Review: A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King Touchstone, 2013

The superhero novel is something that’s relatively new or, at the very least, a rather specific sub-genre of the greater speculative fiction world. Tom King’s A Once Crowded Sky is a meta-fictional superhero novel. It’s an original tale but one that plays within and with the conventions and tropes of the comic book world. As a result King’s novel will likely be a bit obtuse for readers who aren’t well versed in the tropes and in-jokes of the comic book world. Indeed, one of the novel the novel’s primary themes and oft-repeated phrases that heroes “always come back” is one of the biggest and most well-known tropes of the comic book world. There have been numerous real-life comic books that have addressed, avoided, lamp-shaded, acknowledged this trope.  A Once Crowded Sky tackles the effects from the death of heroes and massive change enacted by the many large crossovers that occur in the comic book world and examines them in greater detail.

While King’s novel is enhanced by illustrations from Tom Fowler (Venom, Quantum and Woody) it is a story primarily told through text rather than image. There is a part of me that wonders why A Once Crowded Sky wasn’t written as an original graphic novel. However, while there are many scenes that could be beautifully conveyed through art (and Fowler would certainly have chops to convey it) the novel’s heavy focus on the interior lives of its heroes, and the need to quickly construct a familiar yet unique comic book world, is well served via prose rather than sequential art. The novel opens in the fictional city of Arcadia where all the superheroes have given up their powers to the world’s greatest superhero Ultimate so that he could defeat the mysterious threat known only as the Blue.  The only hero that refused the call to action was Ultimate’s former sidekick PenUltimate who has retired from the superhero life. Now, as Arcadia’s only hero Pen finds the call back to action growing ever louder.

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Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes Mulholland Books, 2013

Lauren Beukes’ The Shining Girls is a novel that combines the approach-ability of the mainstream novel with the complexity of time travel creating something rather unique. Opening with a chilling prologue detailing the first confrontation between our protagonist and our antagonist the novel quickly segues into what feels like a straightforward chase scene during the Great Depression. It is during this opening scene in which Harper Curtis stumbles upon the house that will change his life, a house that allows him to open the door onto just about any time and a house the contains links to the titular Shining Girls. The novel bumps back and forth between time and perspective detailing the Harper’s escapades across time, the lives of his Shining Girls, and experiences of Kirby as she embarks upon a quest to find the man who tried to kill her.

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Review: Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton
Del Rey, 2013

Great North Road, a monstrous door-stopping novel by sci-fi veteran Peter F. Hamilton, was a book that took me some considerable time to actually finish. Great North Road is a novel with a lot of moving parts and with something of an identity crisis in terms of how it approaches its story. The story opens with the discovery of a murdered North clone (the North’s are a powerful business family of clones who dominate with both science and industry) which, in addition to being a big deal given the political clout of the North, also bears a troubling resemblance to a slew of murders which occurred on the distant world of St. Libra; murders supposedly committed by an unidentified alien creature who has not been seen since. Things spiral out from the kernel of the murder investigation to encompass a military expedition to St. Libra.

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