Graphic Novel Heaven

C2E2 has come to Chicago again bringing some of my favorite graphic novels and graphic novel artists and writers back to the Windy City. This is especially good since some major publishers seemed to have skipped out this year. [Tor, I’m looking at you]. The third major element to the convention is cosplay, and it’s not my thing . . . unless it happens to be a character from my favorite graphic series of the last few years. This cosplayer really sold it:
Saga, Volume 3 (Saga #13-18)

This is Gwendolyn from the Saga series written by Brain K Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples. The series covers a range of subjects: war, race, racism, sacrifice, class. All set against a galactic backdrop of diverse aliens. And it’s brilliant. Highly, highly recommended.
     Saga, Volume 1–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 2–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 3–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 4–4 stars
     Saga, Volume 5–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 6–5 stars
     Saga, Volume 7–4 stars

It was also nice to reconnect with the creation teams behind Liberty: Deception who put out some stunning images in their dystopian space series in which humans are making a mess of themselves and each other without need of aliens.
Liberty page 35 colors jpgP1_LIBERTY_ZERO_sample_01

The great news from them is that their next issue is ready to go to print and they’ve prepared a Histories book for their world.
     [w/ Casey Bailey] Liberty: Deception, Issue 0–4 stars
     [w/ Raymund Bermudez] Liberty: Deception, Volume 1–4 stars
     Liberty: Fringe Iconography Guide–4 stars

Finally, the creative team behind Twisted Dark, Volume 1 is here. They’ve really been productive and have 6 volumes out.
Twisted Dark, Volume 1Twisted Dark, Volume 1

Now, I’m looking forward to discovering new stories and art as I wander back down to C2E2 again tomorrow.

George Orwell’s 1984 Focus of a New Kickstarter Project

Unsung Stories out of London has been releasing wonderfully original science fiction and speculative fiction for the past couple of years. A few of their titles, by authors included in this new project no less, have made my “Best of the Year” recaps. So, I’m excited by this latest Kickstarter launching today.

The forthcoming anthology supported by the Kickstarter will imagine the world of 2084 in new, original tales by some very talented and boundary-pushing authors:
Jeff Noon
Christopher Priest
James Smythe
Lavie Tidhar
Aliya Whiteley
David Hutchinson
Cassandra Khaw
Desirina Boskovich
Anne Charnock
Ian Hocking
Oliver Langmead

I’ve read 4 novellas by 3 of these authors and highly enjoyed and recommended each. The inclusion of Tidhar, Whiteley and Hocking alone is enough to get me excited. Below are links to what I originally had to say about these authors:
Hocking, Ian–Deja Vu–4 stars
Tidhar, Lavie–“Kur-A-Len”–4 stars
Whiteley, Aliya–
     The Arrival of Missives–4 stars
     The Beauty–4 stars

There’s a bonus for writers in the various tiers of support–one level will put an author’s manuscript into the hands of an Unsung editor for edit and review . . .

Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 2

In Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 1, I note the tops in Poetry, Nonfiction, Graphic Publications, Anthologies, and Creative Writing Blogs. Part 2 continues and concludes with the Prose Fiction Categories. Most of the 300+ reviews I’ve done this year have been short stories and novellas thanks in part to a hefty dose of anthologies. I considered all stories and novellas for the anthologies published this year even if the tale had been previously published elsewhere. Very few are older than 18 months.

FANTASY [Novel]:

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)–Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2) continues and builds on a wonderful story in a dark world. [5 sea-faring stars]
Starwatch–Honorable Mention #1 goes to Ian Blackport’s Starwatch that centers on a fantasy world heist. [4 clandestine stars]
1001 Islands–Honorable Mention #2 is for K. T. Munson’s 1001 Islands for its sea battle and island-hopping tactics. [4 pirate stars]
 
 
 
 
 
FANTASY [Novella]:

–Patrick Rothfuss’ The Lightning Tree (The Kingkiller Chronicle #0.5). Tightly plotted and extraordinarily moving, this tale outshines the novels in the series. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]

FANTASY [Short Stories]:

–Kali Wallace’s “Water in Springtime”. Like a prose version of the animation Howl’s Moving Castle. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]

STEAMPUNK [Novel]:

The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key, #1)–Clay Griffith & Susan Griffith’s The Shadow Revolution (Crown & Key, #1). Victorian era mash-up of steampunk and urban fantasy levels magicians and alchemists against werewolves. [4 bloody-fun stars]
 

STEAMPUNK [Novella]:

–Stan Swanson’s “Wind Up Hearts”. So good, so moving. If the opening montage of the animation Up was steampunk, this would be it. [5 stars, Chronology 2015]

