Thursday, October 12, 2017

Riordan Retrospective: The Sea of Monsters

I'm back with my next installment in my Riordan Retrospective.  For those of you just joining the fun, I'm taking a look back at Percy Jackson and the Olympians, it's sequel series and its spin-off books.  This will be less of a formal review, and a bit more laid-back than a typical review, but still lots of fun.  Last time, we went back to where it all began with The Lightning Thief.  In this retrospective, we're moving on to The Sea of Monsters, Percy Jackson and the Olympians book 2.

First of all, let's there be summary.  It's been one years since Percy Jackson found out that he's the demigod son of the Greek god Poseidon.  Life has been relatively peaceful at his new school, but then he gets attack by cannibal giants on the last day before summer.  Thankfully, he's got his new friend Tyson, who turns out to be his cyclops half-brother.  Percy and Tyson catch a ride with Annabeth to Camp Half-Blood, but all is not well.  Thalia's Pine, the magical three that protects the camp, has been poisoned, and Chiron's the prime suspect.  The only thing that can heal the pine is the Golden Fleece

Worse yet, Grover is being held hostage by the cyclops Polyphemus.  To find Grover and the fleece, Percy, Annabeth and Tyson are going to have to venture into the Sea of Monsters; which is currently located in the Bermuda Triangle.

Before we go any further, I must emphasize that this is a sequel.  I know that this is kind of obvious, but that does mean there will be spoilers for The Lightning Thief.  For that matter, there's probably going to be some spoilers for this book as well.  Just figured I ought to get that out of the way now.

Now that we've got that out the way, let's get on to the main event.  One of the recurring themes of the Percy Jackson series is of history/mythology repeating itself.  As Battlestar Galactica put it, all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.  In The Lightning Thief we got a few shades of Orpheus with Percy and the gang's trip to the underworld; and echoes of Perseus with the encounter with Medusa.  This time around, we've got shades of Odysseus, with a bit of Jason and the Argonauts thrown in.  Most of the major monsters and antagonists come out of The Odyssey.  We got Scylla and Charybdis, Circe, the Sirens and of course Polyphemus.  We get a few monsters from elsewhere, but for the most part it's all straight out of Homer.

As I've stated before, one of the many charms of the Percy Jackson series is the way it recycles and reinterprets Greek Mythology in modern day America. For example, Circe's island is portrayed as a spa, and she turns men into guinea pigs rather than actual pigs.  Now that my family actually owns guinea pigs, that particular scene is entertaining on a whole new level.  The part where it's mentioned that a new chain restaurant opens every time a hydra gets decapitated was also clever.

That the beginning of the book Annabeth makes a dismissive comment about Canada; saying there's nothing but Laestrygonians and a few forges of Hephaestus.  In hindsight, this is somewhat humorous in light of The Heroes of Olympus.  Come that series, we have Frank Zhang, a Canadian demigod, as a main character.  Obviously, he's not too pleased with this assessment of his home country.

For the most part, the books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series are relatively timeless.  There aren't that many references to pop culture or current events.  That being said, there one minor aspect of this book that does date it just a smidge.  At one point, Percy is talking about how smart and brainy Annabeth is and mentions that she watches documentaries on the History Channel.  So yeah, if she were watching historical documentaries today, it would definitely not be on the channel that has degenerate to the point of Ancient Aliens and Swamp People

I do also love the little off-hand comments about several famous people who were demigods.  For example, we learn that Harriet Tubman was a daughter of Hermes, and in the previous book, we learned that George Washington was a son of Athena.  It really gives a sense that there's more to this world than just what we read in the pages of these books.  Granted, it is a little depressing to think that almost everyone who did anything of note was a demigod, and that us mere mortals can never hope to compare with them, but still kind of cool at the same time.

So, let's talk about Tyson.  In hindsight, I really appreciate how Riordan handled his character.  Tyson is mentally handicapped, yes, but that's not the be all end all of his character.  He's skilled at forging weapons and armor, he's super-strong, naturally fireproof and more durable.  He does actively contribute to the plot rather than just being a token.  I bring this up because it contrasts rather positively compared to some of Riordan's later characters.  Ah, but I'm getting ahead of myself.  We've still got aways to go before we get to Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard.

Also, there's something about Tyson that's become somewhat humorous in hindsight.  Tyson is, physically speaking, a teenage boy who is into ponies.  Also, his favorite hippocampus is named Rainbow.  That's right, Tyson was a brony before it was cool.

In other characters, let's talk about Clarisse La Rue.  When we first meet her in The Lightning Thief, she's a pretty typical bully character, it seems to be a genetic trait of Ares Cabin campers.  This time, however, we see a few chinks in her armor.  Technically, she's the one who is officially tasked with retrieving the fleece.  We see that she has self-doubts and fear disappointing her father, Ares.  There are some bullies who are just asshole for no reason, and who just want to watch the world burn.  Believe me, I dealt with enough of those kinds of people in high school, but maybe there's more to Clarisse and the other Ares campers than just that.

