up for the final curtain. On top of this, just about every action, the characters take on all sides make sense, I can't find anything to point at and yell that this an incredibly stupid action. Other than letting Lissil run around free but Issensio doesn't have a lot of choices there. I wouldn't call the book perfect however, there were parts of the storyline that dealt with Ama's family that I found a little too neat and pat for example. Also, the fact that we're on the very last book and thousands of pages in... They have to insist on dropping in new characters. Now bringing in a new character isn't a terrible thing but that means giving up space and time to develop them while competing against established characters. It's tough to do without annoying your audience (think of all the fan hated characters that show up in late seasons of television shows or loathed comic book characters who try to change the dynamic of beloved characters) while Sa'lais doesn't irritate, he simply doesn't get developed to the scale that characters like Viren, Gelsh or Jarin did across a couple of books they appeared in. So I don't really feel all that attached to him or invested in his journey in the book. I'll admit I would have rather seen more of Viren then Sa'lais but then Viren might be my favorite supporting character and in my opinion, he never gets enough face time. I'll also note that if you haven't read the last four books in the series you going to be utterly and completely lost as it picks right up from the end of book four and takes off running like a charging horse. That said, the book did completely pull me in and I completely enjoyed it. Warp World Final Revelations by Kristen Peron and Josh Simpson gets an -A.

As always the red text is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black text is me, your reviewer.

Join us next week for The Red Knight by Miles Cameron.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 08, 2019 10:40 pm 
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The Red Knight
By Miles Cameron


“Vade Retro Satanus” The Red Knight page 563


Miles Cameron is one of the pen names of Christian Cameron. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962 and spent his childhood bouncing around between Rochester New York, Iowa City, Iowa, and Rockport, Massachusetts. After graduating from McQuaid Jesuit High School, he attended the University of Rochester and graduated with a BA in Medieval History. He then spent the next thirteen years as an officer in the United States Navy (...I now have this mental image of him making sailors refer to him as ‘M’lord’ after he issues orders). There he served as backseater in an S-3 Viking aircraft assigned to Sea Control Squadron 31 (VS-31) gaining his air observer wings. Afterward, he served as a human intelligence officer with NCIS and DHS in Washington D.C. He left the Navy in the year 2000. Before turning his hand to fantasy he wrote over a dozen historical novels covering a wide variety of periods and characters. He's also a student of a variety of martial arts and a historical reenactor focusing on the medieval period (Break out the dueling shields and copies of 15th century german training manuals!). His first books were written in cooperation with his father Kenneth Cameron, who was a playwright and novelist himself. Christian Cameron released his first solo novel in 2002; The Red Knight was published 2013 by Orbit books. Orbit books was founded in 1974 and bought in 1992 by Time Warner Book Group. Let's get to the book though.

The book takes place in a parallel world to our own, where Christ existed but the history and condition of the world is very different. Magic is real and man is not alone on the good earth, but man humanity wishes it was. The nation of Alba stands on the very edge of civilization. To the east across the vast seas lies the continent, the fully settled lands of man where the only foe that you face in war is other men. On every other border however lies the Wild; the domain of inhuman and alien intelligences who hold values and beliefs that are often frightening and bizarre to civilized men (I would be very interested in a map of this world…wait, are there dog-men in the Wild? Do they have souls? Can they be converted to Catholicism and baptized? {No dog-men... Yet.}). A generation ago, the father of the current King of Alba won a great victory against the armies of the Wild but the cost was great. Where his father could raise 20,000 knights and their troops, the current king has less than a fifth of that. The population is expanding and growing, so recovery will come if there is time. If. On the very northern edge of Alba stands the fortress nunnery of Lissen Carak, which is also the name of the rich town that surrounds it. The Abbey is not that old all things considered, two centuries ago it belonged to the Wild and the powers of the Wild simply called it The Rock. They want it back and are willing to kill every man, woman, and child living there to do it. The many creatures of the Wild, insect-like Boglins who mass in great swarms, the graceful and small Irks the mighty wyverns and the powerful and hauntingly beautiful creatures that men call demons. The “demons” are actually pretty interesting although Mr. Cameron doesn't go too in-depth into their culture; they are taller than men, winged with crested skulls and beaks. They often cover their crests and beaks with engraved decorations of precious materials which suggests a good understanding of tool use. The demons and wyverns also generate fear as a magical effect on humans so panic is always a real danger from their very presence. The Wild also has its human allies, first being native human tribes that live in the wild and govern themselves by the Wild's rules. The second is a rebel movement within human civilization known as the Jacks. Men who have grown fed up with the feudal order of peasants and lords and seek to kill off the aristocrats even if they have to ally with creatures who view humans as a good source of protein to do it (Damn people, just use a guillotine already…). Because yes, the creatures of the Wild will eat you and they won't wait for you to die before they start. In the face of all this, the Abbess has her nuns, some town militia and farm boys, and the mercenaries she called from the continent. These mercenaries are hard and sinful men, in some ways as dangerous as the creatures of the Wild and expensive, but they're her best bet against having her abbey and home destroyed out from under her and watching her people tormented and killed in their own homes like rabbits in a snare.

As for the mercenaries, they are led by a man who calls himself the Red Knight. He's young, only 20 years old and leading men who were fighting wars when he was still dirtying his own diapers. That said, he's got the talent, he’s got the training and he's got the luck to be one of the greatest war leaders of the age. If a stray arrow or wyvern doesn't turn him into fertilizer first (Or dysentery. So many Great Leaders died from dysentery…). The Red Knight is also a man with a hell of a chip on his shoulder. He was born into a world of wealth, power, and privileged but because he was born a bastard, he was loathed and always at odds with the rest of his family. It doesn't help that he wasn't the child of some amusement or forbidden love, the Red Knight is the child of a rape. Because of that, he was both the target and the vessel of his mother's hate, who raised him for one single purpose. To destroy all the works of man and civilization (Yeeesh. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid…). In his own words, to be the Antichrist, but either because of the abuse or despite it, the Red Knight instead has decided to try to be if not a hero at least, not a villain. This is a man who is convinced that God hates him, but he's going to do the right thing anyway and to hell with the Almighty. This is a difficult kind of character to write well, it easy to go overboard with the angst and the grim darkness of it all or to dance around it so much that you might as well not have done it. Mr. Cameron, however, does a good job of writing someone as angry as only an abused young man can be while keeping the character from going too overboard. I mean there are times when I want to reach into the book and smack the Red Knight on the head but Mr. Cameron is sure to make it clear that the Red Knight is being the kind of idiot that only a young man can be. It helps that the mercenary company provides a good cast of supporting characters from his squire Michael, and corporals Big Tom and Sauce, who is a woman at arms and even grunt archers with colorful names like No Head, Willful Murder and so on.

