Friday, April 28, 2017

Writers of the Future 33

This year’s WOTF cover by artist Larry Elmore is a departure from the standard science fiction themed artwork. To celebrate the collection, author Todd McCaffrey penned a special short story inspired by Elmore’s art. This cover and McCaffrey’s tale, along with the vibrant 30-plus year history of WOTF, encapsulate the richness, relevance and excitement represented by the 17 stories and artwork included here. I look forward to this annual anthology, and always come away feeling inspired by this marvelous tapestry of tales. 

Here’s the rundown on this year’s exciting collection: Moonlight One by Stephen Lawson is a tight and thrilling science fiction mystery; The Armor Embrace by Doug C. Souza brilliantly handles the man versus technology theme; and Envoy in Ice by Dustin Steinacker is a thought provoking tale about intergalactic intelligence and issues of faith. Tears for Shulna by Andrew L. Roberts is a wonderful, richly textured tale that resonated with me long after I finished reading it; The Drake Equation by C. L. Kagmi wisely tackles some heavy themes relating to violence, decision-making and responsibility. It was at this point that I realized this year’s collection was maintaining the high standard of diversity in viewpoints and styles that have become the unofficial hallmark of the WOTF collections.

Acquisition by Jake Marley is a top-flight supernatural thriller while Obsidian Spire by Molly Elizabeth Atkins is a riveting fantasy story with great a great character in Varga, and one that I’m certain readers will want to learn more about (hint!). Gator by Robert J. Sawyer, who is one of the judges, offers up a sharp tale to demonstrate the attributes and successes that come with “spec” writing; A Glowing Heart by Anton Rose is rich fantasy tale about life and death, but mostly about life; The Long Dizzy Down by Ziporah Hildbrandt is a hard-core science fiction tale and brilliant from the first paragraph; The Woodcutter’s Deity by Walter Dinjos had me spellbound with its vibrant texture.

The Dragon Killer’s Daughter by Todd McCaffrey was inspired by Larry Elmore’s fantastic cover and adds another layer of enjoyment to this already stunning collection. Useless Magic by Andrew Perry defines responsibility and power with this deftly told tale; Adramelech by Sean Hazlett explores the nature of evil with concise prose and great insight; and The Fox, the Wolf and the Dove by Ville Merilainen is another exciting fantasy story. The final tale, The Magnificent Bhajan David VonAllmen is a wonderful story about an old wizard returning home to save the day, if he can.

Included also is the fantasy classic story, The Devil’s Rescue by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the WOTF contest. Hubbard’s tale is a personal favorite, and is included in the collection along with essays on creativity by Hubbard, Anne McCaffrey, Larry Elmore, and Bob Eggleton. Once again the annual WOTF volume refreshingly delivers a sampling of diverse and highly creative stories that I guarantee will keep you flipping the pages!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Warriors of Plasm by Jim Shooter

I’ve met Jim shooter a few times, and spoke to him only briefly. I don’t recall my exact words, but it was something like, “I’ll always love those Legion stories you wrote for Adventure Comics.” Those are words I suspect he’s heard thousands of times. His tenure in the comic book industry is legendary, from the time he sold his first Legion of Super-Heroes story to DC Comics in the 1960s, when he was just 14 years old. He went on to succeed Stan Lee as editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics where he ushered in the “New Universe”, then on to Valiant and Defiant Comics, which published Warriors of Plasm # 1 in 1993. Everything he’s touched is highly creative, sometimes controversial but imminently entertaining. I suspect Jim shooter has been publicly vilified far more than any other comic book creator. I don’t have any insight into that, and I certainly don’t know him at all. Having met and spoken a few words with someone is not the same as knowing them. What I do know is this – I know talent when I see it. Jim shooter is a creative powerhouse. If his name is on something, I’m buying it. I know I’ll be entertained. His “New Universe” series at Marvel, especially, Star-Brand, is underrated. I was thrilled when he started Defiant Comics. Frankly, Warriors of Plasm was one of the best series introduced in the 1990s, a decade now infamous for the comic book industry’s implosion, the demise of independent comic book shops across the country, and the rapid disintegration of those two major brand names, Marvel and DC Comics whose titles were so bad by 1997 and 1998 they’re still scoffed at by longtime fans and collectors. There are a lot of reasons for all of that, but the bottom line is that basically comic books sucked. The corporations had taken over; and the men in high-water pants, penny loafers and ink-stained pocket protectors had fiscally analyzed and interfered one time too many. I thought Jim Shooter and Defiant Comics would usher in a new renaissance period; an era of unbridled creativity. When I look at Warriors of Plasm # 1 today I can see how close he came. I’ll go so far as to say that he did it for 13 magnificent issues. Those 13 Warriors of Plasm issues are still better than any single series being published by Marvel Comics today. With outstanding artwork by David Lapham and Michael Witherby, a bright color scheme by Janet Jackson, James Brown and Tom Ziuko, Warriors of Plasm # 1 remains a high-octane science fiction adventure. On the Org of Plasm, the Supreme Inquisitor, Lorca, sets a plan in motion to overthrow the rulers of Plasm who were responsible for the death of his true love, Laygen. The plan goes awry, but his effort results in five genetically modified humans who then find themselves responsible for defending earth from an invasion from Plasm. The five humans are a diverse group, and ultimately dysfunctional - a grandmother, an ex-military officer, a preacher, an auto-mechanic, and a young geeky girl who works as a cosmetics clerk. The visuals by Lapham and Witherby are stunning. Warriors of Plasm is one wild, wacky, weird and wonderful series, and over twenty years later I’m still pissed it didn’t run for at least a hundred issues. Jim shooter has never disappointed me, and these 13 issues are proof of his talent. I have over six thousand comic books in my collection, but the stuff that shines the brightest are titles like Warriors of Plasm. I believe a trade paperback was published that collected all of them. This post is for you, Jim, wherever you are. And, yeah, I still love those Legion stories you wrote for Adventure Comics. Rock on.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Alvin’s Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks

Those few of you that know me personally are undoubtedly familiar with my childhood tales of traveling the country with my parents. Those wonderful years were an education, and included a wild array of literature. Alvin’s Secret Code is a 1967 novel published at the height of the “Spy Craze” that swept the country. I Spy, The Man from UNCLE and James Bond were all the rage. It was this book and Codes & Secret Writing by Herbert S. Zim that led me to cryptology. This included my study of alphabet ciphers. I became adept at creating and using alphabet ciphers with other neighborhood boys willing to go along with the fun. Alvin’s Secret Code is silly and entertaining; and includes a thick dossier of material for any young brain to soak up. The main character is Alvin Fernald, who first appeared in The Marvelous Inventions of Alvin Fernald in 1960, and who subsequently appeared in 10 books. Hicks died in 2010 and his books remain popular. I am constantly encountering fans of his Alvin Fernald books. The premise of his Alvin Fernald stories was that Fernald would use his brain to solve problems and extricate himself from any difficult situation. His sister, known as the “Pest” and his friend Shoie serve as foils. Alvin’s Secret Code exploits the spy theme as Alvin decides to become a secret agent after reading The Great Spies of History in school. Hicks was a fine writer and takes a humorous approach to everything. The boy with “the magnificent brain” lands into trouble when he encounters a message he believes was written by a spy. Alvin’s Secret Code earned a permanent place on my bookshelf, side by side with Codes & Secret Writing by Herbert S. Zim, a 1966 title, also from Scholastic Books. There they reside still, the symbols and ciphers whirling to life out of the rainy mist of long ago Sundays when I penned a secret cipher and sat back to contentedly wait for a response from one of my co-conspirators. The code book is still hidden in the hollow part of the old oak tree in the park. A=5gt, B=u8g, C=ppl8, D=r4, E=2w, F=666, G=kkl97, H=qa, I=vh, J=3u, K=z5t, L=tg4, M=dsa, N=my7, O=6c, P=lb, Q=w9, R=zu, S=7ym, T=19j, U=f8h, V=6r9, W=9gy, X=tf3, Y=k1q, Z=8cx. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Chicago: City on the Make by Nelson Algren

It sounds so bourgeois to say I take my Algren with my morning coffee. From my viewpoint, Algren is synonymous with Carl Sandburg, and even Studs Terkel and Mike Royko, the latter two being authors I met, albeit briefly. I was born in Chicago, raised on the suburban prairie, lived and walked Chicago’s streets, and recall fondly those childhood years of summer in the Windy City. I still live on the prairie, and these days I might cross Chicago’s city limits three or four times a year. Algren’s books came to me during my bohemian 1970s misadventures, and he is still part of my library. I have newer editions and some older paperbacks, vintage Algren, reprinted Algren, and a book of Art Shay’s Algren photographs. Chicago: City on the Make is that type of book that elicits admiring prose from intellectuals, effeminate reviewers, and hackneyed page eleven newspaper writers suffocating in their own egos. I saw copies for sale in the Metro train station bookstore and the O’Hara International Airport kiosk. They market Chicago: City on the Make as “Local Interest” and “Regional History” for tourists from Russia, Japan and that most exotic of locations, Pittsburg. Do they know what they’re reading? Algren is the hard-edged poet of the alleys and side-streets, social critic and political observer with an unflinching habit of telling the truth. Chicago: City on the Make is a prose poem turned essay and marked by historical commentary and a baseball fan’s bleacher seat wisdom. The hustlers and con-men, crooked politicians and semi-literate boxers with more knowledge than a tenured university professor all populate his prose. The title gives it away - City on the Make – and the current crooks in City Hall like to ignore that. Algren’s affection for Chicago is sequestered between unblemished prosody that rises up like a neon sign: “Yet once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” The struggles of the common people, the incessant manipulation of the masses by a broken political system, and the endless dreams of a winning baseball team gone bad (The White Sox) are rendered here with anger, dismay, and perhaps a touch of hope. In Algren’s Chicago “Every day is D-day under the El.” Chicago: City on the Make is punctuated by elegiac moments, as bright as anything Carl Sandburg penned. In fact, the first edition of Chicago: City on the Make was dedicated to Sandburg. This slender volume is a raw, conversational treatise on a city and its people that Algren loved but refused to view through rose-tinted glasses. Also recommended are Algren’s Never Come Morning, The Neon Wilderness, A Walk on the Wild Side, The Man with the Golden Arm, and The Devil’s Stocking.