Wednesday Webcomics: 2/29/2012

Welcome again to Webcomics Wednesday and Happy Leap Day! One of the ways I am using to find webcomics lately is a site called Ink Outbreak. It has a “More Like This” button that generates a list of “Most Similar” and “Fans Also Enjoy” webcomics, or you can search by categories like Science Fiction, which is what I did to find today’s comics: Mystery Babylon and Cleopatra in Spaaaace!

Mystery Babylon is a full-color comic by Val Hochberg. It is the story of a girl named Mystery Babylon aka Kick Girl (she could also be called Punch Girl or Stomp Girl, but she does indeed kick people a lot), and a boy priest named Zero. Kick Girl is surly, cynical and hyper-aggressive, definitely not a people person, which is why it is funny that sweet/naive Zero likes her so much.

I have read Chapter One so far, which is the first 43 pages, and the plot that is brewing in this introduction involves the pit that holds the Devil, a group that wants to unseal it, and a map that purports to reveal the location of the pit. While I am interested in the story, it is the relationship between Kick Girl and Zero that has me turning the pages and laughing out loud right now. The art is well done in a manga style and some of the funniest parts of the comic are the expressions on Kick Girl’s face as she has to deal with all the idiots (as she sees them) around her.

This is a fun action-comedy with Christian-religious themes (check out the FAQ if you are concerned about the handling of the religious themes one way or the other) and I say go check it out!

Cleopatra in Spaaaace!, by Mike Maihack, is another fun action-adventure webcomic that, as the name implies, takes place in outer space and is about Cleopatra. Yes, that Cleopatra. She has been sent into the future and the story starts out with her battling aliens called the Xerx alongside her talking cat, Khensu. And then she jumps on a spaceship/motorcycle in the shape of a Sphinx. I was pretty much hooked from the beginning of this one—Cleopatra looks really cool in Egyptian/science fiction clothes holding dual ’50s-style sci-fi laser guns. Throw in a talking cat and a Sphinxcycle? I’m in for the long haul!

Chapter One of Cleopatra is in black and white; thereafter it is in full color. I bought the PDF of Chapter One (the only PDF available; Chapter Two is only available in a hard copy) for $1.99 and it includes some nice sketches and guest artist pin-ups along with the first 28 pages of the comic. Now for some bad news: Cleopatra in Spaaaace! has been on hold since June 2011 except for some recent guest strips. Why? Because Mr. Maihack knew he could not keep up the weekly pace of the comic once a new addition to his family arrived in October, so he decided to put off Chapter Three until he could focus on it more. The webcomic fan part of me is bummed by this, but the new dad side of me understands completely. Mr. Maihack reiterated as recently as 1/27/12 that there will be a Chapter Three, so keep your fingers crossed. Cleopatra in Spaaaace! is a genuinely good webcomic, full of heart and action, well-drawn and -written, and by the way, it has a council of rulers who are all talking cats. No more need be said.

Final note: Namesake finished its Kickstarter successfully with nearly double its goal. Congrats!

The Only City Left: Part One

The Only City Left

Welcome to The Only City Left. In the far future, the Earth is one giant planet-sized city, and it is falling apart. The majority of the human inhabitants are gone and in their place other, darker creatures are moving in. Allin Arcady is a young man on his own deep in the depths of the city, his one goal to reach the Roof of the World and see the Sun once in his life. But his past, and that of his deceased parents, is coming back to haunt him, and the Sun has never seemed farther away.

TOCL is a first-draft work-in-progress. If you want to jump farther into the story, check out the Table of Contents, which also includes a link to the most current synopsis of the story so far.

The Only City Left: Part One

I was born into darkness, but one day I will find the light. Sunlight. Pure and yellow and hot against your skin like standing near to a furnace, but softer somehow. At least so I’ve heard, first in stories my parents told me, then in whispered rumors as I make my way through the endless levels of the City. The only city left. Earth.

My name is Allin. If I had a last name, I’ve forgotten it. Not much use for formality in the dim, dank, dying city of Earth. In fact, I can barely remember the last time I exchanged names with someone. Mostly us stragglers steer clear of each other unless we’re trading, and then it’s a quick deal and retreat. In a dangerous world, trust is a precious commodity and few of us are willing to share it.