The Red Knight and his company aren't the only characters moving in this world however, there is also the Galle knight Jean de Vrailly, who upon having a vision of an angel decided to grab 300 lances (I'll explain in a bit), sail across the sea and come to Alba to do great deeds. He's considered the greatest knight in the world and unbeatable in one on one combat, incredibly handsome and incredibly arrogant, classist and frankly a jerk. It's only the company of his cousin Gaston that keeps him from starting a war with the Alban natives at every turn and restrains his behavior (My god. He is an embodiment of French Knighthood…). There's also Peter, a man who was being dragged north in a slave convoy but escapes when the Wild attacks and accidentally breaks his chain. His own voyage gives us a very different but important view of the world. Another focus of the narrative is the young Queen Desiderata who struggles to support her older husband as he prepares for a war with the Wild, with a smaller army and fewer resources than his father would have had. I should speak a bit about the book's treatment of woman, in short, it's a very good treatment. As a historian, Mr. Cameron shows us the influence and power that woman such as the Abbess (who would in the real world would have been treated as equal to a feudal lord) the Queen and other wealthy and well-born woman had in their society. Sauce is a woman fighter but it's treated as a rare and strange thing that Sauce has to earn by putting more effort and achieving better results then a man in her position would be expected to. By mixing these two elements, one very clearly historical and the other perhaps not as historical, Mr. Cameron creates something realistic and believable.

Let me actually discuss how Mr. Cameron treats the world he has created, this is honestly one of the details and medieval feeling worlds I've seen without turning into an unreadable mess. Magic is approached using hermeticism which was a real philosophical and mystical tradition that existed in Europe. I should note that hermeticism was one of the first traditions to argue that the world could be observed and tested in experimentation, so while hermeticism was not science, it did help introduce ideas that would become the cornerstones of scientific endeavor. Magic users use a memory technique called a memory palace invented by the ancient Greeks. The idea is to use the memory of location and move through it in your mind to recall memories, you do this by placing what you want to remember along the route you take through the building in your memory. Like if you're memorizing a grocery list, you put the first item, let's say carrots as a large picture on the front door of the building. This creates a mindscape that gives us a whole new mode of interaction between magical characters who can communicate with each other from their mind palaces that non-magical characters cannot interact with. It also makes magic feel like an incredible mental discipline requiring years of training that demands concentration and devotion from its practitioners. I have to applaud Mr. Cameron for finding such a simple but evocative method for that. On top of that, Mr. Cameron uses his experience as a reenactor to give us detailed but not overblown accounts of battles and the arms and armor used. Warhorses get to star as the incredible killing machines they were, knights feel like an ancient analog to light armored systems almost unstoppable unless they run into another knight or a lucky hit gets into their joints or eyes. The book is also deeply littered with Arthurian references, such as the Red Knight himself, as there are a number of characters in the Arthurian Myths that went by the name The Red Knight. Other Arthurian characters appear in various guises but I'll let you discover them for yourself. The end result is a story with medieval characters who feel medieval instead of 21st-century people in medieval dress and that’s a good thing. That said I do have some criticism, Mr. Cameron rarely explains some of the things he was doing - like the memory palace technique - and the story is vast, so at times you might lose track of characters and some of the characters don't feel entirely necessary to the story. There's also a lot of jumping back and forth between characters so sometimes you might have to go back to remember what this specific character was doing when you last saw him. That said, all the stories do come together in the end and while the book is over 600 pages, I'm hard pressed to say which of those pages were wasted but also feel that this book could have used another editing pass to make it flow easier. This is still a very good book and it is without hesitation that I recommend it. The Red Knight by Miles Cameron gets a B+ and my promise that we will return to this series.

That said, last week we closed out a series and since we started one this week, let's end another next week. Next Week join us for Darth Vader 4: End Game. Keep Reading!

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Darth Vader Vol 4: End of Games
By Kieron Gillen


End of Games brings the series written by Kieron Gillen to it's the dark, triumphant, but inevitable end. Set between the movies A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, Mr. Gillen faced the struggle of writing an interesting story when everyone who picked up the comic knows what the ending is going to be. After all, we see Darth Vader commanding his own fleet in Empire, utterly secure in his power and without rival... Well without rival, as long as you don't count the Emperor of course. Mr. Gillen solved this dilemma by bringing in original characters that he could use to build suspense with, while not stealing the spotlight from our villain. Instead, Vader's arc is one of him recommitting to his path of power above everything else and not letting a single scruple or scrap of emotion stand in his way. Instead, Mr. Gillen explores what separates an antagonist from a villain. He does so while also letting us indulge in the kind of unstoppable destruction that only a villain of Darth Vader's resolve and power can bring us. In a way Vader is extremely refreshing in this series, there are no speeches about the greater good, no waxing on about necessary compromises or puffed up posing of hard men doing hard things. Instead, Vader does what he does, how he does it because he chooses to and simply dismisses any other concerns other than his own will. There is no attempt to present an argument to justify his actions to the audience. Darth Vader is a Sith and for him, his might makes him right and if you disagree, you had best be strong enough to stop him and so far no one has been. I wouldn't want every villain to be like this, but there is certainly a place for the pure simple directness of Vader's stance.

Throughout the series, Darth Vader has faced competition for his position; for his power; and for his very life. He has also been pursuing his own agenda in hunting the pilot that destroyed the first Deathstar, Luke Skywalker as well as trying to piece together what connection there might be between Luke Skywalker and Anakin Skywalker. To do all this, while in public disfavor with the Emperor, he has been forced to gather his own henchmen and troops outside of imperial law and engage in crimes and other immoral actions. He must also fend off ambitious Imperial officers who want his power and the creations of the mad Dr. Cylo, each one believing they can take his position as the Emperor's right-hand man. It's to Mr. Gillen's credit that he was able to tell the story and keep it interesting despite the fact that we know what is going happen. He does this by not trying to soften or subvert Vader at all but showing us why Darth Vader holds the power we see him holding in the movies. Because he has utterly destroyed through means fair and foul (but mostly foul) anyone who would threaten that position or try to sap his power.

While we know that Darth Vader is going to thrive and survive (at least until Return of the Jedi) whether or not his hirelings Dr. Aphra and the rogue droids Triple Zero and BeeTee are going to make it to the end of this storyline is an open question (BTW I love those droids). Honestly, the odds aren't looking good for Dr. Aphra who is increasingly being considered a loose end by Darth Vader instead of a useful asset. She was taken prisoner by the rebels in the last graphic novel (Vader Down) and her escape is covered in another series (that we will get to). Now Darth Vader is tracking her down and it's up in the air whether or not she'll survive being found. What's not in the air is whether or not Dr. Cylo the mad scientist who has utterly abandoned any idea of ethics and morality (and likely jettisoned his ethics committee into space along with it) will survive. Which is honestly just as well, because in all truth Dr. Cylo isn't that intriguing to me as a villain and while he's a great inventor and talented engineer, I'm left doubtful about his skill in pure science. Let me explain, Dr. Cylo lives in the Star Wars Galaxy and is old enough to remember times before the Empire. That means he remembers the Jedi and likely had at least heard a bit about the Sith-Jedi wars in history This makes the reactions and statements of himself and his hand-picked minions pooh-poohing the kind of power a fully mature and trained force user like Darth Vader can bring to bear somewhat baffling and rather foolish. They do this without any direct observation or experimentation, instead embracing arrogance and ego-driven faith in being smarter than anyone else in the room. Here's the thing, I know scientists. Hell, our editor is a scientist! Most of them will tell you that making such statements without observation (preferably direct observation) and experimentation to prove your theory is the kind of foolishness that leads to humiliation and laughter in the world of science (Plus, there is that working hypothesis gleaned from historical anecdotes that a force-sensitive can do things like telekinesis…). It's perfectly believable in Dr. Cylo's case since he's been exiled from the realms of peer review (creating cyborg lobotomized slave space whale ships, for example, tends to be a no-no for most science communities) and surrounded by slaves and minions but it honestly makes him a less interesting character. He's so busy screaming about what a genius is he that he doesn't notice Vader causally tying the metaphorical noose around his neck.

