Lady With An Alien, by Mike Resnick (Watson-Guptill Publications, 2005)

Legendary genius and the original (and literal) Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, struggles with a painting commissioned by his current patron, the Regent of Milan. The problem is, the subject of the painting is an empty-headed, vacuous woman whose only virtue is her status as the Regent’s mistress, and her cat (who absolutely has to be in the painting) is uncooperative. Leonardo resents the time wasted on this project, so when a strange mystery in the form of an alien creature wanders into his life, he leaps at the chance to turn his attentions to a new topic. But the creature, which is unlike anything ever seen on Earth before, is not alone; its owner, a young man from the far future soon comes to claim it, and Leonardo convinces this boy, Mario by name, to stay for a while as his guest. Now playing host to a time-traveler and an alien, Leonardo is overjoyed, finally having intellectual challenges to fuel his curiosity. Determined to capture the look of his alien visitor for posterity, he makes some changes to his current painting-in-progress, replacing cat with alien.

The days to follow are full of fascinating discussions between Leonardo and Mario, as they compare aspects of the past and future, with Mario bound to silence on a great many subjects (so as not to change history) and Leonardo forever trying to puzzle out the future (and his ultimate impact on history). The two become unlikely friends, with Mario meeting some of the greatest minds and men of Leonardo’s era, and Leonardo himself getting some idea of his place in the centuries to come. And the painting that he creates as a result of this encounter will help to cement his reputation as an artistic genius for all time.

Lady with an Alien is part of Watson-Guptill’s line of historical fiction books aimed at introducing young readers to the works and styles of various great painters. As such, the book is short (a little) on plot, and long on talking heads, exposition, and dialogue, as Leonardo and Mario exchange ideas and explore da Vinci’s world. It’s really quite well-done, educational and interesting without dragging, and it’s fun to watch Leonardo try to outsmart (and continually be stymied by) Mario in predicting the future. And of course, examining the particular genius of da Vinci has its own value. As an added bonus, there’s a brief essay on da Vinci, a timeline, and reproductions of various sketches in the back. I greatly enjoyed this book, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to those interested in Leonardo da Vinci and his unique style.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2006

Millenium 3001, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis (DAW, 2006)

A thousand years from now, the world will undoubtedly be a very different place, possibly even completely unrecognizable. Despite this, fourteen authors have taken it upon themselves to try and depict an Earth of the far future. Will humanity even exist as we know it? The answers are sure to fascinate. John Helfers starts the collection off with “Afterward,” which reads like an obituary to a race destroyed by a massive catastrophe. His lovingly detailed description of a world slowly reclaiming itself over the centuries is powerful and memorable.

Kevin J. Anderson speculates that even in the far future, there’ll be people wanting to Get Away From It All, such as in this tale of backpackers on an alien planet, in “Landscapes.” Brian Stableford turns in a story of genetic experimentation and desire with “Dr. Prospero and the Snake Lady.” Dean Wesley Smith’s “Nostalgia 101″ teaches those blessed with an extraordinarily long lifespan that it’s better to look to the future, rather than dwell in the past.

Sarah Hoyt’s “Go Tell The Spartans” examines the potential role of women once humanity’s ready to spread across the universe, and asks the question: What will we leave behind to make the journey? Mickey Zucker Reichart looks at conflict in the far future in “In His Own Image.” “Bitter Quest,” by Jim Fiscus, looks at a world where humanity has actually regressed after a series of plagues.

With other stories by Jack Williamson, Allen Steele, Robert Metzger, George Zebrowski and more, this collection brings together some of science fiction’s best visionaries for some thought-provoking results. One thing is for certain: wherever, whatever, we are in a thousand year’s time, it’ll be as interesting as these stories conjecture.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2006

Novel Ideas: Fantasy/Novel Ideas: Science Fiction, edited by Brian Thomsen (DAW, 2006)

These two books are best looked at as a pair, since they look at the two sides of the same coin. Every so often, it seems, a story or novella comes along which is just so good, so powerful, or so brimming with potential that it deserves to be expanded into something greater. Thus, an award-winning story becomes the seed for a full novel, or even an entire series. Brian Thomsen’s collected some of these early masterworks and, in all cases but one, he has gotten the authors to contribute commentary on how each one of these stories evolved later on. (The Gordon Dickson story is accompanied by an introduction by the editor.)

In the Fantasy volume, we thus run into Gordon R. Dickson’s “St. Dragon and the George,” Suzy McKee Charnas’ “Unicorn Tapestry,” Katherine Kurtz’s “The Gargoyle’s Shadow,” Lynn Abbey’s “Jerlayne,” Robert Silverberg’s “Gilgamesh in the Outback,” James Ward’s “Midshipwizard,” and two stories by Orson Scott Card, “Lost Boys” and “Hatrack River.”