Mostly I find everything I need, scavenging from rotting apartments, factories, shopping districts, gleaning what I can from the detritus of a once-great civilization. Lights, and the juice to power them, are the greatest finds for any straggler. While power plants still run somewhere in the city, connections are corroded and there are not enough plants to keep the entire city running at any given time. When you consider that the city is as big as a planet, it only makes sense that powering it would be a colossal feat. Least, that’s what my dad said. I was never clear on the whole “planet” concept, but I would always nod like I understood, and he would smile and tousle my hair. Bottom line: the city is a big place and there isn’t enough power to keep it all running anymore, so you never know as you make your way around whether or not the lighting will suddenly die out, leaving you stranded in an impenetrable black void, leaving you prey to the things that live in the darkness.

Happy thoughts like that plague my dreams, so I didn’t realize at first that my sense of wrongness was more than just my latest nightmare. I woke up with a start from my half-sleep, perched high in a web of girders twenty or so stories above the floor of what used to be a mega-mall. Something had jerked me out of my guarded slumber, so I lay still and took stock. I was still secure in my cocoon, which hugged the top of one great iron beam, and when I slowly unzipped it and peeked my head out, I saw that the dim off-hours lighting in the mall was still working. It probably helped that this mall didn’t have any on-hours anymore, so there was never a strain on the system.

Around me I could hear the usual creaks and groans of the city, which never seems at rest but is instead always settling into itself. The sounds used to scare me as a kid; they sounded like the moans of the dead, coming to get me. I got over that as my parents taught me what to really fear and how to avoid it. Anyway, the dead don’t usually announce themselves like that.

I listened beyond the usual sounds of the city, listened so hard I could almost picture in my mind’s eye what I was hearing. And what I heard/saw was: a cacophony of precise, metallic clacking. Tiny feet skittering on iron beams, close, too close. Tacmites, I decided. Damn. I had to act fast.

Tacmites are a sort of cleaning system gone wrong. Originally they were supposed to find and process waste, keeping the corridors and boulevards of the city clean and debris-free. But they had been hacked or just gone rogue a long time ago, and now anything was fair game. Like me. They “processed” waste by tearing it shreds, ingesting the pieces, and atomizing those smaller pieces inside themselves. Where they took the resultant dust I had no idea, but I had seen more than one poor jerk fall victim to tacmites; it was not a quick or painless process.

Zzzziiippp. I opened the cocoon the rest of the way and crouched down beside it, scanning to the left, right, and above me. The beams around me were swarming with the lethal janitors. Below me was empty space surrounded by the balconied levels of the mall, and almost invisible all the way down, an overrun garden on the unlit bottom floor. I didn’t worry about falling; my boots were made of the same cling-tight material as the cocoon, so it wasn’t a concern. Anyway, down was the only way to go at this point. Acting fast, I pulled out two items from the foot of my cocoon and then pressed three buttons along the seam. With a soft whirr the cocoon retracted into its backpack form and loosened its grip on the beam. As quietly as possible, I slipped it on, and then stood up.

The tacmites were nearly on me now, little mechanical creepy-crawlies about the size of my hand, bristling with tiny metal legs which propelled them along at speed. Beneath the clacking of their movement, I could also hear the sound of their tiny, blade-like teeth scissoring up and down against each other.

Determined not to end up as tacmite dust, I affixed an empod onto the girder before me. The empod was just one of the many devices I had cobbled together over the years from all the spare parts lying around the city. I have to say with a bit of pride that it was devices like these that kept me alive where others perished.

I pressed the empod, stood up, and stepped off the beam into empty air, just as the empod triggered above me. There was a loud crack and sizzle as the electro-magnetic pulse from the empod fried the circuits of all the tacmites that had been ready to devour me.

I hadn’t really thought how it would also fry all the lights in the area, too.

I plunged into darkness.

Click here for Part Two.

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Free E-Books

I have been catching up on the webcomic Namesake recently, and its adventures in the literary Oz got me hankering to read the source material myself, beyond the first book which I have read a couple of times. So right now I am reading the second book in the series, The Marvelous Land of Oz, and I am also reading A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, in anticipation of the upcoming John Carter movie (in theaters March 9th). (Bonus connection: they both have green people in them.) Why do I mention all this to you, O Reader?

Because I was able to go to Project Gutenberg and download both books for free, since their copyright has expired. And may I just ask, “How awesome is that?” I read a lot and spend a lot of money on books, always have, always will. So being able to go to this virtual library and pick out free copies of some classic books is a nice treat and it helps stretch my book-buying dollars.

The sheer number of books available on Project Gutenberg can be overwhelming, so the Bookshelf Page is a quick way to find a book you might be interested in, if you are heading to the site without a specific book in mind. Scroll down to the “Pages in category “Bookshelf” header and you will find all sorts of great virtual bookshelves to explore, including Science Fiction, Fantasy, Adventure, Horror, Mystery, etc.