It’s the game of wits between Dr. Aphra and Vader and the sheer spectacle of Vader destroying everything in his way to his goals that carry this story though and I'll be honest that's very well done. While Cylo falls flat for me, Dr. Aphra comes across as an extremely clever and quick-witted character; using her wits and willingness to gamble on one outrageous idea after another to stay inches ahead of the vastly more powerful Vader. We also get to see that power on full display which is a draw in and of itself. This series shows us the savage glory of the Sith in general and of Darth Vader specifically and does a great job of showing the double-dealing, the backbiting and willingness to betray in the name of power and strength that lies at the core of the Sith ideology and their way of life. This storyline uses this to show us the weakness of the Sith and Vader. His drive and uncompromising position leads him to destroy possible allies and destroy still useful assets and in doing so weaken himself in the long run. It leaves him isolated, alone and without the ability to choose any method but the most direct and savage which deeply limits him compared to his opponents in the Rebellion and newly emerging Jedi, I say opponents because Vader doesn't regard them as his true enemies, his true enemies are all lined up in the imperial court just waiting for one moment of weakness. Which is one of the many reasons why the Rebellion won in the end. I really enjoyed End of Games, but I think more effort could have been done with Dr. Cylo to make him less of a one-note character but I found it fascinating how secondary Cylo was to the real conflict. End of Games by Kieron Gillen gets a B+ from me. It's a strong and worthy finish to the series even if the main antagonist had worn out his welcome.

Join us next week for Wayward Volume II Ties that Bind by Jim Zub.

Just a reminder that we have set up a patreon to help us sort through recommendations and possible reviews. Just one 1$ gets you a vote on what we review starting with our April reviews! So Join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads Keep reading!

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 22, 2019 8:49 pm 
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Wayward Volume II: Ties that bind
By Jim Zub art by Steve Cummings

I discussed volume one way back in 2017 so while there will be a link at the bottom of the review let me cover the basics right here. Jim Zub is a Canadian comic book writer who broke into the industry when he created the comic Skullkickers, a sword and sorcery action comedy that ran from 2010 to 2015. Since then he has worked on numerous projects for Marvel, DC, and Image. In addition, he has done work for companies such as Hasbro, Capcom, the Cartoon network, and Bandai Namco. He is also a program coordinator for Seneca College’s animation program. Steve Cummings is an American born veteran artist who got his start for DC comics and since then has done work on comics for everyone from Marvel and DC, to IDW, Kenzer & Company, and Devil's Due Publishing among others. He also created a manga, Pantheon High for Tokyopop. Wayward was started in 2014 and takes place in a modern Tokyo where the shadows and dark places of the city are filled with all sort of supernatural creatures. Most of these are rather hostile and predatory towards our main characters, a group of teens with supernatural powers. Fair warning there are going to be some mild spoilers.

Ties that Bind starts by focusing on a new character Ohara Emi, who goes to the same high school that the main character Rori Lane attended before she went missing due to her home... Exploding. Emi is in her own words a standard Japanese girl, leading a standard Japanese life and feeling rather trapped by it. She does the same thing every week and knows that her future has been completely mapped out and there's no escape. That is until she sees that missing girl from school floating outside her window, then things get crazy. She finds herself falling into a group made up of Nikaido; a homeless girl who can generate feelings of calm or use anger to create destruction, and Ayane; the crazed girl created by the union of the souls of a group of stray cats (Woah…). This volume does a good job introducing her and fleshing her out, as well as linking her up to the main group. We also get more insight into the character of Ayane. Considering that was one of my complaints with the last volume I do appreciate that. Although Nikaido is still left in the background. Ayane and Nikaido believe themselves the only survivors of their little group and have been waging a vicious guerrilla war against the supernatural creatures of Tokyo through the means of murdering any small group or individual they find. To be fair, every time they've run into supernatural creatures so far, that creature has tried to kill and eat them, so I have a hard time blaming them for their killing spree. However, they lack any idea of what they're fighting and what their enemies want so there's a profound lack of strategy to their actions. So when they run into a group of supernatural creatures who instead of wanting to kill or eat them, offer alliance and suggestions on ways to do real damage to their enemies, the kids jump all over that without asking any real questions. Which is honestly not a smart decision but seems entirely realistic when you realize these kids aren't even old enough to drive in the United States. This is entirely the kind of move that a group of 15-year-olds under stress and living in an abandoned building would do, hell there are adults who have done dumber with less excuse (I really really want to make jokes about cold war and post cold war politics {you are a model of restraint to us all Doc}). So it feels realistic and not forced... Even if I'm facepalming more than a little at the characters here.

Meanwhile, Rori and Tomohiro (a young man who has to eat spirits to survive) aren't dead but find themselves dealing with their own challenges. Such as having to deal with Rori's powers, Rori seems to have a great wellspring of powers that flow from her ability to see and manipulate the strings of fate that bind people and objects together. This lets her do things like find people anywhere, see parts of the future and create new clothes (yeah I'm not sure how that works either [Well she can weave the strings of fate… why not other strings?]). The power also seems to rush right to Rori's head, as she starts making decisions for people she hasn't even met yet. Major ones and while we didn't get a chance for any fallout here, I'm really hoping to see it in future issues. That said, making such questionable decisions is also pretty realistic so I didn't feel like the character was doing something against her nature. Given how young she is and the fact that she is under a lot of pressure I see how she got there. I just hope she gets called out on it.

This volume does a better job of fleshing out our protagonists but our antagonists are still left a rather shady and mysterious group. They appear to be some type of governing body for the supernatural creatures of Japan who regard the teenagers as a threat to them. However, why the kids are a threat to them beyond our bad guys' own actions provoking them into a war stance is incredibly unclear. A good chunk of the group could have likely been brought onside with the proper introduction and mentoring for example. Instead of introducing yourself to a super powerful teenager by beheading her mother in front of her! This is just bad decision making on behalf of Team Bad Guy, a living hostage is always more valuable than a dead family member in these situations. I'm still in the dark as to what is driving this conflict and what the antagonist team wants or even who they really are beside a random collection of Japanese spirits and this leaves the plot a bit flat when you step away from the action. This doesn't feel like a mystery either as the protagonists are making no moves to find any of this out. So I can't consider a story element because nothing is done with this! If for example Emi and Nikaido had done some work to find out why all the supernatural creatures in Tokyo want them dead and who's pulling the strings here, it would have added some depth to the story. That said I do feel this was an improvement over Volume I, just not a huge one. That said I do enjoy the clear research that Mr. Zub puts into Japanese mythology and the appendixes in the back are a treat. So I'm giving Wayward Volume II a C+. It's good, but not that great.

