Monday, December 30, 2019

Book Review: The Iron Dragon's Daughter

Book Review: 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter' by Michael Swanwick

3 / 5 Stars

'The Iron Dragon's Daughter' first was published in hardcover in the UK in 1993; this mass market paperback edition (424 pp) was released in April 1995 by Avon / Nova. The cover illustration is by Dorian Vallejo.

I remember reading this book back upon its release in 1995 and thinking that despite its flaws it was something new in the field of sci-fi publishing: a novel that took the tropes of traditional fantasy literature and gave them a cyberpunk sensibility. 

In fact, Swanwick's book can arguably be regarded as the progenitor of the genre of 'steam fantasy'. Before there was China Mieville and Perdido Street Station (2000), before there was Alan Campbell and Scar Night (2006), or Tim Lebbon and Dusk (2006), or most of the current catalog of publisher Angry Robot books, there was Swanwick opening the way with 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter'.

The novel doesn't provide much in the way of a preamble, leaving it to the reader to infer from the narrative that our heroine, Jane Atterbury, is a changeling; that is, a mortal child who, as an infant, was secretly exchanged with a fairy or goblin duplicate, and thus is doomed to grow up in the Fairy World.

Jane labors with other orphans in an arms factory where life is nasty, brutal, and short. These opening passages are among the best in the book at creating a convincing world where the creatures of fantasy, such as elves, goblins, ghosts, dwarves, and dragons, all exist within a modernized, 'industrial' version of Fairyland. 

Jane learns that as a human, she has powers otherwise absent in the other denizens of this world; these powers attract the attention of Melanchthon, the dragon of the book's title. 

The dragons of this world serve much as do the ultra-sophisticated fighter jets of 'our' world. Formerly a cutting-edge combat model designed for stealth operations, Melanchthon has managed to secrete himself on the grounds of the factory and thus avoid being dismantled and melted down for scrap. But time is running out for Melanchthon, and his one chance at escape is to persuade the changeling child to be his pilot.

With nothing to lose, Jane agrees to cooperate with the dragon. But little does she know that the world outside the confines of the factory has its own dangers and temptations......but also the path by which she can find her way back to the world in which she was born........

While 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter' certainly deserves kudos for bringing something new and imaginative to the fantasy / sci-fi genres, as a novel, it suffers too much from a meandering, indolent approach to plotting. After the first few chapters, the dragon of the title is consigned to an off-stage role, only returning in the closing chapter. In between, author Swanwick spends a great deal of time recounting the various melodramas and social intrigues within which Jane is obliged to operate, en route to discovering a way to transport herself back to her own world.

After patiently working through these ancillary plot developments, I found the novel's denouement - which rushes to tie things together via the introduction of a flurry of 'cosmic' events - to have a contrived quality. 

Summing up, 'The Iron Dragon's Daughter' deserves notice more for how it expanded the fantasy genre, than its intrinsic value as an entertaining novel. 

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Tower King episodes 20 - 24

The Tower King
episodes 19 - 24 (finale)
Alan Hebden (writer)
Jose Ortiz (artist)
Eagle (UK) 1982

These are the final chapters of the series, which ended with Chapter 24, in issue 24, of the new Eagle, September 4, 1982.

episodes 1 - 3 are here.
episodes 4 - 6 are here.
episodes 7 - 9 are here.
episodes 10 - 14 are here.

episodes 15 - 18 are here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Book Review: A Matter for Men

Book Review: 'A Matter for Men', by David Gerrold
Book One of 'The War Against the Chtorr'
0 / 5 Stars

‘A Matter for Men’ first was published in paperback in 1983 under the Timescape imprint; this version (368 pp) was issued by Pocket Books in July 1984. Boris Vallejo provided the cover art.

[The word ‘Chtorr’ is pronounced Kuh-TORR]

‘Matter’ is the first volume in ‘The War Against the Chtorr’ series, which, as of the end of 2019, consisted of ‘A Day for Damnation’ (1984), ‘A Rage for Revenge’ (1989), and ‘A Season for Slaughter’ (1993).

I remember seeing ‘Matter’ on the bookstore shelves in the early 80s and passing on it with the awareness that David Gerrold’s novels could be good……….or bad.

And ‘Matter’ is bad. 

The premise is worthy enough: the novel is set in the early 21st century, after a series of plagues has decimated the Earth’s population and left the U.S. with very little of its former status as a world power. Barely has civilization had a chance to restart when a new threat arises: a slow-motion invasion of alien species, one of which is a race of bug-eyed monsters known as the Chtorr. 

Jim McCarthy is a young soldier in the United States Armed Services, Special Forces Operation, Exobiologist. As the novel opens he is a member of a team assigned to destroy a Chtorran nest in the wilderness of Colorado. There he learns firsthand of the danger the aliens pose to mankind.

Subsequent events lead McCarthy to the High Command center in Denver, where he finds himself – against his will – drawn into an unfolding series of intrigues and conspiracies, directed by agents unknown. And unless Jim McCarthy can figure out who his real allies are, he’s going to find that he is just another expendable grunt…….. in a war that the U.S. is coming ominously close to losing…………

Why is ‘Matter’ a dud ?

Well, for one thing, actual combat with the Chtorr takes up only about 30 of the book’s 368 pages. The remaining text is laboriously devoted to all manner of exposition, with the life-or-death struggle against the aliens reduced to the backstory.

The reader is going to find himself or herself plodding through successive segments of empty dialogue……….internal monologues designed to reveal lead character McCarthy’s self-doubts and torments……cryptic visits from a cast of operatives who watch from the shadows…flashbacks to role-playing in a Poly Sci class (?!) taught by a grizzled veteran named Whitlaw…….and even, in a particularly turgid chapter, a session of psychoanalysis ?!

To give you a sense of what ‘Matter’ is all about, here’s an excerpt:


Did I think like a duck ? Was that it ? Did I keep on doing ducklike things because I didn’t know how to do anything else ? Was it that obvious to the people around me ?

Maybe I should stop being me for a while and start being someone else – someone who didn’t have so much trouble being me.

I wasn’t hungry anymore. I got up, took my tray to the bus window and left the commissary.

I wondered if I walked funny. I mean, I was short and a little pudgy around the bottom. Did I look like a duck ? Maybe I could learn to walk differently – if I stood a little taller and carried my weight in my chest instead of in my gut – “Oof ! I’m sorry.” I had been so busy walking, I hadn’t been looking and had plowed straight into a young woman. Quack. Old synapses never die, they just fire away. “I’m really sorry  - oh!”

Yep, Earth is in deadly danger, and our hero is preoccupied with the psychological impact of a past taunt that he is a duck………?!

I finished ‘Matter’ confident that I am not going to spend any time with the remaining volumes in the series. Take my advice and avoid ‘The War Against the Chtorr’.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dune Marvel Super Special Part Two

written by Ralph Macchio
illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz
Part Two
from Marvel Super Special No. 36, 1984