This is a somewhat interesting SF comic from the early to middle 90ies, which I read in a German translation from the French original. The setting is that of a united Earth that is in a cold war with the First Colonies, the remnants of the human space program, long since displaced by von Neumann machines. Humanity on Earth, while not having lost its lust for space, has gone mostly into hibernation, preferring virtual realities to the real world.
While the conflict of von Neumann machines vs human space explorers seemed strangely dated in the face of prose SF that merges the two and introduces far fresher and more interesting conflicts, it wasn’t without merit. I liked the story concept and the imagination that went into some of the details of the setting. Also the plot element of winning a game in virtual reality to amass the money for some action in the real world seemed preconscious of stuff like Charles Stross Halting State.
Sadly, the writing ranged from mediocre to atrocious and the plotting wasn’t all that great either. The bad writing may have been due to the translation, but overall that made reading it wearisome. I went on due to the setting and the overall story, but couldn’t really enjoy it as a reading experience. At least the art was excellent, some of the vistas in the virtual world and some of the space ship designs were marvelous.
Similar to his later collection Fragile Things, this one brings together nearly everything from poem to short story. There are some excellent stories and those outweigh the less interesting material, that, at least to me, is more or less filler. Some good ones are Chivalry, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, Troll Bridge and The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories. The last of the these is actually less a story than an autobiographical piece (it’s about Gaiman’s dealings with some Hollywood movie people). Gaiman has storytelling pinned down so well, that even such a mundane piece comes off as insightful and fantastic. One thing I really like about Gaiman’s collections so far are his extensive notes to how each story came to be. Some of these notes (all collected in the introduction) are even more interesting than the pieces themselves.
Gaiman’s collections don’t really show a different side of his fiction, he’s mostly going over the same ground content-wise, but they show that he is excellent at the short length too. Which makes these collections into real treasure troves.
Fragile Things is a collection of stuff by Gaiman, covering nearly every size, from poem to novella. There’s a bunch of really good stories, like A Study in Emerald (a successful mix of the Chtulhu- and the Sherlock Holmes-universe), October in the Chair, The Problem of Susan, Goliath (a story set in the Matrix-universe) and The Monarch of the Glen (further adventures of Shadow from American Gods). Others in it are good too. Most of the shorter material I find less interesting, it’s more or less experimental stuff, trying out some odd ideas or narrative experiments.
Most of themes are common ground for Gaiman: fantastical elements with the modern world as a background, plays with established characters from other fictional universes, characters looking back and weighting their lives against the expectations of their youth, odd events and the nature of stories.
Everything is told in a detached voice that both distances from the worst of what actually happens to some characters and yet shows a compassionate narrator who hasn’t all the answers, but who is adept at conveying the magic of both mundane and fantastic things.
by Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III . (Download)
The Ur-Quan Masters, the open source version of Star Control 2, is one of the most brilliant and also most frustrating games I have ever played. It’s brilliance comes partly from the excellent story, that while not widely original, transforms the themes of old, classic space opera into something that feels much fresher than it has any right to be. The storytelling is also first class, slowly revealing the secret history of the galaxy, a complex and richly layered chronology that stands in opposition to the simple good-vs-bad explanations that most of the early space operas used to explain the motivations of their alien races. That’s what makes this game so fresh, every alien race has a complex history, one that has shaped them, made them into who they are. That’s not an excuse for their actions, but it gives them considerable depth.
The frustration with The Ur-Quan Masters is entirely gameplay related. The battle system, taken directly out of Star Control 1, is fun for a short time. As a major game mechanic, it becomes soon very annoying. A strategic battle system ala Master of Orion 2 would have been much better than this arcade merger of Asteroids and Space Invader. The second irritating thing about the game is the time limit, which, in a game with free exploration as such a major element, must have been one of the stupidest game design decision ever made. Despite those misgivings, it’s an excellent game and everyone who loves a good SF story should try it out.
The Lucifer series was constructed out of longer arcs with single issues who told some more personal stories that were related to the bigger story, but tried to bring everything back to human level. While they often introduced important story threads and provided alternate viewpoints, I can’t say I really enjoyed them, the bigger story was far more interesting and those single issue felt like annoying filler material, even if they weren’t. Neither have I liked other non-Lucifer related one-shots by Carey in the past.
Nirvana mixes this pattern with a typical Lucifer story, and while the result is far from being as good as the longer story arcs of Lucifer, his appearance makes this at least partly entertaining. I can’t even pinpoint exactly why I don’t like Carey’s one-shots/single issue stories, but most of his characters, despite being carefully constructed and given flesh, feel strangely lifeless and hollow. They are like perfect automatons, following the whim of their creator through his story, until it’s over. Maybe that makes Lucifer the exception, he, in more than one sense, escaped his creator.
