Monday, July 6, 2009

The Affinity Bridge a great new series for lovers of Steampunk.

"From the Chelsea Bridge the airship works were clearly visible in the morning light as a series of immense red brick hangers, squat beside the shimmering Thames, fumes rising like smoke signals from a row of tall, broad chimneys. Steam hissed from the outlet pipes in great white plumes, whilst water gushed back into the river in a deluge of brown sludge. Huge airships were tethered to the roofs of the hangers, reminiscent of a row of children's balloons bobbing languorously in the breeze."
--Chapter 7---

First off, for those of you are not familiar with the term may wonder what exactly is SteamPunk?

Steampunk is a sub-genre of Science Fiction. With most stories taken place in the late 1800s, early 1900s with the emphasis on the steam engine technology with occasionally some magic thrown in.

It also can be considered a sub-genre of Alternative Reality fiction. Since more often the not the technology with in the story surpasses anything that actually existed in the time period.

What many fans claim as the earliest if not the first Steampunk is the CBS television series The Wild Wild West that ran 1965 - 1969. But it was in 80s and 90s that Steampunk had it's heaviest following. Though after that it' s popularity declined but it never really went away.

That is why reading George Mann's first in the Newbury and Hobbes series, The Affinity Bridge was a real treat. Because this is pure Steampunk.

England, 1901. The Empire is prospering. Airships now able to reach the across the globe and to all corners of the Empire. Steam engine cars slowly replace horse driven carriages. But the greatest marvel is the automation's, mechanical like robots that can doing everything from simple functions(typing, butler duties and more) to more difficult things such as fly airships. And they are supposedly unable to make mistakes.

But under the surface all is not well with the realm.

In White Chapel there has been a series of murders where witnesses claim the specter of a blue glowing policeman who has come back from the dead to seek vengeance's, has strangled more than 40 people with no clues. Add to that the problems of the Plaque. A plaque that infects a person who turns to eat flesh of the living until the plaque runs it course and kills the infected all the while infecting those who survive the attack.

It here we meet Sir Maurice Newbury. An archaeologist with the British Museum but in reality is an agent for the Crown. Along with his able assistant Veronica Hobbes.

In the middle of assisting Charles Bainbridge of Scotland Yard with the deaths in White Chapel he gets an urgent message from the Queen. An Airship has crashed in Finsbury Park and sabotage is suspected. No Survivors.

On the scene it is discovered that there is indeed no survivors. Also the pilot is missing. What more it was not a human pilot but one of the automation's that was in control when the ship went down. And some how it has gone missing from the wreckage. Has the impossible happened? Did an automation make a mistake that cost 50 people their lives? Or are there more sinister deeds involved?

As Newbury and Hobbes's investigation will lead them to one of the biggest manufactures of airships and the automation's themselves. Following each lead it soon discovered that the crash and the deaths in White Chapel may be related and it's solution may effect the very foundation of the Crown.

There have been some reviewers that I have read that have compared Newbury and Hobbes to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Maybe because the time period that Holmes and Watson(late 1800s) are so close to the time period in the book Though the only real similarity to me is the use of logic and deductive reasoning in solving the case.

I rather like to compare them to John Steed(Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel(Diana Rigg) of the British TV series The Avengers. Especially since the series was a mixture of the spy genre and sci-fi genre. Newbury does work for His Majesty as an agent as does Steed and Peel.

Comparisons aside, George Mann has written what I think of as classic Steampunk. It has everything good Steampunks should have, steam engine technology(and some other advances as well) a head of it what actually existed at the time, compelling mystery and engaging characters.

First the technology. Mann's 1901 London skies are fill with airships much like our modern skies are filled with airplane, going to all corners of the Earth. As the streets are slowly making way for steamed engined cars which the noise alone makes one ask if it the connivance of speed is worth it at times. Then there are the automations. Who can be programed(by a punch card reader much like the early forms of computers) to perform a wide variety of function from the menial to more difficult tasks. Even medicine as slightly more advance to where blood transfusion are more common as is knowledge of actual healing properties of plants to even a bizarre form of a life support system which feeds air into the lungs via huge bellows.

