Monthly Archives: June 2011

Gods of Justice

Gods of Justice
Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes, ed.
Mark Offutt and Joel Gomez, ill.
Cliffhanger Books, 205 p., ebook $4.99, print (forthcoming)

This is turning out to be the summer of the superhero.  Not only are we seeing more superhero movies than we ever have in a single summer, but print-wise superheroes seem to be on the rise as well. 

Case in point, Gods of Justice, edited by Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes.  This the sophomore publication of Clffhanger Books, a new small press.  Their first publication was an anthology of paranormal romance.  It was a nominee for Best Book of 2010 for The Romance Review.  That means they set a high standard their first time out.

The question is, do they live up to it in this book?

The answer is “Yes, they do.”  The book’s webpage summarizes the stories, so I won’t try to do that here.   Instead, I’ll give you my overall impressions.

First, these stories are not set against a common background or universe.  Of the ten stories, one is set in a dystopian future and one on a distant planet (that one is a Western, of all things, and one of the best in the book).  The remaining eight take place on Earth, with one occurring in No Man’s Land in World War I. 

The tone and settings vary widely.  So do the characters.  Some are about scared people trying to do the right thing when the right thing isn’t always clear or could be quite costly.  Some deal with the obligations of heroes and power, while others examine the corrupting effects that power has on the hero and how heroes can sometimes become villains.  More than one author deals with time travel, a popular theme in superhero tales.  Although there’s no explicit sex, a couple of stories contain mature themes and language, so if you’re thinking of giving the book as a gift to a young reader, you might keep in mind age-appropriateness.  I’d say the book is a PG-13.  But if your reader is mature enough, you should give the book.

I met editor Kevin Hosey back in February at ConDFW.  When the review copy showed up, I had let the book slip my mind, so it’s arrival was a pleasant surprise.  The next pleasant surprise was in reading it.  With the exception of DC Comics writer Ricardo Sanchez and Star Trek author Dayton Ward, the lineup seems to consist of fairly new authors.  At least I wasn’t familiar with the authors names, so I was a little unsure about what to expect.  I needn’t have worried.   

While one or two entries didn’t do much for me (primarily for reasons of personal taste), I found the quality quite high over all.  If most of the writers are at the beginning of their writing careers, they should only get better with time.  I’m going to watch for some of these people.  The variety makes this another diverse anthology, meaning most readers should find plenty to like here.  I certainly did.  I seem to be blessed with a number of this type of anthology lately, with one more I should have finished in a few days.  A couple of stories committed what I think of as comic book logic, which threw me out of the story, but the level of craftsmanship is better than what you would find in most anthologies with a high percentage of new writers. I think this is the first time I’ve read a western set in space in which I want to read more.  While I like westerns, I’ve found they usually don’t work well on other planets.  This one did, and it couldn’t have been set in the Old West and worked.  The story about the time travel murders was a refreshing twist as well.  And “The Justice Blues” had one of the best character developments of the book. 

Most of the stories have an illustration, which was a nice touch (particularly the one on p. 71).  But the focus here is on the stories.  As it should be.

All in all, I found this to be a fun book.  The contents were well-written, thought provoking, imaginative, and entertaining.  I was sorry there were no more stories when I reached the end of the book.  If you like comics and superheroes, by all means give this one a try.  This is the first in a series with at least two more planned, although I have no idea when they’ll be published.  Hopefully soon.  I’m looking forward to them. 

This review was also posted at Adventures Fantastic.

RIP, Martin H. Greenberg

Dean Wesley Smith is reporting that Martin H. Greenberg passed away this morning after a long illness.  If you’ve ever picked up an anthology is the last twenty or thirty years, there’s a good chance his name was on the cover, usually following the name of a well known author or editor.  (Isaac Asimov comes to mind as the most prominent, but he was far from the only one.)  If the anthology was published by DAW books, then his name was almost certainly on the cover.  Greenberg was the publisher of Tekno Books, one of the leading book packagers in the world.  (A packager puts the project together, then sells it to publisher.)  While his work was often behind the scenes, he was a major player in fantasy and science fiction publishing, as well as a number of other genres.  I never met Mr. Greenberg, but I’ve always heard only good things about him.  His passing is a major loss to the science fiction and fantasy fields.  Think of him the next time you read one of the anthologies he put together.  Dean Wesley Smith worked with Greenberg and has written a moving eulogy.

