Demons (Rat Queens, #3)

By Kurtis J. Wiebe

Rating: 3 stars

(3.5 stars, rounded down, I think)

To be honest, after reflecting on it, I’m a little disappointed in this third volume of the marvellous Rat Queens series. Picking up where the second volume left off, this sees the Queens travel to Mage U with their Elven wizard Hannah to try and rescue her father, who has got himself into so much trouble that even being tenured won’t help him.

Others have complained about the change to the artwork in this volume, but I reread the previous two volumes immediately before starting this one and didn’t notice. That’s probably just my failures of observation, but to me the art is as pretty as ever.

The main issue I had with this volume was that the rest of the Queens were mostly sidelined in favour of Hannah (who’s never been my favourite) and she makes some… poor… decisions that will affect the future of the series (if there is one, as there seem to be a lot of rumours floating around, but nothing solid on if the series will continue or not). Dee got almost nothing in this volume and Violet (with her excellent new beard) fares little better. The marvellous Betty gets some back story hinted at, and the most fantastic (if not relevant at all [probably] to the plot) encounter with an ice dragon which made me laugh out loud.

Some of the jumps between scenes were disjointed and I had to read some bits through several times before I got it, but there’s still a lot of good stuff here and I desperately want it to get back to being the amazingly good, funny and irreverent series that it was in the first couple of volumes.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632157355
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2016

Rat Queens: Deluxe Edition, Volume 1 (Rat Queens: Deluxe Editions, #1)

By Kurtis J. Wiebe

Rating: 5 stars

The Rat Queens are a group of four female adventurers trying to make a living (read killing things and taking their stuff) in a medieval fantasy world. It’s all a bit D&D but this was recommended to me by a friend with good taste in books, and dear goodness but it’s good.

It’s the characters that make it. The four Rat Queens are all very individual characters, with their own flaws, secrets and desires. Violet is a dwarf fighter who shaved her beard before it was cool; Hannah is an elf mage with attitude problems; Dee is a human former cultist who walked away and became an atheist (but can still use divine magic); and Betty. Betty is the sweetest smidgen (halfling) you could imagine, who loves candy and booze and ripping out monsters’ eyeballs (I may be a fan of Betty [although Orc Dave and his bluebirds of healing comes a close second]).

As the story develops, these characters all evolve and we see their history, what led them to where they are, as well as that of the people around them. The other adventuring parties in the town, the town guard, and the local merchants. They all weave together a compelling story that’s a joy to read. And there’s so much humour throughout. Even with all the violence (and dear goodness, there’s a lot of violence), the humour is the standout thing about this series.

A word needs to go to the book itself. This deluxe hardback collects the first two trade paperbacks, covering the first arc of the story, and is a very beautiful thing in its own right. It looks absolutely lovely, from the silver-on-black foil cover to the vividness of the colours within. The art is fantastic, conveying both the tender, character moments, and the manic rush of the fighting, and certainly not sparing any feelings over the dismembered limbs and blood.

It’s lovely to see a book focusing on female characters the way that this one does. The Rat Queens, and so many of the women around them, are strong, independent and take no crap from anybody. But they’re not one-dimensional, they each have their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities; they’re individuals and are treated as such. It seems that comics like this, Ms Marvel and Saga are the place to go for good female characters at the moment.

All in all, a fantastic book and a fantastic series. I can’t wait for more.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632154927
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2015

Disturbed Universes

By David L. Clements

Rating: 4 stars

I first encountered Dave Clements at SF conventions, and he quickly became someone to look out for on a panel or talk, being knowledgeable about SF and science, as his day job is as an astrophysicist. I started following him on Twitter and when I found his new collection of short stories just out in a convention dealers’ room, I grabbed it as a matter of course.

There are two non-fiction pieces in the book; in the first Clements talks about the life and work of an astrophysicist as he works half way up a mountain, in a low-oxygen environment. The second is about the experience of having a substantial chunk of your career sitting on top of a giant controlled explosion, being blasted into the sky. These are lovely insights into the life of a working scientist and are good to read.

As for the fiction, it was Clements’ future history stories that I enjoyed the most, although the opening story Re-Creation was an explosive way to open the collection. This tells the story of the rebirth of humanity in the distant future, by way of creatures of practically unlimited power, but which can still make mistakes.