Okay, so with Chiron indisposed, who's watching the campers?  Why, Tantalus, of course!  You know, the guy famous for killing and cooking his own children.  Looking back now, I can kind of see how Luke had a point about the gods not caring about the campers.  Technically, Chiron is only the camp activities directors, but given how apathetic Mr. D tends to be, Chiron basically runs the camp.

That brings me to another interesting point: just why did Zeus put Dionysus in charge of Camp Half-Blood?  Officially, it's punishment for chasing after Zeus' favorite wood nymph.  However, I think there's more to it than just that.  Before becoming a god, Dionysus was himself a demigod.  If you know anything about the myths relating to Dionysus, you'll know he went through some serious shit back in the day.  So, who would understand the struggles demigods face more than a former demigod?

Also, consider what I mentioned earlier about Chiron, even that could have been part of the plan.  If Dionysus wasn't up to the task, he'd still be punished, but there would still be someone around to ensure that the camp didn't get driven into the ground.  Perhaps, just perhaps, Zeus isn't as clueless as he seems.  Though, I concede, this is all purely speculation on my part.

One part of the book I really loved, and that I wished had favorited more into the later books, was the chariots races.  Apparently, they used to be more common, but got banned after a race gone wrong killed three campers and injured twenty-six more.  Naturally, Tantalus is more than happily to revive them, and they're presumably banned again after Chiron returns.  Still, I've always loved the thrill of a good race.  I love racing video games, and while I don't really watch motor racing, but it has always fascinated me.  Quite a shame that it never really appeared in the later books.

You could argue that campers could potentially get killed during capture the flag, or sword fighting practice, but I kind of get where Chiron was coming from.  Those are to train demigods for fighting monsters in the real world, where they won't have the protections the camp offers.  Monsters aren't going to pull any punches, and the demigods need to learn how to fight like their lives depend on it.  By contrast, they most likely won't need to know how to race/battle on a chariot.  Still, it does seem like a wasted story potential, in my humble opinion.

On a personal note, I listened to the audiobook version of The Sea of Monsters while I was taking a school-sponsored trip to Italy the summer before my junior year of high school.  It was so cool that I got to travel around a country steeped in Classical Mythology while listening to Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  I'd tell you all about it, but that, perhaps, is a story best saved for a separate blog post.

As you're probably aware, the movie adaption of The Lightning Thief made just enough money so that Sea of Monsters was also adapted.  I do have plans to review The Lightning Thief movie, eventually, but not the Sea of Monsters movie.  This is mostly due to the fact that I have not seen the Sea of Monsters movie.  I was thoroughly unimpressed by the first movie, and so I steered clear of the sequel.  I might review it, if my readers would like, though that's a considerable maybe.

Right, now that we've got that out of the way, let's compare the book covers.  As you can see, the original cover is very orange, and Polyphemus' eye is front and center.  You've got the Queen Anne's Revenge down below.  Side note, I loved how an actual pirate ship factored into the plot.  Percy really should raise sunken ships more often, but I digress.  We've also a rope bridge with three shadowed figured, presumably Percy, Annabeth and Tyson.

Moving onto the new cover, we see the CSS Birmingham, with Percy standing on top, nearing Scylla and Charybdis.  In the background, Polyphemus looking a menacingly.  Oh, and what's this?  A bit of wing on the edge?  You see, when you place in of the new covers together, in order, they form on continuous picture.  It looks really cool when it's all together.

So here an interesting tied bit about Rick Riordan that I didn't mention last time.  You probably know that he used to be a middle school English and Social Studies teacher.  However, did you also know that he used to work at an Episcopalian summer camp?  Specifically, he played the guitar and led singalongs.  He learned to play the guitar during h college days, when he played in a folk-rock band.  I guess that explains why there's a campfire singalong in almost every book of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  Rick has stated the working at the camp was a big inspiration for how Camp Half-Blood turned out.

Though, one assumes, the camp he worked at presumably didn't hand out actual swords and spears to its camper.  We can also probably assume that none of the campers were ever eaten by monsters.  But their climbing wall definitely had lava on it like Camp Half-Blood...nah, I'm just being facetious.

Well, I think that about wraps it up for now.  I hope you guys are having as much fun with these retrospectives as I am.  Join me again next time when we take a look back at The Titan's Curse.  Until then, I will see you guys next 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Audio File: Religion in Speculative Fiction

For better or worse religion has been a part of the human experience since our earliest days. Even in these increasingly secular days we still feel religion’s impact; if only in the ways it has shaped our history and culture. For centuries religion inspired great works. Perhaps it’s only natural that religion often finds its way into speculative fiction. That brings us to the subject of today’s edition of The Audio File. We’ll be looking at speculative fiction stories that have to do with religion.

Speculative fiction’s relationship with religion is somewhat complicated. It’s often said that science fiction has more atheist authors than any other genre. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily true, but I suspect that the majority of science fiction authors have atheist leanings. Fantasy, by contrast, certainly seems to attract more writers of faith. It could possibly be instructive to go back to the roots of modern speculative fiction: atheistic writers such as Asimov and Clarke vs. devout writers like Tolkien and Lewis.

