Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

The Zap Gun – Philip K. Dick (1964)

February 25, 2017

the-zap-gunAs a long time fan of Philip K. Dick I’ve always enjoyed the lunacy of his novels, even some of those that are not as endearing as his classics like The Man in the High Castle or Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (A.K.A. Blade Runner). Some of the fondest on mys hselves have been his quirkier novels like Dr. Bloodmoney and Clans of the Alphane Moon. Based on past experience I thought that a novel about a world which features ersatz psychic weapon designers that jeopardize the Earth when faced with an alien invasion would be a sure bet. But The Zap Gun, while encapsulating the usual Dick staples of conspiracy theories and paranoia, was a bit of slog and took it’s sweet time to get to the expected insanity.

Reflective of the then contemporary Cold War divided world, Dick posits a similar East and West disunity, but with more convoluted hierarchies. Under the surface both sides have suppressed the arms race by having the populace (or ‘parsups’) believe that they have supreme weapons designers that have been continually receiving new designs in trancelike dreams for some unknown higher being. But instead of building the weapons ‘imagined’, the designs are studied (understood?) and then ‘plowshared’ into inert common use devices.

Lars is the preeminent Wes-bloc ‘Weapon Designer” who has been in a funk largely due to a case of conscious regarding his fraudulent role. The one thing that does interest him is finding out more about his Peep-East counterpart, one Lilo Topchev. But elusive miss Topchev remains nothing more than a blurred picture provided by Western intelligence.

All that changes when a satellite shows up in the sky one day, the first salvo in an invasion by  Sirius. The two planetary alliance’s only hope is to combine Lars and Lilo’s talents together in the hope that their trances can produce an actual viable weapon.

Mostly political intrigue, navigating the machinations and echelons of bureaucracy, this is largely Lars’ story. His interest in Lilo, his relationship with a mistress, and his few friends who are the manufacturers of his ‘weapons’. The invasion itself is just a plot device and the ‘war’ is simply described in a sentence here and there as cities disappearing under a veil.

Perhaps a case of going to the trough once too often, the story did not really pique my interest until things got really crazy mid way like finding out that Lars’ and Lilo’s trance productions were coming from the mind of a South Ghanaian comic strip writer of “The Blue Cephalopod Man from Titan“. If that wasn’t wacky enough, the ultimate solution to the Alien invasion is nothing short of genius, and involves a toy.

So if you’re a fan of P.K.D, stick with this one and you’ll be rewarded. For those not acquainted with the man, it is (eventually) another example of the warped mind of the late, great author. That cover insane painting is more apropos than you would be led to believe.


Red Planet Blues – Robert J. Sawyer (2013)

January 13, 2017

red-planet-bluesAuthor Robert J. Sawyer is obviously a film noir buff based on the many references, both overt and surreptitious in his novel Red Planet Blues. The noted science fiction author is no stranger to mystery fiction as several of his novels focus on courtroom drama as plot elements but here he takes it up a notch as his protagonist is an old school gumshoe who has to solve several enigmas on Mars starting off with a good old fashioned murder.

The cover of the novel states that it contains Sawyer’s highly lauded novella “Identity Theft” which I had not read prior. But reading the plot arc of the first few chapters it was clear that that first section was the novella, which I found to be both a source of great pleasure and at the same time a mild annoyance as I’ll explain.

In the not too distant future after a pair of explorers discovered fossils of ancient life on the planet, Mars now sports a dome city of New Klondike that operates much like the Dawson City which once rose from the ashes of the Gold Rush. Like gold, the commodity of highly valued fossils is now a scarce resource of riches – meaning that New Klondike and it’s denizen have seen better times. With transformance technology available to those rich enough to afford it people can discard their frail and eventual terminal bodies and migrate their consciousness into android bodies. These so called Transfers are not only durable and stronger and may have optional specialized upgrades, but they can also be manufactured to look like anyone. Some opt to look like their former selves – perhaps with a few esthetic ‘touches’ – or they can be any celebrity, or just a complete redesigned human.

When a woman enters Alex Lomax’s dingy detective agency seeking help to find her missing husband we may as well be seeing Ingrid Bergman meeting Humphrey Bogart but without the cigarettes. The simple case turns out to be much more complex as Lomax learns that a physical Transfer can really have any former person within the new shell.

