Review: The Throne of Fire, by Rick Riordan

The Throne of Fire

Rick Riordan

“Look, we don’t have time for long introductions. I need to tell this story quickly, or we’re all going to die.”

With this sentence, a story is told by siblings Carter and Sadie Kane, who were born of the powerful Kane family. They work to save the world from Apophis, the Egyptian God of Chaos. In order to do this, they seek to restore Ra, the pharaoh of the Gods, to his rightful place as Sun King. In order to do this, they travel across 3 continents, the Duat, the land between worlds. They battle gods, magicians, demons, and even Katrina the camel, who is a natural disaster. They struggle to come to grips with themselves, the gods, other magicians, their question, and relationships.

I’ve been amazed at the sarcasm, the snide remarks of a brother/sister, and the numerous hilarious references put in place. If you like the quote at the beginning of the  article, you are sure to find more to entertain you. I won’t ruin the book by giving you too many more, but the humor of the book certainly helped to lift up some of the darker moments in the book.

This book is a nice, easy read, comparable in complexity to books like the early Harry Potter books. It is equally suitable for adults. It is a very gripping tale, which I am slowly coming to regard as one of my favorite series, even topping the Percy Jackson series previously published.

This book is also somewhat educational, as all artifacts and places are real, and all myths, gods, and related stories are solidly based in Egyptian lore. It has helped me to learn much about the Egyptian gods, from learning more about Ra, to learning of the existence of Gods like Bast and Des.

I do recommend that one first reads The Red Pyramid, as it covers much back story that one would miss if they jumped directly to this book. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of fiction which takes the ancient world and plays with it today, and in general, for anyone who wishes to find a good book to read.

Comic Recommendation: Y: The Last Man

All comic books are tights and fights. That seems to be the immediate assumption people make when they think about the medium. To be fair, the artform’s biggest celebrities (Superman, Spider-Man, Batman) all wear spandex while  purposefully throwing their fists into faces. And when a movie not based on superhero comics is released, there always seems to be a level of shock or surprise when the film’s secret origin is revealed (usually the question “Ghost World/Redemption Road/From Hell was a comic?” followed by a brain cave-in). The truth is, comic books are a means of expressing a story and are not confined to the superhero genre. So to those of you reading this who snicker at trailers for films starring grown men wearing bodysuits made of an incomprehensible mix of spandex, leather and rubber, I give you…Y: The Last Man.

Yorick Brown and Ampersand, as illustrated by cover artist J.G. Jones

The series takes place in the aftermath of a mysterious plague that kills everything with a Y chromosome…except 22-year old amateur escape artist Yorick Brown and his male Capuchin helper monkey, Ampersand. Yes, post-apocalyptic settings and population-destroying plagues are nothing new to science fiction, but that doesn’t mean that Y: The Last Man lacks originality. The complexity of the characters and their continued growth as well as recurring themes and an intricate narrative make this a completely thrilling read. The voice of this series, which mixes political thriller elements with irreverent humor (via Yorick),  is so unique that it makes you forget that you have previously read similar tales.

Throughout its 60 issues, writer Brian K. Vaughan weaves a narrative that hops around the globe as much as it does the story’s own timeline. Events unfold chronologically for the most part, but Vaughan intercuts the expertly paced plot with Rashomon-style point-of-view shifts that show you where the different characters were when the plague hit. This nonlinear approach is key to maintaining suspense as the protagonists slowly start to uncover clues about what caused the plague and Yorick and Ampersand’s immunity.

Gender politics probably top the list of Things That Will Never Be Discussed In Comics for many science fiction fans, but Y: The Last Man tackles issues head on. Vaughan uses the setting of a world populated almost exclusively by X chromosomes to make gender equality, sexuality, feminism and women’s historical importance seamless parts of the story. None of these Very Special Topics, which could easily feel lecture-y, feel out of place thanks to Vaughan’s thought-out approach. It’s also of note that the series features a remarkably strong cast of women, all of whom fight off the stereotype that many of the big-buxomed and scantily clad super heroines perpetuate. A few of these women are:

  • Agent 355, who is Yorick’s bodyguard on his continent-spanning journey and a member of a mysterious government agency whose origin dates back to the Revolutionary War
  • Dr. Allison Mann, an expert geneticist whose recent breakthroughs in human cloning prove to be important in a world with no men
  • Hero Brown, Yorick’s older sister and former paramedic
Dr. Allison Mann and Agent 355, as illustrated by series artist Pia Guerra

While the global ramifications caused by the death of every male are interesting in their own right, action fans need not fret. The mix of drama and explosions, chases, espionage and intrigue will satisfy anyone who enjoys shows like “Lost” or “Battlestar Galactica.” The world of Y: The Last Man is dangerous and the series truly pulls no punches.You will root for characters who are constantly in peril. Be prepared.

Everything I’ve written so far pertains to the writing, which would be worthless if it wasn’t being illustrated by a true top-notch talent able to convey subtle emotions and complex action sequences. Series co-creator Pia Guerra is just that; she’s top-notch. Her art isn’t overly flashy or stylized. Her people look and move like proportional people. But as a series that is set on portraying what would really happen in the event of a gendercide, Guerra’s art is perfect. It sells the elements that might push probability by portraying them in a grounded fashion, and also makes the intensity of the story hit that much harder because of how familiar it all feels. Her art is so essential to the story that the handful of substitute artists the series employed match up fairly seamlessly with Guerra’s artistic vision.