On the other hand, it’s not quite that black and white. Asimov consider himself culturally Jewish and Clarke had a soft spot for Buddhism. Their contemporary Ray Bradbury was non-denominational Christian, and we all know about L. Ron Hubbard’s relationship with religion. Today atheist authors Lev Grossman, China Mieville and the late Terry Pratchett are some of the biggest name in fantasy. Writers as a group can lean a certain way, but there will always be outliers or those who don’t fit the mold.

Now this is obviously a very touchy subject, but I’m going to do my best to stay neutral. I did my best to cast as wide a net as possible and feature as many religions or points of view as possible. All of this is brought to us by the good people at PodCastle, Lightspeed Magazine, Escape Pod, Cast of Wonders, The Drabblecast and Nightmare Magazine.

Well nothing more that I can add, so let’s get this show on the road…


Narrated by Dave Thompson
Originally Published in Unidentified Funny Objects 3

This story takes places in a world where angels have descended from Heaven and rule Earth as a benevolent dictatorship. War and strife are things of the past and humanity couldn’t be happier under the rule of the angels. Despite all of this, the protagonist of our story finds himself dissatisfied with the world. He’s struck up something of an odd friendship with Satan, who is a mere shadow of his former self. Everyone is required to pledge their allegiance to a particular angel, and soon it will be time for our protagonist to make his choice. Of course, Satan is technically an angel.

This story contains some excellent world building. You really get a sense of who the individual angels are and the impact they’ve had on the world. It’s also very well researched, since all angels mentioned in the story are actual angels from Christian belief. One thing I did find interesting was that, though the story appears to take place after the Second Coming, God and Jesus aren’t mentioned even once. The story still works perfectly well without them, but it did seem like an odd omission.

You can look at the protagonist’s conflict from two points of view. The first is that you can see it as asking if it is preferable to live as a slave or die as a free person. The second is that you can see it as an allegory for wrestling with faith and doubt, especially in the context of events such as Confirmation or Bar Mitzvahs. This story really spoke to all of those feelings I experienced going through Confirmation in the United Methodist Church. The scene when the protagonist notes how young some of the kids pledging service to the angels are really struck a chord with me. It always seemed kind of insane to ask a bunch of sixteen year-olds to make such a big decision, though as I’m now an atheist you can see how it turned out for me. Nathaniel has stated that the story was inspired by his own wrestling with faith back when he was a Christian.

A story this heavy needs a narrator who can rise to the challenge. Dave Thompson coined the term spiritual noir for stories like this. It was only natural that he’d act as narrator, and what a performance he gives.

“Why I Bought Satan Two Cokes On The Day I Graduated High School” is a story about faith, doubt and finding your own path. Very much recommended.

The Pilgrim and The Angel” by E. Lily Yu
Narrated by Rajan Khana
Originally Published in McSweeney’s Quarterly 45

This story follows a man named Fareed Halawi. He owns a coffee shop in Cairo and has led a good life. The only thing he really wants is to go on the Hajj to Mecca. One day he is visited by the angel Gabriel who has been sent by Allah himself to take Fareed on the Hajj. Before long Gabriel transforms into a flying carpet and the duo are of on their journey.

Okay, the description isn’t much, but this is a pretty good story. It was nice to see a story centered around Islam that didn’t try to lecture me about how I ought to view the religion or its followers. It was a central part of the story, but the story never made a big deal out of it. Overall it’s a really heartwarming story about a kind old man getting a well-earned reward. Plus you can potentially learn quite a bit about what the Hajj entails.

Some readers have complained that Fareed didn’t do all the steps, and thus didn’t complete his Hajj, when he asks Gabriel if they can visit his son in Florida. Considering that Gabriel only put up a token resistance, and given that Allah didn’t strike him with a lightning bolt, I’d say it probably counted just fine. It’s also worth noting that most pilgrims on Hajj don’t do so while flying on carpets that are also angels, so there’s that.

As for the narration, I thought that Rajan did a great job. “The Pilgrim and The Angel” is a lovely little story that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

The MSG Golem” by Ken Liu
Narrated by Anaea Lay
Originally Published in Unidentified Funny Objects 2

This story takes place on a starship cruise liner that his bound for the planet New Haifa. It follows a Chinese-American girl named Rebecca who discovers that she is a descendant of the Kai Fang Jews of China. She finds this out because God himself tells her so. A group of rats have snuck aboard the ship, and they’ll wreak havoc on New Haifa’s ecosystem if they aren’t caught in time. God has given Rebecca the task of rounding up the rats, but that might be a bit more difficult than He bargained for.

Nine times out of ten when you see Jews in media they’ll be Ashkenazi. So it was nice to see a story centered around Kai Fang Jews. I enjoyed how God was portrayed as having the personality of a stereotypical crabby old Jewish man. All of the times that Rebecca and God got into arguments about Torah were really funny as well. It reminded me of those jokes where God and Moses get into arguments about how to interpret the Jewish law. It’s also nice to see science fantasy stories getting some representation.

Anaea Lay can be a bit hit-and-miss with her narration, but for this story she does a really great job. “The MSG Golem” is a very funny story that also has a lot of heart. I recommend it.