You will find works by Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, the aforementioned L. Frank Baum and Edgar Rice Burroughs, Cory Doctorow (not a case of copyright expiration; he releases all of his books as free downloads), Arthur Conan Doyle, some Andre Norton, H.G. Wells, and more. (I only scanned the authors for ones I am familiar with/interested in; I am sure others will find even more gems here.)

The editions I have downloaded so far have all looked good, and most books have multiple formats you can download. You can always use Calibre to convert files to the format of your choice if your desired format is not already available.

This is a great resource for book lovers and e-book enthusiasts. If you haven’t already, go lose yourself in the virtual shelves of this great library. (And for that matter, check your local library to see if they have e-book lending, another great free resource!)

Webcomics Wednesday: 2/22/2012

It is time again for Webcomics Wednesday! Let me start off by stating the obvious: I am having a blast finding and reading webcomics. I love the variety of genres, the unique stories that are being told, and the varied art styles. I like when creators have comments underneath each page, whether it explains that day’s comic or just shares some insight into their lives.

I am checking out a lot of comics in order to find ones I like and that I want to share here. Some work for me, some don’t. Likewise, I imagine some of the ones I share here might have you scratching your head. That’s why the sheer number of webcomics out there is great; there’s something for everybody. That being said, I looked through a lot of webcomics this week that just didn’t spark for me, but still took me a lot of time to look through, so I only have two to recommend right now: City of Cards, and The End.

City of Cards, written and illustrated by C.J. Joughin, is a black-and-white webcomic set in a Kafka-esque future where everyone is controlled by the system/government/corporate entity. The story starts off with Plato, a kind of shlubby guy who is running a nightclub called The Cave, which he is barely keeping afloat. He cannot get his liquor license until he is able to show that he can run the nightclub profitably, but he can’t make a profit without a liquor license. Enter Ace, a mysterious young man with amnesia and no official ID. Plato starts to take care of Ace out of the kindness of his own heart or perhaps more likely an attraction. It soon turns out that Ace, even though he can’t remember who he is or how he got there, knows things he shouldn’t. Perhaps he is psychic, perhaps there is something deeper going on. I mean, “Plato” is running a place called “The Cave” and the Allegory of the Cave is quoted at the beginning of the comic, so we are primed to doubt the reality of the world we are reading about straight from the get-go.

City of Cards has a kind of slow, gentle feel to it, even in the most recent pages which depict a fight scene. The characters, almost all of whom look kind of stocky and solidly built to me, talk a lot and kind of meander through life, while we learn bits and pieces about the world they exist in. I normally don’t go for this slow of a pace in a story, but it works well here, as I kind of feel that I am along for a ride and I am intrigued as to where it will go and what sights we’ll see along the way.

The End, written by Cory Brown and illustrated by Ran Brown*, is in full color and is the story of an alien race, the Fiah, who collect sample populations from planets that are about to be destroyed. The latest mission brings Navigator Endi and Monitor Ethma to Earth to nab some specimens. And not just anywhere on Earth, but a comic-book convention. Part One of the story is all about the setup of who will be collected by the Fiah, so we jump from one group of characters to another, getting small glimpses into their lives before Part Two, where the action moves to outer space.

It’s a simple enough setup, but there appears to be a lot going on under the surface of this story. Without giving anything away, the end of Part One kind of changes the whole ball game, and the intermission between Parts One and Two introduces even more questions about what is really going on.

The End looks great; it is really well-drawn and colored. There are some scenes where the characters are backlit and I had to strain to see the details of their faces, so I felt it was a little too dark, but that could just be me or the gamma correction on my monitor. The story seems very deep, and you can tell from what Mr. Brown has shared of his world-building notes, that he has put a lot of thought and energy into this setting.

The End is exciting, fun, and looks to be full of mysteries and secrets to uncover. I could easily see this as being an ongoing TV series, sort of like Lost, except in space instead of the Island. Lost, in Space. But not, you know, Lost in Space. Okay, you get the point, go check it out.

*I am assuming from the comments I have read that Cory writes and Ran illustrates, but I could not find an “About” section that explicitly stated this.

On a final note, I am always scanning Kickstarter for more comics and this time Gastrophobia Volume 2 caught my eye. I only read the first few pages of the webcomic and then opted to pledge for the PDFs of Volume 1 and 2, because the story and art seem fun and it’s a good price for the 2 PDFs. As it says on the Kickstarter page, it is “about a single mom Amazon in Ancient Greece and her less-than-athletic 8-year-old son.” Hilarity ensues. Check it out.

