Friday, August 16, 2013

SFFWorld Weekly Round up featuring Wendig, Star Wars, and Pern

Three new reviews at SFFWorld the past week, two from Mark and one from me.  First off, is Mark's review from earlier in the week.  A book which pays tribute to Anne McCaffrey's fiction, primarily her Dragonriders of Pern.  The book, Dragonwriter, sports a beautiful Michael Whelan cover

As the sub-title suggests, Dragonwriter is a biographical tribute to Anne. It contains essays from many of those who knew her personally and worked professionally with Anne. These include David Brin, Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, Wen Spencer, David Gerrold, Elizabeth Moon, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mercedes Lackey, Jody Lynn Nye, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, artist Michael Whelan, songwriter Janis Ian and her children Todd and Georgeanne (Gigi) McCaffrey.
McCaffrey tales are often ones where the relationships between the characters are primary, whether the characters are human or dragon. She was a writer not afraid to write about relationships or sex, and her books are seminal examples of what we now see as ‘soft-SF’, dealing with relationships and personal issues rather than the previously more typical Hard SF, with its (usually) male-scientist, can-do-anything type of role. Anne’s female characters are strong-willed and very different from the women-as-victim stereotype often seen in SF’s early days. The societies are cooperative and designed for the good of the Hold rather than individual gain – something which no doubt also made the stories popular.

My review this week is from an author whose fiction I first encountered earlier in the year and loved.  Chuck Wendig's first young adult novel, Under the Empyrian Sky is also the first installment of his Heartland Trilogy:

Wendig infuses this novel with a great deal of despair and anger, but lifts it up with small tent poles of hope and allows his characters to funnel their rage towards potentially positive goals. All of the characters seem to have varying levels of desperation, even the so-called villains in novel like the aforementioned mayor’s son and the mayor himself. Rigo’s father is a drunk, Cael’s father has strange tumors as a result of the corn, and his mother is bedridden. So yeah, not many smiles to go around. But what makes the novel so damn readable was the drive fueled by Cael’s anger. As I said, he manages to funnel it towards positive ends (most of the time), but of course, the anger does get in the way.
I couldn’t help but continually draw comparisons between this book and the game Bioshock: Infinite, in terms of the feel of a frontier America mixed with some vaguely steampunk technology and settings both evoked. While Under the Empyrian Sky might not have the Vigor-enabled powers and some of the time-travel elements, the idea of revolting against an imperial overlord and even a city in the sky are similar.

Lastly (and actually yesterday), Mark had a look at one of those "Technical Manuals" of fictional constructs, Star Wars Blueprints - Inside the Production Archives by J.W. Rinzler:

Star Wars Blueprints is a book that covers all six movies to date, in production order: so from Star Wars A New Hope, (Episode IV) to Revenge of the Sith (Episode III), which will be a nice closure before the new Disney/Lucasfilms appear in 2015. For each film Rinzler gives the reader a potted background as to how it came about from a production point of view.
Of the blueprints themselves, some are excellent: some just made me go “Huh?” We have a nice range of set blueprints – the Millennium Falcon hangar at Mos Eisley and the Death Star Trench from Star Wars (Episode IV), to the Hoth Command Centre and the Reactor Control Room (Empire Strikes Back, Episode V) to Jabba the Hutt’s throne room and barge from Return of the Jedi (Episode VI). It was also pleasing to see some of these still labelled ‘Blue Harvest’, the secret name for Jedi’s early production drawings. Of the omissions, I was surprised not to see more drawings of the iconic Death Star or the Imperial Cruiser here, although they have been covered elsewhere.

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