SCIENCE FICTION / SPECULATIVE FICTION [Novel]:

Golden Son (Red Rising Trilogy, #2)–Pierce Brown’s Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, #2). When the sequel tops its predecessor which was my top pick for 2014, you know this is special. Dystopian, space series with class warfare layered with civil war and intrigue. [5 War-mongering stars]
Déjà VuChaos StationAlive
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Honorable Mentions:
–Ian Hocking’s Deja Vu (Saskia Brandt, #1) is a speculative decades-spanning policing story with murder and mayhem to be solved. [4 stars]
–Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen’s Chaos Station (Chaos Station, #1). Space-based, post-war tale with military secrets to drudge up and an interesting little ship of queer-inclusive characters. Firefly-like. [4 stars]
–Scott Sigler’s Alive (The Generations Trilogy, #1). Young adult, lost-in-space version of Lord of the Flies when memory-deprived teens awake from deep sleep on a space ship. [4 stars]

SCIENCE FICTION / SPECULATIVE FICTION [Novella]: [tie]

The Churn (Expanse, #0.2)–James S. A. Corey’s The Churn (Expanse, #0.2). A cross section of the undesirables left on Earth try to get by when anybody who’s anybody has left for space. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]
–Rachel Swirsky’s “Grand Jete (The Great Leap)” relates the moving tale of an immigrant’s dying daughter and his attempt to capture her consciousness in a clone-like living doll. [5 stars, YBF&SF 2015]

SCIENCE FICTION / SPECULATIVE FICTION [Short Stories]:

–Matthew S. Cox’s “Innocent Deception” shows a dystopian future of haves with their clones and privilege and the have-not’s left without treatment from a pandemic called “The Fade”. [5 stars, Chronology 2015]
–Samuel R. Delaney’s “Driftglass” shows the daring pioneers on the forefront of exploration and life below the ocean as human’s experiment with mutational and bodily changes. [5 stars, Mermaids 2015]
–Robert Reed’s “Pernicious Romance” chronicles a bizarre, time-bending event experienced by a stadium full of sports’ fans. [5 stars, YBSF&F 2015]

HORROR / DARK FANTASY [novel]:

Cynopolis (Nightscape #2)–David W. Edwards’ Cynopolis (Nightscape, #2) brings outre shape-shifting monsters to down-trodden Detroit. [4 Lovecraftian stars]

HORROR / DARK FANTASY [novella]:

Ghost Summer–Tananarive Due’s “Ghost Summer” which literally brings spectres of the racially-tense past up from the depths of the Florida swamp. [5 stars, GS]
 
 
 
 
 
 
HORROR / DARK FANTASY [short stories]:

Unknown Sender–Ryan Lanz’s Unknown Sender. An urban legend turns real as a cell phone without reception brings threats to an isolated location. [5 stars]
–V. H. Leslie’s “The Quiet Room” sees absence-by-death take form in a lofty house. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]
–Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter’s “The Female Factory”details terrible abuses at a Tasmanian women’s prison in the 1800’s. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]
–Wilbert Stanton’s “The Room Below” is a psychological nightmare at a girls’ mental hospital. [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015]
–Damien Angelica Walters’ “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” verges on absurdism as it provides social commentary on gender disparities still present in treatment between the sexes.

POST-APOCALYPTIC [novel]:

The Alpha PlagueThe Alpha Plague 2The Alpha Plague 3–Michael Robertson’s Alpha Plague series [The Alpha Plague, The Alpha Plague 2, The Alpha Plague 3] details the first few days of a rage-style zombie outbreak. While the read is guilty pleasure, the pacing and growing intrigue through the series rise to the top. [5, 4, & 5 predatory stars]

POST-APOCALYPTIC [novella]:

The Beauty–Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty takes a Lovecraftian turn after all females die in a pandemic. [4 stars]

POST-APOCALYPTIC [short stories]:

–Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due’s “Danger Word” which show a grandfather and grandson trying to outlast a predatory zombie apocalypse. [5 stars, GS]
–Tananarive Due’s “Herd Immunity”, the second of a short story trilogy, shows the isolating bleakness after a pandemic nears reaches 100% fatalities. [5 stars, GS]

URBAN FANTASY / SUPERNATURAL [novel]:

Superhighway–Alex Fayman’s Superhighway ( Superhighway Trilogy, #1) is a young adult, cyber-thriller, superhero story. This coming-of-age tale sees an orphan-turned-man take a Robinhood-like stance with his new abilities. [5 Cyber Stars]

URBAN FANTASY / SUPERNATURAL [novella]:

