Title: Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon Author: Matt Fraction Illustrators: David Aja, Javier Pulido, and Alan Davis Format: Print Publisher: Marvel Rating: 3 out of 5
Despite my enjoyment of superhero-comic-inspired movies, I’m not a huge person for the comics themselves. However, the buzz surrounding the new Hawkeye series has been pretty hard to ignore – it’s been praised elsewhere for its verve and playfulness. This book collects the first 5 issues of the series, as well as a tie-in issue from Young Avengers.
Playfulness I will definitely give this volume, but otherwise I’m a poor judge when it comes to books like these. I was spoiled last year by the balls-to-the-wall gonzo beauty and emotional heft of Saga volumes 1 and 2 last year (I am so happy it won the Hugo), so this is a big change of pace.
My Life as a Weapon follows the lives of Clint Barton, the Avenger known as Hawkeye, and Kate Bishop, his protege also known as Hawkeye. The two take part in the usual superhero escapades – falling off of buildings, fighting gangsters, thwarting evil plots, covering their own asses when things go south, etc – but their adventures are distinguished by a refreshing focus on the small scale. Clint goes into a seedy little warehouse casino, and after bullying a gangster, rescues a dog (aka: Pizza Dog) caught in the crossfire. Clint’s attempt to buy a classic muscle car from a pretty redhead turns into an all-out car-chase against even more gangsters. And so forth.
What really separates this book, though, is its experimentation with panel layout and narrative. Perhaps the best example of this is in issue #3, the one with the car chase. As the images show the story happening in chronological order, the narration from Clint reveals that this is all a flashback, and provides commentary upon the events in reverse chronological order. Interspersed throughout are small circular callout panels with close-ups and descriptions of the variety of arrows that Hawkeye uses – arrows that, of course, will come into play as the chase ensues.
I think the Young Avengers tie-in issue at the end is the weakest part of the book. The shift in tone between it (straightforward superhero’s-journey stuff, with a helping of romance) and Hawkeye proper (arch and kinetic) is profound. Ultimately, colour me intrigued about the series; I’m particularly looking forward to the Pizza-Dog-centric issue #11 when Volume 2 rolls around.
I started reading slush for EV in late 2012 right before the World Fantasy Convention. My god, how much you learn from reading slush – it’s an interesting form of osmosis. And it really is osmosis: an unspoken form of learning, accomplished through immersion and absorption. Once you read enough published fiction, it’s easy to tell when a story works; sometimes it’s much harder to pinpoint why some don’t work. It’s really something you build with gut feeling, which I’ve found hard to describe.
During my time with the magazine, I read around 500 stories, of which 9 were selected for publication. Over time I got to learn more about which stories fit in with the editor’s ideals and which stories didn’t. Even more importantly, there were stories I recommended for publication that I didn’t like personally, but that I recognized would match the magazine’s mandate: I learned how to read through another person’s eyes.
So, a word to the hopefuls out there (among which I include myself): sometimes, even if your story is amazing – and there were some really good ones that were turned away – fit with the magazine matters just as much as quality of prose. To get an even better sense of what goes on behind the scenes, I recommend listening to these two podcasts (Part I and Part II) that EV’s editor John Klima did with Hide and Create. I learned some things about the magazine’s tastes that even I didn’t know about.
I’m proud of my slush-reading stint with Electric Velocipede. There are few rushes quite like seeing a story you recommended showing up online and getting positive reviews from others (though I’m sure the rush from writing a story like that is even better). Reading stories for EV gave me confidence in my own editorial abilities. It also showed me how to look at a story from more than one mindset. I’m really going to miss the opportunity to put my own small thumbprint on the speculative-fiction landscape.
I did not expect to leave the site lying fallow for 6 1/2 months. Sorry about that. There was work, I got married (I can now write about “my husband” here instead of “my fiance”!), and I let things slide after a while.
I’m going to do better in 2014. Here’s what I’ve got in mind:
Write at least 250 words every day. Ideally, these would be words of fiction rather than non-fiction. I don’t have any plans yet for stories or novels – I just want to write in response to prompts and see where this takes me. Ultimately, I hope to pin down what kind of writing routine works best for me, and figure out what my strengths and weaknesses are in terms of style.