Identity and Posthumanity

I just finished Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow and I wanted to riff on some of the ideas in there. Since the book has been out for a while, I hardly need to give it a full review, but let me at least say I enjoyed it in that way I enjoy a lot of posthuman novels. Which is to say, it was fun but thinking on it makes my head ache a bit. So let me think on it some more; I haven’t had met my headache quota yet today. Warning: if semi-philosophical rambles make you want to roll your eyes and walk away, you might want to do that now.

To briefly summarize the premise of the book first, it has been about 100 years since the death of scarcity for the human race, and the end of death itself, if you buy that. No one need starve or be homeless, everyone can lead the life they want to, and if you die, you can reload your latest backup into a clone of yourself and keep going. If all this is too much for you or you just get bored, you can “deadhead” until some point in the future, meaning you go to sleep and wake up in a new clone body 10, 100, 10,000 or x years in the future. The only currency is your reputation, or Whuffie score; have a low score and you are kind of a social pariah—you get food and maybe minimal lodging—while a high score means you can go and do whatever you want. This new world order is called the Bitchun Society.

The Magic Kingdom part of the title refers to Disney World, where groups of fans have taken over and are running the park, out-Disneying Disney itself. I enjoyed this part of the book, but it is not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about my difficulty with wrapping my head around posthuman fiction, stories where humans readily deal with switching bodies, backing themselves up, running parallel versions of themselves, etc. Stories where humans aren’t really human anymore in the sense we experience it every day, because they don’t have the same worries as us (generally… these stories frequently deal with a posthuman facing the “death” of their current version, and they find themselves more attached to that version than they should be).

I have forgotten much of what I studied on the way to my undergrad degree in philosophy, but the areas that still interest me in philosophy are questions of identity and reality (for this reason, I enjoy most of Philip K. Dick’s novels). Posthuman books force me to focus on what identity means to me. Down and Out explicitly spells out what some books gloss over: to revert to a backed up copy of yourself, the current version has to die. This might happen by accident, but some people choose to wipe out their current version: in one example, it is done to erase memories of a bad relationship. I don’t know about you, but I viscerally balk at this idea. Let’s say I got into a car crash right after I backed up my mind or soul or whatever you want to call it. I lose all my limbs. The doctor tells me he can give me a little injection to “end” my current, damaged body and wake up in my nice new one. Of course, this is a lethal injection. Even in that scenario, I cannot imagine saying, “Yes, kill this me so another me can go on.”

What I can’t seem to wrap my mind around is: how can you so casually let go of yourself like that? If you die and a version of you is reborn, or if you can excise certain memories at will, or completely change the body you are in, is it still you coming out the other end? Most of the characters in these books take it for granted that this is so. Doctorow even points out that the people who refused to join the Bitchun society are dead anyways because they didn’t use the technology to back themselves up before they died. But do all these posthuman means of staying alive really keep you from dying or do they just allow you the polite fiction that the you that dies is the same as the next you to be loaded up? Maybe that polite fiction is the most we can hope for.

In the end, I think Doctorow makes the best point for why I should just stop worrying and learn to love the posthumanity: I can go along with it and risk that I’ll still be dead anyway (with some other version of me going on), or refuse it and know for certain that I’ll be dead. I guess if offered the choice, I’d go Bitchun all the way.

Michael Moorcock E-Books

Michael Moorcock, his Eternal Champion books, and most specifically his Elric and Hawkmoon series, were a major influence on my early writing style. To this day, the concepts of the balance of Law and Chaos, the multiverse, and the doomed antihero still work their way into a lot of my ideas. So if I want to convert my physical collection of Eternal Champion books into e-books, am I in luck? Let’s see.

First up is Elric. The latest edition of the Elric stories, released by Del Rey, is available in e-book format on Amazon: Elric: The Stealer of Souls; Elric: To Rescue Tanelorn; Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress; Duke Elric; Elric in the Dream Realms; and Elric: Swords and Roses, all for $11.99 each. Amazon also has the more recent Elric/Oona Von Bek sequence: The Dreamthief’s Daughter, The Skrayling Tree, and The White Wolf’s Son, for $12.99, $10.99, and $6.99 respectively. (What’s up with the funky pricing, Hachette Book Group?)

Next up are the Hawkmoon books: The Jewel in the Skull, The Mad God’s Amulet, The Sword of the Dawn, and The Runestaff, which are $9.99 each.

