Friday Fun: 6 superheroes who got their powers from being lousy scientists

I've always been a big comics and graphic novel fan. In particular in my youth I was a huge superhero fan.

So this one was just a natural for me. Especially since one of the heroes that is profiled was one of my youthful favourites: The Incredible Hulk!


6 superheroes who got their powers from being lousy scientists

The Incredible Hulk

His Origin: Bruce Banner runs onto a gamma bomb testing facility to save a trespassing teen. He shoves the teen into a ditch, but gets hit with the full powers of radiation.

Note in the pic above that it says Banner was miles from the detonation of the bomb. So the bomb is powerful enough to mess up a guy miles away. Yet they didn't think to put up a fence?

Why are there guards? Aren't the guards going to get hit with the gamma radiation? Also, if we're going to be testing radiation bombs, can we put up some signs and get a little more clearance from humans than one mile? John Wayne died from cancer caused by appearing in a film that was in a different state from bomb testing.

Friday Fun: 4 Realizations That Will Ruin Science Fiction for You

Ok, so none of these realizations has actually ruined science fiction for me, but they are pretty funny nevertheless.


4 Realizations That Will Ruin Science Fiction for You

#4. Sci-fi Needs a Straight Man Like a Laurel and Hardy Routine

The bulk of the workload in writing science fiction/fantasy is creating your whole world from scratch. It's a hell of a lot of fun, but it also has some unique problems. Characters, by being from this world you've just hand-built, are naturally going to be referring to places and objects and sometimes even speaking in a language that is completely foreign to the reader. To deal with this issue as a writer, you can fill the narrative with clunky exposition, rabidly notate the entire thing and hope your readers like cross-referencing as much as they like space battles (not always a losing bet), or you can attempt to skillfully weave information and plot by virtue of your many practiced years in fiction.

Or you could take the other option: Chuck a dumbass into your story who literally doesn't understand a thing, thus forcing all of the other characters to constantly stop and explain every aspect of the world to him. Like so:

"General Klogg's Pogofighters are bouncing over the city walls! Quick, to the rhythm-cannons!" N-dah Gaim, robo-temptress of the Seventh Veil, screamed in alarm.

"General who's whatfighters are doing huh now?" Biff Manface asked (manfully).

"I forget, Manface, despite your chiseled jawline and just ... really, truly rockin' pecs (seriously, they're so, so good) ... that you are but a human, and a stranger to our lands. General Krogg is the former leader of Klogglandia's dancing warrior caste, you see, and his elite band, or 'crew,' of Krumping assassins have ..."

And so forth.

If you think that's a hack move that you, as a discerning reader, wouldn't tolerate, think again. It's been utilized in nearly every famous sci-fi work in history.

Friday Fun: Lord of the Tweets

Sure, John Scalzi doesn't need any link love from me.

On the other hand, sometimes he just hits one right out of the park.

Apparently the other day he stumbled upon a Lord of the Rings trilogy showing on TV. And he had a web-enabled machine of some sort handy. And he had Twitter open.

Hilarity ensued. Of the highest order. Lord of the Tweets it is!

Here's a samplling, but please do drop by Scalzi's blog and check out his complete rundown of tweets.

OSHA clearly has no jurisdiction in Moria.

I am suddenly aware of just how little difference there is between Orlando Bloom's Legolas and certain sparkly vampires one could name.

Orcs vs. Stormtroopers. GO. On second thought, never mind. Neither side aims well enough for it to be interesting.

Fun fact: Shadowfax, the horse Gandalf rides, had a younger, hipper sibling named "Darktweet."

The men of Helm's Deep are saved! The League of Bowie Impersonators has arrived!

Mordor's going about it all wrong, incidentally. Harness all that geothermal energy, sell it to the humans, LIVE LIKE KINGS.

You'd think they could password protect a palantir.

Once again: Gandalf -- not a people person. #WhatDenathorNeededWasAHug

If Gandalf would only use his Magneto powers, this whole battle would be over in, like, a minute and a half.

Hope the people of Minas Tirith like Oliphant barbeque.

Anyways, you get the idea.

(Er, and, hello? Storify!)