The mystery itself is an engaging one. Between the murders in White Chapel and airship crash Mann manages to keep you guessing right to the end. It has enough twist and turns with a few surprises to make it a fun read for those who love mysteries.

As for the characters, well Newbury and Hobbes are a real treat to read. As I mention above they remind of Steed and Peel though less tongue and cheek as they were. But both are quite intelligent with out being arrogant(as sometimes Holmes can be). They also compliment each other quite well. Newbury is fascinated with the new technology and it Hobbes that reminds not to let that fascination cloud his judgement in the investigation. But she isn't just an assistant taking notes. Newbury relies on her observations and ability to talk to people to gather facts so she is right there in the thick of the investigation looking for clues that he might have missed.

But as we learn more about these two we find that both have secrets which may not only effect the case but put their very lives at risk.

Another thing I have read in a few reviews that the book takes a little long to get the end of the mystery. It is true the action doesn't really pick up near the end but this being the first in a series I can understand why. When creating a new universe(or series) the first book has to set up so much with both the setting and characters. But Mann more than makes up for with characterization. Learning who these people are as the world around them changes at what appears to a breakneck speed is part of what makes this such a fun read. As I mentioned in a previous blog that often in science fiction the writer can focus too much on the science and forget the real heart of the story is it's people.

Between the first and last page Affinity Bridge is a fun book for lovers of Steampunk, sci-fi in general and those who love a good fun mysteries. Mann has set up a world that makes one want to return and learn more about it's inhabitants. And really you can't for anything more from a book if you ask me.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Here, There & Everywhere a great novel about time travel every time.

"Roxanne's arm tingled as the Sofia went to work. A microscopic cosmic string fragment, suspended in a five-dimensional superfluid, rotated into the 4-D hypersphere of space-time fractionally, sending pinpricks shooting from Roxanne's wrist."

We all have a book that we love to re-read time and again(and yes the pun was intended). You know that book, it's right there on the shelf within easy reach, the one you can just take of the shelf and just start re-reading as if it was for the first time.

For me that book(well one of them any way for instance I have read the Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons 4 times) is Chris Roberson's Here, There & Everywhere.

I first met Chris at the San Diego Comic Con several years when I picked up a paper back novel at his booth called Any Time At All. Then it was the next years con(I think) that I found myself once again at Chris's booth, much to my delight, holding the expanding new edition of the book now called Here, There & Everywhere.

Now I loved Any time at All so believe me I was excited to see that Chris has expanded the book. For after reading HT&E I think the expanded edition is the book that Chris really want to write and for what ever reason couldn't or wasn't able the first time around(ATAA was a Print On Demand(POD) title published by Clock Work Story Books while HT&E is published by Prometheus Books).

In HT&E we meet eleven year Roxanne Bonaventure, who is raised by her single father, a highly regard Professor who has trouble fitting in at her school. So she goes to America to live with her cousins and go to school there.

While in America she is off in the woods one night she meets an old woman who appears to be dying. The elder woman then slips on Roxanne's wrist a bracelet unlike any other bracelet that she has seen. Before she gives the bracelet she warns Roxanne:

"It will bring you everything you could ever want, in time but you will forever be unique, alone among the myriad. A singular creature , with no analogue or equivalent."

Thus Roxanne is given The Sofia, a bracelet that will allow her to travel through time and space to visit the past, future and all possible pasts and futures.

As Roxanne learns to use the bracelet Chris does a wonderful job of keeping with the science and current theories of time travel. For instance current theory states if you go back in time say to kill Hitler you don't change your time line but create a divergent time line(in one such divergent line she follows is where Pete Best never left the Beatles and was the one who died not John Lennon and when the planned a reunion the brought in Ringo Star).

At first she has help from her father(who is dying) in learning what the bracelet can(take her anywhere in time and any place) and can not do(the bracelet will not let her go anywhere where her life would be at risk or in immediate danger). And along the lines set up some rules for her to follow. She is never to learn her own future, never changer her past and do not interfere with the destinies of others.