Okay, so Elric and Hawkmoon are available, that’s pretty good, but what about Corum? No. Erekose/John Daker? Nope. Von Bek, Oswald Bastable, Jerry Cornelius, Count Brass? Nah. The fabulous Second Ether sequence? Forget it. Okay, you get my point: Where are all of these e-books?! Well, according to Mr. Moorcock in a 2/1/12 post on his website, Moorcock’s Miscellany, “I just signed the first of many contracts with Orion. This one will release minor works ONLY as e-books but the rest of my books (pretty much all of them apart from Mother London, King of the City, London Peculiar and the Pyat books) should be published in the UK from this year on and be available as e-books or paper.” In an earlier post, he stated that “The process might be slower in the US but Titan will publish Bastable as e-books.” So, not perfect news for US readers, but at least there appears to be some progress being made.

Webcomics Wednesday: 2/15/2012

Welcome back for another edition of Webcomics Wednesday. As always, if you have a suggestion or just want to say you were here, please leave a comment below. Now on to the show.

The Adventures of the 19XX is a dieselpunk webcomic by Paul Roman Martinez, and I am only covering Chapter One in this mini-review. The story takes place sometime in the 1930s, or 193X as it says in the comic, the X being a wildcard to give the story some leeway as to how much earlier than World War II it takes place, I guess. The 19XX is actually the name of an organization which I would describe as fighting the good fight against the forces of occult evil. This first chapter is a bit of an introduction to the characters and setting, but manages to include a couple of nice action sequences and a number of surprising turns right off the bat.

This is the type of fun pulp story that I love to read, like Lobster Johnson or the 1930s-era flashback Iron Fist adventures in the Brubaker/Fraction Immortal Iron Fist run. Like those stories, the 19XX have both magic and science on their side, including “mojo bags” that give their user some measure of protection against injury, and (my favorite), the world’s smartest rabbit. Of course, the evildoers have both magic and technology at their disposal as well, with villains like Demonhand and Aleister Gurdjeff (presumably referencing Aleister Crowley and G.I. Gurdjieff).

The art itself is mostly realistic, with special detail paid to period vehicles and architecture. It looks like it was printed on newsprint, which is a nice touch to make it feel more like a historical document. Under most every page, Mr. Martinez has some historical information or pictures that he used in the making of that page, even down to the type of paperclip that would have been used in the ’30s, and for me these are as fun to read as the comic.

All this adds up to a fun read and I am looking forward to catching up on The Adventures of the 19XX.

Tinkers of the Wasteland by Raúl Treviño. I am about 110 pages (out of 356 as of the time of this writing) into Tinkers of the Wasteland and I would love to unequivocally recommend it. But I can’t. I really like the art style and the action scenes in this post-apocalyptic tale; I even like the story, although it is oddly chicken-centric (you have to read it, I can’t explain it). But the dialogue in the story does not work for me. It’s supposed to be funny, but I just find the characters to be dumb and unlikeable. Maybe that’s the point of these characters. but that doesn’t mean it is fun to read about them. The dialogue is pretty crude, mainly consisting of cursing a lot and using homosexual epithets. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against R-rated comedy, but it falls flat for me here.

Yet for some reason I keep clicking, page after page, because of the car chases, fights, bizarre weapons and fighting styles, and the environments. Now that I think on it, the art and action actually make me think of a grungier One Piece, where part of the fun is seeing all the bizarre fighting styles.

So for now, I am continuing to check this one out, and I can definitely recommend giving it a look to see if it suits your taste more than mine, but if at some point the super-lowbrow (like subway level) humor doesn’t let up, I’ll probably give up on this webcomic despite enjoying the rest of it. Oh, and needless to say, it is NSFW.

Widdershins, by Kate Ashwin, is set in the 1830s and is done in a pleasant, cartoony style. It begins with the story of Sidney Malik, a wizard and magician (explained in a bit) who has been expelled from his wizarding university and is about to be evicted from his home. You see, Sidney can do magic tricks and some true magic (wizardry), but he has an unfortunate malady that got him kicked out of school and makes it somewhat difficult to even be a practicing magician. To give away his malady would be to spoil the fun; needless to say, it is vital to the plot, which is about bounty hunters, thieves, and of course, magic.

Per Ms. Ashwin’s commentary, Sidney’s story is just the first chapter and it will be ending this month; the second chapter will switch to other characters that are seen in passing during the first chapter. I will be curious to see where Widdershins goes next, as I have already become attached to Sidney and his associates and want to read more about them.

