Agency (2020) by William Gibson

‘Very recent hiredness was its own liminal state, Verity reminded herself, on the crowded Montgomery BART platform, waiting for a train to Sixteenth and Mission.’

–William Gibson

These are the opening lines to Agency, Gibson’s twelfth novel. I had to look up the word “liminal” which means “between or belonging to two different places, states, etc.” It is an important word for this novel, as Gibson weaves his narrative back and forth between the “present” of this story and its future. The present is an alternate 2017 in which Hillary Clinton won the election, and the future is some time in the 22nd century.

Synopsis

In William Gibson’s first novel since 2014’s The Peripheral, a gifted “app-whisperer” is hired by a mysterious San Francisco start-up and finds herself in contact with a unique and surprisingly combat-savvy AI.


My Thoughts

I’m in two minds about this book. I initially rated it 3 stars, but I’m tempted to drop my rating down to 2 stars now. (Please note: 3 stars for me is what I consider “average”, 2 stars is “disappointing.”) The longer I think about the story, the more disappointed I feel. It has some cool ideas, but unfortunately they don’t really go anywhere. The plot is pretty basic and the characters mostly forgettable. Thinking back on it, I’m struggling to remember the characters’ names outside of the main character Verity and the A.I. Eunice.

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Reading the Sci Fi “Canon”

Ugh, we’re talking about the “canon” of science fiction literature, again, for reasons (most imminently the recent Hugo award ceremony and its fallout), and whether, basically, newer writers and readers should and must slog through a bunch of books in the genre that are now half a century old at least, from a bunch of mostly male, mostly white, mostly straight writers who are, shall we say, not necessarily speaking to the moment.”

–John Scalzi, Taken from his essay Oh, Christ, Not the Science Fiction Canon Again, August 2020

Selections from the recent Penguin Science Fiction collection

Maryam, over at The Curious SFF Reader, wrote a great post about the science fiction canon, asking if we should read it or not. Her essay and all of the comments made for a fascinating read and got me thinking about what this “canon” is. Is there a canon for science fiction like there is for literature? If so, who decided which books make up this canon?

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Once & Future, Vol. 2: Old English (2020) by Kieron Gillen, Dan Mora

“What was in that thing?”
“The usual penny-mix of mystic selection. Plus blessed by a few priests.”
“You talked vicars into blessing a landmine?”

-Kieron Gillen

Clipped from a conversation between Duncan and his grandma Bridgette after their spectacular fight with something huge and powerful in issue #9. Once & Future, Volume Two: Old English collects issues #7 to #12 of the BOOM! Studios comic book.

Synopsis

When an ancient helmet at the British Museum is taken, Bridgette and Duncan are confronted by another hero of yore, one who will lead them to facing off against their most formidable challenge yet…a beast and his mother.


My Thoughts

Kieron Gillen and Dan Mora continue their reinterpretation of the King Arthur myth. In this second volume, they expand on their idea of stories breaking into the real world. Here is a quick recap of the events in Volume One: The King is Undead. Be wary of spoilers.

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Mockingbird (1980) by Walter Tevis

‘Only the mockingbird sings at the edge of the woods.’

-Walter Tevis

Did you watch the recent Netflix series about a brilliant female chess player: The Queen’s Gambit? I watched it and really enjoyed it. It is based on the book of the same name by the American author Walter Tevis. I’d never heard of Tevis before the series, but I did know the title of his most famous science fiction story: The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963). I’ve seen the film starring David Bowie but I haven’t read the book. After reading Tevis’s novel Mockingbird (1980), I now want to read all of his books including The Hustler (1959) and The Color of Money (1984)–made famous by the Paul Newman-starring movies.

Synopsis

Mockingbird is a powerful novel of a future world where humans are dying. Those that survive spend their days in a narcotic bliss or choose a quick suicide rather than slow extinction. Humanity’s salvation rests with an android who has no desire to live, and a man and a woman who must discover love, hope, and dreams of a world reborn.


My Review

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The Jaguar Hunter (1985) by Lucius Shepard

*This is my review of the novelette published by Lucius Shepard in 1985. The Jaguar Hunter is also the title of Shepard’s 1987 collection of short stories, a book I’m very interested in after reading this novelette.

Cover to the 2001 Four Walls Eight Windows edition. Art by Scott Idleman

Brief Synopsis

This is the story of Esteban, a retired hunter living with his wife in Honduras. His wife gets into debt with a local businessman and Esteban agrees to hunt and kill a black jaguar to settle the debt. After entering the jungle on the jaguar’s trail, he meets a beautiful woman who begins to question him about his intentions toward the jaguar. 