As story progresses we follow Roxanne as she travels a wide divergent of past and futures meeting a wonderful variant of characters. But for all her travels she is alone. For no matter how many divergent time lines she visits she is unique to all of them(like Doctor Who). Unlike every one else who has counter part in all of the different divergent time lines(though what happens to each counter part may be slightly different from the base time line that she comes from).

But as Chris keeps up with the science of time travel he never forgets the human side of it. How she reacts and uses the Sofia is full of humanity. Like for instance when she is in college. There is a guy she likes. She meets him somewhere and with each meeting she sees what she has done wrong and goes back to correct it until each meeting progress the relationship further and further until they are actually dating. Hasn't everyone at one time or another wanted to go back in time and redo something they did or said to someone that would change the out come? Roxanne gets to do this but learns a harsh lesson. That you can go and change things but in the end if it wasn't meant to be then all was for naught.

For this is not just a story about time travel. Though this is about Roxanne and her travels through time and space. It is also a story her second travels. One that each and every one of us make. The travel of living life day to day. Roxanne still has to make that some trip as we do. But as she nears that final destination she never loses the love of adventure or that love of learning.And no matter what time line, divergent or not her destiny awaits for her as it does for us at the end of the story.

HT&E is as I said a book that I just love to re-read when I ever get the chance. And when I do it always seems fresh and new but at the same time like visiting a old friend. Between the first and last page Chris Roberson has written a truly classic science fiction tale while never forgetting at the heart of all science fiction isn't the science but the people and their humanity that drives the story. And it is Roxanne humanity that drives the tale. She is smart, independent add to that her love for adventure and to learn makes her a character that is likable and one would love to have has a friend.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

After 126 years Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio still holds up as a true classic.

"Geppetto, having returned home, began at once to make a puppet, to which he gives the name of Pinocchio."
----Chapter III----

Every one knows the story of Pinocchio, right? It is one the most cherished classic children books even after being published 126 years ago. So much that it has never been out of print since it was first published in 1883(with the exception of the Bible there are really not that many books that can say that).

But when most people think of Pinocchio they automatically think of the 1940 Disney animated classic. Kind of like when most people think of the Wizard of Oz. They tend to think of the 1939 movie with Judy Garland but not L. Frank Baum's original classic book(which is really a damn shame).

Now don't get me wrong. Disney's version is true classic in animation(as is the 39 Oz though it was flop when it first came out). It stands the test of time as much as Collodi's novel. But sadly, as with most of Disney's adaptations of the classic it is a very watered downed version(and I'm not going to get into that discussion).

That is why it was a real wonder to re-read the original book. And as an added treat with illustrations by Gris Grimly.

Where to start? Well, it starts with "Once upon a time..." or more in fact it starts with a piece of wood. Woodcarver Geppetto brings homes a piece of wood and decides to carve a puppet. And as we know with stories that begin with "Once upon a time..." this puppet comes alive.

At first Geppetto is happy to have a boy, even if it is a puppet as a son. But Pinocchio turns out to be a troublesome boy instead of the well behaved boy Geppetto wishes for. See Pinocchio rather run and play and just have fun than go to school and learn.

As the story progresses he meets up with all sorts of characters, both human and non-human. Both good and bad. There is the Talking Cricket(in the book he never has a name) who tries to set him straight. Tells he should take of his father and behave or face the consequences. Though Pinocchio is having none of that in that he squishes the little critter(how could Disney miss that one?). But it alright, he comes back as a ghost to give more advice whether wanted or not.

As each adventures comes and goes, though he tries to do what is right he is pushed and prodded against his better judgement by those who are only looking out for themselves.

A long the way he meets up with a puppet show, the fox and cat, a blue haired little fairy girl(who grows up to be his fairy godmother), assassins, Death(in the form of 4 black rabbits), becomes a watch dog, finds a city were loafing and begging is not tolerated, a dogfish(not a whale) and other beings who will either help him or try and hurt him.

