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Hugh Likes Fiction: Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach

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Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach
Written by Kelly Robson
Published by Tor

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The Skinny: Post-apochalyptic time travelers go back to Bablylon to take notes on ecology.

In Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, Kelly Robson adds a lot of new twists to a formula that goes back to H. G. Wells. Her time travelers are scientists from a post-collapse future, but they don’t go back to change history, they’re ecologists taking notes and samples to save the future. And that is just the start of her resurrection of a sometimes tired genre.
The main story follows Minh, an aging scientist who restores lost habitats on the surface of a decimated Earth 200 years in the future. Minh seeks control over her work, her life, even her own biological processes, which she tweaks for maximum efficiency. But when she travels back in time with a small team to gather data and samples a Tigris and Euphrates, she’ll have to learn to manage with the help of others. Her story is contrasted with short, myth-like passages from the story of the king of Ur, and the reader quickly discovers that this is one story from two points of view. It’s something difficult to pull off, that Robson handles with style.
The characters are well-developed for a novel of this length, and I especially liked Minh’s micromanagement of her biological processes as a way for her to cope with the huge problems in her environment that she can’t. There is a lot of far future science, with little explanation, that might feel like technobable to a lay person, but if you’re looking for a short novel overflowing with cool science and unexpected perspective, this one’s for you.

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Hugh Likes Comics: The Sandman Universe

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The Sandman Universe #1
Story by Neil Gaiman
Written by Simon Spurier, Nalo Hopkinson, Kat Howard, and Dan Watters
Drawn by Bilquis Evely, Tom Fowler, Dominike “Domo” Stanton, Max Fiumara, and Sebastian Fiumara
Colors by Mat Lopes
Letters by Simon Bowland
Published by Vertigo

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The Skinny – Vertigo returns to The Dreaming to introduce a quartet of Gaiman-inspired comics.

“The Sandman” was one of those pieces of culture that came into my life right when I needed it to. I read it in my early twenties, after it had ended, and had been collected into trade paperbacks. Ultimately a story about storytelling, it was very different from DC’s four-color Superhero offerings, even though it shared a setting, or at least a common world.
The Sandman Universe #1 brings back that type of storytelling with a fresh start. Essentially, this serves as a reboot and introduction to four Vertigo books all reaching back to Gaiman’s seminal ’90’s work.
The current incarnation of Dream is missing (following the events of DC’s Metal event) and dream raven Matthew heads out to the mortal realm to find him. Along the way encounters various other stories without being much involved in them. The stories as presented are a bit thin, but feel very authentic to the original Sandman and Vertigo comics, and they’re gorgeous to look at. Mat Lopes’s coloring ties them all together, and they have that distinct soft palate that set Vertigo apart from its four-color contemporaries.
The Sandman Universe #1 is a small aperitif after so many years away from these stories, but it’s a tease for some series that do have the potential to reignite that particular spark. You can take a look for yourself at your local comics shop, or digitally from Comixology.

Hugh Likes Fiction: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

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A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
Written by Alex White
Published by Orbit

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The Skinny: Spaceship is Magic

Alex White’s new novel, A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is a seamless Sci-Fi/Fantasy adventure about the misfit crew of a smuggler ship caught in a galactic conspiracy. White is a remarkable stylistic juggler, matching magic and high-tech space opera in a believable, lived in universe filled with despicable anti-heroes you can’t help rooting for.
When well-to-do racing star Nilah Brio witnesses a bizarre murder on the track, her only hope may rest on the dubious shoulders of fighter pilot turned con-artist Elizabeth “Boots” Ellsworth. But after selling fraudulent treasure maps for years, have they stumbled on the real thing? And more importantly, can they avoid the powerful forces on their trail long enough to get it?
White’s novel is an action-packed thrill ride of an adventure novel. But what really impressed me is the well thought out universe White creates for his characters to bust their way through. The magic system is intricately crafted, and feels like a real part of the world rather than set dressing. The technology of the setting uses magic in a number of surprising and delightful ways. Each character has their own magic, of varying types, and they can use it like a signature, or to interact with technology, or even fire weapons. Everyone except Boots, that is, who is one of the rare people born without magic. It’s a nice bit of the story that builds the world and characters in interesting ways.
With this first novel, White offers us a character-focused look into a compelling fantasy future. Fans of Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet will find a lot to like in this scrappy crew of adventurers, with plenty of space-faring action and interplanetary politics to satisfy the most hard-core old school Space Opera fan. You can find A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe at your local independent bookstore, or from the usual digital suspects. I heartily recommend it.