So next week for our last review in March we're going to head back to fantasy novels for a bit and discuss The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera. Afterward, we'll be opening April with the winner of the Patron poll! If you'd like to vote on what books or graphic novels you'd like to see reviewed next month, then please join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads

In the meantime, if you enjoyed this review, please feel free to comment below, or share the link with your friends but above all Keep Reading.

Review of the first volume is here: http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2017/09 ... b-art.html

Red as always is your editor Dr. Ben Allen
Black is your not so humble reviewer.

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2019 9:45 pm 
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The Tiger's Daughter​
By K Arsenault Rivera​


K Arsenault Rivera was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and moved to New York when she was three years old. She grew up in New York and remains there to this day living with her partner. The Tiger's Daughter is her first novel, published by in 2017 by Tor Books. Tor Books is an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates LLC a publishing company founded in 1980 in New York City, which was bought in 1987 by St. Martin's Press and is now owned by the Macmillan Publishers.

The Tiger's Daughter is an epic fantasy story built around a romance. The epic fantasy is the story of a cultured, old powerful empire being slowly and surely brought to its knees by terrors without and rot within. Demons and corrupted former humans cluster at the borders and seep across the walls that guard the empire. While within the empire suffers from famine and plague as the powerful sink deeper into debauchery. This romance is the relationship between the two main characters, both young woman, with powerful legacies behind them and dangerous futures in front of them. Both these legacies and futures are deeply intertwined to the point that frankly, it would be surprising if they didn't become lovers or arch enemies. This is before we get into the fact that they might be demigods. Let me introduce you to each one in turn.

O-Shizuka is the daughter of the greatest hero of the prior generation and the brother of the emperor of Hokkaran. Her Mother is legendary for her sword work and generalized killing ability, gaining the nickname the Queen of Crows, for her habit of feeding the crows bread in her travels... As well as leaving behind mountains of bodies for them eat (Sound strategically and tactically. Be nice to crows and they’ll be nice to you). Her father, an imperial prince, is the most celebrated poet of his generation and her biggest fan (O-Shizuka's Mother, in turn, is a huge fan of his poetry so it works out pretty well). Now you would think that would be the kinda hard act to follow that would make a kid feel shadowed by their parents but let me add one additional tidbit. O'Shizuka's Uncle the Emperor? Has no children, legitimate or bastard, nor has he any siblings other then O-Shizuka's Father and so O-Shizuka is first and only in line for the throne (Excellent. No male-only primogeniture {I'm glad to know this imperial god-king system has your approval}). Most of us would be excused for feeling a bit under pressure. O-Shizuka on the other hand believes that this is exactly the kind of set up that she deserves and not only is she going to live up to these legacies and responsibilities, she's gonna rock them so hard that in centuries to come people will be referring to her parents as the prologue to her own mind-blowing heroics and poetry. This would be incredibly irritating if it wasn't for the fact that O-Shizuka not only lives up to her self imposed standards, being an empire-wide lauded duelist capable of beating hardened soldiers one on one by the age of 13; but her calligraphy is so famous and awesome that she can literally use it as money. She can walk into any shop she wants and walks away with just about anything just by offering to write them a nice sign. Oh, she also has superpowers like being able to glow, make plants grow whenever and however she wishes and when she walks into a garden every flower turns to face her. Let's be honest anyone of us would have a healthy amount of appreciation for ourselves at this point (That kinda shit would turn most of us into an insufferable narcissist, to be honest). Balancing it out is the fact that she lives in an enemy camp. Her Uncle the Emperor hates her for not being his daughter and for the fact that she's wildly unimpressed with him. Throughout her young life, she is faced with attempts to control her or marry her off to some man old enough to be her father. So in a way her pride is a defense mechanism because if she ever lets it slip she runs the risk of being enslaved. Instead of being annoyed with her, I often found myself sympathizing with her, especially as her situation would go from bad to worse as she grew up.

Shefali, the daughter of the Karsa of the Qorin people, a group of horse nomads that were only fought off a generation ago due to the heroics of the Queen of Crows is rather impressive herself. Her Mother was the woman who slew her brothers so she could avenge her sisters and then united her people without ever speaking a word. Still, without speaking a word, she breached the walls that held them away from the Hokkaran Empire and led her people in an attack deep within the Empire. When the heroics of the Queen of Crows and others made her position untenable she humbled herself by making peace with the Empire, marrying one of its nobles, and bearing two children with him before going her own way. Shefali was the younger of the two children and was given over to her mother to raise. She would face some resistance due to her mixed blood but would win over her relatives and people emerging as one of the greatest riders and archers of her people despite never mounting a horse until she was five. Not only that but she can speak to and understand horses and can hit any target with a bow even while blindfolded. Interestingly enough Shefali is actually rather humble about the whole thing but then she was brought up with a family that basically accepted her and wasn't constantly surrounded by enemies pretending to be friends. What's kind of interesting to me here is just how impactful that is without any attention given to it. While Shefali is considered the shy and untalkative one, it's her social network that the girls use throughout the book, be it Shefali's brother who was raised by their father instead of their mother or going on a mission given to them by someone who met Shefali in a town. Which leads me to suspect the narration isn't entirely trustworthy (it wouldn't surprise me that Shefali underestimates herself) but I'll come back to that.

The world that O-Shizuka and Shefali inhabit is a troubled one and Ms. Rivera takes time to show us that trouble in depth even if she doesn't dump a lot of information on us. From what characters say and do we can glean that the Empire and the world is barely holding back some fallen divine being, who turned on the other gods and leads corrupted armies of humans and other beings. These creatures bedevil and torment humanity which holds them back with armies and walls... okay mostly holds them back with armies and walls. Putting that aside, the Hokkaran Empire is a state with a number of internal issues; there are divisions between the various component states and political resentments. In addition, they have a ruling class that abandons its responsibilities in favor of losing itself in various debaucheries, power games, and artistic pursuits that do little except serve as social status symbols. Now at no point is this flat out said in the story; instead, we're shown a world where bandits operate openly and state paramilitary forces are too afraid to confront them (Dear God, don’t they even have competent junior officers who can take some initiative? {Under emperors like this, junior officers like that get executed}). The peasants abandon farms where the crops don't grow or turn rotten due to malign magical influence. The noble class lives in massive palaces and argues over the merits of old poetry styles standing in massive flower gardens while dressed in clothes expensive enough to feed entire villages. This story does a lot to show rather than tell, with Ms. Rivera doling out her world-building carefully and methodically so as not to overwhelm the reader or give so little as to lose their interest completely. This is done around O-Shizuka and Shefali with both girls serving as sort of tent-poles for the world and the story itself. This is mirrored by the fact that their friendship and later romance is the central column of the story itself and Ms. Rivera approaches that with the same level of care and craft that she does her world building. To be honest it's a more believable relationship than a great number of ones that I've read in the past. The only thing really concerning is how they don't have a lot of friends or allies outside of each other but Ms. Rivera takes care to explain why that's the case within the story. I've mentioned all the things I liked and thought were well done, that leaves what I didn't care for.

