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August 21st, 2014

Fool’s Assassin Review Followed by an Essay on Gender Fluidity in the Realm of the Elderlings

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags: , ,

I just finished Robin Hobb’s latest book, Fool’s Assassin. I’m going to review it but I’ll warn you when I enter spoiler territory. This book begins a third trilogy starring her beloved duo, Fitz and the Fool. I’ve been a big fan of these two since I first read the Farseer trilogy in the late 90’s. Strangely, however, this will be the first time that I’ll have to wait to read the installments in a Robin Hobb trilogy. I didn’t started any of her previous series until they were complete. It’s going to be a difficult wait. Fortunately Robin Hobb has been steadily finishing about book a year for a couple decades now.

Royal Assassin cover by Michael Whelan
Michael Whelan’s cover for Royal Assassin, the second book starring Fitz.

The pacing of Fool’s Assassin accelerates exponentially. Years pass by at the beginning as we gradually get reintroduced to aging characters and meet new ones. There are a few surprises but 78% percent of the book is slow but powerful emotional arcs. By now, these characters are my old friends, so I enjoyed it immensely. Robin Hobb excels at using first person POV to make her readers deeply invested in the strong feelings of her characters. Incrementally getting to understand the hopes and fears of a middle-aged Fitz and his loved ones makes it all the more excruciating when long-simmering background plots violently flood their lives. The last three chapters of Fool’s Assassin devastated me. While cliffhangers are exciting and send me to forums and on rereads to speculate on what could happen next, they can be cheap thrills. After reading all of Robin Hobb’s published books, I think that endings are one of her weaknesses. The only one that truly satisfied me is the ending to the Tawny Man trilogy.

When I heard that Fool’s Assassin was coming out, I decided to completely read through the interconnected trilogies and quadrilogies of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings (RotE) mythos. These series focus on different protagonists and regions on the same fantasy continent, switching between first-person and limited third-person POV. Previously, I had only read the books starring Fitz and the Fool, but at the recommendation of friends, I decided to read the others as well, and I’m glad I did.

One uncommon aspect of the RotE is that some characters have fluid genders. Fantasy is all-too often a traditional genre that tells repetitive stories in iterative settings. Because the tropes are so well worn and the genre often relies on the authority of kings and other patriarchs, characters that don’t fall into predefined gender roles and threaten that masculine order are often seen as enemies. An example from one of fantasy’s headwaters, myth, is Loki. Loki is the brother of Thor but also shapeshifts into a mare and gives birth to an eight-legged horse. Ze presents as both a man and a woman. Like Loki’s sex, his allegiance to the Aesir is in flux – sometimes ze helps them but sometimes ze thwarts, deceives, and kills them.

Loki's Children by Willy Pogany
Some of Loki’s other children by Willy Pogany. Here’s a family tree for Loki that shows how he switches between mother and father.

I’m going to reveal some spoilers for Robin Hobb and Robert Jordan books from here on out, including Fool’s Assassin in my final paragraph. (more…)

August 12th, 2014

9 Rules for my Comics

Filed under: Comics Criticism,Manifestos

Skew is up to page 55 on Study Group and I’ve got a pretty good buffer built up. I set Skew up so that I could crank out the pages quickly in the limited studio time that I have now that I’m a father. One page per panel, three colors that mix for a total of seven colors plus white. I always try to make things easier for myself by creating rules and layouts for a project before I began.

Skew spoiler
Skew spoiler. You can see the layers that I reuse for every page.

I decided to generalize my comics-making rules, if any of y’all are curious:

  1. Don’t proscribe. These rules only apply to my current comics project. I’m not trying to delineate absolute or universal rules for anyone else’s comics practice (including my future self).
  2. Decide on the parameters of a comic before I begin (size, colors, number of panels).
  3. Start each page with the same grid, which can be modified (for example, two panels combined into one) but can’t be supplanted (an eight-panel page when all previous are six).

Vortex template
Vortex template. I keep the horizontal and vertical panel lines in separate layers so that I can easily delete them to combine panels.

  1. Draw on the computer. I want hard-edged bitmaps. I want to control whether each pixel is black or white. Plus, drawing on a computer is much faster because it cuts out scanning. The final comic is the art object, not the original page.
  2. Draw with an expressively wavy line and turn off any line-smoothing effects. Computers can draw perfect straight lines or smooth Wacom-drawn lines for me so I should zoom in on my human imperfections.
  3. Don’t dwell on the past. The trap of drawing on a computer is the infinite malleability. Once a page is finished, keep revisions to a minimum. This rule is the hardest for me to follow but I try to remember the words of Chögyam Trungpa: “First thought, best thought.”