Friday Fun: 31 Days of Halloween!

The science fiction news site blastr has a very entertaining series going for the month of October, 31 Days of Halloween.

As you would imagine, every day this month they are featuring a post about Halloween. And fortunately the topics range from the bizarre to the ridiculous all the way to the barely safe for work.

Here's a sampling:

Enjoy!

Just curious: What are you reading right now?

Inspired by John Scalzi, I thought I'd poll all my readers out there and see what you are reading this weekend.

Books, magazines, blogs, whatever.

I'm reading Ross Macdonald's Meet Me at the Morgue for fiction, Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark in the graphic novel category and since I'm leading a book club session on it in a couple of weeks, I'm planning on spending a fair bit of time wth Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Magazine-wise, I'll be taking a look at the most recent issue of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

For those that are interested in following my reading adventures, I'm on GoodReads here.

Reading Diary: Summer reading with Bradbury x 2, Burke, Maberry, Lemire and more

My 2011 summer reading was pretty meagre this year. For various reasons too boring to go into here, there wasn't much actually much vacation for me this summer. I think I'll probably have a better December/Christmas reading list than summer. Such is life.

Anyways, what I did read was pretty good, so let's get to it.

Bradbury, Ray and Ron Wimberly. Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes: The Authorized Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 144pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809087464

Bradbury, Ray and Dennis Calero. Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles: The Authorized Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang, 2011. 160pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809080458

Both of these are review copies that were sent to me unsolicited by the publisher. Which is always a nice surprise. Especially when the books are ones that are really interesting to me but that I probably wouldn't have gotten around to getting for myself. Both books are, of course, graphic novel adaptations of classic Ray Bradbury novels from the 1950s and 60s, one science fantasy and one dark fantasy or horror.

The first one that I read, Something Wicked this Was Comes, is a dark fantasy from 1962 about a strange carnival that comes to a small town and how it affects the lives of three young boys. The novel itself is one that I'd never read but always meant to so I was very happy to get a chance to finally read it. And I wasn't disappointed. The story is moody and atmospheric, with some good tension and even a bit of action. The adaptation is quite well done, adding to the atmosphere without detracting from the story telling.

The Martian Chronicles adaptation is a bit of a different story. Not really a novel, it's more of a fix-up of a bunch of Bradbury short stories. I did read this novel way back when I was a teenager. The stories are quite atmospheric, with a strong poetic and imaginistic feel to them. The somewhat disjointed nature of the book along with the wordy nature of the narrative -- imagery rather than action -- lead to a rather wordy and stilted adaptation. Some of the vignettes work better than others, mostly around their individual narrative strengths, but over all this is a work that's probably better as purely text rather than calling out for a graphic adaptation. They publisher has also adapted Fahrenheit 451, which with its strong narrative probably works better.

Who would I recommend these books to? Certainly any public library would see these books widely enjoyed. Middle school and high school would probably find better use of SWTWC rather than The Martian Chronicles. Any academic library that collects graphic novels or Ray Bradbury should probably acquire these two books as well.

Lemire, Jeff. The Complete Essex County. Portland: Top Shelf Productions, 2009. 512pp. ISBN-13: 978-1603090384

Whoa. Five stars for this one for sure. The first graphic novel chosen for the CBC's Canada Reads program, Jeff Lemire's Essex County wins on many fronts. Although it didn't actually win Canada Reads, it is one of the best "mainstream" graphic novels you will ever read. It is also one of the most Canadian.

By mainstream I mean a graphic novel that tells the same kind of story that regular mainstream literature tells, but taking advantage of the kinds of things that comics can do to take the story to another level. By Canadian, I mean small town Ontario and an obsession with hockey.

The collected series of stories presented in this book is an interweaving tale of various people in and from Essex County over a fairly long period of time. The whole love, loss and memory thing is really there, but so is violence, hockey, sex and youthful indiscretion. And driving Toronto streetcars. And old folks homes. And not quite knowing who your parents really are, but not quite realizing you don't really know.

Anyways, if you like graphic novels, Canadiana or just plain good old storytelling, give this a try.