But for all of the mischief he gets into, Pinocchio really is a kind hearted soul. He does tries try to keep his promises and not to tell lies(it really doesn't happen in the book as near as it does in the movie). But like all of us there is a part of him that wishes to be free to of responsibilities of learning and working. When don't we all at one time or another wish we could just take off with out a care in the world, forget bills, work and just do nothing but play or do nothing at all?

And that is what makes Pinocchio a timeless classic in as much as the original Brother Grimm's tales are.

It is as much a morality play as it is a children's adventures tale. But it is still a much a product of it's time as anything. Why?

It doesn't sugar coat the truth. Or in today's vernacular, it isn't Politically Correct. It shows there are harsh consequences for ones actions especially for children who haven't knowledge or experience to know these things.

What makes Pinocchio so great is that Collodi blends the morals and the adventure side of the book so perfectly. So when your reading it you almost forget there is a moral to the story. You are so invested in Pinocchio's well being you forget there is another meaning underneath the surface.

It's a hard trick for a writer to pull of in any time and Collodi pulls it off like a flawless magic act. Where you are so amazed by the magic you forget it just a trick.

As mentioned above another treat is that this version is gorgeously illustrated by artist Gris Grimly. Gris has done numerous illustration for picture books for other writers as well as his own work. He has done several adaptations of Edger Allen Poe's work in which his style matches Poe's style beautifully.

As he is a perfect match for Poe he is also a perfect match for Pinocchio. Look at the illustration posted here. Pinocchio looks like how a puppet would have been carved in Collodi's time(Disney's version was more in line with the modern version of how puppets look). But it just isn't Pinocchio that looks like a puppet of the time but the illustration as a whole are styled to look like they were done at the time of the books original publication. And thats Grimly's magic, the power to suit his style to the story at hand, enhance the pleasure of the reading but never taking you away from the story.

Between the first and last page the version of Carlo Colldi's Pinocchio is a true treat. If you haven't read this book in years this is the one to pick up. Relive a little bit of your childhood. And if you are only familiar with the Disney's version they you really need to pick this up. See what you missed with Uncle Walt's version. But just don't keep it to yourself, no. Read it your kids, neices, and nephews. It is a perfect gift to add to a kids library at home. One that they will love now as much as they will when the grow up.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Duty to the Dead a wonderful introduction to a new mystery series.

" Your concern does you credit, my dear. A duty to the dead is a sacred matter."

As I mentioned in a previous blog one of the great things about working in a bookstore is the chance to grab an advance copy of books when they come in. For especially if it a mystery or horror(sadly,though they don't seem to send science fiction ones out).

Now I have always has a love of mysteries. The the first ones I have read when I was a kid growing up were The Hardy Boys(just couldn't read them fast enough) and then Sherlock Holmes. I would say reading Holmes was and is the reason when it comes to mysteries I prefer historical mysteries over modern day ones(though I really like those). I suppose that is why writers like Anne Perry, Micheal Jecks have always interested me.

Now Charles Todd(actually mother and son writing team of Caroline and Charles Todd) who are know for their Inspector Rutledge series of mysteries(which I have as yet read). Rutledge is an Inspector who served in World War I and must try to return to a normal live while trying to live with what he saw in the trenches.

It is with their new series that the Todds introduce their latest sleuth Bess Crawford. Unlike the Inspector Miss Crawford isn't a professional sleuth. Like many woman in her time she is a nurse caring for the wounded during the war. Miss Crawfords is what at the time(1916) would be considered a modern woman. Independent(actually owns a car which was rare for woman then), intelligent, speaks her mind. She is not your typical upper-middle class woman of the times.

It is one a ship caring for one of her patients, a soldier named Arthur Graham, she makes a promise to take a message to his brother before he dies. A promise that she hasn't had a chance to fulfill either because of the war or that she is hesitant to do it.

The message: "Tell Jonathan that I lied. I did it for mother sake. But it has to be set right."

It is this message that will lead Bess, while on leave, to Oswald, Kent and into a fifteen year old murder by an insane brother of the soldier she made her promise too. And family with a dark secret that could get her killed quicker than the trenches of any battlefield.