Two short bits to end this post:

I ran across a new webcomic and I can’t even remember how, but I wanted to mention it here. It is called Cocotte and it is written and lettered by Kat Vapid, and drawn and colored by Ryan Kelly. It is about a cook (not a chef!) at a restaurant in Minneapolis. No kung fu, no hidden world, no airships in the background. In short, nothing like anything else I am reading, so I thought I would give it a try. Perhaps you’d also like to get in on the ground floor of a new webcomic, too. Check it out and give the creators some love; starting a webcomic has to be a bit of a leap of faith, and knowing you have readers keeps you up in the air longer.

Lastly, I reviewed Plume back in the end of January, and I wanted to mention that the Plume Kickstarter funded successfully, tripling its $3,000 goal. Congratulations to Kari Smith and Plume! I also mentioned Namesake in the same post and you still have time to back Namesake Volume One on Kickstarter if you are so inclined.

Future History: DreamTV

The year is 2034. Scripted television is a thing of the past. Reality TV has played itself out. The final niche documentary show—Ozark Raccoon Celebrity Matchmakers, which detailed the love lives of a small group of genetically engineered, intelligent raccoons—was canceled by Animal PlanE!t in 2031 after five strong seasons. Once that show went off the air, there were no further demographics left that had not already been documented by a reality TV show.

Reality competition shows had ended when the extended family of contestants from MTV’s Real World/Road Rules franchise had taken each other out in a true Last Man Standing event, with the final contestant dying of liver failure soon thereafter. The resulting lawsuits from family members and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Game Show Contestants had such a chilling effect on other competition shows that they all closed up shop en masse, stranding some contestants on deserted islands or in foreign countries.

Luckily, Dream TV stepped in to fill the gaping hole in the TV landscape left by the dissolution of every single other form of entertainment. Born out of technology that took its first crude steps into dreamland in the early 21st century, DreamTV allows viewers intimate access into the dreams of the rich, famous, imaginative, and depraved.

 Excerpt from a DreamTV advertisement: “Let’s face it, you don’t remember your dreams, do you? Or if you do, it’s that one where you’re walking around the office naked, or you’re taking a surprise math quiz even though it’s been years since you’ve been in school. Why suffer your own petty, shallow dreams and nightmares when you can watch the creation of professional dreamers, with fresh content provided daily on thousands of channels? With DreamTV, only the best dreamers are chosen to take you into exotic landscapes of the mind where action, adventure, exploration, romance, and a mixed bag of fascinating neuroses await! Each Dream Creator lives a life of luxury by day, and spends each night hooked up to a Quantum Imager that translates detailed scans of their brains into audio-visual extravaganzas for your viewing pleasure.”

 Excerpt from the paper ’zine Hide Your Dreams: “Is everything copacetic in Dreamland? There are rumors that the so-called Dream Creators are actually unwilling prisoners subjected to an endless regimen of bizarre stimuli, images, music, and hallucinogenic drugs in order to, in effect, program the dreams that DreamTV writers have written for them. So are you watching real dreams or has the Writer’s Guild of Earth simply found a new way to write and produce new fiction shows with a cast and crew of one? Are the supposedly spontaneous and free-form stories that each Dream Creator shares each night actually programmed in ahead of time?”

 Clip from 20/20/24/7 News:

DreamTV spokesman John Shale : “We strenuously deny these vile rumors that have no basis whatsoever in fact. Our dreams and nightmares are 100% created in the subconscious minds of our Dream Creators. Have you watched these dreams? To suggest that they are the purposeful work of a group of writers is ridiculous.”

20/20/24/7 Correspondent Alicia Wilde: “Still, the rumors persist, as do those that the United Nations Security Division is extracting information from dissidents not through torture, but simply by recording dreams and sifting through them for nuggets of fact. If our dreams are no longer our own, sacred playgrounds, a place where we can work out our imagination and explore our hopes, fears, and anxieties without worrying what someone else will think about us, if they can be visited by government spooks or by anyone who owns a TV set, what refuge is left to us, dear viewers?”

The year is 2036. DreamTV ended in scandal when it was revealed that the rumors had been true. Entire prison complexes of forced dreamers were found and most of the so-called Dream Creators were insane beyond the point of rehabilitation by the time their plight was confirmed. The head of the UNSD stepped down amidst the revelations that he was personally responsible for funding the program, which provided the “Dream Creators” to DreamTV after the UNSD was down strip-mining their dreams for intelligence.

Luckily, by the time DreamTV collapsed, the children of the original Real World/Road Rules contestants had come of age. As part of their winning lawsuit against MTV, they received the right to have a competition show of their own. The age of reality TV was born again.