The story is told in the narrative device of a letter from Shefali to O-Shizuka, which while not written badly is a narrative frame that I just don't like. For one thing, it drains the suspense out of the story because we know the ultimate ending and leaves me wondering why Shefali wrote a letter that covers their entire lives together rather than telling her about what Shefali did when they were apart? While there are some things that O-Shizuka doesn't know in the letter (which lead to interludes in the “present day” of the novel) for the vast majority O-Shizuka does know what happened because she was bloody there! There's also the fact that Ms. Rivera seems to be modeling this on Victorian letters, which I'm honestly not a fan of. This makes The Tiger Daughter's an example of an Epistolary novel, which is a novel written and presented as a series of documents, like letters, diary entries, or documentaries. This is a format that's achieved recent success, with examples like The Martian or World War Z (although neither of them used the letter version) and has a number of classical novels using the format like Stoker’s Dracula. Now, this format can work and as I pointed out with my examples has worked in the past remarkably well. For example, The Martian was able to maintain suspense by keeping the narrative framing as diary entries by the main character that could have been recovered after his untimely end (Both The Dresden Files and The Laundry use this format as well. In the former it’s unstated by clearly a personal memoir, and in the latter as a series of memoirs designed to provide continuity of institutional knowledge). We can't do that with a letter that Shefali wrote to a still living O-Shizuka who is shown as ruling the Hokkaran Empire from the imperial palace, however. Another issue I have is a frankly personal one that I don't think will affect the majority of readers. I have mentioned in prior reviews that my parents are deaf as you could imagine this meant that I learned sign language at a fairly young age (ASL is his first language, in point of fact). There was simply no choice in the matter if I was going to communicate with my own folks. Shefali's Mother, due to a vow, doesn't speak but signs to communicate to the world (or writes notes), despite living with her Mother for years, Shefali doesn't bother to learn anything but the sign for her own name! (The Fuck?) Needing one of her cousins to translate everything for her. It's also galling because it reminds me how some of my Mother's own family never bothered to learn even the basics of sign language and that led to her being a stranger in her own home and family. This isn't as uncommon within Deaf circles as I would like (Ideal incidence rate is 0%.) and while it's not Ms. Rivera's intent to bring that up, I'm left thinking on it all the same. I'll admit this isn't a problem with the story as much as it is me reacting to something an element of the story reminds me of. That said these reviews are my own subjective experience and opinion of the story. So I have be honest and say that this sapped some of my enjoyment from reading an otherwise really good story. In the end, I have to give The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera a B. Despite my own issues, this story is clearly very much above average and I do think Ms. Rivera should be proud of that, considering some of the other first novels I’ve read.

Next week, we open with our first ever Patreon choice! That being Heaven Sword & Dragon Saber by Louis Cha and Wing Shing Ma. After that comes our second ever Patreon choice Lamplighter by D.M Cornish. If you would like to select future reviews or recommend books join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads. Of course, feel free to comment, and if you liked the review share it with your friends. Above everything else though, Keep Reading!

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 05, 2019 8:27 pm 
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Heaven Sword & Dragon Sabre Vol I
By Louis Cha/Jin Yong and Wing Shing Ma


Louis Cha who used the pen name Jin Yong was born in 1924 in Haining, Zhejiang in the Republic of China. He was born with the name of Zha Liangyong of the Zha clan of Haining and could claim a number of known scholars and poets in his ancestry. An avid reader of wuxia and classical Chinese literature even as a young man he got into conflict with the authorities to the point of being expelled from school for denouncing the Nationalist Government as autocratic. Despite this, he would graduate high school in 1943. In the early 50s, his father was arrested by the Communist government in the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries and put to death (he would be declared innocent in the 1980s... posthumously). Mr. Cha found himself in then-British-ruled Hong Kong working for the New Evening Post as a deputy editor. There he started working on his first novel in 1955 and quit his job to work as a scriptwriter and scenarist director for Great Wall Movies Enterprises Lt and Phoenix Film Company. In 1959, he founded the newspaper Ming Pao and served as its editor in chief, at the same time writing serialized novels and editorials to the tune of 10,000 Chinese characters a day. Which frankly makes me light headed just thinking of it. Mr. Cha would write 15 novels that are to this day wildly popular in the Chinese speaking world; they have been made into movies, tv shows, radio dramas, and graphic novels. Louis Cha would pass away in October of 2018 and has been compared to JRR Tolkien, George RR Martin and JK Rowling for his influence on Chinese fiction in general and wuxia specifically (as for what wuxia is, all I'm gonna say is we are going to get into that later this year, stay tuned!)

In fact, the subject of this review is a graphic novel. The novel of Heaven Sword & Dragon Sabre (for the record I'm told this is a mistranslation and it should be Heavenly relying Sword but Heaven Sword is catchier so we're sticking with that) which was adapted into this graphic novel by Wing Shing Ma, a Hong Kong artist born in 1961. He quit school in 1975 to focus on his art and well, it paid off. Wing Shing Ma is known for series such as Chinese Hero, Two Extremes, and Black Leopard. He would release this in the late 1990s with the English translations being released in the early 2000s.

Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre is actually the third part of the trilogy but stands well enough on its own that you can follow the story without needing to read the prior two books. Which is good because I haven't. I grabbed this one because it was mistakenly labeled as a stand-alone and I didn't do enough prior research. The novel is set in a fantasy version of China where martial art training can unlock a person's inner power (or Chi as it commonly referred to) allowing them to do fantastical feats that aren't physically possible. Which is a good thing for our main characters because they're going to need every feat they can pull. Let's talk about them a bit.

Jay Shan is the Fifth Brother of the Wu-Tang Clan (no, not that one) a martial arts school founded by a man who achieved a spiritual awakening and taught his insights to seven students. It's on their master's 90th birthday when they discover their 3rd brother has been wounded horribly perhaps even to the point of death. With few clues and fewer options, the brothers of the Wu-Tang Clan split up to search for what happened to their Third Brother and why. Jay Shan quickly finds himself wrapped up in a series of events that center around the Dragon Sabre, a legendary sword that can cut stone and steel as if they were paper and if the wielder can unlock the swords secrets, they can rule the world. His lead into this story is Sue Ying, the daughter of the leader of the Sky Eagle Clan. Ying is an interesting figure in her own right; as Shan finds her by tracking the back trail of his injured brother and finding out that someone had hired a group of bodyguards to bring him to the Wu-Tang Clan's stronghold after he had been injured but had murdered that group when they failed. That was Sue, who also murdered a pair of monks for trying to stop her but not before getting tagged with a trio of poisoned needles. Oh, she also did all that while disguised as Shan; so now everyone thinks he's a maniacal monk-murderer. What really caught my attention here was the fact that she was dying of poison, with Shan wanting to heal her but she refuses on the grounds that Shan needs to apologize for scolding her for committing cold-blooded murder and admit she was right to do so. I've seen some gutsy power moves in my day but this is a new one. I don't think I've run into ‘I won't let you save my life until you validate my life choices and apologize for doubting me’ before. Especially pulling that with someone you basically framed for your crimes? I'm flat out impressed. She's gonna need that gall and audacity to deal with their antagonist though.