Write 40 book reviews. In 2012, the plan to read 40 books and write 40 reviews worked out really well in terms of audience-building. In 2013, I planned to read 50 books (which I did, although that count does include some novellas) and write at least 1 review a month (which I didn’t). I’m revising the goal in 2014 to match that of 2012; 40 just feels like a nicer number to deal with.
Expand my reading horizons. Speculative fiction will still be my bread and butter, but I’d like to read more historical fiction and mystery books too.
Revamp the site a bit. Nothing too major here – the colour scheme will stay, but I want to change the fonts and background a bit, and do some better social media integration.
Other than that, I’ll try to continue with freelance work, keep on reading, and hope for a better, stabler, 2014. Happy new year!
I saw Man of Steel last night, and I’ve been pretty consumed by it since. Here are my various thoughts about it, in only halfway-cogent form. Be forgiving: I haven’t had any tea yet.
Note: spoilers ahead!
Casting:MoS gets some things right and others wrong, but this aspect hits the ball out of the park. This is an absolutely wonderful ensemble, where the casting is so good that it’s nearly archetypal. You want your Superman to have muscles and a chiseled jaw? Then Henry Cavill is perfect – he looks the part, and is low-profile enough that there aren’t any preconceived notions about him to get in the way. You want your dependable, middle-American ideal of fatherhood? The screen practically sighs in relief whenever Kevin Costner is on. You want a compelling villain? Just look at Michael Shannon’s face:
Requisite facial scar? Check.
Evil goatee? Check.
Steely gaze? Check.
I was leery of the decision to cast Russell Crow as Jor-El, but his burly gravitas is perfectly in keeping with the task at hand. Also, Amy Adams makes a credible Lois Lane: when she talks about winning a Pulitzer, it sounds much more believable coming out of her mouth than it did when Kate Bosworth played the role in Superman Returns. (Incidentally, I kind of liked SR, if only because Kevin Spacey was so over-the-top as Luthor. Nobody on MoS exhibits the same level of maniacal glee.) Finally, Laurence Fishburne works well as Perry White. He’s gruff and paternal, but not a caricature.
Dialogue: Only one or two lines stand out, most of them delivered by Zod, but boy, do they work. Especially the “I will rebuild my world atop his bones” one. If you’ve seen it, you’ll know what I’m referring to.
Story arc:Man of Steel hits all of the necessary beats of Superman’s origin story: Krypton’s destruction, the spaceship, landing on Earth, being adopted and raised by the Kents, learning about Krypton’s history, and learning to use his powers. However, the trailers led me to believe that this movie would really be a hymn to some long-lost, golden middle-America. Instead, little time was devoted to Clark’s childhood and upbringing, and much more was spent on his adulthood and sense of rootlessness. This made it a lot like Nolan’s Batman movies – of which I’ll talk about more below.
Certain visual effects sequences: I really liked how Krypton looked – the red light, the underwater birthing pools, the mountains, the four-winged dragons. It was way more like Barsoom and less like Coruscant than I expected. Likewise, I loved the scene where Clark encounters his father (or rather, a simulacrum of him) in the scout ship and gets a condensed version of Krypton’s history. The animated sequence showing the end of Krypton was fluid yet oddly angular, and I consider it the movie’s most distinctive moment – here, MoS was trying to establish something on its own terms rather than follow the typical comic book movie template.
Pacing:One of the things I loved about The Avengers was how it succeeded in building a story despite having to braid several different plot threads together. That movie was frenetic, yet found a way to give people space to breathe. Unfortunately, Man of Steel does none of that. The first half-hour of it is go-go-go, from the destruction of Krypton to Clark’s acts of derring-do on a burning oil rig, and the effect is fatiguing rather than electrifying.