But once past the “Identity Theft” plot arc the novel takes up where the novella left off and delivers a much more complex story regarding the rediscovery of the long lost ‘mother lode’ of fossils which created the initial frenzy. From there we get many twist and turns to secure that knowledge, a bevy of new characters – both human and transfer, good and evil – all vying for different personal goals. This extension of the original storyline, while not altogether inadequate is not as intriguing. Like any good mystery it does have a number curves in the plot and and does tackle some new ground, but at the same time it does stretch elements to the point of incredulity.

The “Identity Theft” portion is a great tale, full of suspense and serves a great plot twist at the end. As a standalone whodunit story it is easy to see how it garnered both Hugo and Nebula nominations and is worth the price alone of the book. As for the rest, it’s interesting but certainly not Sawyer’s best. The character of Lomax was really what kept me going on as he certainly was a likeable yet imperfect character that perfectly fits the film noir mold and one I hope Sawyer gets back to him at some point.

Last but not least, the novel has many notable ‘nods’ that I always find enjoyable. The brief ‘tip of the hat’ include one to Ray Bradbury, and even the oft forgotten Raymond Z. Gallun. More interesting is naming one of the spaceships Katherine Dennings which makes me wonder if Sawyer is a fan of the actress (not that that is a problem as I’m a fan myself). And finally, Planet of the Apes fan, Sawyer being an avid one, will be sure to get a particular short descriptive sector that certainly had me smiling.

Here’s looking at you Rob, as I tip my fedora until the next adventure.

The Comet Kings – Edmond Hamilton (1942)

December 16, 2016

The Comet KingsI thought it was high time I read a cheesy, old school, space opera novel so I just pulled the first musty smelling pulp off my shelves which was Edmond Hamilton’s The Comet Kings and give it a whirl.

Set in a future where man has conquered space and spaceships seem to be a dime a dozen zipping throughout the solar system, the story begins with authorities receiving reports of ships mysteriously disappearing in a area between the planets Jupiter and Uranus. The government officials are perplexed and at their wit’s end as scouts sent to investigate also disappear without a trace.

When Captain Future (real name Curt Newton), hears that the last such ship that disappeared had as passengers Joan, the woman he loves and Ezra, an old friend, he dutifully volunteers his  rag tag team of the Futuremen to head out and solve the mystery. Lead by Captain Future, The Futuremen consists of Otho the synthetic android, Grag the robot with superhuman strength, and Simon who is just a highly intelligent human brain encased in a floating protective enclosure.

As it so happens, the area in question is also where Halley’s Comet is sauntering during one of it’s cyclical visits. With space barren of any other ships the Futuremen approach the comet only to be sucked into it’s coma (or nucleus if you will). Incredulously the Futuremen discover an entire civilization within. They soon learn that the residents, some of which include the missing personnel from all the lost ships, are now aglow with electric energy. But the Futuremen also determine that the other inhabitants, called the Cometae, were responsible for modify the abductees with the energy force which also makes them immortal, also hold now hold them as de facto prisoners, Joan being one of them, as they are bound to the energy source within the comet. But those who refuse to join the Cometae are thrown into prison where the Futuremen soon find themselves. They then learn that the Cometai are themselves ruled by the Allus, a mysterious unseen alien force who are really the ones responsible for the energy forces.

The Allus who come from the 4th dimension have nefarious plans to suck out all the energy from one conquered planetary system to another and will soon be draining our own. I comes down to the Futuremen to save everyone, but complex questions remain. Why, for instance did Joan agree to undergo the transition? Will Captain Future be able to reverse the process even if he rescues her? Will she even want to revert to being mortal again or has she has she embraced her newfound immortality?

It’s all good swashbuckling space opera fare, none too deep in character development but with enough of a zany plot and action to keep one amused. The Allus use mind control to keep a tight leash on their captives, but they also use it in more interesting ways such as leaving doors wide open and then embedding mental blocks so that captives cannot escape despite no barrier. The effect of the electrical lifeforce that the Allus accord to the Cometae also means that the Futuremen effectively cannot touch them and since they wield weapons that emit electrical discharges, getting ahold of those weapons would still be useless to use on the Cometae. These are all obstacles that the Futuremen have to circumvent in their efforts to combat the Allus.

There are also a number of secondary cardboard characters that have a few scant lines of dialog and hardly figure into the story. These include Cometae king, queen and evil wizard who forms the alliance with the Allus, a few helpful guards that form the seed of a Cometae revolution, and a helpful martian scientist. Even Joan has but a few lines and honestly hardly serves a purpose other than to be Curt’s driving force. Paint by the Numbers space opera.