Zhune Shai, who rejoices in the title of King of Gold Lion, is a man of singular purpose. Many years ago, his master who goes by Vigor Fist of Kun betrayed him and killed Shai's entire family. As is entirely expected of you in a wuxia story (or most fantasy stories honestly, to be fair blood feuds and cycles of revenge are simply what happens in societies without effective law enforcement or government) Shai embarked on a quest of revenge to kill his old master and if he has to make a mountain of bodies to get to his old master, well so much the worse for everyone else then. I've always found the wild disregard for innocent bystanders somewhat interesting in a way. Since it was someone else slaughtering an innocent that started it in the first place. You'd think at least one character would stop and go ‘No, killing unrelated 3rd parties whose only real sin is being in the wrong place and time literally makes me just as bad or worst than the person I am trying to avenge myself on’, but they don’t. Shai, however, does have that pointed out to him by a Monk on his first rampage, who tries to extract a promise from Shai to stop the killing on the grounds that while what Vigor Fist of Kun did was terrible and wrong, we have to start somewhere in putting an end to blood feuds and murder. So while Shai does try to limit his bloody vengeance, he's perfectly happy to look for a reason to kill someone if it's convenient for him. Given that this is a wuxia story in fantasy China, there's a lot of terrible people to kill. Shai's goal is to hunt down the legendary Dragon Sabre, which is the one thing that might give him the edge over his master and allow to finally reap his vengeance. He also wants to make sure there are no witnesses to him getting ahold of the Dragon Sabre because learning how to use such a weapon takes time and he'd rather that Vigor Fist didn't come looking for him before he was ready. I kinda like that since that's a touch of realism to the fantastic here. A sword that can cut through anything is going be a little different in its use than a normal sword. Both Ying and Shan get dragged into this while trying to hammer out just what their relationship is and suddenly they have the pressure of not being murdered on top of that. Despite that, they do work well together.

The first volume of Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre is more of a prologue than an opening chapter but it's an interesting one. The story does show it's age in the translation and plot progression, however. Within pages, I could tell I was reading a story that was at least older than I was and while that doesn't bother me, a modern reader may want to keep that in mind. The art is really well done in a style that is colorful and detailed enough to keep the reader's interest. It makes a good tale for anyone who enjoys martial arts stories or just enjoys stories with larger than life colorful characters. That said, there is a pacing issue as the story is a bit in a hurry and could have used more time to establish the relationship between Jay Shan and Sue Ying. There's also the fact that you rather keenly feel the fact that this is part of a larger story. In its defense, the graphic novel does manage to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. That said I'm giving Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre Vol I by Louis Cha and Wing Shing Ma a B.

This review was brought you by my supporters at Patreon, having won our monthly poll. If you would like to help choose future reviews or even make suggestions, then join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where a vote for what books I'll review next only cost a 1$ a month. As always I also welcome your comments below and of course, Keep Reading.

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 12, 2019 9:45 pm 
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Lamplighter
By D. M Cornish


Lamplighter is the second novel in the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M Cornish. It was originally slated for publication in 2007 but for reasons I was unable to uncover was pushed back to 2008. Once published it was nominated for the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel. I covered the first book last year in October so I won't retread ground but if you're interested in learning about D.M Cornish or the publication of the series, I'll leave a link to the last review. Right now, let us turn to the novel in question.

Lamplighter takes place on the Half-Continent, where the greatest and most powerful nation is the Haacobin Empire. The Empire is a state that is caught between a feudal past and a the idea of a modern, rational state, where semi-independent city states, duchies and princedoms all feud and claim ancient rights; emerging technologies and strange alchemical learning have led to the development of new devices and enhancements to the human body and to human industry. However, humanity is also locked into conflict with Monsters, creatures that are neither natural beasts or humans. Many of them are sapient although none of them appear to have created a tool using civilization. Most monsters appear to view humans has only a fairly chatty food source. Add in greater strength, speed, usually an array of natural weapons and the ability to work together in large numbers when they feel like it and you begin to question how humanity even survived long enough to reach the city building stage. On top of this, it seems the Monsters have some sort of effect on the land itself. Lands that are heavily populated by Monsters developed a phenomenon called the Threwd, in which people feel an awareness in the land itself. Usually, a hostile one that in powerful instances can drive humans mad with fear and paranoia. Because of the dangers real and imagined humanity, for the most part, has reacted with a xenophobic rage towards monster kind, working to clear them from whatever lands humanity possesses. To be honest I can see how that developed when you have a situation where entire families are disappearing in the night and are afflicted with a constant low-grade dread while you're simply trying to maintain a farm... You're not going to very open to the idea of peaceful co-existence or to the people who suggest it may be possible.

In this grim but changing world Rossamund Bookchild, a child of unknown family and origin strives to find his place and to form his own beliefs about the world around him. The last book, Foundling covered Rossamunds journey from his childhood home to the fortress of Winstermill to begin his career as an imperial lamplighter. This book covers his training and first posting as a Lamplighter. Let's explain what that is first. Most of the Empire is held together by imperial waterways which are faster and safer to travel, as rivers are fairly easy to keep monster free by the use of dams and canals and other such things. However not everywhere is reachable by river and there are only so many boats to go around. So tying together the rest of the Empire is a system of Imperial Highways, in an effort to make them safer for the poor souls who must travel them and they are lit by great lamps using Bloom, a type of plant that glows in the dark. Lamplighters tend the lamps, lighting them at sunset and by caring for the Bloom and mechanism of the lamps themselves during the day. They also serve as road-guards garrisoning small forts and strongholds across the Empire to try and maintain some level of safety for overland travelers. It's a harsh, lonely life at times and given that many of them are stationed in out of the way places where Monsters can set upon them without warning, it's a way of life with a high amount of casualties. Which at least means there's always openings for new blood I suppose.

Of course Rossamund's adventurers in the first book led to him arriving a bit late and gaining the nickname of Mister Come Lately (at least it isn't something about him having a girl's name) along with him being one of the smaller apprentices in his platoon means he's starting with a pretty steep uphill climb here. To make matters worse Rossamund finds himself being pulled into the murky world of politics, as factionalism within the Lamplighters ranks rears its nasty head. The newly appointed Master of Clerks is pushing to expand his power throughout the ranks and has brought with him a slew of supporters such as the surgeon Grotius Swill. As Rossamund finds evidence that Swill might be involved in forbidden dark arts, such as the creation of Reaver Men (artificial monsters made using the parts of human corpses for the most part), he now has to fend off powerful enemies in an arena he has neither the education or experience to operate in. Further complicating his life is the arrival of Threnody, a young lady from the clave Right of the Pacific Dove, who has decided to become the first woman lamplighter.