Action sequences: Speaking of fatigue, this movie suffers from a terminal case of Climactic Battle Overload. There’s a fight on Zod’s ship! Then Lois Lane escapes in a space pod that’s about to explode! Then there’s fighting on Earth! Then Zod’s army unleashes these two huge machines that terraform Earth, laying waste to Metropolis and the Indian Ocean! Then there are these sweet-ass metal tentacle things that Superman fights with! Then there’s a huge battle in the middle of Metropolis! Then Superman manages to destroy one of the terraforming machines, resulting in the deactivation of both! Then the army manages to fire Superman’s baby-ship into Zod’s ship, resulting in a singularity that collapses in on itself and destroys his armada!
Then Zod gives his speech about how his sole purpose in life was to protect Krypton, and how he’s lost his reason for being now that his invading force has been destroyed.
Then there’s a final knock-down, drag’em out fight between Superman and Zod, in which Metropolis experiences yet more carnage!
Seriously. This movie has way too much going on. Once the fighting resumed after Zod’s speech, I metaphorically snorted and rolled my eyes.
Camerawork: Too mush shaki-cam. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the Hunger Games movie, but it was still awful. Is it really that difficult to find a working camera dolly?
Plot holes: At one point, one of Zod’s officers demands that Lois Lane come with her on the invading ship. Why? Who knows? But at least she’s there to receive the critical piece of information from Jor-El’s simulacrum that turns the tide of battle. And yes, the movie ends with Clark Kent joining the Daily Planet. How he manages to do so with a spotty work history and no journalism degree is never explained, but hey, he’s wearing Hipster Glasses at the end to form his secret identity! Maybe that’s all you need.
Religious symbolism: Guess how old Clark Kent is. Go on, guess. Because he states openly in the dialogue – twice! – that he’s 33. Then, there’s the scene where he discusses with an unnamed character whether to give himself up to Zod, and whether humans are worth that sacrifice. Did you guess that it takes place in a church, and that he’s talking to a priest? Did you guess that when he discusses sacrificing himself, there’s a big ol’ out-of-focus stained-glass window right behind him, with a blurry Jesus just to the left of Clark’s head?
Oh, and hey, did you notice that when Superman is about to rescue Lois Lane from the space-pod thing, he passes through the breach in the hull of Zod’s ship and floats in space like he’s suspended from a cross? Here, have a cookie – Zack Synder obviously thinks we’re in need of Sunday School.
Things I’m still conflicted about
Tone: It’s obvious that DC wants to do the same thing as Marvel and build up to a blockbuster extravaganza on the level of The Avengers, with lots of explosions and bang-zoom action and cosmic stakes. But DC also saw that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy did pretty well, and that Nolan’s success rested upon how “gritty” and “realistic” his movies were.
Man of Steel tries very hard to thread this needle – to have the cosmic, world-in-the-balance struggle of the Marvel movies while maintaining the gritty, down-to-earth character focus of the Batman movies. I’m not sure if it succeeded.
Cinematography/Lighting: This sense of trying to have it both ways also extends into the movie’s aesthetic. The scenes on Krypton were lush and super-saturated, with a vividness of colour reminiscent of comic books in general. But everything else on Earth looked flat and desaturated – almost like it was being seen through some lens that made everything look old and burnished. It’s almost like the people involved were trying to make everything look hyper-real, and failed.
A lot of people I know, and many more I don’t, have been looking forward to this movie. What are your thoughts on it?
The most important thing I can say about the topic of women, sexism, and fantasy literature is this:
I am a coward.
It wasn’t always this way, or at least, I don’t think it was. When I was in university, I decided to double-major in Women’s Studies and International Development Studies because those two courses upset me. After those lectures, I would leave my classes full of righteous anger and conviction that somehow, I was going to Change Things.
Then my high ideals bit the dust after I graduated and got a job in “the real world.” I started it right as the first wave of the recession was cresting and leaving a host of stunted, battered careers in its wake, so I huddled down and hated myself and still got paychecks. Luckily, I eventually moved on to a job that I felt much happier at.
But still, all this time, I was a coward. Oh, I scoffed at stuff that was happening in the US surrounding women’s rights and felt proud to live in a country that legalized gay marriage. But most of the time, I turned a blind eye on similarlydishearteningstuff that was happening here in Canada. I didn’t donate to women’s organizations, I didn’t go to Take Back the Night rallies, and I most certainly didn’t do anything beyond retweeting others or signing petitions, where the outlay of effort was minimal.