One-page comic template
One-page comic template (originally developed for my Smoke Signal submissions). I drew vertical panel lines that split each row into thirds and a second set of that split each row into fourths.

  1. Don’t outline my plots. The story will come to me as a draw. To outline is to kill the idea by pinning it.
  2. Show what happens as clearly as possible. Keep narration to a minimum. Use as many panels as is necessary to show the beats of an action.
  3. Challenge my subconscious assumptions when designing characters. Even when I’m designing aliens, I unthinkingly default to light skinned and male. Rethink these assumptions.

May 15th, 2014

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags:

Ancillary Justice is an important sf book. The nominations and awards are justified.

I love how Leckie uses pronouns. The main character, One Esk, is from a human culture, the Radch empire, that doesn’t distinguish between genders, so she refers to everyone with feminine pronouns regardless of how they identify. This is a great effect. It makes me very aware of my internal assumptions. Like most white male Americans, when I imagine a character, I default to white and male unless it’s otherwise specified. But this book doesn’t allow it. In addition to the pronouns, there are a few mentions of skin tone – the majority of the Radch empire are people of color.

Although the pronouns are a world-building detail, One Esk’s genderless perspective never becomes central to the plot. This book handles gender in a radical way but it isn’t about gender like Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, to which Ancillary Justice has been contrasted. In most other respects, the Radch empire is your typical tyrannical, imperialistic space opera empire. I’m not sure if that’s a missed opportunity, or if it’s more progressive to depict a society without gender as otherwise the same as any other human society.

The other way that Leckie is innovative in her pronoun usage is that, although this book is written from One Esk’s first-person perspective, One Esk is part of a ship hive mind. Her consciousness is distributed among multiple bodies. In the present time of the story, we only see events from the view of one body, but in the alternating flashback chapters, we get sequences where the I telling us the story jumps from location to location. This POV becomes even more complex because One Esk is just one division of a larger ship consciousness, the Justice of Toren. Fortunately, Leckie handles these transitions smoothly. It’s the pleasant buzz of intentional psychedelia, not a confusing mess.

At first I was a bit disappointed with this book. I read Annalee Newitz’s review, where she compares Ancillary Justice to Iain M Banks’s Culture series. I don’t think that Ancillary Justice is quite at that level. For example, both Surface Detail and Ancillary Justice feature embodied ship consciousnesses as major actors. But Banks’s Falling Outside the Normal Moral Constraints feels less human and more alien to me than Leckie’s Justice of Toren One Esk. Maybe that’s part of Leckie’s point.

The motivations of characters are sometimes opaque. There were sections that I had to re-read, not because of the pronouns, but because I wasn’t sure why a character acted in a certain way. There was payoff when I made it to the end but the journey could’ve been smoother. The key is to this novel is to remember that One Esk is an unreliable narrator.

However, this is Leckie’s debut book. I can definitely see the potential for future books to match Banks’s achievement. We know we’re getting more glimpses of this galaxy since this is the first of a loose trilogy.

As far as comparing Ancillary Justice to the entire Wheel of Time series for this year’s Hugo Awards goes, that’s a tough vote for me. My emotional connection to the Wheel of Time is so strong from years of being a fan and anticipating future volumes that I can’t be objective about it. I can’t make up my mind.

May 1st, 2014

Hyperbroadcasts: New Comics, Upcoming Events, Book Recommendations, and Reviews

Filed under: Admin,Events,Press

I’ve got some updates for y’all:

April 3rd, 2014

Cold Heat Special #10 Debuts this Weekend at MoCCA 2014

Filed under: Events,Print Comics — Tags: , ,

I’ve been honored to write and draw Cold Heat Special #10 with the input of Frank Santoro. Sacred Prism, Ian Harker’s publishing outfit, is debuting the two-color, 5×7″ risograph-printed comic this weekend at MoCCA Fest 2014 in NYC. If you can’t make it to MoCCA, you can preorder the issue. You can also subscribe to all eight comics that Sacred Prism will publish in 2014.

Here’s a photo of an uncut printed page:

Cold Heat Special 10 Print Photo
You can see, clockwise from the upper left, the back cover, front cover, Page 6, and Page 7.