I’ve since found out that The Futuremen was a fairly renowned series of books to which Hamilton was the most prolific contributor and the person largely associate with the series although he was not the originator. Also of note to those who may be interested, I learned that there was a Japanese anime made based on the characters and it was also translated into French as “Capitaine Flam”.

My only regret is that I was deceived by the fabulous cover art (artist anyone?) in that there was no creature as the one depicted to be found anywhere in the story.

Hellmaw: Eye of Glass – Marie Bilodeau (2016)

November 2, 2016

hellmaw-eye-of-glassFor myself, there is nothing like a severed head to make me giggle in delight. But my ill mannered rejoicing usually comes in the form of slasher movie gore scenes and not in written prose. Marie Bilodeau ups the ante by not only having a severed head in her new novel Eye of Glass, but has the audacity to make the severed head one of the main characters. And just to be clear I’m not talking about some bound medical experiment like The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (one of my faves, natch) but a mobile, talking, scheming noggin that gets around more than a cheap corner hustling floozy.

At the center of the story we find Cassie, a young woman trying to eke out a living as a waitress. Her life implodes the day she finds a lifeless head in an alley with nothing more than a spine attached. Only the head is Jaeda, and prankster that she is, likes to lay dormant only so that she can bound to life and scare the living crap out of unsuspecting humans. When the cops swoop in what is evidently a murder scene, the salty detective Tren calls in the resident gangly morgue technician Charles Kite to gathers up “the head” much to the chagrin of Charles who witnesses her escape and becomes equally entangled in the mystery.

A tale of a juvenile delinquent daemon alien slowly regenerating a body, but who is also almost as clueless of her origin as her two new found friends, Jaeda is the precious subject of her one time giant green caregiver as well as another fire spouting villainess. But what are the plans of these alien Araurrans and why do they all want Jaeda? Who are the members of a clandestine underground online forum that Charles has infiltrated and are just as focused on Jaeda while seeming to help Charles? With Tren one step behind Cassie and Charles, the two each have their own motives to rescue Jaeda from the evil daemons hot on her heels. Well not heels since she doesn’t have those either, but you get the picture.

This action packed adventure provides non-stop intrigue and comedy relief largely at the hands (well spine) of Jaeda. Her vertebrae operate like a Swiss army knife of tools that can be used to take down adversaries, climb walls, slither through the streets and vents, or even drive a car. All seemingly with ease (maybe not the car driving thing) as long as there is no shag carpeting which seems to be the only thing that can cramp her style.

Eye of Glass is part of the Hellmaw series of books brought to us by Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood. Greenwood has assembled a troupe of writers to form The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG) and the Hellmaw series based on the daemons on a planet called Aurant will be but one of the series coming under the TEGG banner. The best part is that Bilodeau’s  Eye of Glass is only the first in the series called The Bodyless Series. I foresee more heads will be on my bookshelves in due time.

Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe – Claude Lalumière and Mark Shainblum [Ed.], (2016)

September 28, 2016

Tesseracts 19It was only three years ago that we were treated to an anthology of short stories that had as a central theme Canadian superheroes. Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories (Tyche books)

was a long overdue collection that was right up my alley and I anxiously awaited its release. I was lucky enough to have attended the Ottawa book  launch where I met a number of the authors and was entertained to readings of select passages and stories. Alas, when I finally got around to completing it I was too busy to give it a review it rightly deserved and once some time had gone by the opportunity to do a proper write up had passed.

Imagine my surprise in learning that Tesseracts 19, the annual collection of Canadian speculative fiction was going to be superhero themed. More Canadian superheroes and a chance for redemption. Edited by Claude Lalumière (who also co-edited Masked Mosaic) and Mark Shainblum, this collection runs the gamut of perspectives from caped defenders to vigilante guardians, and a few that fall in between the spectrum of the moral curtain.

My hands down favorites was  Pssst! Have you heard… The Rumur by D.K.Latta, a story in which each chapter is written from the point of view of a different character, each relating the events leading up to a mob hit and the following strange events that lead to the mobster’s demise. The story itself must be pieced together by the reader, beginning by reading Tony “Spats” DeMulder’s account of being publicly embarrassed by actor Ken Anton and then piecing together the accounts leading up to and beyond the mysterious death of the actor. We get slices from Spat’s moll, a detective, a grocer who regularly gets shaken down, a reporter, Spat’s lawyer and finally his doctor. The story that unfolds as narrated by each of the tongue-in-cheek stereotypes describes Spat’s fallout with his number one moneyman and hitman, the mysterious “Book” and how that fallout is precipitated by a pulpish, shadow-like figure messing with various aspects of Spat’s operations.