(In case you’re wondering, yes, this post was spurred by the recent controversy of SFWA’s Bulletin Issue #202. I’m not a SFWA member, but I certainly do read around.)
The past year has truly been a banner one in terms of me becoming more aware of issues surrounding sexism and gender in the SF/F community. I mean, I knew problems existed, but once I left university, I was really bad at articulating why things were bad. Sexism was pretty obvious, right? When something sexist happened, why even try deconstructing it, since its resounding awfulness was just so apparent…right?
Ha ha. Ah, no. Wrong.
I really can’t begin to summarize all of events that have made me become more aware of sexism, slut-shaming, and feminist criticism in the SF/F community, but I can definitely think of a few things off the top of my head:
Thank you for giving the world a quick slap upside the head to remind it how idiotic and unfair most things are.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that these same people also do a bang-up job of deconstructing the racism, heteronormativiy and cis-gender bias also found in SF/F, but I’m nowhere nearly well-versed enough in those issues to discuss them. Suffice it to say that these people are all much braver and smarter than I.)
Thank all you guys for reminding me why I majored in Women’s Studies in the first place, and for shaking me out of my complacency. I’m not perfect, and I still need to up my game, but thank you all for showing me that I can be a better reader, writer, and person than I currently am.
Title: Machine of Death Editors: Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki ! Rating: 4 out of 5 Publisher: Bearstache Books Format: eBook
A few months ago, I read submissions for Apex Publications’ upcoming Glitter & Mayhem anthology. Reading the slush, and reading more stuff about it in the aftermath, I’ve learned something about what it takes to put together a good themed anthology. Specifically, don’t take stories that do obvious things with the stated theme.
Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !, is a collection of short stories that upholds that lesson in spades.
First, the theme, originally proposed by Dinosaur Comics: in the future, a machine is invented that can predict how a person will die based on a small blood sample. The machine is always correct, yet its predictions are vague and cryptic, resulting in deaths that are unexpected yet technically accurate.
The great pleasure of MoD is seeing what ways the authors have devised of going beyond the obvious idea of people meeting their demises in unexpected yet delightfully ironic ways. Instead, the strongest of these stories talk about what changes this new technology would have on our society, or how it would subvert previously-normal aspects of our lives. This is a long collection – at 34 stories, perhaps exhaustively so, and this length is my only complaint about the book – so instead of going through each story, I’ll pick out a few of my favourites:
“Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions” by Jeffrey C. Wells – I loved that the main character actively welcomes his death and is conditioning his body to be as healthy as possible when he dies, all so that the lions who are destined to eat him will have a good meal. This one had great dialogue, a truly memorable character, and an ending that reminded me a lot of Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt”.
“Firing Squad” by J. Jack Unrau – The framing story on this one is slightly odd, but the political commentary (as well as the uncomfortable truths it exposes about the ignorance of many rich Westerners backpacking through a developing country) pleased my inner university student.
“HIV Infection from Machine of Death Needle” by Brian Quinlan – It’s all there in the title, folks. Audaciously brief.
“Not Waving but Drowning” by Erin McKean – This is my favourite from the entire collection. It’s brief, but the narrative voice behind it is spot on. I felt like I really knew this character – a high-schooler in a place where the MoD tests are mandated for all students – and why she made the choices she did to keep her death prediction private.
“Exhaustion from Having Sex with a Minor” by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw – Saucy title aside, this is a clever send-up of the media circus surrounding a political campaign. What really makes it is the twist at the end, which would have been impossible to conceal in any other narrative medium.
“Cocaine and Painkillers” by David Malki ! – This one went on a bit longer than it needed to, but it turns out that combining the Machine of Death with institutional sexism and infomercials is a success.
“Prison Knife Fight” by Shaenon K. Garrity – Yet another one that comes up with a unique societal implication for the MoD: the death predictions are used as part of the screening and application process for elite preppy pre-schools. Here, the title knife fighter is one such toddler under consideration, and his plebeian manner of demise looms large over his patrician family as he grows up and slouches towards Yale.