I’m really happy with how the colors are mixing together. I was worried the purple wouldn’t be visible enough against the blue on the back cover… and that pink pops on top of a 25% blue screen! Here’s a Photoshop simulation of a printed page (via multiplied layers):

Cold Heat Special 10 Photoshop Simulation
Page 1, which is also partially visible in the top-right corner of the previous image.

If you’re unfamiliar with Cold Heat, it was a comic book series written by Ben Jones, drawn by Frank Santoro, and published by Picturebox. Frank worked with a bunch of other fabulous cartoonists on the first nine Cold Heat Special issues, which were side quests starring the protagonist, Castle. You can read the first six issues of Cold Heat for free, and order the non-sold-out specials, here. I’ll let y’all know when I have my contributor copies of Cold Heat Special #10 up for sale in my store.

P.S. Two new pages of Skew were posted on Study Group this past Monday.

March 27th, 2014

Read Skew on Study Group

Filed under: Web Comics — Tags: , ,

I’ve started a new serial webcomic, Skew, on Study Group Comics.

Cover for Skew by William Cardini
Click the cover to go to the comic’s page.

A new page for Skew will be posted every Monday. I’ve standardized the pages so that I can draw them quickly because my studio time is haphazard now that I’m a father. Each page is a single panel. I use the same three colors (forming four additional colors by overlapping multiplied layers) for every page. I’ll increase the pages per post if I get a good buffer and studio schedule going.

Skew Page 3

Like Vortex, Skew features the Miizzzard. There’ll be incremental and instantaneous transformations, monster wizard battles, mechs, slime, and journeys through planes physical and meta. I’ve got some fun ideas cooking in my sketchbook so I hope you’ll check back to simmer in the Skew stew. Thanks to Zack Soto for this opportunity.

P.S. My friend and collaborator Josh Burggraf has also started a serial on Study Group, Typhoon 99, starring Floyd, who some of y’all might remember from Shaman Thunder. New chapters of Typhoon 99 will appear fortnightly.

February 27th, 2014

STAPLE! 2014

Filed under: Events — Tags:

Wow this year marks a decade of STAPLE! I was there for the first con at the Moose Lodge. It’s grown a lot! Last year I had some copies of Vortex at a friend’s table and I floated around the con for a couple of hours … but this year I’m splitting a half table with the Rough House Comics folks.

Russell Etchen cover for Rough House Comics 2
Sample of Russell Etchen’s cover for Rough House Comics 2.

I’ll have a stack of prints, including a red/blue anaglyph 3d print with glasses, one copy of Vortex #1, one copy of #2, and plenty of #3 and #4; Future Shock #2, #4, and #5 (edited by Josh Burggraf); Kid Space Heater #2 (by Josh Burggraf); RUB THE BLOOD (edited by Pat Aulisio and Ian Harker); and a few other anthologies that I’ve been in. I hope to see y’all there!

Update: we’ll be at Table 83A in the annex of Marchesa Hall, which is to the left of the lobby.

November 1st, 2013

Austin Zine Fest this Saturday

Filed under: Events — Tags: ,

Hi y’all, I’ll be tabling at the first Austin Zine Fest this Saturday, November 2nd, from noon to 5pm!

2013-11-01

I’ll have copies of Vortex #1, 3, and 4; Tranz #2; and several different prints. Paper Party will at the half table next to me with a bunch of zines and cards, such as the Kramer Sutra.

A painting by Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman from their show Young Sons at MASS Gallery
A painting by Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman from their show Young Sons.

AZF will be at MASS Gallery, which is now in the complex at 507 Calles Street. The current show is Young Sons. It’s a bunch of enormous collaborative paintings by Michael Ricioppo and Drew Liverman, which I highly recommend checking out even if you’re not interested in the zine fest.