Being the first book by the Todds that I have read I must say I was really pleased by this book. I actually finished the book in a matter of hours when I have a stack of book waiting with bookmarks in them.

Everything about this book was right on, the characters(major and minor), plot and just over style of story telling.

First lets talk about Bess Crawford who is a wonderful rounded character. She isn't some damsel in distress as many woman of the time period can be written. Many times period pieces such as this will have women who are the main character who still always needs to rescued by a man. She can stand on her own feet and do what is needed. A trait I'm sure she got from her father a retired colonel and from dealing with the severely wounded soldiers. But she not a cold hearted person. She still feels for the people she helps but just learns to hide those feelings of attachment for the most part. She does harbor some feelings for the late Arthur Graham which may or may not cloud her judgement later as the mystery deepens. But she doesn't stop no matter what her feelings tell her. For above all she believes in justice and the truth. It is this that drives her even when everything and everyone tells her she should stop.

Also It goes back to the quote(told to her by the wife of the Inspector who was involved in the murder fifteen years ago) at the top of the blog. Bess just doesn't believe in duty and doing what is right for the living. To her a promise to a dying soldier is just as scared as her duties as a nurse and to the living.

Now, the plot. This story keeps up the suspense right up the end. And there is enough twist and turns that keep you guessing on who committed that murder those many years ago and who is will to keep killing to keep the truth from ever coming to light. It was done so nicely that I wasn't really sure myself who was the murderer right up to the end.

Finally story telling. Bess is our narrator for this book and what a wonderful voice it is. Her voice brings alive the feeling of living in a WWI era England. You believe the horrors she has seen while a nurse. Not only that you feel the under current of distress the people who live in the shadow of war. But it never over shadows the mystery of this book to where you feel like your reading a history novel not a mystery. Too often writers trying for authenticity tend to over do it and the main threads of the novel get lost.

So overall I would say between the first and last page this is an wonderful introduction a character that I really look forward to reading in the future. It is a novel I know with confidence that I can suggest to my customers that also read mysteries. And not only that I will be reading the Inspector Rutledge novels as well.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Lone Ranger comes alive with fresh look at his origin.

"There is much darkness, Kemosabe. Light it up"
--- Tonto issue #4--

Ever since the The Lone Ranger first aired on WXYT(AM) out of Detroit, Michigan on January 30 1933 it would become an instant classic of the Golden Age of Radio that would cross over into novels, TV(both live action and animated), movies and of course comics.

The Lone Ranger was created for the radio by George W Trendle and developed by writer Fran Striker. The radio show would last until September 3, 1954 and leave it mark on a generation who grew up listening to the radio back then.

Though most likely most fans come to know of the Ranger from the well know TV series(there were two now rare and hard to find serials by Republic Pictures in 1938 & 1939 in which the only existing copies are incomplete and are subtitled in Spanish or dubbed in French) starring Clayton Moore(from 1952-1954 Moore would be briefly replace by actor John Hart due to a contract dispute)and Jay Silverheels as Tonto that ran from 1949-1957.

And with its popularity it only makes since that The Lone Ranger would cross over into comics.

Dell Comics would be the first to publish the Ranger for 145 issues from 1948-1962. At first, the series would reprint the newspaper strip(1938-1971) distributed by King Features Syndicate but after six issues it start to produce original content. With it's popularity growing Tonto would get his own spin off series(31 issues) as well has the Ranger's horse Silver(34 issues). Then Gold Key Comics in 1964 would start it's own series. Though at first it was reprints from the Dell series(as were many Gold Key comics would reprint stories from Dell Comics of other series as well), starting in issue 21(1975) it would start to produce it's own stories that would end with series with issue 28 in 1977(If your wondering why the low numbering for all those years, it is that most comics early on were only printed bi-monthly or even quarterly. It was really until the sixties that comics started to come out monthly).

The Lone Ranger after that would appear sporadically in comics until Dynamite Entertainment in 2006 would bring the Lone Ranger back into comics.