I unreservedly recommend this graphic novel to any public or academic library, particularly Canadian. Although, with the Canada Reads things, they probably already have it. As for school libraries, the story might be a bit too adult to pass muster for a middle school but this would be a bit hit among high school students.


Burke, James Lee. Last Car to Elysian Fields. New York: Pocket Star, 2004. 496pp. ISBN-13: 978-0743466639

James Lee Burke is one of the truly great hard boiled/noir writers of the last 30 or 40 years. In particular his Dave Robicheaux series is one of the genre's high points. Like most long series, it's had it's ups and downs but this one is definitely one ofhte stronger late period entries. And yes, I'm a few volumes behind.

Anyways, describing a Burke novel is fairly pointless as they tend to both have fairly intricate plots and at the same time be more about mood and impulse and damaged history. And Elysian Fields is no exception. A woman from Dave's past, a long dead blues singer, underage drinking and a bunch of other strands serve to create a pressure cooker for Dave that cause him to lose it a little, kick some ass, break a lot of rules, ruin some lives and somehow regret coming out on top in the end. Good stuff.

Maberry, Jonathan. The King of Plagues. New York: St. Martin's Griffen, 2011. 448pp. ISBN-13: 978-0312382506

Judas H. Priest but can Jonathan Maberry write an amazing over-the-top horror science fiction thriller. This man cannot write a boring word.

Perfect summer reading, I indulged during my summer vacation trip and it was great to have something so engrossing while travelling. This is the third in the Joe Ledger series of cop horror thrillers, one for each of the last couple of summers for me. In fact, my two sons also tend to read them as well, with great pleasure.

Plot? Well, it's kind of a sequel to last year's The Dragon Factory with the same Big Bad coming back with a new bunch of baddies to once again destroy the world. And once again, Joe Ledger and his crew of Military Science types band together to save the day.

Over the top, violent, with some great set-pieces, good pacing, nice mix of character and action, these are great reads and only getting better.

Golden, Christoper and Thomas E Sniegoski. Monster Island. New York: Simon Spotlight, 2004. 448pp. ISBN-13: 978-0689866999

Not much to say here. This is an above average media adaptation -- decent writing, good plot. What raises it to another level is the authors' very fine touch with the Whedon characters, if sometimes a little heavy-handed and repetitive.

The plot basically revolves around the Scoobies teaming up with Angel's crew to foil a demonic plot to rid the world of demon half-breeds.

Schultz, Mark, Zander Cannon and Kevin CannonThe Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA. New York: Hill and Wang, 2009. 150pp. ISBN-13: 978-0809089475

This graphic novel is the prequel to Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth, which I reviewed earlier this year, which I really loved. They're both set on the imaginary world of Glargaria, where the plot revolves around the Glargarians using Earth's evolutionary history to help them solve some problems on their own planet.

Reading the first, I now know why they tweaked the creative team a bit after the first. The evolution volume really struck a great balance between the science content and telling an amusing story, the sugar to make the medicine go down. This one leans way more on the medicine and not so much on the sugar. It's much more a basic biology textbook, but with silly pictures and some jokes.

Still decent and still recommended for much the same audiences as for the first. But a little disappointing. And boy am I glad they fixed the problems of the first. I heartily look forward to many more volumes from the new creative team.

(Bradbury adaptations provided by the publisher.)

Friday Fun: Noir Week at Tor.com

All week I've been planning to feature Tor.com's Noir Week series here today. Somehow it's fitting that my slightly dark mood right now is matched by the subject matter of the Friday Fun.

From the introductory post:

Welcome to Noir Week at Tor.com! Join us as we escape from the sweltering dog days of summer into the cool, shadowy underworld of back alleys, jazz joints, hardboiled hooligans and tough-talking femme fatales; a world filled with violence, glamour, and intrigue, where the color scheme is black and white and the rules are anything but....

This week, we're making the most of our "And related subjects" tagline and branching out into new territory: in addition to our regular content, we've got posts on some of our favorite classic noir movies, writers, iconic characters and actors. Less a genre than a style, noir continues to be an iconic and influential force in fiction, film, and fashion and we're taking a detour all the way down to its shady, whiskey-soaked roots -- so grab your fedora, slip your pearl-handled pistol into your purse, and brush off your best Bogart impression: it's going to be a wild ride.

