Manhattan in Reverse

Manhattan in Reverse

A collection of short stories from the master of space opera. Peter F Hamilton takes us on a journey from a murder mystery in an alternative Oxford in the 1800s to a brand new story featuring Paula Mayo, Deputy Director of the Intersolar Commonwealth’s Serious Crimes Directorate. Dealing with intricate themes and topical subject this top ten bestselling author is at the top of his game.

Before talking about the book itself I should mention I’ve only read two Peter F. Hamilton books (The Dreaming Void and Mindstar Rising). Both of those were in the last year, so my review is slightly coloured by my lack of in depth knowledge about the different series and various universes he has created. I have a vague awareness of some, and although I  know certain characters like Paula Myo, I’m sure the stories in which she features mean a lot more to long time fans. There are also a couple of significant moments in a few of the stories, but there again I missed out on their impact as I don’t know the whole story.

I think an existing fan will get a lot more from this book of short stories as most of them tie into his Commonwealth novels, but a couple of them are completely standalone. On the other hand, the book is fairly slender in comparison to all of Hamilton’s books, so it will give new fans a taste of the type of story, characterisation, technology and ideals that are typically explored in his novels.

The first, Watching Trees Grow, is a very curious story that is essentially a murder mystery across the centuries. It follows a dogged investigator who refuses to give up and as advances in technology provide him with extended longevity and more tools to  analysing the evidence and question the suspects, he still struggles to find an answer. The irony of how the crime is solved was not lost on me and I enjoyed the universe Hamilton had created in this story where the Roman empire still exists and major families rule.

My favourite story was probably ‘If at First…’, which is a time travel story about an idea I’m sure many people have often pondered. If you were able to, would you go back to an early stage in your life and fix some of the mistakes of the past? Or perhaps relive your life again up to the present? A mad man is taken into police custody claiming that a famous tech guru, a Steve Jobs type, has done just that and his success is because he invented a time machine and has been reliving his own life with knowledge of the future. It sounds ridiculous and like the ravings of a lunatic. The suspect is a known stalker of the tech guru and coupled with that he was caught breaking into one of the tech company’s offices, it’s an open and shut case. It also sounds like a case for mental health services and yet there is something there that doesn’t ring true and the detective in charge decides to dig a little deeper.

My second favourite story was the last one, Manhattan in Reverse, which to me actually felt like a bit of a western for all its SF framing. It deals with a wild frontier, a new planet full of unknowns and an attack by savage locals on the new arrivals for no apparent reason. This puzzle that is causing all sorts of problems for colonists and no one is quite sure what to do next. The simple solution would be to wipe out the problem with a big laser and not worry about it, but Paula Myo is not someone who thinks like that. She is known throughout the galaxy and her reputation has taken a bit of a knock. This simple job is pitched at helping her curry some favour with the right people so she is not shuffled off to a dark corner and forgotten about for the rest of time. The story still featured the now familiar technology I read about in the Dreaming Void, but here it was just a tool to help Paula with a very particular job. I wasn’t bogged down by some of the detail like I am in the novels, so for me it was a very light and refreshing read by comparison.

As with any anthology or collection of short stories, some are better than others and some more memorable and engaging. One of the stories was incredibly short and it was specifically written to be less than a 1000 words. It showed me what could be done with very little space and it was a feat when this whole book was a quarter of a normal Hamilton novel!

Overall I think this book is a great primer and a good jumping on point which gives you a good flavour about Hamilton’s style and approach to stories, characters and science fiction.

DC Comics 52 Relaunch

For those who missed it, DC comics relaunched 52 new ongoing monthly comic book series. This has been called a reboot by some, a relaunch by others, but the short version of a complex story is, this is intended to be a new jumping on point for new readers. So that could mean people who’ve never read a comic before but saw one of the comic book films or watched some of the animated stuff. Or it could be someone who has always wanted to get into comics but was intimidated by starting at issue 334 or felt uncomfortable trying to navigate through a comic shop to find some help. I think DC comics had to do this for a number of reasons, the most important being that mainstream superhero comic book sales were in decline. They were losing their audience for a variety of reasons and if they wanted to stay in publishing they needed a major shake up. I’m being very specific by saying ‘mainstream superhero comic books’, because comics themselves have never been broader in terms of genre. Some non-superhero comics are doing very well and some non-mainstream superhero comic books have been growing their sales figures over the last few years. So, was DC comics relaunch a success?