The series would be written by Brett Matthews and interior art by Sergio Cariello with covers by John Cassaday. It is with the series first six issues that these gentlemen bring the Lone Ranger back with style. It is these first six issues reprinted in a beautiful hardcover trade that I'll be discussing.

But first I should talk about the Ranger's origin for those not familiar with it.

The story goes that The Ranger whose real name has never really been revealed except his last name of Reid(though since the 1981 movie most use John as his first), with his brother(his name was Dan) who was a Texas Ranger and 4 other Rangers were ambushed and killed Butch Cavendish and his gang. John was founded by Tonto and nursed back to health. And to make it look like he was dead The Ranger and Tonto dug six graves. It was with pieces of his brothers clothes that the Ranger made his mask and swore to fight injustice were ever it is and vowing never to kill. And Tonto agreed to help him with this task.

Writer Brett Matthews sticks very close to the original origin while updating the material to make it seem fresh and new.

With this series we still have the brother Dan but we also have the father who is a Ranger as well. With the addition of his father though(through a flashback sequence) we have a better understanding of why later when he becomes the Ranger he chooses not to kill.

As I said Brett sticks close to the origin. The Rangers are ambushed and John is the sole survivor saved by Tonto who killed the gang. OK so that differs from the original radio and TV series.

But that is what makes this series so great. This is the west as it was violent and harsh. More realistic. With that in mind we don't see John putting the mask on right away and riding off after the villain here. At first like any man he wants revenge for the death of his father and brother. But as the story progresses we see that really isn't the kind of man he is. He especially realizes this after confronting a man Julius Bartholomew who has been hired by Cavendish to kill any one who is connected with the Rangers ambush and to track down the family of the Rangers and kill them.

Also The Ranger and Tonto don't exactly hit it off at first. Though Tonto tends to John's wounds and help him heal we don't know exactly why. And this Tonto kills. And here we don't know Tonto's reasoning for helping the Ranger. Tonto is the one who makes the mask for him and the blue shirt that he is known to wear. He also keeps things from him like the death of the the Rangers family. It is though Tonto is looking to redeem himself for his past through the Ranger.

As each issue unfolds Matthews unfolds the layers of the Rangers origin for the ambush to the finding of his horse Silver and the use of silver bullets. But the real fun is reading the John learns to become the Lone Ranger. A with the radio and TV show he just doesn't suit up with a mask and go off. He has to learn what it is he really wants, revenge or justice. We see the steps that will lead him to become a legend.

Now lets talk about the art of Sergio Cariello. This isn't the bright shiny world of superheroes but the old west. It is a dirty and rough land and the people who inhabits the west that Cariello draws look like they belong there. With each character both major and minor you can see that they belong living in the out reaches of the west were the railroad has yet to bring civilization. And it just isn't the people but the landscape that is drawn so beautifully that it just brings into this world of the old west. Each panel and each page is brings these characters to life.

And the violence is never over done. Most if the real violence happens off panel. And when you see some one get shot as in the ambush the blood is kept down to a minimum.

Add the coloring of Dean White. Dean colors are not all bright. Look how he colors the landscapes. you can see the dust in the air. Look at the people. the faces look tanned from a life living outside in the elements. In other words they look like what you would expect people to look like living in that time from the old pictures.

And icing to the cake is gorgeous covers by artist John Cassaday. The covers by themselves art worthy of being framed and hung in any museum in the world.

Between the first and last page this team has done a great job of bring the Lone Ranger to it's legion of fans. And introducing new fans to the fold. Though there are some purist that claim this series is too violent. That this is not the Lone Ranger they grew up with. But today's audience expects more realism in their stories. Also I would say by keeping up the violence you show that there are consequences for a persons actions. To be realistic if you are going to carry a gun then you have to expect to use it. And to use there will be violence. To say you will never kill some one and not carry a gun is one thing. But to carry one and say that you won't kill takes a different kind of man. It takes a Lone Ranger.

The hardcover trade that includes the first six issues also includes character sketches and designs from Cariello and cover artist John Cassaday.

