October 24th, 2006

pedant, law and order

[media log] Singularity Sky, Runaways v. 1&2, NW Passage 1-3, Everyware

Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross.
In the first nine pages: the New Republic (not the magazine, but a late-Czarist techno-rejectionist planetary civilization), fond of brass knobs, uniforms, and secret police, is visited by the Festival, whose solar-sail starwisps commandeer Oort bodies with von Neumann factories, build their own bodies out of information crystal, and proceed to drop telephones from orbit. Whenever anybody picks one up, it says "entertain us." And for those who do, wishes are granted.
Thus is war fought in a post-singularity society. Add on: Baba Yaga's hut uplifted by themselves-uplifted naked mole rats, insane head-launching killer clowns (they are the Fringe of the Festival, clever clever), the use of faster-than-light travel to exploit closed timelike loops to defend before the attack, and secret agents of (1) the anarchist Earth's United Nations and (2) the Eschaton itself (yes, it's an it). Stir, spin, and serve hot. Highly recommended post-singularity brain candy. Perhaps a little too heavy on the space-battle-scenes-on-a-starcruiser-bridge. Stross has been rumored to be trans-human before.

Runaways, vols. 1 and 2
These are quite clever teen-superhero comics. I think that reading The X-Men when they first came out must have felt something like this: we recognize the trope (people have magical powers, and they didn't expect them) and the personalities (teenagers, with all their complex internal and external drama) but we hadn't really seen them together in exactly this way before.
The premise is quite strong: we are unexpectedly powerful because our parents are supervillains. If The X-Men theme that resonated with teenagers (and ex-teenagers) was "what has changed in my body that's made it powerful and different and sometimes offensive? They don't understand me!", then Runaways' theme seems to be "I am powerful, and I have never realized it before. And I have to choose on my own what to do with this -- I have no one I can trust."
It's no surprise to read on the internet that Joss Whedon is a fan of this: the main story is about the kids themselves, and not so much about the fantastic powers or combat or even the angst. It's a bunch of kids, dealing with things they've never dealt with before: think Buffy, and -- in the kids' more lucid moments -- Firefly.
On a purely artistic level, the Adrian Alphona illustration is beautiful and almost lineless. It's a different, floaty feel than "traditional" superhero esthetics like John Byrne. I'm definitely enjoying this and will continue to pick up the collections.

Northwest Passage, volumes 1, 2, and 3. Writing and art by Scott Chantler warning, annoying all-flash website.
A well-told "men's adventure" comic about early English colonies in the Americas. Being written and published in the 21st century, it avoids the obvious embarrassments of treating the Red Man as the enemy; the main plot pits the English against (eep) the French, who escape being universally characterized as bad-guys by a [red] hair (one Breton shows himself to be a good guy by finally turning on his bloodthirsty commander). Chantler has set the story up to be a longer one by leaving some threads loose, but has in general wrapped things up after volume 3. I would recommend it for the clever Scott-McCloud-would-approve simplicity and stylization of the art, but the characters are a little bit flat: the aging hero is, well, an aging hero (Shane is more complex); the half-breed son of the aging hero is only deep because we don't understand his motivations; the villain is just a villain, etcetera. Disappointing, though pretty.
An aside: Chantler was the artist for hire for the Captain Copyright Canadian kerfuffle (here's Chantler's take).

Everyware, by Adam Greenfield.
A breathless collection of writing about how "computers will be everywhere. no, really. everywhere. and it's gonna be cool. But scary! and we gotta think really hard about this -- but it doesn't matter 'cause it's gonna happen anyway."
I couldn't bring myself to finish it. I suspect that the basic underlying ideas are quite sound, but I was irritated by the format of "meditative essays" or "manifestoes" that don't carry much continuity. This is not a single work. It's more like a collection of blog entries about how the spimeworld will be interesting.

I am reading several other books, but none of them are complete right now, so I don't want to do a review yet.