It’s these sorts of far-future space opera that have been my bread and butter in science fiction for as long as I’ve been a reader and after that huge opener, we’re brought back to Earth with a bump as we have a few near-future stories where Clements explores some of the more salacious aspects of modern society, including seed patenting in Last of the Guerilla Gardeners and the excesses of bureaucracy in academia in Inquisition. In between there are Lovecraftian horror stories and multi-dimensional do-gooding. Then in the last set of stories at the end, we go back to future. These are all set in a single future history that spans millions of years and sees Humanity fighting a war across the ages. I loved these stories, which also managed to find the time to fit in the responsibility of uploaded humans to those left behind; the place of AI in human civilisation; and the politics of academia.

The little afterwords after each story by the author add to it and give us some insight into what sparked them or where they came from. There are lots of good stories here, recommended to anyone who likes a decent chunk of science in their science fiction. Written by someone at the coal face, these follow in the best traditions of Asimov, Clarke and other greats of the Golden Age, but with 21st century science.

Book details

ISBN: 9781910935101
Publisher: Newcon Press

Space Helmet for a Cow: The Mad, True Story of Doctor Who (1963-1989)

By Paul Kirkley

Rating: 4 stars

This is an engaging book, informally written, with lots of snarky asides to the reader and imagined conversations between the figures that form this history. I’m a confirmed fan of many years standing, but there was still a fair bit in here that I didn’t know. Kirkley admits in the acknowledgements at the end that he relied heavily on secondary works, but for a book like this that’s perfectly reasonable. And he provides his references in a comprehensive source section at the back.

Although I didn’t really get into the fandom properly until later, I’ve always tended to go along with the general notion that John Nathan-Turner wasn’t good for the programme, but Kirkley is sympathetic to him and I find myself coming away with a much more nuanced view of the chap. The higher echelons of the BBC in the 80s, though, come in for a drubbing.

One thing that the book sorely needs is an index. There are so many names that it’s difficult to keep track of them all, so an index to let you flip back and check up on them would be invaluable. Without it, it makes it hard to use as a reference. In saying that, the book is clearly intended as a narrative history, not a scholarly one, so the omission is understandable.

So overall, this is an entertaining history of the fascinating story of a remarkable television programme. One that somehow managed to survive its first couple of disaster-laden episodes and is still going strong, more than fifty years later.

Book details

ISBN: 9781935234173
Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press
Year of publication: 2014

Secret Language

By Neil Williamson

Rating: 4 stars

I’ve read the occasional short story by Neil Williamson in various anthologies over the years but never a collection of his own. Williamson’s style is quite dense and literary, I found I had to read the book quite slowly, taking just one or two stories at a time, otherwise it just got a bit blurry.

The major themes in the book are music and Scotland. He draws on the distinctiveness of Scots and Scotland to set up character portraits and story resonance without needing to go into great detail. And music is present in many of these stories in some shape or other, from the way the system dealt with Punk in Arrhythmia to the the very essence of what art is and if how it should be produced and consumed in The Death of Abigail Goudy, a piece which, it seems to me (and from the author’s afterword) came from very deep inside the author.

My favourite piece was probably the most science fictional story in the collection, Lost Sheep, a space opera set in the deep future, yet still coming back to the perennial theme of making and showing art.

It’s not what I would call a cheerful book, there’s a sense of melancholy running through it, even the stories that don’t directly have sad endings leave you with a sense of unease that things are probably going to get worse. There is a streak of dark humour running through it that stops it getting too miserable though.

So a book to dip into for me, rather than to swallow down. I can appreciate the quality of Williamson’s writing but he’s not an author that I’d want to read a lot of in quick succession.

Book details

ISBN: 9781910935149
Publisher: Newcon Press

2001: A Space Odyssey (Space Odyssey, #1)

By Arthur C. Clarke

Rating: 5 stars

What I loved about this book is its sense of wonder. David Bowman is an explorer and Clarke has a wonderful way of reminding the reader about all the completely amazing things that could almost be taken for granted by long time readers of SF. Whether it’s the speeds at which interplanetary spacecraft travel, the magnificence of the solar system or passage of time, he reminds us that human frames of reference are almost meaningless.

This is Clarke at his most dramatic, from the first encounter with the monolith 3 million BC to the emergence of the Star Child and the sense that everything’s changed. Brilliant.

Book details

ISBN: 9781857236644
Publisher: Orbit
Year of publication: 1968

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