This trade is a must for any fans of The Lone Ranger or westerns in general. It shows that after 76 years the Lone Ranger is still as strong and viable character now as he was in 1933 when his adventures first aired on the radio.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Marvel Vault, another way of celebrate Marvel Comics 70Th Anniversary.

Back in February I posted a Blog about Marvel Chronicle. It being a year by year history of Marvel Comics which this year they are celebrating their 70Th Anniversary.

But last year to get the celebration rolling Marvel put out The Marvel Vault: A Museum-In-A-Book with rare collectibles from the world of Marvel by Roy Thomas and Peter Sanderson.

Unlike Chronicle, Marvel Vault covers the history of Marvel Comics decade by decade with one important distinction. Marvel Vault carries with it rare replica collectibles from the 70 year history of the company.

This includes sketches of the Human Torch and Sub Mariner(1941-42), postcards, a farewell party poster, Fantastic Four #1 synopsis(1961) Christmas cards, Merry Marvel Marching Society Welcome Kit(fan club), Convention Programs, trading cards, stamps and more.

This is the perfect companion to the Marvel Chronicle. If your a fan of Marvel Comics or just comics in general then you will love this book.

It is filled with not only collectibles but full with tons of color photos of characters and the comics(some of which are very rare and hard to find) that made Marvel Famous. Also with in you will find photos of the artist and writers that created this universe full of characters that have survived to become not only embedded into pop culture but many of which have become culture icons.

Marvel has done every kind of story in their 70 year history, western, romance, funny ones, war, horror, science fiction, crime, superheroes and more. And Marvel Vault gives a great view of that history.

And you couldn't ask for any better guides than Roy Thomas and Peter Sanderson.

Roy Thomas has been writer and editor on such titles as The Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, The Avengers, X-Men, Conan The Barbarian and so much more. Roy also would be the first person to replace Stan Lee as Editor-in-Chief from 1972-74. He also known for his work at DC Comics working on such titles as Justice Society of America, All Star Squadron and more. He has such a rich knowledge of Marvel history not only because he was such a huge part of it but because of his love if the characters, the comics and those who created them.

As for Peter Sanderson he is a well known comic book critic and historian. He has for both Marvel and DC helped to catalog various characters, places and events that compromise their respective continuities. Peter also is an instructor and lecturer on comics and graphic novels in the New York area.

Between the first and last page this book is full of treasures(I love the Howard the Duck campaign button) for any fan of Marvel Comics. It gives a wonderful behind the scene look at the characters and their creators that gives all new insight to how these characters were created and to why even after 70 years most of them are still being read today. Though Marvel Chronicle year by year history does go into more detail than Marvel Vault, Vault is still a fascinating read and though they both cover roughly the same ground, Vault gives a different view than Chronicle's. But both are a worthy addition to any comic fans bookshelf.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Spade and Archer, prequel to Maltese Falcon doesn't quite hit the mark.

If you read my from Blog from several weeks ago you would know that one of my favorite book is Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon. It is one of the defining books in the genre of detective fiction and in particular private detective fiction when it was released 80 years ago.

But how did it begin? How did Spade and Archer become partners?

Well author Joe Gores answers those question in his new novel Spade & Archer: The Prequel to Dashiell Hamett's The Maltese Falcon.

I have to admit I was looking forward to this. Being a fan of Dashiel Hammett's and Sam Spade's. I wanted to know something or anything of his past.

The story opens with Spade doing surveillance work for the Continental Detective Agency's(this being a reference to another detective created by Hammett only know has the Continental Op) in which he saves Miles Archer(Archer at the time was working for another agency) from being attacked by two men. We find out they know each other. It here we find out Archer has gotten married to Iva(and it seems that before that she and Spade were an item). It is after this Spade reports to his boss and quits the agency to start his own agency.

In this book we find that Spade served in WWI were he was assigned to the Seventh Battalion of the Second Infantry and saw action in the trenches of the Lens-Arras sector of France. He was wounded and recieved a medal. That he already has a history with the to 2 police detectives Dundy and Polhaus. And how Effie Perine became his secretary(when coming to answer the ad for a secretary she lied and told all other applicants the job was already filled) and how Sam Wise became his lawyer(had an office next door to Spade and often used Effie for his secretary work).

