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Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

The Ray Bradbury Chronicles: Volume Two (1992)
based on the stories of Ray Bradbury
Bantam Spectra

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The second volume of comic adaptations of Bradbury’s stories. Again I was drawn to the more abstract style of “A Piece of Wood” and another story of two people from different times having an encounter, “Night Meeting”. Also included is “Come into My Cellar”, which I thought was a lot more effective in the original story, “Punishment Without Crime”, “Rocket Summer & The Locusts” and the neat colourized old EC Comics piece, “The Flying Machine”.

"Night Meeting"

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The Ray Bradbury Chronicles: Volume One (1992)
based on the stories of Ray Bradbury
Bantam Spectra

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A collection of Ray Bradbury’s stories that have been adapted into comic-book form by various artists. I believe they put out four of these volumes, I have the first two, and re-read them recently. The different artists bring different styles and feels to the stories, from the sort of generic future world you might expect in Buck Rogers, to the very artistic and idiosyncratic.

"Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed"

The best adaptations here are “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” which creates a great atmosphere with its brown hues and cut-up abstract style, and “The Dragon” which in a few short pages tells a very effective story of crossed time streams, one of my favourite Bradbury themes. Also included are “The Golden Apples of the Sun”, “Marionettes, Inc.”, “The Toynbee Convector”, and newly coloured from an old EC Comic, “I, Rocket”.

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The Incredible Shrinking Man (1956, 1994 collection)
by Richard Matheson
351 pages
Tor

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The concept of this novel is really right there in the title and the cover image, not a lot more to say than that. The story alternates between the protagonist’s days in the cellar when he is smaller than a spider, and flashbacks from earlier days, when he started shrinking from his original six-foot-two height. The novel takes up about 2oo pages, and the rest of the book is filled out with a collection of nine stories, the most notable among them being Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, Duel, and Button, Button.

Richard Matheson is, in my opinion, an excellent second-tier writer. It may be a bit mean to say, but even at his best, it’s like there’s something slightly missing, or perhaps all of his events and plotlines are just a bit too transparent. He’s somehow much more suited for film and television adaptations, maybe because the visual element and the input of others adds flesh on the bone, and ambiguity to the simplistic.

I’ve read a couple of other Matheson novels, Hell House and  I Am Legend, and I think that this one is the best of them. There are some very poignant moments, especially when the protagonist shrinks down to the point where he can be victimized by adults and children alike. My favourite sequence is when he meets a female midget at a circus, and they find a lot in common between them, but of course there’s also the big difference in that she has always been and always will be that size, while he was tall and will continue to shrink.

I thought the stories were of hit-and-miss quality.

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The Purple Cloud (1901, revised 1921)
by M.P. Shiel
311 pages
Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press

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Adam Jeffson is living his life in the later years of Victorian London when his fiance schemes to give him an opportunity to be part of a voyage attempting to reach the pole for the first time.  She is more concerned about the immense reward money, but the series of misfortunes that follows Jeffson to the pole is only the beginning as, after he is the only surviving member of the party to reach the pole, once he starts venturing southward again he finds the world immeasurably changed. He pieces together that a poisonous purple cloud swept across all populated areas, killing off all the large animals on the land, to the point that he finds himself the last living man on earth, and spends twenty years wandering about and going mad.

The style this novel is written in was probably already dated during its original publication; ornate and somewhat obtuse, with the narrator often becoming hysterical in an attempt to heighten the drama. There is certainly a decadent and gothic feel to the book, especially after the disaster as the author seems to revel in the dead bodies of all kinds scattered everywhere.

The book is known as a sort of minor classic of science fiction, but mostly it left me disappointed. The large middle portion where the narrator is by himself is probably the low point, where he indulges in all sorts of pointless activity without much of the inner reflection you might expect when you are given so much time alone. I found myself glazing over pages at a time without really picking up on anything that might have happened, and ended up finishing the book just to say that I did.

There are a few versions of this novel, the longest original serialized version, the shorter version afterward published in novel form, then a revised version from 1929 which is in between the previous two in terms of length. This is the final, 1929 version.