[I was working on an unrelated short story all day Saturday and it wasn’t until the end of the night that I realized I had no Sunday blog post ready. I had been thinking of writing about current technologies that could one day lead to the ability to view one’s dreams, perhaps using some improved form of functional magnetic resonance imagining. The post I started to write was kind of dry and bland, so I figured, hey, only one or two people at the most (Hi Mom, Hi Jeff!) will read this anyway, so I might as well have fun with it. It is meant to be silly but contain some real questions about where such technology might be problematic.]

Diane Duane E-Books

I still get visits from Google searches for some variant of “C.J. Cherryh e-books,” which reminds me that one of the reasons I started this blog was to collect links to authors’ e-books. So for my second post in the series I am going to discuss science-fiction and fantasy novelist Diane Duane.

I first discovered Diane Duane through the Thieves’ World series (much the same as how I found Ms. Cherryh!). The first two books of the Thieves’ World series are collected into one e-book, Thieves’ World: First Blood, but Ms. Duane did not contribute to the series until the sixth book and I will probably do a whole post on Thieves’ World at some point, so… moving on!

At some point I got a Science Fiction Book Club omnibus edition of the first three books in Ms. Duane’s Young Wizards series: So You Want to Be a Wizard, Deep Wizardry, and High Wizardry. The first book is about a young girl named Nita who lives on Long Island, is frequently bullied, and who ends up becoming a wizard along with new friend Kit. As a young boy who lived on Long Island, was frequently bullied, and who wouldn’t have minded becoming a wizard, So You Want to Be a Wizard quickly became one of my favorite books. I have owned it in that original SFBC version, a 5-in-1 SFBC version, a paperback, and now an e-book version.

I re-read So You Want to Be a Wizard this week and although I am not that child anymore who discovered the book for the first time, I still enjoyed reading the book. These books are about magic and wizards, but it is a very science-fiction-based magic system, and the wizards are more like computer programmers who have access to the code that the universe runs on (known as the Speech in the books). Change the code, change the universe. Their job as wizards is to keep the universe running and slow down its eventual heat-death. It is a neat concept and a little different from what you would expect in a book about wizards.

The Young Wizards series is available from Diane Duane’s website, where you can buy it direct from the site or from links to the major e-book sellers out there. What’s interesting is that there are separate links for buyers from the U.S.A., from Canada, and for international (non-North American) buyers. I actually purchased the international versions even though I reside in the U.S.A. because you can purchase those directly from Ms. Duane’s site and because they are DRM-free. So when I opened So You Want to Be a Wizard and saw that it didn’t have chapter breaks (the lack of which is a pet peeve of mine), I was able to open it up in Calibre, convert it to an epub, add the chapter breaks in Sigil, and convert it back to a mobi for my Kindle. I know not everyone wants or needs this freedom, but for me it is nice.

Ms. Duane’s website also has links to her Middle Kingdoms series (The Door into Fire, The Door into Shadow, The Door into Sunset), Feline Wizards series (The Book of Night with Moon, To Visit the Queen), the stand-alone novel Stealing the Elf-King’s Roses, and the short story collection Uptown Local and Other Interventions. There is also one book, A Wind from the South, that is advertised in a sidebar only and so might be-overlooked; according to Ms. Duane’s Wikipedia entry, this book is previously unpublished and was released as an e-book only.

Amazon has more of Ms. Duane’s books available than she lists on her web site, mostly in the Star Trek universe and in a series of Young Adult books called Tom Clancy’s Net Force of which I am wholly unfamiliar. The full list of her available books on Amazon is here; just select Kindle Edition to see e-books only.

Looking over all the e-books that are available, I can only think, “Why haven’t I read so many of these books?” I think I fell out of touch with Ms. Duane’s books somewhere along the way. Maybe once I left young-adulthood, I was less inclined to read these tales. I recently purchased all nine Young Wizards books from her site and I am looking forward to re-reading the first five or six (I can’t remember if I read the sixth book yet) and reading the rest for the first time. I have a feeling that after that I will be returning to Ms. Duane’s site to check out her other books. It’s never too late to be a kid (or young adult) again.

(Note: In researching authors’ e-book availability, I focus on what books, if any, the author has available for download on their own site or their site of choice, and what Amazon has available. Since I don’t own a Nook or a Sony Reader, I don’t check the availability on those sites anymore, although it is usually a mirror of what is available on Amazon.)

Webcomics Wednesday: 2/8/2012

It’s Webcomic Wednesday again! Before I start the reviews, a question: have you checked out any of the comics I have reviewed so far? I would love to hear from you if you have, or if you would like to suggest a comic I should check out.