Hugh Likes Comics: X-23

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X-23 #1
Written by Mariko Tamaki
Drawn by Juann Cabal
Colored by Nolan Woodard
Lettered by VC’s Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics

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The Skinny: Laura and Gabby are back in a new comic with an old name.

I fell in love with Tom Taylor’s take on Laura Kinney, and was sad when All-New Wolverine ended, only to be rebranded with the character’s original hero name, X-23. I picked up the first issue with a bit of apprehension, but Mariko Tamaki’s story is still character-focused and full of heart, and it is going in some very interesting directions.
Laura is the clone of Logan, the original Wolverine. She was created to be a weapon. Recently, she met her sister Gabby, a younger clone of herself created for the same purpose. Now they’re out in the world, hunting down the rogue operations like the ones that created them. But their operations may put them into conflict with Laura’s old acquaintances, and fellow clones, the Stepford Cuckoos.
Stories about clones are stories about what it means to be human. They are also often, in the case of movies like “Blade Runner,” about people forced to deal with things that they are not prepared for, children in adult bodies. Tamaki has this down pat, picking Laura and Gabby up where Taylor left them and putting them in a situation they can’t cut their way out of. She very elegantly shows her understanding of the two leads personalities and puts her own spin on them. Taylor’s Gabby was light, silly, a spot of comic relief with the barest hint of the shadow a comic like “Wolverine” calls for. Tamaki carries all that over, but also zeroes in on the concept of Gabby as a child, and Laura as a young woman, barely out of her teens, thrust into the role of caregiver. It leads to some really nice moments that deepen both characters.
Juann Cabal, who worked on All-New Wolverine, does a great job on pencils, and Woodard’s coloring is excellent. Particularly the way he colors Gabby, with little cartoonish spots of color to highlight her changing moods. I also liked the conceit that the art hanging in the X-Mansion is all based on classic X-Men covers. It added some fun little background details for long-time fans.
X-23 #1is on sale now at your Local Comics Shop or available digitally from Comixology. It’s a great place to jump on if you missed All-New Wolverine, and a welcome return for fans of Laura and Gabby.

Hugh Likes Theatre: Six Stories, Told at Night

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Six Stories, Told at Night
Directed by Blair Haynes
Written by KT Bryski
Starring Blythe Haynes, Alexandra Milne, and Isaiah Kolundzic

The Skinny – KT Bryski and Blythe Hayne’s award-winning audio drama shines as an independent theatrical production.

I wrote about Six Stories, Told at Night when it was first podcast back in 2016. Since then, it has gone on to win a Parsec award, and is now a black box theatre production in this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival! The conversion between one-woman audio drama and stage production is outstanding, and the work blossoms under the talents of not one, but three amazing actors.
The story remains largely the same. When Sam’s childhood friend Joelle disappears, she resolves to find her. But Joelle hasn’t gone just anywhere. She’s gone to Elf Land, the world all stories come from, and it will take a very special story for Sam to follow her there. Along the way, Sam examines their relationship and the stories they grew up sharing, a series of French Canadian folktales that are the only clues she has to finding her friend.
“Six Stores” stars Blythe Haynes, the original actor from the audio drama as Sam, and Alexandra Milne as Joelle. They both trade off parts in the stores as well, shifting seamlessly as the present to the past and from Sam’s Imagination and memory to the folktales themselves. Isaiah Kolundzic rounds out the cast as Coyote, as well as any additional male parts as required. The benefit of seeing the drama as a play is seeing the actors bounce against one another, and watching as they slide from role to role, from story to storyteller. Each of them inhabits the stage differently, and the tension, dramatic and personal, sparks off of them.
Haynes, as Sam, is a coiled spring, all still nerves and unspent energy. Milne practically dances across the stage, all grace and calculated action, while Kolundzic is pure chaos as he shifts from Trickster God to werewolf to other, more terrifying monsters.
“Six Stories, Told at Night” is presented at the Theatre Passe Muraille as a part of this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival through July 15th. If you can get to Toronto to see it, go check it out!