If you are a fan of science fiction but have yet to take the dive into comic books, then Y: The Last Man is the comic your diving board. It’s an excellent example of the artistic heights that the medium can achieve, as well as a phenomenal serialized story that, in my opinion, nails the landing. Don’t believe me? Check it out. I just finished this series a few days ago and I’m dying to talk to someone about it.

Interview: Jason Snell, host of The Incomparable SF&F Podcast

The Incomparable Podcast logoI came home from Renovation with some sort of Convention Crud™ which laid me low for about a week. so I’m just getting to the wrap-up posts I promised right at the end of the con. First up is my audio interview with Jason Snell, host of the excellent Science Fiction and Fantasy podcast, The Incomparable.

The Incomparable has been around for about a year as I post this, and it covers a wide range of SF&F, including books, movies, TV shows, comics, and just about anything else that relates to the genre. I interviewed Jason at Renovation on August 19, 2011, in one of the panel rooms between sessions.

Here is the interview; it’s 7:16 in length.

 

If you’re on an iOS device or otherwise can’t use the Flash player, you can also find the interview here.

What has a love of science-fiction done for me?

Some time ago, in the first chaotic weeks of http://scifi.stackexchange.com, I had a question that I considered asking, but I never did, due to my realization that it wasn’t a great fit for Stack Exchange. I’m now going to post my personal answer to that question here, as this seems like a more appropriate area for discussion. If you don’t want to read my life history, or just get bored, please at least read the last paragraph!

Ever since I was young, I remember reading about space and books about space, and being absolutely fascinated. At the time, I wanted to be an astronaut, to go into space, and make a difference. I read books, many of which I can’t even remember the names of now, and watched TV shows like Star Trek, and thought, “man, would that be awesome or what!”

I realized that in order to even be considered to do such things, I needed to learn more. I started reading sites like Space.com, and added dramatically to my sci-fi reading. I started to realize I needed to excel, which encouraged me to learn as much as I could, especially about science, math, and eventually engineering.

Unfortunate to my astronaut dreams, I learned that I would have to be in tremendous shape. While I’ve always intellectually stretched myself, I’ve never been good at physically stretching myself. So, I decided, what would be the next best thing? To build something that would go into space, of course!

This decision lead me to look for schools that were building satellites as students. I eventually found out about the Space Grant program at the University of Arizona, and decided to go there. For complicated reasons, I never did get into the Space Grant program, but I did find the existence of a student satellite program, building something called CubeSats.

A Cubesat is a 10 cm cube shaped satellite, weighing 1 kg. Yes, that’s extremely tiny, but how big of a satellite do you think that students could launch anyways? I joined the effort quite late, and ended up on the Ground Station team. I was hooked. I learned from my time at this project how to complete a project, how to define requirements, and many other skills that would help me later. We built 2 satellites, named Rincon and SACRED, which we attempted to launch. I’ve included a small picture of one of them, SACRED. The satellite would have solar cells on all 6 faces eventually, but it lets you kind of see what they look like.

On July 26, 2006, I would learn new lessons from this program. Both of these satellites were in a Russian Rocket, the DNEPR, preparing to launch. Well, the launch ended up being a disaster, as is currently discussed in Wikipedia. So, I learned that day how to handle disappointment, and how to do so in a room full of press.

Luckily, my path continued forward. In March of that year, I was in a similar high stress environment. A spacecraft was about to enter Mars Orbit, known as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Some of you out there might ask, why did I care? Well, a few weeks previously, largely owing to my space excitement from sci-fi reading, and my work with Cubesats, I was offered a job working as a student programmer on this mission, but contingent on just one thing: the program wouldn’t have money to pay us if the spacecraft didn’t orbit Mars. I waited with bated breath in the same room that I would wait 4 months later to see if our satellites would orbit, but this time, waiting to find out if a spacecraft I never touched would orbit a distant world, with a job contingent on the success of the mission, which I had nothing to do with. Luckily for me, and all of us space enthusiasts, the Mars Orbital Insertion was successful, and I could start my job. During my time there, I was able to learn programming constructs that I could carry to a full time job.

The knowledge I gained from both of these student jobs would help me to get my current job, where I am a simulation developer for a defense contractor, helping to defend our nation. I have no doubt that it will continue to help me achieve great things. I still have some time to decide, but I owe much of it to my love of science fiction, which encouraged me to follow a dream.

So, what does all of this have to do with you? I don’t know what your personal stories are. Maybe your love of science fiction has changed you, or maybe it’s only something you wonder. I encourage all of you to do something to help achieve the world of science fiction, so that it can be a reality. Many current technologies we have were first predicted by science fiction authors, who might have inspired the very people who created the real products later. Many mission controllers at NASA, or big executives of space decisions, or even common electronics like cell phones, have all come about as a result of science fiction. So, please encourage children to read science fiction, or watch it. Our world will be a better place because of it.

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