Here's a smattering of posts so far:

And don't forget to checkout the Index post. There's tons of great stuff on noir and especially the fantastic & science fictional noir.

Friday Fun: It's here, it's here: A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Five

The world of fantasy genre fiction is finally happy this week. An incredibly long-awaited event has finally taken place.

George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, fifth book in the epic A Song of Ice and Fire series has finally been published.

With over five years since the last one, with much grumbling from the fans, the wait is over.

And people seem...underwhelmed.

The first three were amazing classics of the fantasy genre. I loved them, the way they combined fantasy tropes with a strong dose of reality. They were violent and brutal, just the way the world of political machinations really is.

And then the fourth book after a five year wait, A Feast for Crows. From my review:

The main problem with AFfC is that it is dull dull dull. Martin has taken the strengths of the series and turned them into flaws. A large cast of characters becomes bewildering and diffuse. Political intrigue becomes byzantine and pointless. Action and adventure leave centre stage and are replaced by endless wandering and political gabfests. The most compelling characters, Tyrion and Dani? Left to the next volume.

So, the problems are structural. There's still lots of good stuff here -- the last 100 pages or so save the novel from train-wreck status -- with the main plot being somewhat advanced. The problem is really that of length. At least two or three of the viewpoint characters could have been completely removed, such as Brienne's story. That could have been reduced to a paragraph in the Jaime thread easily. Also, some of the threads were massively over-emphasized. Cercei is the main example of this one: her story could have been effectively told in about half the space. One of the best bits, the story of the Iron Islands, should have told in a more focussed way, instead it was very diffuse.

If you check out the reviews on Amazon, my opinions, while hardly universal, are quite representative of a large segment of the fan base. The average score for the fourth is much lower than for the first three.

And judging from the reviews on Amazon, this new one is much the same, if slightly better.

Here's a sample of the current roster of Amazon's "Most helpful reviews:"

You get the idea. The average score is about 3.5 stars, compared to about 3 stars for book four and around 4.5 for the first three.

So, will I actually read the damn thing? Almost definitely. But I'm not in a rush. My younger son is racing through the first few books and if his momentum takes him through to ADwD, I'll pick it up for him and read it myself.

Tor.com, of course, is doing a fine job of building up excitement for the ADwD with some great items on the blog:

From the Archives: Follies of science: 20th century visions of our fantastic future by Eric & Jonathan Dregni

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of Follies of Science: 20th Century Visions of Our Fantastic Future, is from April 26, 2007.

=======

I don't have to much to say of a deep or profound nature to say about this book. It's one of those "Whatever happened to the future with all the flying cars and robot butlers you science guys promised me!" books. And, as such, it's very successful in that it doesn't take itself too seriously. This book is just plain fun.

The chapters basically run the gamut of all the promises that futurists have made over the decades. Chapter One is about transportation, talking about the dreams of jet packs and flying cars, zeppelins and atomic airplanes. Chapter Two is about our great friends, the computer and their great friends, robots. Utopian and dystopian, it's interesting to see our love-hate relationship with computers goes way back. Are they are friends or will they take over the world? Chapter Three is about how we will progress as a species beyond the need for war. An interesting idea, this, one that seems tragically flawed. Can machines replace us in the trenches? Will amazing super-weapons make war obsolete?

Chapter Four is on the cities of the future, gleaming, perfect and full of labour saving devices, perfectly planned, domed or doomed? Zeppelin highways, weather controlled with hanging gardens. Chapter Five is full of medical marvels: the end of pain, using radioactive skin creme, atomic farming, an extremely bizarre section on "marital aids", drinking your pee, living forever and human experimentation. Chapter Six is about that most perfect of fantasies of the future, space colonies! Rockets powered by steam, mad scientists faster than light, finding buxom alien babes on Mars! Finally, Chapter Seven is a series of predictions for our own future! Taken from Hank Lederer, we see that by 2015 we'll have foldout computer screens; 2035, implantable organs and limbs; 2030, smart paper; 2040, immortality; 2050, a food creator; 2060, poverty eliminated and 2100, space colonies!