–Seth Chambers’ In Her Eyes follows a Chicago-based shape-shifter in her troubled relationship with a museum curator. Issues of gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia emerge. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]

URBAN FANTASY / SUPERNATURAL [short stories]:

–John Grant’s “Ghost Story” has a guy potentially experience an ultra-dimensional event as his memories and realities no longer align for his life. [5 stars, YBSF&F 2015]
–Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “The Cats of River Street (1925)” [5 stars, YBDF&H 2015] and “The Transition of Elizabeth Haskings” [5 stars, NC2] both make the list. The former explores the disconnectedness of various relationships, while the latter shows a deeply intimate analogy to cancer in one of the most devastating stories I’ve read in years.
–Tanith Lee’s “Magritte’s Secret Agent” shows a student obsessed with an wheelchair-bound stranger’s uncommunicative, unresponsive mental and emotional state. Isolation and secrets oppressively persist. [5 stars, Mermaids]
–Sarah Monette’s “Somewhere Beneath Those Waves Was Her Home” has two rival women find commonality in their situations despite one being a mythic selkie. [5 stars, Mermaids]

DETECTIVE / THRILLER [novel]:

All the Old Knives: A NovelOlen Steinhauer’s All the Old Knives weaves a tale of political intrigue over decades and from two unreliable sources. [4 spy-vs-spy stars]

DETECTIVE / THRILLER [novella]:

John P. Murphy’s Claudius Rex is a near-future detective story in which advanced AI hijacks the detective’s neural implant to solve its own cases. [5 stars, YBSF&F:N 2015]

DETECTIVE / THRILLER [short story]:

Steve Pantazis’ “Switch” is a near future detective noir told through a haze of psychedelic drugs. [5 stars, WotF 31]

HISTORICAL FICTION [novel]:

Hawser–J. Hardy Carroll’s Hawser is a fascinating, immersive WWII tale narrated by a B-52 bombardier.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
These are my picks for 2015. Do you agree? Disagree? Did I overlook a big one? Feel free to let me know.

For novellas and short stories, the following abbr. were used to denote specific anthologies:
ChronologyChronology
GS–Ghost Summer
MermaidsMermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep
NC2–New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird
WofF 31–Writers of the Future Volume 31
YBDF&H 2015–The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015
YBSF&F 2015–The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015
YBSF&F:N 2015–The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015

Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 1

What a great year for reading! I posted more than 300 reviews this year and have some recommendations to give in many different genres. I will try to limit the “Best of” Awards to things published in 2015 or re-published in 2015 after getting first noticed in 2014. [This is common for short stories and novellas.]

POETRY: [tie]

If Your Matter Could Reform
–Robert Okaji’s If Your Matter Could Reform is exquisite. [5 beautiful stars] Note that his poetry blog is listed below in best creative writing blogs of the year, too.
Cut-up Apologetic
–Jamie Sharpe’s Cut-up Apologetic is funny, sharp, and poignant. [5 pointed stars] Canada should be proud.

Cat Lady
Honorable mention to the best long narrative poem I read this year: Mary M Schmidt’s Cat Lady. [4 fantastical stars]
 
 
 
 

GRAPHIC PUBLICATION:

Saga, Volume 5–Fiona Staples [illustrator] and Brian K. Vaughan [writer] for Saga, Volume 5. [5 imaginative stars] Read the whole series; it’s half guilty pleasure and half brilliant political commentary.

Trees, Vol. 1 (Trees #1)Honorable mention to Warren Ellis [writer] and Jason Howard [illustrator] for Trees, Vol. 1. [4 socially-aware stars] This is a series to watch out for.
 
 
 
 
 

NONFICTION:

Evolving Ourselves: How Unnatural Selection and Nonrandom Mutation are Changing Life on EarthEvolving Ourselves by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans. [4 delving stars] Speculative science probing the forefront of the genetics game.
 
 
 
 
 
 

ANTHOLOGIES [single author]: [tie]

Nothing Is Strange–Mike Russell’s Nothing Is Strange. [4 absurd stars] Absurdism at its best, and unrelentingly so.

Ghost Summer–Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer [4 eerie-&-bleak stars] Southern decadence, apocalypse and horror stirred together.
 
 
 
 
 

ANTHOLOGIES [themed, multiple authors]:

Mermaids and Other Mysteries of the DeepMermaids and Other Mysteries of the Deep editted by Paula Guran for Prime books. [4 dysmorphic stars] Gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia are explored across cultures and traditions.
 
 
 
 
 

ANTHOLOGIES [unthemed, multiple authors]: [tie]

Writers of the Future Volume 31Writers of the Future Volume 31. [4 emergent stars] A diverse cast of previously unpublished fantasy and sci-fi competition winners.