"Ravana's Children" by Ian Muneshwar
Narrated by Kaushik Narasimhan
A PodCastle Original

Attention readers, our next story is a two-for-one special. The first half follows a boy named Jamie living in modern day New York City, in the borough of Queens. His parents have been going through a rough path in their marriage and he wishes they'd just stop fighting. On night, while going to the roof to get some fresh air, he finds himself in the garden of the demon king Ravana. Jamie and Ravana has many more encounters as well as many deep conversations.

The second half of this story follows Jaime's mother Elaine, her life back in India, and how she came to America. The story alternates between the two halves before it ultimately converges.

I'm still a bit sketchy on my knowledge of Hindu Mythology, compared to other mythologies, but I am learning. I bring this up because it is always great to learn new mythological figures. I liked the way this story contrasted the fantastic with the mundane when it came to Jamie and Ravana's conversations. For the most part, it was easy to keep track of the two stories, barring a few occasions. In terms of narration, I thought that Kaushik did a good job.

"Ravana's Children" is a story that seamlessly mixes the mythical and the everyday. I say give it a try.

Judgment of Swords and Souls” by Saladin Ahmed
Narrated by Stephenie Morris
Originally Published in Intergalactic Medicine Show

This story is set in the world of Saladin Ahmed’s Crescent Moon Kingdoms. It’s a fantasy world modeled after the Middle East during the Golden Age of Islam. The story takes place at the Lodge of God, a monastery of sorts for a group of holy warriors known as Dervishes. The story follows a young dervish named Layla. She was orphaned as a child, but was taken in by a high ranking dervish named Shaykh Saif. Layla has become Saif’s prize student, and they’ll need each other now more than ever. Another shaykh named Zaid is challenging Saif for control of the lodge. It will test their closeness to God and their students’ skill with the sword.

This religion of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms is fictional, but it is heavily based upon Islam. If fact, it’s pretty much Islam in all but name. It’s easy to read this story as a parable about the ways in which religion is twisted for ill gain, as well as the rise of extremism and fanaticism. Shaykh Zaid is obsessed with getting the entire Lodge of God behind his interpretation of the Heavenly Chapters, which is basically their equivalent of the Koran. This parallels the rise of many Radical Islamic regimes throughout history.

On a lighter note, it was refreshing to see a fantasy world that wasn’t based on Medieval Europe. I also thought the Dervish culture was well fleshed out. I loved how they used two-pronged swords to symbolize how they aim to cleave right from wrong. Layla was a well written and strong female character. In terms of narration I thought that Stephenie did a really great job.

“Judgment of SDwords and Souls” is a story about standing up for your beliefs even when the world stands against you. I recommend it.

Where Virtue Lives” by Saladin Ahmed
Narrated by Rajan Khana
Originally Published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies

Here’s another story set in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. This one follows Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, the last ghul hunter in the city of Dhamsawaat. He’s recently taken a dervish named Raseed as his apprentice. They’re as different as night and day. Raseed is incredibly pious and uptight, while Adoulla is more laid back and easy going. They’re going to have to put aside their differences to take down a ghul that’s been causing problems.

What I liked most about this story is the way that it contrasted Adoulla and Raseed’s views on faith and piety. It’s the opposite of what you might expect given the characters’ ages. There’s also a lot of subtlety to their attitudes. Adoulla may be somewhat lax in his observance of religion, but he gets his magic powers by quoting verses from the Heavenly Chapters. Raseed is so devoted to the cause of the Dervishes that he’s blinded to just how corrupt they’ve become. This is especially poignant if you’ve just finished “Judgement of Swords and Souls”. This does lead to plenty of humorous moments, such as when Raseed makes a big speech about the importance of religious devotion, only for Adoulla to ask when the last time he got laid was.

The story contains plenty of other humorous moments: Adoulla has enough tea jokes to put Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender to shame. Plus you get some good old fashion sword-and-sorcery action, and there’s the commentary about faith and religion. You need just the right sort of narrator for a story like this, and Rajan more than delivers.

What can I say? “Where Virtue Lives” is a good time all around, one you won’t want to miss.

Lightspeed Magazine

The Streets of Ashkelon” by Harry Harrison
Narrated by Paul Boehmer
Originally Published in New Worlds

This story follows a man named Garth who runs a trading outpost on a distant planet. The planet is inhabited by hairy salamander-like aliens known as the Wesker. They only have a Stone Age level of technology, but they’re fast learners. Over the years Garth has grown to view the Wesker almost like his children. One day, a rocket arrives carrying a Catholic priest named Father Mark, who has come to evangelize the Wesker. Although initially reluctant, Garth allows the priest to interact with the Wesker. The Wesker are incredibly literal minded, and Garth worries about what effects organized religion will have on them.

This is one of Harry Harrison’s most well know stories, so I’m going to assume that you guys know how it ends. It’s pretty difficult to talk about this story without talking about the ending. If you don’t know, and you don’t want anything spoiled, skip to the next story on the list.

Okay, with that out the way let’s move on. There’s several levels of tragedy to this story. There’s the tragedy of Father Mark with his death coming about because of the misunderstandings caused by his evangelism. It kind of reminds me of those stories about missionaries who went to far-off Pacific islands and, due to not grasping the local customs, wound up as the main course for dinner. Then, there’s the tragedy of the Wesker who have committed a murder. Their tragedy is particularly sad because they didn’t realize the priest would die if they crucified him. It’s also sad because they seemed to be getting along perfectly fine without religion in their lives.