Hugh Likes Video Game: Zelda: Breath of the Wild

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Published by Nintendo
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: I don’t know what to tell you. if you haven’t heard of it by now. It’s really good.

So, yeah, Zelda Breath of the Wild has been out for a year, and praise has been heaped upon it. And it is well deserved. Like most of the core Nintendo franchises, Zelda games tend to iterate on a formula. Installments have stayed closer or farther from this formula, but in general, the pattern of travel around a persistent map and complete X number of elemental dungeons before fighting Gannon persists. Breath of the Wild reduces the dungeon count and instead focuses a bit more on the sprawling map, that is none-the-less filled with things to do.
Zelda BotW takes several design cues from Western RPGs like The Elder Scrolls in that there is always something interesting around the next corner. It also follows the design choices of A Link Between Worlds in that it gives the player his tools up front, and lets them tackle the game’s challenges as they wish, although there does feel like an ideal path.
While the game doesn’t offer the robust character development you typically see in Western RPGs, it does have a huge map full of things to do. Breath of the Wild replaces the hidden heart containers from previous games with Shrines, little formalized puzzle rooms scattered throughout the map, which also function as fast-travel points after you activate them. There are lots of mountains to climb, stuff to collect, and monsters to fight, and it rarely feels like a chore.
The four main quests do feel somewhat repetitive, as they each have the same basic structure, although the design for the dungeon-sized Divine Beasts are quite cool. The game has a very aggressive weapon and shield durability system, which will mean you will be spending a lot of time collecting replacement swords rather than relying on the familiar Master Sword. Fortunately, there is a huge variety of new ones to collect, so it does add some variety to the experience.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a huge, beautiful adventure with a new surprise over every ridge. It brings back a refreshing sense of freedom to the series, and is a must-play, in my opinion. You can find it for the Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Wii-U.

Hugh Likes Comics: Coda

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Coda #1
Written by Simon Spurrier
Drawn by Matias Bergarda
Published by Boom! Studios

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The Skinny – A cynical wanderer navigates a lost magical world in this beautifully illustrated post-apocalyptic dark fantasy.

It is a given in a certain field of fantasy fiction, from Lord of the Rings to “The Legend of Zelda” that when a good, magical, noble fantasy kingdom is faced with annihilation from a Dark Lord, Good will, no matter the odds and no matter how long it takes, triumph in the end. But what if it doesn’t?
This is the central concept behind Spurrier and Bergarda’s “Coda.” A cynical wanderer, and former Royal Bard is searching the wasteland for his missing wife, until he stumbles across Ridgetown, a seeming oasis of magical and technological might out of the ‘old days.’ And they have the enchanted cannon to prove it. But where is their magic coming from? And what would happen to them if they were to lose it?
Coda is “Mad Max” with magic. Or more accurately, with a drought of magic. Just like water and gas running short in that series, we see how the world has fallen apart when the source of magic, a race of magical beings, are wiped out. And a world that seems to have been a black-and-white battlefield between the forces of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is revealed to be a lot more complex as the survivors struggle to keep on living.
Spurrirer’s writing is intriguing, but it is brought to life by Bergarda’s sumptuous art and colors. The panels have a flow to them that carries you through the story at a disquieting rhythm. The colors have this soft-focus wash to them that establishes the fallen glory of the world perfectly.
Coda is available now from Comixology and Your Local Comics Shop. If you’re looking for something a bit different to tide you over until the next season of Game of Thrones, I heartily recommend it.

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