My Thoughts

This was my first experience reading Lucius Shepard (1943-2014), an American writer whose work was first published in the 1980s. The Jaguar Hunter was nominated for a Nebula Award in the Best Novelette category in 1986. I read it in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection” (1986) edited by Gardner Dozois. At only 22 pages, the story can be read in one sitting. 

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Pulp (2020) by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

“That was one of the problems of getting older. You hit an age where everyone either ignores you, or treats you like some hassle they’re being forced to deal with. But inside, you still feel like the same person you were thirty or forty years ago.”

-Ed Brubaker

A few years ago, my brother introduced me to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ brilliant crime comic book series Criminal. I quickly became a fan of the series and searched for other works by this creative team. That led me to Kill or Be Killed, a comic book series that explores the experiences of a young vigilante, and also contains a supernatural element. Another great read, I collected all twenty issues of the series. Now, when a new title by Brubaker and Phillips is released, I will usually buy it “sight unseen” because I know it will be of the highest quality.

Publisher’s Synopsis

“Max Winters, a pulp writer in 1930s New York, finds himself drawn into a story not unlike the tales he churns out at 5 cents a word – tales of a Wild West outlaw dispensing justice with a six-gun. But will Max be able to do the same, when pursued by bank robbers, Nazi spies, and enemies from his past?

One part thriller, one part meditation on a life of violence, Pulp is unlike anything the award-winning team of Brubaker and Phillips have ever done. A celebration of pulp fiction, set in a world on the brink. And another must-have hardback from one of comics most-acclaimed teams.”


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Happy New Ox!

Happy New Year from Wakizashi’s little corner of Japan!

2021 is the third year in the Reiwa Period (令和三年). The Japanese follow the Chinese Zodiac which has 12 animals for each 12-year cycle. 2021 is the Year of the Ox (or Cow). According to the Chinese Lunar calendar the New Year begins on February 12th.

Ox Years are: 1901, 1913, 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

What kind of year can we expect?

Kathryn Wortley of the Japan Times writes: “The second animal of the Chinese zodiac, the ox denotes the hard work, positivity and honesty that will be manifested in all of us in the coming 12 months, according to astrologers.”


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Top Reads of 2020

Another year draws to a close, so it’s time to publish my Top Reads of the year. These are the stories that stood out for me over the past 12 months. They are listed in no particular order; just the ones I enjoyed reading the most during this crazy year of 2020. If you click on the title, it will take you to my review.


Best Books Read in 2020

Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert
Dune Messiah (1969) by Frank Herbert
Europe at Dawn (2018) by Dave Hutchinson
In the Forests of Serre (2004) by Patricia McKillip
Utopia Avenue (2020) by David Mitchell
The Folding Knife (2010) by K.J. Parker
The Secret Commonwealth (2019) by Philip Pullman
Lancelot (2018) by Giles Kristian
The Stand (1978) by Stephen King


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Wonder Woman: Dead Earth (2020) by Daniel Warren Johnson

“Come closer, Diana. Put your hands in the clay. This is what you were made from. This core of the Earth, the strongest of what this broken world had to offer, gave way to the mass that makes you what you are now.”

-Daniel Warren Johnson

Publisher’s Synopsis

“Wonder Woman’s mission was to save Man’s World from itself. She failed.

When Diana awakens from a centuries-long sleep to discover the Earth reduced to a nuclear wasteland, she knows she failed. Trapped alone in a grim future, Diana must protect the last human city from titanic monsters while uncovering the secret of this dead Earth–and how she may be responsible for it.

The celebrated creator of Murder Falcon and Extremity and artist of The Ghost Fleet, Daniel Warren Johnson, brings bold sci-fi chops to his DC debut with a harrowing vision of Wonder Woman unlike anything you’ve ever seen.”


My Thoughts

I’d never been interested in reading Wonder Woman comics before this book. It was artist and writer Daniel Warren Johnson that convinced me to buy it. I loved his work on Extremity and Murder Falcon, and found both titles to be an absolute blast to read.

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Coffin Bound, Vol. 1: Happy Ashes (2020) by Dan Watters & DaNi

“I have a plan, Ben. I am expunging myself from the planet. Each mark I’ve made I shall scrub out.”

-Dan Watters

I really enjoyed writer Dan Watters’ recent run on the Vertigo comic book Lucifer. That’s what brought me to Coffin Bound, published by Image Comics. I wanted to read more stories by Watters and this was an original story by him and Greek artist DaNi. What can I say about this book? To make an understatement, I will say it’s pretty unique.

Publisher’s Synopsis

Cars! Guns! Entropy! Izzy Tyburn has promised the world that if it won’t have her in it, it’ll have nothing of her at all. Chased by an unstoppable killer, she’s re-treading her life, leaving nothing behind but burned rubber, ash… and the sun-scorched bones of those who get in her way. Ride shotgun on an existential road-trip through the tangled web of a blood-splattered life.


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