Canadian fans of indie comics will be pleased to hear that Bernie Mireault has resurrected his underground comic hero The Jam in prose form with The Jam: A Secret Bowman. As the title suggests, our hero stumbles across a mysterious bowman and ends up being a suspect himself under the knuckles of an attention seeking police officer. I wish the story went a little deeper with the Jam’s prey, but it was a pleasure having him back in any case.

Another bizarre – although somewhat questionable guideline entry – Crusher and Typhoon by Brent Nichols, doles out an honest to goodness old west, Kung Fu story. Reminiscent of the old Wild Wild West TV show, it’s a symbiotic friendship between a one time martial arts master and an impaired steampunk inventor. Hardly super hero fare and with only a reference to the Canadian Pacific Railroad, the relationship to the anthology’s theme is tenuous at best but the story was endearing enough that it did not matter.

The Rise and Fall of Captain Stupendous , by P.E. Bolivar is the unveiling of a superhero as a lesson that you can’t believe everything you read. A tangled story of deceit, love and betrayal, which gives rise to a super villainesses and we get a front seat in the transition. We’re reminded that the world is not all black or white and there is always another side to a coin.

Another villain oriented story was Jason Sharp‘s Black Sheep where the protagonist manifests Magneto like powers but instead of being able to control metal, water is the substance of manipulation. Not an action story at all but an introspective personal quest that the villain pursues after a prison break.

Friday nights at the Hemingway is a short story by Arun Jiwa that blends superhero history in a local watering hole the likes of Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon that answers the question “Where have all the heroes gone?”

In a world populated by super hero mutants that need medical attention and mending, where do they go for healing and convalescence? Find out from the point of view of a first day medical recruit at secret mutant superhero hospital in Corey Redekop’s SuPER.

Exhibiting both amusing stories with serious fare the overall collection is highly satisfying with only a few clunkers that are easily dismissed by the other entertaining ones. And in all, a highly recommended collection made all the more interesting to Canadian readers who will recognize a few people, places and events.

If you want a taste of what’s in the book the publishers have created a sampler you can read online which basically contains the first 2 pages of each story. Give it a try here:

Mindscan – Robert J. Sawyer (2005)

July 13, 2015

Mindscan-SawyerChances are that if you’ve read a few other novels from Robert J.Sawyer you may have discovered that he likes to add court room conflict to his stories (Illegal Alien, Hominids). He also likes to play around with the definition of human, or more accurately, what constitutes human souls and sentience (The Terminal Experiment, Rollback). In his 2005 novel Mindscan, he tackles both and, as always, with a special twist.

In a near future where mankind has just developed the capability to place a person’s consciousness into a robotic body, some of the affluent but elder begin taking up Immortex corporation’s new Mindscan process. Basically a snapshot copy of your brain is deposited into a robot body mimicking your own (or a slightly improved version). They idea is that your consciousness in the robot becomes an immortal instantiation of yourself. People signing up remain in their current bodies, but they go to pasture on the Moon in a specifically isolated Eden-like community to live out their remaining days. Meanwhile, their new robot selves take up the lives on Earth of the former flesh and blood versions.

No problem, right?

Of course there are problems. When wealthy young Jake who has a brain condition that may turn him into a vegetable at any moment takes the Mindscan plunge he doesn’t take into account certain factors that will make him regret his decision. Unfortunately for Jake, he soon realizes there are obstacles to coming back and resuming his own life. Is it really even his to take back? Meanwhile, his robotic self has also hooked up with a woman who has undergone the process. But when her ‘skin’ dies of natural causes on the lunar surface, her son decides that he is entitled to his inheritance, robot copy be damned.

While a precedent setting court case investigates all the science and philosophical implications on Earth to decide the issue of the inheritance, Jake is staging a showdown of his own with the Immortex cronies on the Moon.

Coming off the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy (Hominids, Humans, Hybrids) one and the overlapping plot points, one can easily imagine that this novel was conceived while writing the latter series. The characters are interesting enough, the science is cool, but as always it’s the deeper implications that are driving factors in the story. Sawyer always provides interesting (and cool) stories even if the prospects aren’t exactly ‘near future’.

One problem I had was that those undergoing the procedure gave little thought to the fact that their current entities would indeed remain in their current bodies, thus really negating any benefits for the current ‘self’. The procedure makes a copy that lives on, but the original is left right back where they were before the procedure. Indeed, it’s clear that they are agreeing to being shuffled off (literally) to the far side of the Moon for their remaining years. This seems to come as something of a shock for our protagonist Jake which seems outlandish.