As the story goes it is told in three parts, 1921, 25 & 28. It seems that each case Spade is investigating is connected by a single mastermind. First theft of gold coins off a ship, then a murdered banker and finally a Chinese woman who father was raising money for a revolt in China.

As for how the mystery is told Gores did a fine job with it. Connecting each case in a nicely plotted story.

But for all that it just didn't have the feel of Hammett's Sam Spade. For after all is said and done it could have been just another mystery with any other private investigator. Though there were glimmers of Hammett's tone or voice but they were few and far between to make this book truly feel worthy of a prequel.

Then there was the instant of foreshadowing that I dislike so much(comics do it too much). Now Spade doesn't like guns. In quitting the agency Spade makes a remarks on his competitive pistol shooting after his soon to be ex boss says something about it:

"The Pistol made the records. All I did was point it and make it go bang," "Eight-shot thirty-eight Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver. Only three hundred of them ever got made because they jammed in combat but they were so accurate on the firing range they got banned from competition shooting."

Now if you have read Hammett's book or are a fan of the movie you know that is the gun that killed Archer in the Maltese Falcon. It seemed that Gores was implying that Spade was able to recognize the gun only because he fired one before. He is a detective and even not liking to use guns he would need to have knowledge of them so it wouldn't have been unusual for him to to able to identify the gun.

Then there is his relationship with Detective Dundy. If you read Falcon(or seen the movie) you know that Dundy doesn't really care for Spade and his methods. He even went so far to accuse Spade of murdering Archer and Floyd Thurby in Hammett's novel. Dundy here again is just about accusing Spade of every one who gets killed in the Gore's book.

Then there was Spade meeting with the Assistant District Attorney office. It almost was an exactly similar to his meeting in Falcon with then District Attorney. So much so I almost expected Spade to ask the stenographer if he was talking to fast as he did in Falcon.

I don't know if Gores put that in the book because he thought since Hammett did he should. Or maybe he thought that the readers were expecting it.

There were other little things that bothered me that didn't have so much to do with the plot as with the writing. For instance almost every time when his secretary talked it was "Effie Perine said.." or "as Effie Perine got up". I just didn't understand why he had to use her full name almost all the time. Did he think we forget her name? Was so he wouldn't forget her name? He also did the same for Spade's lawyer Sam Wise. But when anyone else was talking he would use their first or last name only.

And as for Archer himself. He was hardly in the book at all. We saw him at the beginning then later on for a brief scene or two then it wasn't until later that the partnership began. Now in the book the agreement between the two was for only one year. In Hammett's book as well in the movie you got the impression that Spade & Archer have been together for some time(but that Spade was going to disolve the partnership for unknown reasons). But in Gore's book the partnership would only last a few weeks before Bridget O'Shaunessey would kill him.

Though I did like the nod as mention above to the Continental Op and later when Spade needed an alias he used Nick Charles which of course referring to Hammett's other famous detective in the book The Thin Man. But Spade use of aliases seem contrived. Reading the original novel you had the feeling aliases were not something Spade used. He didn't need to aliases I felt. It was his unpredicablity that was his greatest weapon. How, whom ever he was dealing with never knew what he was going to do. The use of them just made Spade seem like another private investigator.

Again it was a well plotted mystery but just didn't read like a Sam Spade novel. Between the first and last page it felt that this novel felt short of appealing to the fan's Hammett and Sam Spade in me. Now don't get me wrong. I wasn't expecting him to write like Hammett any more than I expect a play write to write like Shakespeare. But if you are going to write some one else's character you need to at least make it feel like how the original author intended the character to be. I didn't feel the unpredictability of the character when I first read The Maltese Falcon(and which I still feel when I read the book). When Hammett wrote Spade you just weren't sure whose side he was on or even if he was on the right side. But what Gore did was write a typical private detective story that would have worked with any private detective.

Now I never read Gore's any other books so I can't compare them to this. But if I was to judge I say he would have been better off just creating his own character for this book.