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2015 EditionThe Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2015
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 –The 3 tome set of Prime Books “Best of 2015” series [4 synthesizing stars]:
     The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 editted by Paula Guran.
     The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2015 editted by Rich Horton.
     The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2015 editted by Paula Guran.

BLOG [poetry, single author]

–Robert Okaji’s O at the Edges. He also authored one of the poetry collection picks above.

BLOG [creative writing, single author]

–Dakota Lopez’s Tales from Atelinor. A series of fantasy shorts spanning millenia on one non-Earth world.

BLOG [creative writing e-magazine]

The Eunoia Review. Mostly poetry, some short fiction. Posts twice daily.

Do you agree? Disagree? Did I overlook a big one? Feel free to let me know.

In Jaffalogue’s Best Reads of 2015: Part 2, I conclude my “Best Of” picks with fiction short stories, novellas and novels broken down by genre including fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, horror, thriller and more. Happy reading.

Holiday Wish List: Books, Books, Books

I enjoy the holidays and my birthday [which is today] as much as anyone, though I certainly don’t do much for the latter. Dinner with friends and family is enough. I’ll likely end up getting a gift or two, though, and I hope they’re books. Sure, I get plenty and have plenty to read, but more stories is always nice.

I find my wishlist [for today and the holidays] is really a collection of stories that I’d really like to continue with now and into the new year. Not all have released yet. They are all series that I’d recommend for others, too.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to:

1) The 3rd Compendium for The Walking Dead. It released in October. The show is great, but so are the graphic forms. [The Walking Dead, Compendium 1 and The Walking Dead, Compendium 2]

2) The 5th in the graphic Saga series written by Brian Vaughn and illustrated by Fiona Staples. The 4th is in the finals for Goodreads best Graphic book of the year. [Saga, Volume 1, Saga, Volume 2, Saga, Volume 3 and Saga, Volume 4]

3) The 3rd and final book of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Trilogy, Morning Star. It comes out in January. Both the 1st and second books made the Goodreads Best of the Year finals for Sci-Fi, and deservedly. [Red Rising (The Red Rising Trilogy, #1) and Golden Son (The Red Rising Trilogy, #2)]

4) Scott Lynch has delayed the 4th book in his Gentleman Bastard series from January to July of 2016, which I’m ok with as it will give me time to read the third in the series. [The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastard, #1) and Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastard, #2)]

5) There’s been no word from Patrick Rothfuss on any release for his trilogy-capping book, but I’m ok with this too as I still need to read the second in the series. His 2 novellas tied to the Kingkiller Chronicle series were excellent and kept me satisfied in the meantime, but I do plan to read the next one so hopefully an announcement will come in the next year for the final installment. [The Lightning Tree (The Kingkiller Chronicle) and The Slow Regard of Silent Things (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2.5)]

6) I’m not one to complain about George R. R. Martin’s spotty publishing schedule because I’ve yet to read any of the Song of Ice and Fire series. However, I plan to start this year. I love the show, and plan to fully indulge in the books.

7) Another series that I’ve technically never read, but enjoy is Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series. I’ve listened to James Marsters read a few of them masterfully. However, I prefer to read things for myself. With many books out in the series, I have decided to let this be a new guilty pleasure.

There are of course other series that I’m awaiting new installments in, but these top my list. Some have released the latest, others are on the verge.

What are you reading that I have overlooked??

Tricks and Treats: Horror and Monster Reads for Halloween

I’ve been digging into darker fantasy and horror as of late and have encountered some really great reads. Not since I had a bit of a Stephen King period in high school have I read so much of the macabre, eerie and outright Lovecraftian. So, in the spirit of Halloween [haha, I said spirit. Get it? Yeah? Ok, then.] So, in the spirit of Halloween, I’m offering suggestions on monsters, horrors, dark fantasies and other eeriness–most of it is very recent and underappreciated. All of my suggestions I deem either 4 or 5 stars:

1) Charles Stross’ novella Equoid (4 stars) is both brilliant and highly disturbing. British Unicorn Infestation–really. It has a detective noir cadence to it.

2) Another novella is the sci-fi horror “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward (4 stars) by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. It nods its head to Mary Shelley. While they can be acquired elsewhere, both of these novellas were included in the anthology New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird ed. Paula Guran [Prime Press].

3) Ryan Lanz’ Unknown Sender (5 stars) is a very disturbing psychological horror that taps into some dark urban legends. No supernatural elements or creatures involved.