While it has a few logic flaws there is never a boring moment and with his ever present touch of Canadiana, this is another fine novel that Sawyer fans will be delighted with. Oh, and given that Rob is a devoted fellow Planet of the Apes fan, be sure to be on the lookout for a nice nod to the original movie.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Alex Irvine (2014)

November 11, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes NovelThis isn’t so much a novel review as it is a comparison of the novelization of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Alex Irvine to the movie. So be forewarned, I assume readers are already at least familiar with the movie.

First let’s be clear on one point.There are two distinct kinds of movie ‘novelizations’.

When a movie is based on a preexisting novel, the movie is really an adaptation of the novel and may have little (or almost nothing in some cases) in common. The movie is basically cashing in on a novel of some repute, whether it adheres to the story or not. Ironically the 1968 Planet of the Apes movie was one of those where the movie adaptation treatment which only kept the basic premise and the main characters was vastly superior to Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel La Planète des Singes.

The other, more common novelization, as is the case here with the novelization of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, is strictly an adaptation based on the movie script (or one of the preliminary scripts as the movie is still in development). In these cases there is little or no difference between the written word and what appears on screen. The studios and publishers are basically trying to cash in on the popularity of the movie, luring a few who haven’t seen the movie and simply want to read the story, but more likely targeted to the ardent fan of the subject matter, as I include myself in that category for all things Planet of the Apes.

But even with direct script novelizations authors sometime take liberties, and while not changing any scenes, they can still provide new, fresh perception and depth to the characters and give readers insight into events and specific actions. This is often provided by describing the thought process of characters or highlighting things that characters have visually singled out that may have been missed onscreen by moviegoers. In this way, a novelization can deliver a richer experience to a movie.

I was hoping that this particular novelization would fall into that latter category and provide an enhanced experience to Dawn. A movie featuring talking apes who are only beginning to grasp the concept of speech it provides an excellent opportunity to explore more. What are the apes who hardly speak  thinking? What is their unique take on events given their non-human perspective? Even the main character Caesar, while the most proficient speaker, he is not very verbose, and mostly still signs rather than speak with the other apes. So if you are looking for more insight on the characters, this novelization fails in that regard.

So what, if anything does the novel have to offer compared to the movie itself? I did find it interesting in how they handled Koba’s last scene.  Koba plunges down the skyscraper into the abyss below but there is no definitive eyewitness account of any human or ape seeing him splatter below and everybody just assumes he died in the plunge. It’s an important distinction because in the moments leading up to his death during the battle with Caesar the building is rocked and many apes lose their footing. The novel mentions apes clearly dying as a result (described as bodies laying across beams), but some, including Caesar, manage to grip onto beams and other fixtures. So it is possible, however unlikely, that Koba also managed to grip onto something on the way down. This is a case where the novel could have easily provided clarification but it did not.

There is one small pertinent addition to the novel and an important one considering what we can expect in the next movie. Some of the early movie teasers and trailers showed scenes of a battleship entering the San Francisco bay, but this footage never made it into the movie for some reason or another. This scene is included at the end of the novel, shaping a potential new heightened war among the apes and humans. Now it is possible that the scene was excised from the movie because the franchise brain trusts changed their mind and no longer wanted this to be the cliffhanger as some other direction has since been decided upon. Perhaps they just did not bother removing it from the novel or, more likely, it was too late to change because printing was already in progress. Whatever the reason for the difference it will be interesting to see if readers did get a real advance peek.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Firestorm – Greg Keyes 2014

July 11, 2014

firestormFirst off, let’s get something straight from the start. I’m a devoted Planet of the Apes (PotA) fan. I don’t mean I just like the movies and think they’re cool. It goes way deeper than that. The original series of movies were always a favorite of mine even as a kid, but as the years wore on, instead of just relegating the memories of the ‘Planet of the Apes” mania that occurred during my formative years in the 70’s to the back of my mind, the allure has grown. When discussion groups on the internet started popping up in the late nineties I stumbled upon a few PotA ones and it just took off from there. My interest has lead me to consume books, magazines, comics, fanzines and really anything that I can get my hands on. I now have just about every one of the above printed material and much more. Tapes, DVDs, Soundtrack CDs, Cups, posters, cards, super 8mm reels, and of course toys including puzzles, plastic models and action figures. (The more refined collector’s prefer the term “action figures”, but who’s kidding who? They’re toy dolls.). I’ve got them all. All this to say that when it comes to Planet of the Apes, count me in, baby! So you may want to consider that as you read this review.