The Science Fiction volume reprints Connie Willis’ “Fire Watch.” John Varley’s “Air Raid,” Anne McCaffrey’s “Lady in the Tower,” David Brin’s “The Postman,” Greg Bear’s “Blood Music,” Nancy Kress’ “Beggars in Spain,” and another Orson Scott Card story, “Ender’s Game.”

Now, I must confess that I haven’t read a lot of the novels derived from these stories, so I can’t accurately compare the beginning product to the finished one in all cases. But when looking at something like “Midshipwizard” as it relates to the novel Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, or the story “Ender’s Game” versus the book, it’s fascinating to see how the authors kept the seeds of an idea even as they expanded the framework around it. In most cases, I’d even argue that the story is better for the added detail, background, character development and even plot. In some of these cases, such as Brin’s “The Postman,” McKee’s “Unicorn Tapestry,” or Varley’s “Air Raid,” I’m now inspired to go and find the later product, as the stories offered here really do feel like the beginning of something greater. Like many, my previous exposure to Brin’s story came through the Kevin Costner movie, and here I can see that the movie didn’t do the original work justice. So whether you’ve read the original short story, the novel it became, both, or neither, these two books offer up some interesting material. I did have to wonder at the inclusion of three Card stories, as that seems disproportionately heavy given the relatively low number of authors represented in the first place. Obviously, there are plenty of stories out there which could also have been featured. Enough for a second round of volumes, should these catch on, I might hope.

In general, I found this set of anthologies to be both fascinating and useful, a worthy introduction to some science fiction and fantasy works I’d either missed out on previously, or never really looked at for one reason or another. As soon as I can make some space on my shelf, you can bet I’ll be looking to read a few classics as a result.

Originally posted on SF Site, 2006

Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide To The Fantastical World Around You, by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi (Simon and Schuster, 2005)

This is the long-awaited capstone to the bestselling, highly popular Spiderwick Chronicles, and is actually a replica of the book which carries much of the story’s plot. In the books, the three Grace children find their uncle’s Field Guide to the creatures of Faerie, and are thusly hounded, hunted, bedeviled and threatened by the various goblins, gnomes, trolls and what-not that are described within. Here at last is the book which started it all, recreated in all its glory by superb artist Tony DiTerlizzi, with help from the ever-impressive Holly Black.

Covering dozens of creatures, including many not actually seen in the Spiderwick Chronicles, it combines full-color drawings with textual articles on everything from Brownies to Unicorns, Dragons to Phookas, Goblins to Salamanders, and much more. Every page is a work of art, combining fresh new art with samples of Arthur Spiderwick’s original journal notes. As well, there are notes added by the next generation, in the form of the Grace children after their own encounters with the creatures of magic. If you were planning to study supernatural beings, this book might very well be a great place to start, provided you have the right equipment and a certain lack of self-preservation.

Quite simply, this is the logical successor to Brian Froud’s fairy books, as good as anything he has done on the subject if not better. Beautifully put-together, with richly intricate and whimsical art on every page, laid out with the utmost of care, the Field Guide is a worthy addition to the shelf of any fantasy lover, and a must-have for Spiderwick fans. DiTerlizzi and Black have outdone themselves here. I can’t recommend this item highly enough, and I suspect we’ll be seeing more from this creative team in the near future.

A Note About Reviews…

You may notice that many reviews have ISBN, page count, release date and price that doesn’t always jib with what’s in the stores. In many cases, I was working with the hardcover or some other edition of the book in question, and in the time sense, a trade paperback or mass market edition, or one from another publisher has come out. Therefore, I suggest you take the information with a grain of salt. If a book looks intriguing, I’m sure you know how to track it down via your local store or online. If not, feel free to ask me for details via the handy contact button.

Welcome!

Well, according to Google, this site is currently the top result if you were to look for “Michael M Jones.” I apologize for the bareness, we’re still uploading my review archive, but do feel free to visit often in the meantime. Thanks for stopping by. In the meantime, you can visit me at my Livejournal at oneminutemonkey.livejournal.com, where I’ve been keeping things somewhat up to date.

Upcoming Publication!

And better news: Mike Resnick and Eric Flint bought the reprint rights to “Claus of Death” to be published in the upcoming Baen anthology, THE DRAGON DONE IT (scheduled for late 2007). Other authors to be featured in this book include Neil Gaiman, Esther Friesner, Harry Turtledove, Gene Wolfe and Tanya Huff. All great people, many of whom I’ve admired for a long time. I’m looking forward to this! More details when I have them.

First Publication!

My first story to be published in a print medium, on a large scale, was “Claus of Death” in the DAW anthology SLIPSTREAMS, edited by John Helfers and Martin Greenberg. It came out in May 2006, and I know you can still find copies in many major bookstores, or online. I’m particularly proud of this story, as it introduces Nick St. Claus, mythical person turned P.I. who’s sure to be a major player in my universe eventually.