Finally, we have Garth’s tragedy. I got the feeling that the whole thing could have been avoided if he’d spoken up sooner. Granted, he probably had no idea the Wesker would go as far as they did in order to see if what the priest told them was true. On the other hand, he does repeatedly warn the priest that things aren’t going to end well. Even though he doesn’t agree with Father Mark he at least ties to tolerate him. Perhaps he did want the priest to get knocked on his ass, but he certainly never wanted to see him get killed.

“The Streets of Ashkelon” is easily Harry Harrison’s best short story. A story this famous and grand needs a narrator who can make it feel just as fresh as when it was first published. Thankfully, Paul more than delivers with his performance. All in all it’s a classic story that is still well worth your time.

The Way of Cross and Dragon” by George R. R. Martin
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
Originally Published in Omni
1980 Hugo Award Winner

This story is set in the far-future where humanity has spread to the stars and has come into contact with many different alien races. Human religion has also spread to many worlds. The One True Interstellar Catholic Church of Earth and the Thousand Worlds, in particular, has been doing pretty well for itself. Controversy has erupted because of a heretical sect that has made Judas Iscariot into a saint. The Church has dispatched a priest named Damien Har Veris to meet with Lukyan Judasson, the founder of the heretical movement. Har Veris has been wavering in his faith and he finds himself drawn to the sect’s holy book “The Way of Cross and Dragon”.

Yes, believe it or not George R. R. Martin has written more than just A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s always interesting to see how religions change and adapt in science fiction settings, and this story was no exception. The Judas cult, their beliefs and holy book all felt very fleshed out. There’s also a lot of commentary about the power religion has to influence societies. There’s also a very strong theme about doubt and the questioning of faith, which really resonated with me. I can’t really add too much more without giving the story away, but it is well worth your time. You can also find this story over on StarShipSofa.

Stefan did a great job with the narration as always. A story about faith, doubt and the power of religion to shape civilization. Well worth checking out.

The Stars Below” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
Originally Published in Orbit 14

This story is set in a low fantasy world somewhat similar to ours during the Renaissance. It follows an astronomer named Guennar who has been forced to hide in a mineshaft after he is branded a heretic and his observatory is burned to the ground. Despite this, he remains faithful both to his God and to his work as a scientist. In time he comes to love the mine and its many wonders. He also befriends a group of miners and hopes to teach them about the wonders the mine contains.

Okay, not the best of summaries, but the story is quite good. You definitely see parallels to the life of Galileo Galilei. As such, there is certainly an underlying theme of science vs. religion to this story. There’s also a strong current about the awe and wonder that come from science and its discoveries. The story seems to suggest that religion could have an even more enriching worldview if it could only get over its fear of science. The journeying through the mine could be seen as a metaphor for the process of seeking knowledge and making discoveries. There’s lots of symbolism and metaphors, and the story invites you to make your own conclusion about them.

Once again Stefan does a great job with the narration. An elegant story with many layers to unpack, and many interpretations to find.

Hiranyagarbha” by Kevin Jared Hosein
Narrated by Vikas Adam

This story takes place on the island of Trinidad and follows a man named Balgobin. He and his friend Yadav have discovered a strange gold substance in the Caroni Swamp. The substance appears to come from nowhere and it completely engulfs everything it touches. Yadav gets some on himself and soon doctors from around the world, as well as a few sleazy reality shows, are descending on Trinidad to search for the truth. All the while, Balgobin can’t help but wonder if he is witnessing the rebirth of the world.

Again, the summary doesn’t do the story nearly enough justice, but I promise you it is well worth your time. Hiranyagarbha refers to the creation of the world from a golden egg in Hindu Mythology. The Caribbean actually has a fairly large Hindu population, though you don’t often see them represented in the media, so it was nice that this story depicted that, as well as Trinidad culture in general. I loved the way this story poked fun at pseudoscience shows such as Ghost Hunters and their ilk.

If I did have one criticism it would be that this really felt more like a fantasy story than a science fiction story. The mysterious gold substance isn’t given any kind of explanation and it just feels supernatural in nature. Now normally I’d let that slide, but this was part of an issue of Lightspeed dedicated to science fiction, not fantasy. This is really a minor issue, though, and doesn’t really detract from the story.

In terms of narration I thought that Vikas did a great job. “Hiranyagarbha” is a story that explores lesser known cultures, one that I recommend to you.

Escape Pod

Come All Ye Faithful” by Robert J. Sawyer
Narrated by Mike Boris
Originally Published in Space Inc and collected in Identity Theft and Other Stories

This story follows the only Catholic priest on Mars. In fact, he’s pretty much the only person of faith at Bradbury Colony. He’s not especially popular with the other colonists, but he does his best to take it in stride. One day he’s contacted by the Church to investigate claims made by a televangelist about the possible appearance of the Virgin Mary on Mars.

