Archive for February, 2012

Wednesday Webcomics: 2/29/2012

Posted: February 29, 2012 in Kickstarter, Webcomic

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!

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.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

Free E-Books

Posted: February 24, 2012 in E-Book

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

Posted: February 22, 2012 in Kickstarter, Webcomic

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

Posted: February 19, 2012 in Philosophy, Science Fiction

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, 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

Posted: February 15, 2012 in Kickstarter, Webcomic

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.