Header for the serialized version

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Darwinia (1998)
by Robert Charles Wilson
320 pages
Orb Books

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It’s the start of the twentieth century, the age of large ocean-crossing ships and the telegraph, when an event occurs that shakes everyone’s understanding of reality, and radically transforms the course of history from the path it followed in our world.  Overnight a light is seen in the sky, communication is cut off from Europe, and then when people finally investigate in-person, they find that all of Europe has been replaced with an untouched wilderness with bizarre alien plant and animal life, and the land following only the general lines of what had existed before.

So far we have an excellent adventure story, as the main protagonist is a child when this happens, and in his twenties is part of an expedition that tries to explore and document the interior of the new Europe for the first time. Exiles and adventurers have tried to reclaim parts of the wilderness, either for their vanished nations or their own self-interest, and so the expedition has to deal with social and political hurdles as well as the bizarre new lifeforms.  The informal name for this transformed Europe becomes ‘Darwinia’, a mocking reference, since events have obviously invalidated the slow-and-steady evolution theories of Darwin.

This had the potential to be an engaging novel full of adventure and mysteries, but unfortunately, about a third of the way through, there are several pages of flat exposition in which the author clues you in on what is really going on, and the twist in the plot is both unnecessary and extremely damaging to the drama of the story.  From this point forward, nothing that happens really matters, and things start to get more bizarre, but it doesn’t mean anything to the reader because we’re in a world without rules.  If Wilson was trying to make some kind of sense with what is going on with plot twist, he fell well short.

Without giving too much away, the story falls into a similar trap as many stories set in dreams or computer simulations–because anything can happen, to the reader it doesn’t matter what happens. If an author creates a world like Middle Earth, and lets the reader know of the rules and limitations, then it can be a stage for effective drama, even if it’s a very different kind than takes place in our world.  However, in a story like Tad Williams’s Otherland, which was mostly set in a computer gone mad, it’s as possible for all the characters to be killed off in a page, as for them to pull something out of a pocket and be victorious, or for the narrative to go on for another thousand pages.

This novel won an Aurora award in 1999.

The full cover art by Jim Burns, the best part of the book.

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The Prisoner: Shattered Visage (1990)
written by Dean Motter and Mark Askwith, illustrated by Dean Motter
DC Comics
208 pages

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After watching the dire AMC-TV remake (or re-imagining, or brutalizing, or whatever) of the classic late-60s British television series The Prisoner, I learned about this comic, which was originally published in four volumes, and picks up the story of the original series twenty years later.  The two Canadian writers apparently had the input and approval of creator and lead actor Patrick McGoohan, though I’m not sure if their contribution is considered canon.

Number Six, twenty years later

The story is mostly involved with the lives of various contemporary spies and intelligence workers in London, England, and only about a third of it takes place in The Village, now abandoned and almost devoid of inhabitants.  This becomes one of the weaknesses of the story, as the scenes in the everyday world are quite mundane and differ little from a thousand other mediocre spy stories.  The hero of the original series, Number Six, does make an appearance, as does one of his Number Two antagonists, but the main characters are younger agents newly created by the authors.

The ultimate meaning of the original series, regarded by many critics as one of the high points of artistic achievement in television, is hotly debated.  The audience appeal of the episodes ranged from the fairly standard cat-and-mouse game of a secret agent trying to outwit his antagonist, to the final episode that took a severe turn into surrealism, breaking down the narrative structure of the series, and an ending that was somehow both heavy-handed and impenetrably ambiguous all at once.  But, for me, the overarching theme of the work was the struggle of the individual against totalitarian structures, and the maintenence of internal integrity in the face of whatever one may be subjected to. Man against mass society.

Simpsons episode The Computer Wore Menace Shoes, in which we learn Number Six was made to disappear after inventing the bottomless peanut bag.

Unfortunately, none of this is really brought up in this comic book, which deals with more mundane events and concerns, as well as providing an ending that seems rushed. The strongest connection to the spirit of the series is the quoting of some of the phrases that were used in The Village, but it never feels like the authors have a full grasp of the material.  As for the artwork, it’s decent, though sometimes a bit too dark and murky.

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