Brightness Falls From The Air

James Tiptree Jr.

Brightness Falls From The Air

Review by Kris

Like most readers, I am a big fan of Tiptree’s short fiction but had not read any of her novels. These do not have a strong reputation but, I feel, in this case at least that they deserve a second look.

To compare them to the genius of her short stories is decidedly unfair when talking of one of the greatest short story writers of the 20th Century. That is not to say it is a novel without problems, but it is one of the most imaginative.


Setting up the world we get the standard science fiction protagonist of Kip and Cory, the captain and their partner (albeit with a gender switch from the standard dynamic). However we are soon introduced to a vast array of disparate people who reflect the fascinating ideas of this Galactic Future:. We have a “light sculptor” who is not all he seems; we have an “Aquaman”, a genetically engineered gilled human the other seem to treat with a degree of awe; the equivalent of acting celebrities are soft porn actors; we even have a prince whose actual name is Prince but also is referred to as Superboy (in a relationship which I won’t go into); and then there are the faery like natives of the world Dameii who are central to the tale. The whole first half of the book is like a gorgeous painting described in bright colourful hues. In each word another element of the world we are creating is built until we have a composition like Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

Georges Seurat La Grand Jatte

Georges Seurat [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

However, like a painting or a tableau I don’t think it is made to be in motion. Once the nova hits it is meant to switch into a dark thriller. There are many interesting ideas about identity and genocide but these are written in a very clichéd manner, like something closer to the pulp novels of old. A good comparison for the book, both in terms of plot and feel, is the Doctor Who episode, The End of the World. There we are introduced to a wide array of aliens which show how obsessed with money, beauty and purity many people in the future still are. Yet they do so little after this introduction that could not be placed in any other story for the most simple of motivations. Take the Moxx of Balhoon:

The Moxx of Balhoon

Image Credit: bbc.co.uk
Brightness Falls From The Air

who was promoted widely and had action figures made as if he would be the next big thing in this rebooted version of the show, yet all he really does is spit on someone. 

Further, the world-building in many ways makes it more confusing. For example, most of the character have multiple names which are relevant as they show different traits and interrelations between the characters. Yet when you have a character called “Prince”, “Pao”, “Prince Pao, “Prince-Prince Pao” and “Superboy”, it is hard to be exchanged in an action sequence when I have to flick back to the appendix to remind myself who exactly is referring to whom.

And yet, there is something fascinating in watching this art being build up and then torn apart. We would assume at the start this may be some hippy utopian society with all these different people living in harmony and art allowed to be as free as possible without censorship. Then we discover the dark secrets at the heart of all these people and it results in many that did not deserve it suffering.

I would not recommend this as a showcase of the best of Tiptree’s work but as another side of a master of their craft or if you enjoy complicated character pieces it is definitely worth checking out.

Constantine: The Hellblazer Vol. 1


Ming Doyle, James Tyrion IV, Riley Rossmo, Chris Visions, Scott Kowalchuk, Ivan Plascencia and Lee Loughridge

 

Review by Kris

Image credit: Goodreads


A brief history first. John Constantine was created during Moore, Bissette and Totleben’s Swamp Thing run in 1985 and soon got his own ongoing series- Hellblazer- which ran for 300 issues. This was a fan favourite and has been critically acclaimed throughout most of its run.

However, following the New 52 relaunch, Constantine joined the new team book Justice League Dark. Whilst Hellblazer continued, initially DC made the decision to cancel the sub-10k order book in 2013 and launch a new story with the New 52 Constantine. Whilst initially successful there was a lot of backlash and sales figures quickly tumbled to similar levels to Hellblazer, meaning it was cancelled just 2 years later. At the same time, the shortlived Constantine TV series had increased some public curiosity in the character so simply putting him on the shelf would have been an illogical choice.

So Tyrion and Doyle’s new book Constantine: The Hellblazer had to try to both bring it back closer to the style of the old Hellblazer days and draw in the interest of the TV crowd. How far do they succeed?