Let me talk about what the Right of the Pacific Dove is before I discuss the young lady herself. Throughout the Empire, there are all female societies known as Calendars, who provide fighters and social services. They do things like protect the poor from monsters, provide protection to women who need to flee their homes and campaign for social justice. They're known for dressing colorfully and running about doing heroic deeds. Threnody has the misfortune of being the only child of the August (the leader) of this group of Calendars and as such her Mother has mapped out and planned her entire life for her. As you can guess that means Threnody's biggest concern is thwarting her Mother's will as much as humanly possible and fighting for every choice she can get. She hasn't been doing so well on that front. She was forced to undergo the surgeries to become a Lahzar, which is a human being who has been enhanced to fight monsters. In Threnody's case, she was made into a Wit, which is someone who has the ability to send out mind scrambling signals which can put down men and Monsters. Of course, she's not very good at it yet and there tends to be a bit of friendly fire when she gets involved. Given how new she is at it and the fact that her body is still adjusting from the experience of having foreign organs shoved into it to give her superpowers, well it would be a miracle if she wasn't a bit lacking in control. Threnody is a very bitter and at times self-important young woman and honestly, I can understand why she isn't given control over her own body but is treated as a mere extension of her Mother's will. Her mother leads a society that preaches greater justice and rights for individuals; and while that hypocrisy is never directly confronted in the book, it hovers over Threnody's character like a cloak and dictates a lot of her responses to the world around her. She is told she is better and more important than others and has a duty to fight for their safety and rights. Because she isn't just a young woman but the heir to a title and the future leader of a society of fighters. However, she is constantly prevented from exercising the very things that she is pressured to provide other people and that isn't going to make for a sweet personality. Threnody has however managed to win the right to join the lamplighters and thus escape a bit from her Mother's authority and in the doing become friends with Rossamund. Threnody isn't the only lady taking an interest in Rossamund however as Europe the Lahzar with the ability to toss around electricity is also hanging about looking to convince Rossamund to leave the lamplighters and come work for her. Europe's role in this story is changed from her last appearance, as she works to provide mentoring and protection to Rossamund despite his belonging to a group that holds her at arms distance.

Foundling, the first book in the series was about Rossamund leaving his childhood home and learning how to function in an adult world that is dangerous and a lot grayer then he expected. Lamplighter is about Rossamund learning how to function as a young man among his fellows and how to operate within society. For most of the book, Rossamund is learning how to fit into the society of the lamplighters and be a good contributing member of that society. Even if he doesn't agree with all the opinions of that society, because his experiences have taught him to have empathy for the Monsters that Mankind is locked into battle with. That empathy is what causes conflict with him and the lamplighter society at large because honestly, the lamplighters can't really afford empathy for Monsters in most situations. At the same time, their xenophobia is creating enemies that they don't need. What I like about this, is that the conflict isn't that humanity just needs to learn to accept Monsters and stop being scared of them. There is a real and good reason to be afraid of the things sniffing at your locked and armored door in the dead of night and offering your hand to any monster can lead to that limb being torn off. I do think the best end would be to find a way for at least some Monsters and humanity to live in peace but I'll admit I'm not very sure how you could accomplish that. Both sides need space to live and their ways of life are so dramatically opposed. Mr. Cornish does a good job of presenting this conflict from the ground up and letting his readers make their own judgments, while also presenting a depth of worldbuilding and character development that can stand toe to toe with such writers as Bakker, Cameron, Leckie or even the old heavyweights like Tolkien or Howard. I have to admit I find myself both looking forward to the last book and disappointed that Mr. Cornish has only written one more novel in this world. Lamplighter by DM Cornish gets an A.

Next week, we reach back to the past to review Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. This book was also selected by my supporters on Patreon, if you would like to help choose future reviews or even make suggestions, then join us at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads where a vote for what books I'll review next book only cost a 1$. As always I also welcome your comments below and of course, Keep Reading.

You can also catch my review of Foundling here. http://frigidreads.blogspot.com/2018/10 ... rnish.html

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PostPosted: Fri Apr 19, 2019 8:31 pm 
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Lord of Light
Roger Zelazny


Roger Zelazny was born in 1937 in Cleveland Ohio, he was the only child of Joseph Zelazny and Josephine Sweet. Joseph Zelazny immigrated from Poland and worked as a pattern maker for a typewriter company, Josephine was a homemaker. Mr. Zelazny started reading early and his first published works were poems in his high school literary magazine, which he also edited. While in high school he submitted stories for publication to science fiction magazines but only one story was ever accepted; this discouraged him a bit so he focused on his poetry, After graduating high school, he enrolled in Western Reserve University in Cleveland, originally he studied psychology but switched eventually to English and graduated with his BA in 1959. While he was there, he won the Finlay Foster Poetry Prize, twice. He then headed to graduate school at Colombia University, where he would study Elizabethan and Jacobean drama (Jacobean drama refers to works written during the reign of the British King James I, who took the throne after Queen Elizabeth). He would also serve a term in the Ohio National Guard. He received his Master's degree in 1962 and sold two short stories as well as started work as a claims agent in the Social Security Administration, writing part-time. He married his fiance after delaying the wedding due to an auto crash but the strain of the accident and the death of his father in the same year led to the marriage falling apart and they separated in 1965, Mr. Zelazny moved on and married Judith Callahan in September 1966. She was the mother of their three children and they remained married (although separated) until his death due to colon cancer in 1995. Mr. Zelazny was a major writer throughout the 1960s and 70s, mostly known for the fantasy series Lords of Amber, he also wrote a long list of science fiction and other works. He won the Nebula three times (Nominated fourteen times) and the Hugo six times (also nominated fourteen times), as well as two Locus Awards, a Prix tour Apollo Award (a French science fiction award), two Seiun Awards (Japanese) and two Balrog Awards (which ended in 1985). The book we're reviewing today is actually Mr. Zelazny's third novel and a Hugo award winner, Lord of Light. Published in 1967 by Doubleday publishing, which is today owned by Penguin Random House (which means, you guessed it, owned by Random House).