I’ll preface this by saying that I do not have a particularly positive view of ordained clergy. Therefore, it is a testament to Robert’s skill as a writer that he was able to make me sympathize with the main character. I will say I was a bit confused as to why he was on Mars in the first place. It was mentioned the Church thought it was important to get a priest on Mars, and that the priest had done work with the Vatican Observatory, but it just didn’t add up. We never see the priest do any scientific work, only typical priestly things like holding mass or performing marriages. Presumably it would have cost a lot of money to get NASA to send the priest, and that probably would have hurt the Church’s public image quite a bit. Plus it’s not like there’s any Martians to evangelize.

That’s not the say I didn’t enjoy the story. Like most of Robert J. Sawyer’s work, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I liked the way that the society of the colonists is depicted. For example, they all wear very bright and gaudy colors because of how monochrome Mars is. One of the recurring themes in Robert’s works is of the intersection between science and religion. It is always interesting to see what new perspective his works will bring.

No Robert J. Sawyer story is complete without a good narrator, and Mike is the narrator “Come All Ye Faithful” needed. Another great Robert J. Sawyer story you won’t want to miss out on.

"Karma Among the Cloud Kings" by Brian Trent
Narrated by Ellora Sen-Gupta
Originally Published in Analog

This story follows a group of Jains in the future. They been trying to find a planet to call home and peacefully practice their religion. Unfortunately, they been having a bit string of bad luck in the Shakespeare System. They're trying their luck on the stormy planet Tempest. Their job to keep to colony stations clear of a strange substance that blows around on the raging winds. One of the Jain's, a woman named Preema, being to suspect that the strange substance isn't an inanimate as it appears.

You don't often see Jains depicted in fiction. Granted, there aren't that many of them, and ironically enough they've contributed quite a few works of Indian Literature. Still, it was nice to see them get a bit of the spotlight. I liked how all the planets in the solar system they live in are named after William Shakespeare plays, with the star being named after the man himself. For example, prior to arriving on Tempest, the Jain's lived on a planet named Winter's Tale. You'll actually learn quite a bit about Jainism from listening to this story, and I loved how the story explores how Jainism might adapt to a science fiction setting.

I won't give away how the story ends, but I will say that Henry David Thoreau and MLK would be proud of these Jains' civil disobedience. One of the themes of the story could be that you don't need to be violent in order to make a difference or to take a stand. Of corse, that is in keeping with the Jaim philosophy of pacifism and nonviolence.

 In terms of narration, I thought that Ellora did a really great job. "Karma Among the Cloud Kings" explores Jainism in a science fiction setting. I happily recommend it. 

Cast of Wonders

Gift Cards of an Ex-Goddess” by Melissa Embry
Narrated by Christiana Ellis
A Cast of Wonder Original

This story follows a girl named Mala who is currently serving as the avatar of a goddess. Soon it will be time for a new girl to become the avatar of the goddess. Mala decides to flee the temple with as many offerings as possible, but it isn’t long before the goddess to-be’s mother is hot on her trail. Mala strikes up a deal with the skeleton warrior temple guard, and soon the unlikely duo are off on whirlwind big city adventure.

Believe it or not this story has a basis in fact. There is a group of Hindus in Nepal who believe their goddess is reincarnated as a young girl, but after the girl reaches a certain age the goddess moves on to another girl. I loved Mala’s freewheeling and devil-may-care personality. I also enjoyed the skeleton’s sarcastic and snarky personality. It nice to see some Urban Fantasy in a non-Western setting. It’s a really fun story and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

I will say that I thought that Christiana did a perfect job with the narration. Go ahead and give “Gift Cards of an Ex-Goddess” a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

"The Golem of Deneb Seven" by Alex Shvartsman
Narrated by Rachel Swirsky
Originally Published in InterGalactic Medicine Show

This story takes place on the planet Deneb Seven and follows a girl named...well, actually we never find out her name. Her family is Jewish and life is good, except for how annoying observing Shabbat can be at times. That all changes when Deneb Seven is invaded by the Oligarchy. Our protagonist and her family must maintain their faith as they'd venture across the war-torn landscape.

I know it doesn't sound like much, but I promise this story is worth your time. If there's one consistent them in the story of the Jewish people it's of survival and resilience. No matter how many horrors they've had to face, Jews always find a way to bounce back. Alex has stated that this story was inspired by the history of the Ukrainian Jews. Also, this story was published before that time Russia and Ukraine had a...heated debate about Crimea. So, any similarities are purely coincidental, but it still works out pretty well.

I would have liked to have known a bit more about just who the Oligarchy are. There's also a scene where the main characters grandfather lists all the people who have persecuted Jews over the years. We get the usual suspects such as the Egyptians, the Romans, the Cossacks and the Nazis. However, he also lists the Iranians. Did Iran make good on their promise to push Israel into the sea?

These are just a few minor criticisms, overall, I quite liked this story. In therms of narrations, I thought that Rachel did an excellent job. "The Golem of Deneb Seven" is a story of faith, family and resilience. I recommend it.

The Drabblecast

The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke
Narrated by Norm Sherman
Originally Published in Infinity Science Fiction

This story follows a Jesuit priest who is also an astrophysicist. He’s part of a crew investigating the remains of an alien civilization in another star system. The star having gone supernova fascinates the priest. It isn’t long before he makes a discovery that shakes his faith to the core.