Touted as a novel that bridges the events between the Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Firestorm picks up immediately after the events of the first film. And in case anyone was curious, there really isn’t much for readers to summarize the story so far and what happened in Rise. So if you haven’t seen Rise, a lot of the book will be confusing (as will this book review). To recap, Caesar has led his troop of escaped apes across the Golden Gate bridge and into the Muir Woods forest just north of San Francisco. The same medicinal gas that Gen Tech was producing as a potential cure for Alzheimer’s, and which gave rise to intelligent apes, was also found to be deadly in humans.The last scene from Rise indicated people showing signs of the virus and then we got to see graphics of the viral spread across the globe as the credits roll.

We now learn about the effects of the virus as the very first victims begin flooding into hospitals and how the growing numbers become a concern. Caesar in the meantime, having reached temporary safety of the woods, must now decide his next move and what to do with his group, many of which are injured. For Caesar, it is not so much a battle with humans at this point as it is one of survival for his troops of renegade apes.

Meanwhile, there has been a whitewash by the current San Francisco mayor’s office, where most of the events of the insurrection and battle on the bridge has been downplayed or silenced altogether. Anvil corporation, a sister company to Gen Sys which developed the smart serum and released the retrovirus now afflicting the population has hired professionals in their hunt of Caesar and the escaped apes. Clancy, a female anthropologist is teamed with Malakai, an African mercenary with practical knowledge of ape psychology. But both are standout reluctant participants with the rest of the Anvil crew. At first, there are mixed messages as to whether Anvil want to capture the apes or just kill them, but they have to rely on Clancy and Malakai to find them first regardless.

As the magnitude and spread of the deadly virus grows, the apes are oblivious to what is happening in the cities and must simply contend with finding sources of appropriate food and keeping one step ahead of the humans. Eventually they clash and it becomes clear that Anvil is trying to kill the apes, who are mistakenly being blamed as the source of the virus.

A large focus of the novel is on the Mayoral race going on in San Francisco where the recently retired police chief, Dreyfuss, is a major contender. Clearly one of the ‘good guys’, helping to quell skirmishes and fomenting riots, he eventually becomes the de-facto mayor as his city and the rest of the world crumbles.

Aside from Caesar, we also share much of the story with Koba, the one-eye, slashed and bedraggled looking fellow lab specimen we briefly encountered in Rise. We basically retrace his entire wistful life via flashbacks, some of which include scenes from Rise. Koba comes to understand his augmented intelligence and learns that he must refrain from violence and revenge for the sake of the other apes. We also get a lot of interaction between Maurice, the sign language savvy Orangutan as he shares his wisdom with Caesar.

Most of the action is all about apes outwitting humans, but we also get to experience of lot of human on human violence as the city and civilization itself goes down the tubes.

While I certainly enjoyed the novel, especially the first half where we get some interesting human characters dealing with their own personal crumbling lives, the latter half was not as engaging, being more action oriented as the apes elude capture, for which the outcome was preordained.

I think ape enthusiasts like myself will certainly enjoy this novel. But you really have to have seen, and enjoyed the first movie in order to relate to it.

How much is relevant to the new movie Dawn? Without having seen it (it opens today!) I can say that it’s a pretty open ended story that won’t impact anything in the movie itself with the exception that the character of Dreyfus will be in the movie (and played by favorite Gary Oldman no less, so that alone is promising!)

Across Time – David Grinnell (1957)

February 23, 2014

Across TimeAs an avid Planet of the Apes fan I usually hear about other science fiction novels that feature sentient apes or as in this case, ape-like creatures. Some apes fans long ago pointed me to David Grinnell’s Across Time as such a novel, so this was on my ‘to read’ pile for quite some time. As has happened before, the assertion that the novel featured an advanced ape culture turned out to be somewhat misleading, but that was not really the problem I had with this novel.

Zack, a young air force test pilot is re-assigned to be a liaison for a science project when he has a troubled flight with an alleged UFO encounter. But the real problem he has with the assignment is the fact that he will have to work with his older brother, Carl, in whose shadow he has had to live in his entire life. Worse, his brother has since married Sylvia, the woman he loved, when Zack went missing during the war for a spell and was presumed dead.