This is an okay addition to the Lucifer canon, but hardly a must-read.
Lucifer is without doubt the best comic book I’ve read in the last five years. Which doesn’t mean it’s the most accessible and easiest read. While The Morningstar Option, collected in the first TPB, is a great start for Lucifer and a very elegant and accessible bridge from Sandman to Lucifer, the following arc is very dense and doesn’t show the potential the series seemed to imply in The Morningstar Option. But once you’re past that, it gets better and better.
Lucifer reminds me of Ted Chiang’s Hell Is the Absence of God, a world in which God is real, and the question isn’t whether to believe in him or not, but whether to follow or to defy him. What Lucifer is, is one, big What If? story, about what happens when God is unquestionably real, omniscient and omnipotent, and what his plans for his creations, both the whole of it and all things in it, are.
While it’s undeniably fantasy, in its uncompromising approach to probe and explore what it means to struggle with that, to defy something that can’t, by definition, be defied meaningfully, since free will isn’t an option, Lucifer becomes a brilliant exploration of Abrahamic religions and all its implications.
The second series follows neatly after the first one. This time summer break is looming and the (weird) kids are out to go to summer camp, when Death Jr. tells them of his internship in his fathers company. If you don’t know Death Jr., it’s about a kid skeleton whose father is Death (yeah, the one with the scythe) and whose friends are nearly as strange as him. Death Jr. can’t wait to get to work with his father, since he expects to go out collecting souls, instead it turns out he has to work deep down in the bowls of his fathers company, sorting files. His friends meanwhile have lucked out in summer camp, which is headed by a mini-dictator who relishes in controlling the kids to do his bidding.
I came to this by way of liking Naifeh’s Courtney Crumrin, even if it’s only the art by him this time. The story is far from being subtle, often you can see where it’s heading miles away, yet it still manages to be fun, for all ages. Death here is far more worldly, than, for example, the similar Death personification in Pratchett’s Discworld. Whitta’s and Naifeh’s Death (and likewise his son Death Jr.) has a wife (or a possible girlfriend in the case of the junior), no problems understanding human nature and even their problems can be boiled down to standard stuff that happens to all of us. It’s just that with being Death, there’s an extra layer of stuff that can happen.
The whole comic (this second volume and the first one too) succeeds because it perfectly fulfills the expectations you might have when you hear about the high concept of it (the kid of Death). A kid who is connected to the supernatural world that he and his father partially inhabit, but also the all too mundane world of school and friends and family stuff.
From the creator of Final Vision comes another game with a similar mix of platformer and RPG-elements. This time the game takes its inspiration from the Castlevania games (the most obvious reference is that you can play a Belmont the second time you’ll go through the game). The differences to Final Vision are small but still manage to improve the gameplay in interesting ways, each new level you can allocate stat points on four stats and (in a minor way) influence the gamplay. You can also marry and get a kid(sidekick), but chosing different wifes doesn’t seem to change the kid you get, which was a bit disappointing. Overall the game is still very short, I played it through under two hours, but it feels longer than Final Vision. Despite the shortness, it’s quite good and fun.
There also exists an Ainevoltas 1 (see here), but it seems to be more of a beta version (or Ainevoltas 2 is a remake of the first one) with horrible controls and much weaker graphics. Not really worth a try.
The all too common story of the geek who dreams day and night of becoming the star of his chosen obsession, and who, through a rather ridiculous sequence of events, actually becomes the chosen one and saves everyone, proving again that it’s not hard work that makes you the best of the best, but rather dreaming and obsessing about it. Every element of the movie feels far too calculated to generate a genuine emotional resonance, nor does the plot holds any surprises along the way. Still, I can’t deny that it has a certain entertainment value, but it’s not something I’ll seek out in the future to watch again or recommend to others.
Mute robot WALL·E is sorting and cleaning away the trash humanity has left behind, after having fled a polluted Earth. Another robot named EVE lands with a space probe and WALL·E falls in love with her, follows her into space and accidentally rescues the overweight descendants of humanity who seem to fly aimlessly through space while being completely managed by their robot servants.
This one latches directly onto your emotional center and tries to hide its lack of an interesting plot or even interesting characters with its over-emotionalized mix of a childlike, innocent robot with big, gooey eyes. If that doesn’t work, you’ll realize fast that the story is generic beyond belief and the setting not quite convincing. Watching it once for the animation is okay, but that’s it. And for the ending, which just seemed to miss the mark for a “real” happy ending, since the descendants arrive on an Earth that’s still a shithole and not the promised land. When the credits started to roll on, I wondered what the death toll among the returnees would be in the coming years.