One of the biggest criticisms of the Constantine title is that it all looked too bright and John was far too nice. The opening preview issues attempts to instantly dispel that he lets a young woman get torn apart by demons as a result of deal she made and declares that he’s not a superhero. However, with the exception of the opening and closing issues (which are more of a loose setup of concept) the story is largely about Constantine’s own past catching up to him. So as the story goes on he is not the total bastard either, being torn up by regret and wanting to right the wrongs he has caused. This creates a halfway house which I personally find interesting enough but it does little to distinguish him from a lot of other broody superheroes.

The story also injects copious amounts of violence and sex but whilst I think it would be going too far to declare this juvenile, their introduction seems to be more set-dressing than providing us with a real advancement of Constantine’s character or the mystery. In fact I feel you could easily have ejected all the panels of John naked and it would not have seemed significantly different.

The artwork itself is a much more successful overhaul of tone with all of them giving John’s world a murky and unreal sense. The feeling is like when you pull up a rock and an army of insects run out from under a rock, only this time under the cities unspeakable horrors lurk. The layout is also constantly changing and messy, with many panels intentionally overlaying others, further unnerving us and continuing the promotion of his world as more unknowable and chaotic.

I do have a couple of criticism of the art choices however. Firstly, Rossmo’s facial expressions look too posed for my liking, in many scenes they look less like people are more like dolls in a stock motion film. Whilst this could be argued this creates a sense of the uncanny, to me it just made them seem inanimate and would take me outside of the story flow. As a positive aside the story flow is magnificent throughout and full props to everyone for using the layout, art and storytelling to create a strong pace.

My second criticism is the inconsistency of the art. Now I know this is not to be helped as artist often need to change and doing so in the transition of scene does help to make this interesting. However, my real issue is with Constantine’s proportions. In issues 1-2 and 5-6 John is a complete stick and this fits his character well. However, in issues 3-4 he is as built like a weightlifter and it genuinely confused me who I was looking at first.

On to the final question, how much of a good jumping on piece is this for TV fans? Well it may just be because the TV version was the last time I encountered him but he seems to me to inhabit Ryan’s persona much more than the last two comic book variations. It also provides a good deal of background to the character so you will not be lost at the amount of flashbacks that are taking place. But yet few of trappings are there that a fan might hope to encounter, we get one reference to Papa Midnight and some short scenes of Gaz’s ghosts but otherwise we have a new supporting cast of Oliver, Veronica Delacroix and Georgina Snow. As of these first few issues none of them particularly stand out and are largely confined to stand tropes of supporting comic book cast everywhere.

For me, this is not a series I will need to start rushing out to buy in single issues but will happily check out a new trade every once in a while. But will it succeed in surviving for another 300 issues? Hell only knows.

Welcome to Cloaked Creators

by Nisha


Hello everyone! Welcome to our new literary blog, specifically aimed at reviewing, analysing and celebrating sci-fi and fantasy work by female and non-binary authors.

Often, when this particular genre comes up, it’s generally believed that almost all the contributors and consumers are men. There are many women out there who prove that is simply not the case, myself included.

Not to plug myself here, but I am a fantasy author. I am currently working on a YA fiction series called Anamchara- if you want, you can find me on Goodreads and buy on Amazon. But that’s not what I’m here to write about. Mostly.


Women often get sidelined in sci-fi and fantasy. Growing up, it was always seen as a "boy’s thing". If you were a girl and liked the genre, then you must also be some sort of tomboy or just faking it to get the attention of boys. This, of course, completely ignores books and TV shows that have female leads or are written by women/non-binary people, which are enjoyed by people of all genders. It’s not just a Boy Thing.


Of course, I am only the co-founder here. The other half of this website is my other half, Kris. I’ll be the first to admit that he (thanks to a daily commute and a longer attention span) reads a lot more than I do and was the first to suggest that this blog become a reality. Between us, we get a lot of reading done- whether it’s short stories, graphic novels or novels- and we have a lot of thoughts that we want to get out there.

Currently, the only one who hears our thoughts on books in depth is our cat. She doesn’t really seem that bothered unless we also happen to be rubbing her belly and telling her how pretty she is (and she really is pretty).

 


Anyway, we really hope you enjoy our discussions and that they inspire you to read from these authors and make some explorations of your own.


Happy reading!