Derelict

First up today is a curious post-apocalyptic comic called Derelict, which is written and drawn in full color by Ben Fleuter. Why do I describe it as curious? For one thing, I could not even tell if the comic was being updated at first. The commentary beneath each page of the comic is the same, one entry for “January 4thth- 2011” and one for “December 12th- 2011.”  The only sign at first that the comic is still being updated is the fact that the copyright changes from 2011 to 2012 on the more recent pages.

Also, this is not a straightforward tale and it is not filled with a bunch of exposition to help the reader along. Lucky then that the artwork is so good and the story so compelling. You may not know what is going on or how it all fits together, or even what order the events occur in, but you want to keep reading to figure it out.

It also helps that our viewpoint character, Dang Thu Mai, seems like a real person dealing as best she can with an intolerable situation. She lives a solitary existence as a scavenger on her boat, barely eking out an existence (the girl has cat food and not much else in her cupboard). From time to time she heads on to land to scavenge, and neither land nor ocean is free of dangers, including other humans and also monstrous Gargoyles that are vulnerable to UV light. Are they aliens? Vampires? Mutants? Creatures that lived underground until after the apocalypse? All of the above? It is not yet clear.

To share more would be to give away too much of the story (but keep an eye out for that pinwheel on the left, it is kind of an important story element). Trust me on this one, just check it out. Maybe do like I did: give it a quick read-through, then head over to the forums to see the fans discussing each page and what secrets it might reveal, and then go back and read the comic more carefully. There are a lot of details and clues in the story, lots of mysterious unexplained happenings, and beautiful artwork throughout. I think you will find it intriguing. There is some graphic violence and nudity, so if that is not your scene, best to skip Derelict.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (henceforth DD) literally had me scouring the website for a link to buy this webcomic as a physical book. Sadly, it is not yet available, but the FAQ reports that, as of September 2011, an English-language version is in the works (and Book One of a French version was to be released in October 2011). So what had me looking for a shelf copy of this comic so quickly?

As written and illustrated by Tony Cliff, DD is a true delight to read. It is the story of Selim, a lieutenant in the Janissary Corp who is a gentle, refined soul who can make a mean cup of tea. His life changes drastically when he encounters Delilah Dirk, a world traveler and adventuress who I would describe as a more lighthearted version of Elektra from Daredevil. The story focuses as much on battles of manners as on battles with swords and cannons as Selim is unwillingly drawn into Delilah’s life of adventure.

Before I even got into the story, though, the artwork pulled me in. Each on-screen “page” of this comic is actually two pages at a time, allowing for expansive spreads, and DD starts off with a gorgeous two-page spread of Constantinople as seen from off-shore, with boats filling the water, and a partially overcast sky shadowing the city below. This first spread is a promise of a beautiful comic, and Tony does not break that promise. The dude can draw cities, boats, vistas, people, clothing, animals, intricate architecture… dude can draw! (For more of his artwork and some great DD posters, check out his Flickr, DeviantArt and Tumblr pages.)

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is a fun-filled, action-adventure, historical romp. If the rest of this review wasn’t clear enough, I highly recommend it!

Modest Medusa

Here is another comic I found through Kickstarter. Modest Medusa is the story of Jake, who comes home on Christmas Eve to find that his toilet appears to have overflown. Except what actually happened is the cutest little Medusa you can imagine has traveled from her dimension to his via his toilet bowl (yes, the comic is that weird, and fun). The story and art are by Jake Richmond and he describes the comic as autobiographical “except for all the stuff with the Medusa.” The format is a four-panel, vertical, black and white comic that switches to color a short way in, to good effect.

While the comic is “autobiographical” in the sense that many of the characters are his relatives, the goings-on quickly veer into the realm of bizarre, and hilarious, fantasy. While the comic does have an overarching story, each page is often a gag in itself as Jake and the Medusa get used to living with each other and Medusa becomes acclimated to a life of Chocodiles, Pokemon, and an X-Box that does not work the way it is supposed to.

Overall, this comic is just so damn cute, mostly thanks to the innocence of the Medusa, that it is hard to resist. It does take a dark turn later on with the addition of Chainsaw Unicorn to the cast. Yes, the dark turn happens when a unicorn with a chainsaw for a horn shows up. Like I said, this comic is just that weird, and good.

Update on Battlepug

I mentioned Battlepug in my very first pseudo-Webcomics Wednesday (okay, I think it was a Tuesday and I hadn’t decided to do weekly updates yet, but you get the point). Anyhoo, the first year of Battlepug plus some extra material is being collected by Dark Horse Comics and is scheduled to be in stores on July 4, 2012. Congratulations to Mike Norton and the rest of the Battlepug team.