Overall I would say it was a success. There were a few missteps, such as poor treatment of some, not all, female characters, stories that didn’t work, and a few missed opportunities, but on balance the response has been very positive. I don’t want to go over the bad again, as it’s been discussed at great length by people online, but I will point out that it’s interesting to note some titles have already announced new writers. This is at a point where issue 2 of some titles have only just come out. I’m sure all of the creators went into a title with the best interests, and remember DC signed off on the initial storyline, but some of them have just really worked for various reasons. Static Shock, one of the teen focused books read like a science lesson about electricity. It was dull, despite the explosions, and the dialogue was stilted. Marc Bernadin is the new writer who will be taking over from issue 5. I’m a fan of his work so I might revisit the title now that he is coming on board. The first issue of Green Arrow was so two dimensional, full of exposition and by the numbers I wasn’t gripped by any part of it, and this is coming from a fan of the character and the writer! A new writer was announced after only one issue had been published. There’s something unique about Green Arrow and his attitude, because no matter how big or powerful they are, he will never, ever back down. I hope the new writer highlights this aspect of the character when they take over.

Ok, that all sounds too negative. Focusing on the positive, I went in with a shortlist of titles that I was really looking forward to and I’m pleased to say they have all proven to be excellent. There were also a few positive surprises along the way, titles I didn’t really have any interest in, but when I read them I found I was really into the character. Titles like Deathstroke, Batwing, Men of War and Justice League International.

In my opinion, and because they suit my particular tastes, which I appreciate not everyone shares, the following were the best and most interesting titles as part of the relaunch.

Batwoman
Red Lanterns
Aquaman
Animal Man
Resurrection Man
Batman
The next interesting hurdle DC need to effectively tackle is their trade paperback policy, that is their collected editions. Normally a trade is about six issues and like novels in the publishing world it first comes out in a hardback form and then a couple of months later a paperback. Sometimes titles jump straight to paperback, sometimes it takes much longer between hardback and paperback. It’s been very odd and inconsistent in the past, and as much as people might like or want to, it’s not financially viable to get all of the comics every month from a local shop. Trades are cheaper and for me they make a comic series infinitely easier to re-read and transport. Digital comics are playing their part too, for those without a local comic shop or those who prefer to read on their digital reader of choice. The move to release all 52 titles in paper and digital on the same day is a bold move, but there again it needed to happen as other publishers had been doing it piecemeal. DC have led the charge and while digital comics make up a small percentage of sales, it has the potential to reach a whole new audience. People who would never dream of going into a comic shop but want to read comics.

Once the initial rush and the PR news cycle is over and the mainstream media lose interest, and I’m sincere in this, I really hope that the monthly sales numbers of DC comics are significantly higher than before the relaunch. More readers mean more variety and creativity, new lifeblood for the comic book audience and potentially new talent and new voices in the future. I don’t think the DC relaunch saved comics, they were always going to exist in one form or another, but I believe this bold move has certainly put a big old spotlight on the industry at a times when it needed a jab in the arm to get people back into the comic shops.

A new beginning

Hello, and welcome to my blog. This is going to be a real mixed bag with all sorts of different posts. I have bits and pieces all over the internet and some of those will continue but this blog will serve as a collection point for all of those plus other stuff.

Previously I’ve written book and comic reviews on my own book review blog, then I joined up with Mark over at Walker of Worlds before it went on hiatus, and I briefly stopped over at Floor to Ceiling Books. Since I’m still an avid reader and always have one book on the go, I will be continuing to post book reviews, but they will be on here from now on.

Since July 2007 I’ve co-hosted a comics podcast. We focus on comics beyond the mainstream superhero titles, as well as genre TV, movies and geek culture in general. Comics are a big part of my life, I’ve been reading them for over 20 years and I love the medium. Like many comic book fans I started in a familiar place with superhero titles but since then have gone on to read across a broad range of genres. Since I’ve always got at least one comic on the go, I’ll be posting comic reviews here as well. I’ll also post links and updates about the podcast which we’re still doing.

Attached to the podcast is a SFF book club for listeners, where we alternate between an older or classic work of SFF and then switch it up to a new modern book, something from the last ten years. So I’ll mention that on here from time to time as well, so please join in with that if you like the current selection or send in suggestions for the future.

On top of that I’ll be posting more general stuff, posts about my current writing projects (at the moment I’m nearing the end of the first draft of an original fantasy novel and I’m working on 2 comic book projects), and anything else that is on my mind.