As his brother Carl’s science experiment is put into operation in a remote desert, aliens in globular bodies of light interfere, and as a result of Zack’s inaction his brother and Sylvia are whisked off to god knows where. Now feeling guilty, Zack recreates the conditions of the experiment so that he too could be whisked away in the hopes that he can save his brother and Sylvia. It turns out that there are more than one set of aliens, and that they are all far future Earth life forms that have evolved from humans. But these aliens that all have their roots on the Earth are all now in distant galaxies and have undergone thousands of years of wars. While Zack was taken by what he believes are benevolent beings, Carl and Sylvia were taken from an offshoot of an evolutionary line that were not as successful and now want to change history with the help of Carl.

After the well crafted, if somewhat staid opening sequence, the novel bounces all over the place (literally and figuratively) starting off with Zack being co-opted by the Seroomi, and more specifically, a young female Seroomi and her politician father. This weird interlude includes a brief interracial love triangle the spittles off to nowhere which is almost as awkward as it reads in the story. The entire Seroomi sequence in the novel turns out to be as inconsequential as the blip on the radar Zack saw that during his initial UFO encounter. It was only once I finished the novel that I even realized that the Seroomi where the closest aliens in the novel that could be remotely called ape-like, but that was only because they had longer then usual arms. So much for this being a sentient apes story. (Sigh)

Like many novels of the time, this one comes up a bit short on the character development side, a victim of the then normal short length coming in at a mere 150 pages. The relationship between the brothers is expressed more as stated facts than fleshed out personal reflections. Even less consideration is given to the supposed relationship between Zack and Sylvia. You just have to believe him when he says he loves her and gives absolutely no history to reinforce that notion.

But the novel is not a complete failure either. Those who enjoy pure, fast paced (but not well thought out) adventure will enjoy a few thrills. The author also provides a unique take on sentient spaceships that I’m surprised has not been adopted by more movies and TV shows. I suspect it’s been used since, although I can’t think of a specific instance. You’ll have to read the latter half of the book to see what I mean.

I was kind of surprised to learn that David Grinnell was a pseudonym for reputed writer, editor and publisher Donald Wollheim who went on to create the publishing imprint DAW.

If nothing else, the novel does sport a nice cover by Jeff Jones.

Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

April 17, 2012

Conspiracy of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Andrew E. C. Gaska, Christian Berntsen, Erik Matthews and Rich Handley

I waited a long time for this book. I was thrilled to hear the announcement when this was still in the working stages. We were teased as some of the interior art was released as the writing was still ongoing. Then there was a 2009 San Diego Comic-Con booth promoting it. But the following year Comic-Con came and went and still no book. Then, there was talk of a change in publisher. In my darkest moments I began to suspect that this was too ambitious a project and that I was never going to see the product. And that was all the more frustrating because the released art was not only so good, but gave us glimpses of what promised to be a very interesting story.

I should warn readers that this book expands on the movie version of the original Planet of the Apes (1968), and some elements from its two first sequels Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971). While readers unfamiliar with any of the movies would probably still enjoy the book as enough of the background is provided within, it really is aimed at filling in off screen parts of the story. I hesitate to state that only POTA fans can enjoy the book, but familiarity with the subject matter really does help. So if you plan to read the book (or even this very review) but have not seen the movies, I would encourage you to see them first. And really, there is no excuse for not having watched at least Planet of the Apes as it is a science fiction classic. You will not be disappointed.

Before I begin to delve into a review of the story, I simply must describe the physical book itself. To say that it is a lavish specimen is an understatement. I can honestly say that no expense was spared in putting this together and there are so many elements in the packaging itself that I have to take a few moments to point them out. We start with the cover jacket featuring a fantastic brightly colored painting by Jim Steranko. Already we are teased with apes, humans and mutants that hints at the contents. Remove the dust jacket and the hardcover is an ape glyph embossed faux leather design that would feel right at home on Dr. Zauis’ shelves. Open the cover and the jacket interior sports a fantastic blueprint of the ANSA Icarus (or Liberty 1 as it is documented for those that adhere to the name since given by Fox in the Blu-Ray release). Inside we find more than 40 interspersed lavish painted artworks, many of which are two page spreads, that depict the events in the story. Even with all those paintings, each chapter also has a small art illustration on their starting page. A lot of artistic work went into the making of this book. This is one reason that this book was marketed as much along the lines of a graphic novel as a pure text book. My one minor quibble with the presentation was the choice of glossy pages which sometimes made reading a bit tough. But a small price to pay to get those great illustrations.