Engineering Infinity

If you’ve been reading science fiction for any length of time, the name Jonathan Strahan should be familiar to you.  He’s edited or co-edited an number of successful  and critically acclaimed anthologies, such as The New Space Opera and The New Space Opera 2, both co-edited with Gardner Dozois, and the Eclipse series (the newest, Eclipse 4: New Science Fiction and Fantasy, has just been published) as well as a Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series, now up to Volume 5.

The book at hand is Engineering Infinity, a collection of original stories that are clearly science fiction.  Not speculative fiction, not fantasy, not slipstream.  Pure science fiction, much but not all of it of the “hard” variety.  It’s been on my shelf for a while, something on the general order of about five or six months.  I recently decided to stop dipping into it and finish it.

Let’s take a quick scan of the contents, shall we?

There are 14 stories, plus an introduction by Strahan.  Peter Watts starts us off with the tale of “Malak”,  a self-aware attack craft in a future war.  Kristine Kathryn Rusch introduces us to a little girl to whom music really is her life in “Watching the Music Dance”.  Karl Schroeder takes us to a post Cold War Kazakhstan haunted by “Laika’s Ghhost” to see dreams reborn from the ashes of weapons.  Stephen Baxter gives us a ringside seat for “The Invasion of Venus.”.  Hannu Rajaniemi tells of an AI who plays God and discovers the serpent in the garden, so to speak, in “The Server and the Dragon”..  Charles Stross tells the tale of “Bit Rot” on a slower than light interstellar ship.  Kathleen Ann Goonan introduces us to “Creatures with Wings.”  “Walls of Bone, Bars of Flesh” is a quantum excursion into observation and time travel by Damien Broderick and Barbara Lamar.  Robert Reed questions what is real in “Mantis”.  John C. Wright takes us to the last night on Earth, on “Judgement Eve”  David Moles examines a far future space habitat and what happens to “A Soldier of the City” when terrorists strike.  In “Mercies”, Greg Benford introduces us to a time traveling serial killer who hunts, what else, notorious serial killers.  Gwyneth Jones gives us a very disturbing look inside a multispecies society that has a very ritualized form of cannibalism in “The Ki-anna”..  In the final entry, John Barnes examines new forms of life, such as “The Birds, and the Bees, and the Gasoline Trees.”

So how do the stories stack up?  Quite well.  I found three or four of them to be a little slow because they tended to focus on the internal lives of the characters more than the fantastic or futuristic elements of the story.  One story I should have read earlier in the evening rather than at bedtime.  But by and large, I though this was a solid anthology with a number of exceptionally strong pieces.  I tended to prefer the entries with a hard science and space opera slant, because that’s the way my tastes run.  But that doesn’t mean I didn’t like the character driven stories.  The Rusch, Benford, and Jones tales in particular were character driven and some of the best in the book.
This was a strong anthology, but that’s to be expected since Strahan usually puts together a top notch product.  Even if there are a few stories that don’t quite click for you, there’s enough here that most readers should find plenty that they like.

Don’t be surprised if you see some of the stories from this book on award ballots next year or showing up in the tables of contents of next year’s crop of annual best anthologies.

Opening Salvo

Welcome to Futures Past and Present.  This blog will be similar to my other blog, Adventures Fantastic, only instead I’ll be focusing on science fiction here. 

There will be some differences, though.  For one, as far as fantasy is concerned, Adventures Fantastic tends to stick to relatively new fantasy (or at least recent), with the exception of certain classic authors, such as Robert E. Howard.  The historical adventure and occasional historical fact post there are a little more broad ranging.  I’m going to take a more historical approach here in that I’ll strive to have a fairly even mix of old and new science fiction.  There are a number of authors who have been forgotten that I’ll try to bring to your attention.  If you’ve ever read one of Bud Webster’s Pat Masters columns, you know what I’m talking about.  Where Bud tends to focus on the authors and their oeuvre as a whole, I’ll look more specifically at individual works. 

Of course I’ll review as many new science fiction books, stories, and magazines as I can.  That should be about a third of what’s covered here.

And the final third will be me blogging about whatever I have on my shelves that I either finally get around to reading or read again. 

In other words, this is going to be a wide ranging blog focusing on as many aspects of science fiction we can reasonably cover.  I’m going to do more experimenting with the format and layout than I do with Adventures Fantastic, so don’t be too surprised if things change on a regular basis.