This one’s pretty much impossible not to spoil, but it’s also one of the most well-known of Clarke’s stories. I doubt there’s many of you who don’t know the twist, but if not I’m going to give it to you straight. The star isn’t just any star, it’s the Star of Bethlehem. The implication being that God killed a perfectly peaceful civilization to announce the birth of his son. Alternatively, it suggests that perhaps there isn’t any God. The story leaves the reader to draw their own conclusion.

“The Star” is certainly a powerful story, and quite well written, but the fact that the twist is so well known works against it. To make a story this well-known work, you need to find a way to tell it fresh. Thankfully, The Drabblecast really pulled out all the stops when it came to the production of this episode. Norm’s narration certainly proved effective.

It’s considered a classic for a reason, and you really should give it a listen.

A Nice Jewish Golem” by Ao-Hui Lin
Narrated by Sondra Harris
Originally Published in Jersey Devil Press #25

This story follows an old Jewish woman named Mrs. Levine. Her son Yeshua is a happily adopted golem, but he longs to find love. After a trip to an interfaith conference, he falls in love with a girl who is something of an Inuit equivalent of a Golem. Even the rabbi who made Yeshua approves of their union, but Mrs. Levine had been hoping Yeshua would find a nice Jewish girl. Will Yeshua ever get his mother to accept his new girlfriend?

A new boyfriend or girlfriend having a different religion tends to be a deal breaker for even the most open-minded parents. This story felt like a fantasy version of that sort of scenario. I loved the banter between Mrs. Levine and Yeshua. I imagine Jewish mothers and sons have been having such conversations for centuries, and it felt very authentic. You usually see golems used in serious stories, so it was nice to see them in something lighter for a change. “A Nice Jewish Golem” is funny, argumentative and had a lot of heart.

Sondra really nailed it with her narration. She really has the perfect Jewish mother voice. Oy vey, I think you’re gonna like this one.

Nightmare Magazine

"This is Not For You" by Gemma Files
Narrated by Claire Benedek

This story is about a group of pagan women who worship the goddesses Persephone. Ah, but this isn't the Persephone you're probably familiar with. The goddess they worship is more ancient, more chthonic, hungrier, wilder and more violent. They all met on the internet, and they've been getting together for a while now to make sacrifices in the woods. Men are strictly forbidden from their gatherings, so what happens when one of the member's son stumbles across the gathering?

I've always been fascinated by the pre-Christian pagan religions; the ones that mostly only survive via their mythologies. I always wondered just what their religious rituals and ceremonies were like. Not just the ones we have records of, but also the ones that were lost to the sands of time. And yet, as I listened to this story, I'm reminded of the words of the physicist Steven Weinberg. He said, paraphrased, that in order to get otherwise good people to do evil things, it takes religion, or something very much like religion.

Though I wouldn't go as far as to call this story anti-religion. Rather, I'd say that it's more about the dangers of fanaticism and allowing your passions to consume you. As for the narration, I thought that Claire's performance was fantastic.

"This is Not For You" is a story of passion and excess, and one that I happily recommend.

"No One Prays to the Goddess" by Ashok K. Banker
Narrated by Vikas Adam

This story is set in India and follows a first generation Indian-American immigrant named Harry. When he lived in India he and his family worshiped an ancient and primordial goddess named Mumba Naag Devi, the Fisher Queen. In fact, his family were amoung the last devotees of the goddess. The goddess has returned, and she is very displeased with Harry's lack of devotion.

You know the drill, it's better than it sounds. This story has a very gothic feel to it. The writing kind of reminded me of the horror stories of Rudyard Kipling. Without giving away the ending, I liked that the goddess wasn't portrayed as all-powerful. That is to say, there are ways to beat her, or at least bargain with her, if you're cleaver enough to figure them out. The writing and descriptions of India were very detailed and descriptive. I really felt like I was there.

Vikas did a great job with the narration. "No One Prays to the Goddess" is a gothic religious horror story that you won't want to miss out on. Of course I recommend it.


Well here we are at the end of the list once again. I hope you’ve had a good time and that you’ve found some great stories to listen to. As usual, if there are any topics you’d like to see in future editions of The Audio File, let me know and I’ll put them on the rotation. Or if there’s a story you’d like me to review I’ll certainly check it out. Until next time, Audio-Faithful.  

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Comic Review: Arrowsmith

Well, I've run out of alternate history comics that don't feature alien space bats to share with you guys. That having been said, we shouldn't get disheartened. There are many great stories that can be told by combining alternate history with things such as magic and aliens. With that in mind, today we're taking a look at the comic Arrowsmith by Kurt Busiek and Carlos Pacheco

Arrowsmith takes place in a world where magic and mythical creatures are real. They decided to reveal themselves to humanity during the Middle Ages and have lived in relative harmony since the Peace of Charlemagne in the year 803. By the year 1915 the nations of Europe are engaged in a great war with world-spanning consequences.