Now onto the novel itself. All we really knew from the previews was that it was Landon’s story from the original 1968 movie, and that while there would be some apes we knew, there would be other new characters as well that would figure prominently. It begins with a rehash of the events of the beginning sequence in the movie within the ship leading up to the crash landing. A lot of the dialogue is taken verbatim from the movie and POTA aficionados should be able to recite the dialogue passages from memory. At least I did. After the crash, the focus is clearly on Landon during the desert trek, understandably as he is the primary character from this point on. In essence the novel depicts the same story in the movie but from Landon’s point of view, whereas the movie was Taylor’s. It gets a bit outlandish with Landon seeing illusions and hallucinations, something only touched upon briefly in the movie, but it also doesn’t quite gel with the Landon we know from the movie. While there is a definite rivalry between Taylor and Landon in the movie, it is ratcheted up significantly here. It is also at this point that we learn the first major new point not even hinted at in the movie, that there was a supposed prior love triangle between Landon, Taylor and Stewart, the woman astronaut we see only briefly asleep and then mummified just before the crash. While this is of course plausible, the resulting undercurrent of hatred towards Taylor just does not ring true to the men we know from the movie. While we sense there is no love lost between the men, there is no deep suspicion and even potential murderous tendencies between the men. Keeping so close to the subject matter of the film is a thin line the author has to thread and on this one point I found it to be a bit of a stretch.

But onto the more positive aspects and more importantly the new material not covered by the movie. The novel begins to diverge from the movie immediately after the scene of the first encounter with apes. The colony of mute humans along with the astronauts are hunted in the corn crop fields and they are all separated and rounded up. Landon soon awakes to find himself in the private home medical laboratory of Dr Galen, the chimpanzee doctor that we briefly see working on Taylor alongside Zira in the human jail-like ‘hospital’ in the movie. In that brief scene we hear the doctor complaining to Zira about “making it” in terms of professional recognition with the Ape Council. This desire we soon learn is not only personal ambition on the doctors part, but one that is pressed upon him by his socialite wife Liet. Liet also happens to be the cousin of Dr. Milo. Milo is of course the third ape to return to Earth in Escape, but also more notably the one responsible for salvaging the spaceship for that very escape. Being one of the more implausible aspects of the POTA movie saga, the answer to how Milo accomplished that feat will undoubtedly appeal to all ape fans.

Attempting to achieve a promotion and professional recognition, Dr. Galen decides to ignore protocol as well as ethical research rules and performs live human experiments in his home laboratory. In order to perform some of his unorthodox research and surgical procedures, Dr. Galen requires precision tools and he counts on Milo to make them for him. Milo is a reluctant provider of these tools and only does so to appease family obligations. Landon, being one of Galen’s absconded humans is slated to undergo human experimentation himself. But Landon’s mind in a blurred state and as we learn, under the control of the faraway human mutants. The mutants are the council we know from Beneath. While the mutants mind control abilities are touted in the movie, the fact that they can control this one human who is so far was not very plausible, despite being explained that it was a ‘group effort’. Even more implausible was the momentary breaks in control that occurred in the presence of music. While Landon’s speech is not physically impeded he cannot speak while under the control of the mutants, except for those rare occasions when he would hear music and would suddenly become lucid. Inevitably, the paths of Dr. Milo and Landon cross and Landon’s secret is revealed to a very scientifically curious and sympathetic Milo.

Without going into too many details and spoilers, Milo learns the true story behind the arrival of the astronauts, the location of the shipwreck, and manages to have a group of scientists raise the ship to the surface. He also attempts some rudimentary flight experiments with a Leonardo Da Vinci style bamboo stick and animal hide flying contraption with some comical results.

Their is also an interesting side story in which Liet has a secret lover, Mungwortt, a goofy gorilla that provides some great comic relief. The character of Mungwortt is interesting as his social disposition (borderline vagrant public servant) and geneology (definitely lower on the evolutionary scale, mentally and physically) raises some interesting points about ape society and the separation of class and status.

There are plenty of nods to other aspects of POTA fandom and real people associated with POTA over the years. I especially liked the reference to a “Templeton” as a friend of Dr. Hasselein as a nod to Ty and his Revolution comic series. Again, most fans will enjoy many other references like it.

The story of course culminates with Landon getting a lobotomy, which is how he ended up in the movie. Almost an anti-climax really since it is all about the story as to how he got there.

On a final note, it has taken me so long to finish writing this review that there is already good news to add to it. A new book, Death on the Planet of the Apes has already been announced by Drew Gaska. Currently scheduled for next year (2013), I’m already salivating at the prospect of having another fine book in the series to sit next to Conspiracy.