Lord of Light takes place in the far future on a distant planet where the remnants of humanity have found themselves surrounded by hostile alien species and unable to leave. Deciding to fight it out to the last alien creature, members of the crew undergo strange treatments to create various physical and mental powers to give them an edge over the strange beings they must confront and oust in order to secure a future for humanity. These people also find a style of immortality when they are able to transfer their minds to new bodies and find that their powers transfer right along with them and over time grow even stronger. The people who underwent the procedures to gain these powers find become warlords, then monarchs, and finally gods; as humanity slowly reverts to a dark age existence. This was encouraged by a faction among the new gods who claim it's safer and healthier for everyone to let all memory of vanished Earth and its technology fade away, proclaiming that due to their mind transfer technology people can live for generations and eventually gain the wisdom to be trusted with such power. Meanwhile the gods (who have taken the names and some of the physical appearances of Hindu gods in the meantime) will of course take up the hard burden of policing humanity, deciding who gets to move up the ladder towards godhood and of course living in their own post-scarcity utopian city of heaven and if some folks get “promoted” faster and it seems odd that some of them are really attractive folks that caught a god or goddess' eye? Not to worry all part of the plan. If it seems that people who question this system end up spending centuries in the bodies of beasts or worse actually dying... Well doesn't that mean it's best not to question? You do want to get to heaven after all... Don't you? Have faith, maintain your Karma and obey the priests (who have access to high technology in disguise, the better to serve the gods), paradise will come to you in time. Of course, there were those among the gods who didn't agree with this social order. A faction called Accelerationists wanted to share the knowledge and technology that the gods hoarded with the people in order to improve their knowledge and lives and, you know, let the average person enjoy such dangerous wonders as indoor plumbing, printed books, and electricity. Then again, I suppose if you're hiding knowledge, the printing press is the most dangerous thing in the world to you. They first tried to debate but lost against the temptations of keeping an entire world as a personal game reserve and whorehouse. They tried to fight but were all swiftly rounded up, crushed and quietly done away with. Well, almost all... There's always one isn't there? I'm gonna quote the first lines of the novel because there is no better introduction to our main character.

“His followers called him Mahasamatman and said he was a god. He preferred to drop the Mah- and the -atman, however, and called himself Sam. He never claimed to be a god. But then, he never claimed not to be a god. Circumstances being what they were, neither admission could be of any benefit. Silence though, could.”

Sam is an immortal on a mission: he's gonna break the stranglehold his fellow transhumans have on this world by any means necessary. Because until he does that, humanity is locked in the existence of drudgery and mindless obedience to beings who’ve honestly outlived their purpose. To do this, he will plot, lie, cheat, murder and... Refound Buddhism. Which honestly makes sense, as the gods control people through their hope of a better reincarnation and created an entire system of social and cultural controls to reinforce that hope. The only way to really counter that is to undermine the whole thing, Buddhism among other things suggests that maybe being endlessly reincarnated isn't that grand of a thing and what you should pursue is a spiritual union with the universe which means a surrender of yourself and individuality. By creating a counter-culture that rejects the preachings of the dominant religion, Sam lays the ideological and cultural groundwork for resistance to the gods. It's not enough to oppose something, after all, you need to create an alternative. This creates an interesting paradox, an unenlightened man who preaches enlightenment. A man who is living a lie embracing and spreading a doctrine of Holiness. While the gods oppose this spiritual awakening in their midst, they can't kill it because it is rooted in the flaws and contradictions of their own system. The only way to get rid of Buddhism here would be to reform the system to the point of rendering the protests moot. Which for many of the gods would defeat the whole point of having the system in the first place. But if you don't then you run the risk of things getting out of control and losing anyway. Of course, this isn't Sam's only string on the bow; there are other forces lurking at the edges of the world who disagree with the established order. Survivors of the alien races that contested them in the first place for example, or members of the group who left a lot earlier. There are even those among the gods who are dissatisfied with the way things are going for reasons both petty and sublime. Throughout all of this is Sam, working every seam and weak point in the regime, questing for every ally and advantage, because before things can get any better, first they’ve got to change.

The plot of the novel unfolds in seven interlinked stories that tell the origin of Sam's resistance; his creation of Buddhism on an alien world; and the ultimate fate of his attempts to change his world for the better. These stories cover a long stretch of time, as you could imagine when talking about an immortal engaged in a long grim twilight struggle. There is also a host of recurring supporting characters and antagonists. Interestingly enough, we are never given a full first-hand look at the brutal wars that gave rise to this in the first place. We do not see the desperate battles against creatures who only exist as electromagnetic patterns, or beings able to attack our very minds just by existing. We don't see the discussion and thinking that lead to people subjecting themselves to experiments to gain the powers and tools needed to fight such beings or the relationships that were built and fueled by such conflicts. Instead, we only see the breakdown and existence of a degenerate world order designed to keep those same warriors in charge. This creates a mythic background to the story in front of us, as we only know those deeds through myth and hazy memory, they become mythical tales that create the pantheon that Sam struggles against. This also leaves us trying to work out the history behind the personal relationships between the gods, Sam and the gods, and everyone else. Because Sam is also in the situation where the only peers he has, the only people who really understand him... Are the people he's trying to overthrow. By leaving so much unsaid, Mr. Zalazny also injects a heavy air of mystery into the novel which helps to draw the reader in. Especially to the motives of supporting characters, who I won't ruin here, you'll have to read the novel yourself.

Another element that caught my interest was the idea of trans or post-humans rising themselves up as gods. Let me explain what I mean by transhuman and posthuman. Transhumans are individuals who through the use of advanced technology have transformed themselves into better versions of human, being smarter, stronger, more resistant to injury and disease, and having a longer life. These people are still recognizably human and meaningful interaction is still possible with them. They would have human desires, needs, and goals. A posthuman is a being either created by humans or once a human that has transformed by technology into something that is honestly no longer human and in many opinions beyond humanity. The most common examples of posthumans in fiction tend to either be artificial intelligences who grow so powerful that humans become like monkeys before them or individuals who “evolve” into energy beings or advanced examples of life and then usually leave. A posthuman isn't recognizably human anymore and may be more alien than anything else we can imagine honestly. Lord of Light is the oldest book I've run into so far to use the idea of transhumans acting as gods, other examples include Ben Bova's Orion series, Safehold by David Weber, God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert, Illium by Dan Simmons and many more. It's a plot element I find honestly kind of interesting as it opens up the story to themes about what one should expect from a religion, or what exactly makes a divine presence. Being that this was written in 1967, you shouldn’t expect too many modern transhuman themes in it, although some of the timeless ones are there mostly in what kind of challenges an immortal may face over a long period of life.

My biggest complaint with Lord of Light is that there isn't more of it. There's easily enough story in this one novel for a trilogy or so. Much is left vague or passed over that could have been expanded on. As it stands the novel serves as a show of the highlights of Sam's long battle to free mankind from it's latest group of tyrants. There's just so much more that could have been shown here and a lot of the story that is left entirely to the reader's imagination. Additionally, there are chunks of the story that are told instead of shown. They're cleverly told in a way that shows additional parts of the plot and the world, usually using the character to relay information in a way that tells us a lot about them but I still would have been liked to have been shown this. That said it's an interesting story that held my attention rather effortlessly and offered me a lot to think about. Lord of Light certainly earned it Hugo's award and still remains a relevant read today over 50 years after it was published. I'm giving Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny an A- and an encouragement to any science fiction or fantasy fan to give it a spin.

First I want to say happy Passover and happy Easter to all my readers. I hope you and your families have a good holiday. If you enjoyed this week's review, consider joining us at our patreon at https://www.patreon.com/frigidreads, for a dollar a month you can vote on what books get reviewed that month and more. Next week join us for the sequel of Kings of the Wyld, as we take a look at Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames! By all means, comment and share but above all Keep Reading.

_________________
"it takes two sides to end a war but only one to start one. And those who do not have swords may still die upon them." Tolken


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