“While Trying to Save Another” by Daliso Chaponda – Most of this story didn’t work for me, especially the main character, but there was one scene within it of particular beauty. In it, a secondary character knows that she will die tomorrow, and hosts a farewell party for her friends – the secrets they reveal, and the manner in which the person about to be murdered wishes to be remembered, is extremely poignant.
“Miscarriage” by James L. Sutter – I think this story subverts the anthology’s theme the most out of the entire collection. Ultimately, the death machine bodes well for the start of a life, rather than the end of one. It all hinges on the final line of dialogue.
“Cassandra” by C.E. Guimont – This is the last story in the book, and I can see why the editors chose to close it out with this one. Not only is it the only one in the collection that actually attempts to give a full explanation of where the machine’s predictive powers come from, but more importantly, it shows the devastating length to which one person will go to save herself – and the entire world – from destruction.
Anyways, if you’re up for some morbid, intriguing fiction – or if you happen to love neon green dinosaurs – Machine of Death is a worthy read, despite its length. The sequel anthology, This Is How You Die, will be coming out in July. I’m looking forward into seeing what new ways these contributors will reinvent its central concept.
Title: The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells Author: Ben Bova Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books Rating: 4 out of 5 Format: Print
I’m going to out myself right now by revealing my lack of true geek cred: before I started reading this book, I’d never heard of Ben Bova. In fact, my knowledge of most of the Golden Age sci-fi authors is pitiful. Asmiov? All I’ve read of him is I, Robot. Arthur C. Clarke? Nada. Sturgeon? The only novel of his I’ve read is More than Human.
The point is that my knowledge of the sci-fi greats is painfully limited, and Ben Bova’s work fits comfortably within that void. So learning that he used to be the editor for Analog magazine – and that he used to read every story that crossed his slush pile – got my attention.
The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells is Bova’s attempt to teach struggling sci-fi writers the nuts and bolts of story writing so that they can get out of the slush pile. In it, he breaks down story craft into four key elements: character, background, plot, and conflict. Each section is broken down into three chapters: one on using the element in theory, one with a short story showing the element in action, and a third one analyzing the short story in question.
The final portion of the book is devoted to analyzing the differences between novel writing and short story writing, and explaining how the publishing industry works. Considering that this book is nearly 20 years old, the information about sci-fi markets and submission practices is outdated, but the advice about planning, research and story craft ring true.
Despite this, this book is not without its problems. The chapters earlier in the book on theory were much more engaging than the short stories or the ones discussing the element in practice. In particular, the chapter on character theory contained a piece of advice I found so revelatory that when I had a chance to talk to Ben Bova at Ad Astra early in April, I told him how much it meant to me, and how it gave me a completely new way to think about a character I was working on.
He was lovely in person, by the way – a complete gentleman.
The book’s biggest weakness is the stories that Bova includes to prove his points. I’m not quite sure what to think of them – the best way I can describe them is that they exhibit a simplicity and naïveté (especially the story of the young boy running away from home in the hopes that aliens can cure his leukemia, and yes, I am being totally serious here) that seems like it’s dialed straight from the 50s, post-war optimism intact. Considering Bova’s age and background, they probably were written then. But I can guarantee that if stories like those crossed my path in the slush pile, I wouldn’t give them a second chance.
Ultimately, The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells is a very handy reference book for speculative fiction writers of all stripes – perhaps I’m just too much of a black-hearted cynic to enjoy Bova’s fiction, even if his non-fiction is sound.
Holy crap. A month and a half sure passes by quickly, especially when you don’t write any new blog posts to hold you accountable!
Well, what’s been going on in the meantime? I have to admit, not as much as I originally anticipated. Like last year’s NaNoWriMo attempt, this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo was a bust. I got a few thousand words in before I went to Ad Astra, but after I came back, I had to reorganize my thoughts on the story so much that I stopped writing. I’ve done a bit here and there since, but I’m still trying to get an idea of how exactly the plot will change, now that I’ve realized that my antagonist was much more compelling than my protagonists were.