4) I’ve been enjoying the new series by Michael Robertson, The Alpha Plague (5 stars). [and The Alpha Plague 2 (4 stars), and The Alpha Plague 3 (5 stars)]. All came out this summer, #3 this week. They’re serial novels spelling out the first days of a rage-style pandemic [ala 28 days later] in the London area. The third book smartly brought in political intrigue reminding me of All the Old Knives. The 4th book is in the works.

There are also some great anthologies of shorter works in case you would like a different story every night of the week. Just build yourself a bonfire and fire up the Kindle:

5) Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer (4 stars) is a collection of her own stories including a sequence of literal ghost stories and a sequence of post-apocalyptic horror. Especially check out what I deemed 5-star entries: “Ghost Summer” from her ghost story trilogy, “Herd Immunity” from the post-apocalyptic trilogy, “Danger Word” co-written with her husband showing a zombie apocalypse, and “Patient Zero” with a unique sheltered perspective during a species-ending pandemic.

6) Finally, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2015 (4 stars). It’s in the title and it’s true. I rated 14 short stories in the 4-and-5 range. But start with V. H. Leslie’s “The Quiet Room” in which a divorced father claims his daughter after the death of his wife. The unresolved issues solidify into a haunting silence in the ghost story. “The Female Factory” by Lisa L. Hannett and Angela Slatter reveals the bleak conditions of a Tasmanian women’s prison in the early 19th C. “The Cats of River Street (1925)” by Caitlyn R. Kiernan gives a 100-year update to Lovecraft’s novella “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” A century later, and the residents are as singularly secluded as ever. Kali Wallace’s “Water in Springtime” employs imagery not unlike a Miyazaki film centering on a strained mother-daughter relationship in a ravaged landscape. Finally, “The Floating Girls: A Documentary” by Damien Angelica Walters uses literalism to cast a fantastical light on real world problems when in the tale 300,000 teen girls from all over the world drift away into the ether never to be seen again.

Enjoy the dark. And let me know your Halloween recommendations.

Absurdism: the Underutilized Tool in the Toolbelt

They Might Be Giants was one of my favorite bands when I was in HS and college. The tunes were catchy and the words were almost nonsense. And yet somehow, they weren’t:

I’m going down to Cowtown
The cow’s a friend to me
Lives beneath the ocean and that’s where I will be
Beneath the waves, the waves
And that’s where I will be
I’m gonna see the cow beneath the sea

[from “Cowtown” by TMBG]

I’d also throw in a couple REM tapes–Yes tapes, as in cassette tapes–once in a while. Michael Stipe admitted that often they would come up with the music first, then start singing nonsense syllables to the music then convert the nonsense to words that might still not make sense. And that’s where you get songs like “Orange Crush.”

Follow me, don’t follow me
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
Collar me, don’t collar me
I’ve got my spine, I’ve got my orange crush
We are agents of the free
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time to
Serve your conscience overseas
(Over me, not over me)
Comin’ in fast, over me

[from “Orange Crush” by REM]

Being the organized language creatures that we are, humans like to pull words into sentences, and sentences into stories. The logic bit comes later, and isn’t always necessary for enjoyment sake.

On the flip-side, it’s also possible to use the patterns of tropes to one’s favor when writing without citing real world specifics. Fewer people are offended, many look for the patterns and seek an agreeable understanding. Score one point for absurdism.

I enjoy well-written absurd literature: James Thurber, Bohumil Hrabal, and Donald Barthelme have all contributed to the genre. Most of it is shorter, but not all. Hrabal wrote some novella-length, beautiful absurdist works. His Too Loud a Solitude is amazing, poetic and beautiful.

In the past year, I’ve reviewed two works on this blog that I’ve dubbed absurdist in the best sense. “Godzilla’s Twelve-Step Program” by Joe R. Lansdale uses the old movie mega-monsters [Godzilla, King Kong, and a few others] to discuss violence, rehab and PTSD. It’s smart stuff. Then last week I received an entire anthology of absurdist vignettes and shorts by Mike Russell cheekily entitled Nothing Is Strange. Both works were immensely enjoyable–I recommend them.

I wouldn’t want to read absurdist lit all of the time. That would get tedious quickly as some tries too hard to be overly smart. But it’s nice to mix it up and I look forward to another dose in another 6 months or so. Like a Dali painting, with clean and beautiful images, I want to figure it out and enjoy the vision while it lasts. Or, I can kick back and listen to a little more TMBG:

Piece of dirt, that is all I’m standing on today
Piece of dirt, the whole world has slipped away
I would climb the highest mountain just to jump into a fountain
Or to fly, I’d fly away

[from “Piece of Dirt” by TMBG]