I have to say that you really don't want this book for the explanatory text anyways. You really want it for the fantastic illustrations and the lively presentation. The book makes heavy use of old sf pulp covers and old catalogue illustrations; the captions are often quite funny as well. One complaint is that the illustrations aren't very well credited. There are a few sf art books in the bibliography (a treasure trove for amusing popular science collection development, by the way) and a mention of the use of old catalogues, but I wish there was better citing. At very least, the artists for a lot of the science fiction illustrations would have been nice.

In the end, I can't really recommend this book for academic collections, there's just not enough substance. However, public libraries would find a ready audience for a colourful book like this, as would most school libraries. It would also make a great holiday or birthday present for the science fiction loving techy gal/guy in your family.

(Book supplied by publisher.)

Dregni, Eric & Jonathan. Follies of Science: 20th Century Visions of Our Fantastic Future. Denver: Speck Press, 2006. 127pp.

Friday Fun: Kate Nepveu's stupendously wonderful Lord of the Rings re-read

On Tor.com over the last couple of years, Kate Nepveu has been taking us through a chapter-by-chapter re-read of The Lord of the Rings. In each post she would give a brief summary of the action as well as some commentary.

It's been a great project and it's just come to an end in the last week or so. I've really enjoyed following along with the posts, although I have to admit not with the re-read. Last time I re-read the books was timed with the release of each of the films.

There's an index of all the relevant posts here.

And a little bit from the very first post, way back in December 2008:

Motivations:

I decided to re-read Lord of the Rings and post about each chapter in 2006. I believe the last time I read it was at the end of 1997, when I purchased my current paperbacks* in London on a term abroad and, I think, started re-reading on the plane home. I certainly had not read it since summer 2001, when I started keeping a book log.

For all that it had been years since I'd last read it, I still wanted a way to come to it fresh. I first read LotR sometime in elementary school, and there was a period of several years where I literally re-read it annually. I also have a good memory for text, and so this long and close familiarity made it difficult to see what was actually on the page. For a similar reason, I'd previously listened to The Hobbit as an audiobook. But the production's portrayal of the characters just didn't match mine, and I decided that the problem would only be worse for LotR because of the movies.

(When I read, I usually neither hear nor see what's described on the page. Instead I experience the book in some intermediate space between words on a page and movies in my mind, which is effectively impossible to describe. (Stephen King's phrase, "falling through the page," is accurate but not helpful.) However, I will hear and see suitable references provided by others.)

Instead, then, I decided to post about each chapter as I read it, hoping that this would remind me to read closely. I also read several critical works, looking for fresh approaches. However, because I was re-reading on my own time and schedule, the project eventually fell by the wayside.

When I was recently on maternity leave, I decided to go back to the re-read as a bite-sized method of getting some intellectual stimulation. I started by reading some additional critical works, and in the meantime, I asked Tor if they'd be interested in hosting the chapter-by-chapter re-read.

And the very last, just this past week:

What I Learned About the Book

I'm really delighted to say that the re-read showed me that LotR is a much better book than I had recognized.

The main revelation to me was the prose, which previously I had not noticed and had vaguely assumed was nothing to write home about. Every time I found that I was wrong, I just wriggled in delight: both the paragraph-level examples of brilliant rhythm, and the sheer beauty of some sections. (Without re-reading the entire re-read to refresh my memory--because seriously, recursive much?--I think my favorite still might be Tom's description of the history of the Barrow-downs, all the way back in Fellowship I.7.)

Other happy surprises were the big-picture structure of the book, which I hadn't consciously broken down before; discovering Denethor in all his psychologically realistic complexity; glorying in the entire first book of Return of the King, which is now my favorite; and "Well, I'm back," which was not previously my go-to example for bittersweet perfection.

I'm still not convinced that the pacing of the book always worked as well as it could, especially early on. I have a new-found conviction that putting almost everything Aragorn and Arwen in an Appendix was a really terrible idea. And I will never stop wishing that Tolkien did more with the female characters. But the re-read did what I hoped it would: it let me rediscover a book that had become too familiar to me, and what I found was better than I'd hoped.

Bravo!