I also neglected to write a book review on here before the end of April, so I’ll be posting two reviews soon to make up for it. My catch-up review will be Ben Bova’s The Craft of Writing Science Fiction that Sells, followed by this month’s “official” one, the Machine of Death anthology edited by Ryan North, M. Bennardo and David Malki.
In the meantime, I’ve still got a ton of reading to do, now that the voter packets for both the Hugos and the Auroras are available. It looks like I won’t need to borrow anything from the library for quite a while.
Anyways, I’m not dead, just pre-occupied! That’s the main point here. How are you, now that the snow is gone and the flowers are out?
This letter opener set was so shiny that I couldn’t resist. Curse you, dealers’ room!
What, you want me to go into more detail? Sure.
How about this: Ad Astra 2013 was the second con I ever attended (after starting out with World Fantasy last year), and it was just as good (even better!) than I hoped it would be. The panels were almost universally excellent, the food nearby was good, and the variety of books and other goodies on sale – like this lovely letter opener set that I got on the final day for only twenty-five bucks – was great.
But it was the people who made it the most fun. Case in point: a few hours after Rob and I arrived at the hotel, we were waiting for the elevator to take us to the lobby. As we waited, I noticed another woman standing there who looked strangely familiar, resulting in this:
Me: You look really familiar.
Her: You do too.
Me: Why do you look so familiar?
Man standing next to her (her fiance, it turned out): She used to work for Dragon Lady Comics.
Yes, you read that right. A year and a half after we first met, I randomly ran into one of the other winners of the Toronto Public Library contest who had lunch with Margaret Atwood, all because our hotel rooms were on the same floor. Rob and I spent the rest of the weekend in contact with her and her fiance, touching base and going to panels. We even had dinner together at a buffet restaurant I hadn’t been to since I was a kid. The meal was a lovely mixture of deja vu and giddiness.
Two days later, I had a similar meet-cute as I recognized that one of the people staffing the SFContario registration table was an employment counsellor of mine from five and a half years ago. Again, crazy stuff.
But that doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the people I met and connected with. There was an editor who said she might have a future copy editing gig for me. There was another writer who asked me if I was interested in reading submissions for her magazine. There were people who run blogs that I want to contribute book reviews to. And the authors. Oh goodness, all the lovely authors: I got to meet Julie Czerneda and Ben Bova and Guy Gavriel Kay and so many other writers that it boggles the mind.
One highlight in particular: I got to tell Gregory A. Wilson after his reading that the story (“Spar”, by Kij Johnson) that inspired Speculate, his SF podcast, was recently “remixed” into a more humorous version involving eating bacon. I then read the opening paragraphs of the bacon remix from the issue of Clarkesworld I had stored on my Kobo. Technology connects people and saves the day yet again!
One of the benefits of Ad Astra is that it represents a highly interconnected slice of the SF community. There were several people that I saw participating in multiple panels (Gregory A. Wilson, who I first saw speak at WFC 2012, was a particular delight across the 3 panels I saw him at), and several more that I saw and chatted with at the book launch parties. I felt like I was in the thick of things there – returning to the real world, with my bags much heavier and my wallet much lighter, was a real letdown.
Tomorrow is the start of Ad Astra, and I can’t wait. I originally thought about attending last year when the lovely Beverly Bambury encouraged me to do so, but I didn’t go since I felt it was going to be too last-minute for me – we had talked about it only the week before. Now, though, my fiance and I have everything planned out: weekend passes, hotel booking, and even the books we’re bringing to sign (as well as planning to buy). There are so many people in Canadian SF/F that I want to meet and celebrate good times and good writing with.
Oh, and speaking of good writing, yes, I am working on the novel, but it’s going slower than I anticipated. I’m thinking I may have to purge the giddy thought of writing 2,500 words a day from my mind, and instead settle on the more practical number of 1,100. Ah well. However, I did find out the results of the Friends of the Merill contest; I was originally going to write about this on April 1st (not a joke!) but then the idea of grappling with sexism/gender bias in genre fiction was too satisfying to ignore. Ultimately, I did not make it into the top 3, but considering this was the first story I ever submitted to a contest, I’m pretty satisfied.
So, Ad Astra. Fuck yeah, I’ll be there. What about you?