October 31st, 2013

Hyperverse Halloween Special

Filed under: Web Comics — Tags:

Happy Halloween

October 1st, 2013

Barbara Hambly’s The Silent Tower and The Silicon Mage

Filed under: SF Reviews — Tags:

The Silent Tower and The Silicon Mage are the first two books in Barbara Hambly’s portal fantasy series The Windrose Chronicles. For those unfamiliar with the term, a portal fantasy involves travel between two realms: our familiar Earth at some point in history and somewhere else, either Faerie, Heaven, Hell, a dreamscape, or another planet entirely. In this series, the two realms are Los Angeles in the 80s and the Empire of Ferryth on another world. In the first two books, it’s never explicitly stated whether the Empire’s planet is another Earth existing in a parallel dimension or a different planet orbiting a different sun altogether; however, both worlds contain human beings that are sufficiently similar for the same magic spells to work on both. What we are told is that our Earth, the Empire’s planet, and stranger worlds filled with utterly alien beings are all connected by the Void. The Void is only accessible by those with sufficiently advanced technology or magic. Out in the Void, there are drifting centers of power. The distance between a world and a power center determines whether or not magic exists.

So, then, we have the Empire’s planet, at the beginnings of an industrial revolution but still filled with some mages, and our Earth at the 80s, at the beginning of the computer revolution. Although mainframes, Fortran, and floppy disc drives were all in use when Hambly wrote these books, they’re now so outdated that 80s LA just seems like another secondary world, one which I’m more familiar with through old movies and clunky CGI than my own experience. As LP Hartley wrote, “the past is a foreign country.”

It’s interesting to compare the worldbuilding of 80s LA and the Empire of Ferryth. They both feel solid. In this portal fantasy, we’re given a POV from each side and, interestingly, we start in the Empire, with Caris. Although at first it seems that we begin at a generic magic school, where Caris has already graduated as a warrior guard to mages, it becomes clear early on that this world is modeled on a very specific point in history, when factories and programmable looms begin to appear in the cities but the majority of the population are still struggling farmers.

Economics seems like a primary inspiration for Hambly. The most vivid part of Joanna’s Los Angeles experience is her job at a defense contractor, programming missile control systems. Although there are no clouds of coal in her world, there’s the gloomy fog of a potential nuclear armageddon. In the Hambly books that I’ve read, these and Dragonsbane, her protagonists are not the typical fantasy women. They’re average or homely rather than beautiful, middle aged rather than teenagers. Joanna is a blonde, curly haired, shy women who’s more comfortable programming systems at 4am than talking to people, constantly staving off the advances of her seemingly oafish boyfriend Gary. It was very easy for me to identify with her and hope for her to succeed because her job is similar to my day job.

I thoroughly enjoy when Joanna applies her programming expertise to magic, breaking down problems into smaller and smaller, and easier to solve, subroutines. But this isn’t the type of magic that you get in a Brandon Sanderson novel. There’s no unified theory of magic for Joanna to discover, just the Dark Mage to trap and Abominations to destroy. I enjoy the clever construction of Sanderson’s magical systems but sometimes I just want to be awed by mysterious beings who can summon lightning from unknown dimensions.

Caris, who you might at first be fooled into thinking is the hero and love interest, is a young, lithe warrior with a perfectly proportioned face who has trouble thinking for himself and craves the clarity of rules from obvious authority figures. In these first two novels, which form one complete story, Caris is cast adrift with Joanna and the wry, mad mage Antryg Windrose. Antryg is an amazingly crafted character. Throughout The Silent Tower, I was never sure of his intentions, but he charmed me as easily as he charms Caris and Joanna.

The kernel of these novels is the relationship between Joanna and Antryg. When I was in high school I got excited about the romantic relationships in books like the Wheel of Time, where horny teenagers fall for each other at their first meeting because they’re fated to but don’t have the healthiest of relationships. Now that I’m older and married, I prefer Hambly’s depiction of a relationship focused on partnership and mutual respect on top of attraction. Joanna and Antryg do have to work out their trust and communication issues, but what relationship is ideal?

There’s one unfortunate aspect of these books that prevents me from whole-heartedly recommending them. There’s one gay character who falls into the trope of decadent, depraved homosexual. Although Joanna sees his good qualities, she still refers to him as a “pervert.” This isn’t central to the book but I can’t blame anyone for finding this an insurmountable obstacle.

I’m going to leave y’all with one of my favorite moments. It’s a great example of Hambly’s all-too-realistic focus on economics but is a bit spoilery. In The Silicon Mage, Antryg and Joanna encounter a much hyped-up evil, an intelligent Abomination from another dimension. When they encounter the demon in its gorey lair, they discover that it’s not some fearsome hellspawn intent on devouring souls, but a low-level office worker who’s trapped in a world he doesn’t understand, trying to communicate the only way he can: through a body composed of human corpses. Even more humorously, he’s an technician like Joanna; only instead of computer systems, he works with xchi particles.

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