Fletcher Arrowsmith, a farm boy from the United States of Columbia, longs to get out and see the world. When the chance comes to join a volunteer regiment to fight for the Ententes, he leaps at the opportunity. He’s sure that it will be the adventure of a lifetime. However, Fletcher soon comes to find that war isn’t all fun and games. Before any of you ask, this comic has nothing to do with the band Aerosmith

Right off the bat I knew I was in for a good time with this story. An alternate history comic with magic, dragons and World War I? It had me at hello. Now, if you’re the kind of person who reads alternate histories for plausibility, you might have some issues with Arrowsmith. Ignoring the inherent implausibly of magic and mythical creatures, there’s the fact that the borders of North America and Europe are awfully concurrent despite the presumably massive changes to history.

Actually, why don’t I show you what North America and Europe look like in this world. I apologize in advance for the somewhat lackluster quality of these images, but they were the best I could find.

There’s a lot of archaic names, a bit more Balkanization, but they’re not too terribly different from Europe in our world’s 1915. The map of North America is just begging for elaboration. This tends to happen in a lot of alternate history works. The writers focus on the areas related to the story, and leave everything else as an afterthought. Mind you, this isn’t a criticism. I’ve done it enough in my own works, and there’s only so much you can fit into a given story. Plus, there are hints that there were plans for elaborations in future volumes. Hold that thought, we’ll get back to it in just a minute.

For now, let’s go back to plausibility. Okay, Arrowsmith isn’t the most plausible alternate history, but that was never the point. The idea of Arrowsmith was to tell a World War I story with magic and dragons added on top. In this regard, it more than succeeds. Beneath the magic and dragons, Arrowsmith is very much a typical World War I tale. We see Fletcher go from a wide-eyed idealist to a mature young man as he witnesses the horrors of war. Some of the most memorable, and touching, scenes are when Fletcher loses friends in combat. There’s also a scene that really reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut’s description of the bombings of Dresden and Munich during World War II. I’d tell you more, but I wouldn’t want to spoil such a great scene.

If there is a weakness to this comic its with how it handles its message. There does appear to be a bit of an anti-war theme, as per most works centered around World War I. However, it is a bit undercut by how cool all the battle scenes look. To be fair, it’s a problem that tends to be common among media with an anti-war message. Plus, I get the feeling that, as fun as the battles might be to watch, they’d be a lot less fun to participate in.

I would have also liked to see the non-human characters given a bit more focus. We only really have one, a golem named Rocky, who gets truly fleshed out. One thing I found interesting about him was that he worships the Norse gods. It would have been nice to see a little more about the religious beliefs of the magical creatures. Adding to that, there’s a scene where Fletcher has a vision of the Norse gods; it is ambiguous as to whether or not it was a hallucination induced by the stress of battle. Admittedly, overall these are relatively minor points. Instead, let’s talk more about the things I loved.

I like spotting all of the subtle differences from the 1915 of our world. For example, Uncle Sam still wants you, but he wears a stars and stripes wizard hat and robe. In fact, a lot of the propaganda posters in the background are based on those from our world’s World War I. I thought that the magic used by the Air Forces was responsibly well done. The pilots use special talismans to channel the energies of dragon hatchlings that sit on their shoulders. Also, on that note, I thought that the dragon hatchlings were absolutely adorable. I saw them and I thought “Aw, I want one!” The artwork is really well done. The landscapes and backgrounds are great, and the characters are well drawn

I also found it interesting that there’s still plenty of technology along with all the magic. We see magic powered ships, but certain scenes show that steam powered ships are still in use. There are also hints that there’s a bit of a rivalry between magic users and technology advocates. That is, if comments made by Fletcher’s blacksmith father are anything to go by.

Arrowsmith tells a complete story, but it was intended to be part of a bigger series. For whatever reason, the sequels never materialized. Kurt Busiek hinted, back in 2011, that there might be hope yet. At this point, however, I think it’s safe to say these sequels probably aren’t going to see the light of day. It’s a damn shame, there’s so much potential for sequels. The world could have really gotten fleshed out, and not just with the continuing adventures of Fletcher and company. There could have been prequels set in earlier eras of history; the possibilities are endless.

I guess most of the criticisms I’ve voiced can really be put down to how much I loved this comic and wish it had sequels. It’s such a good comic book, and I desperately wish there were more. Still, perhaps it’s best to not dwell on what could have been, but celebrate what is. Arrowsmith is one of the best alternate history and fantasy comics out there. If you’re looking for a fantasy twist on World War I, or a good comic in general, it can't be beat. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Flag of Ecotopia

This is the flag of Ecotopia.  It comes from a world where man-made climate change were not reversed.  Rising sea levels and changing weather patterns took their toll on many nations, but in particular the United States.  Climate change, resource wars, civil unrest and general strife strained America's resources to their limits.  Eventually, it got to the point where various regions began to declare independence, with the federal government being powerless to stop them.  A rump United States still exists, and some regions still claim to recognize its authority.  However, these regions are mostly self-governing and are independent in all but name.  

That brings us to Ecotopia.  It was one of the first nations to declare independence.  It comprises Northern California, Oregon, Washington state, British Columbia and the Alaskan panhandle.  As its name would suggest, it was founded to be a more sustainable and environmentally minded society.  Almost all of Ecotopia's energy is produced by sustainable and renewable resources; such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydro-electric.  It's capital city, also named Ecotopia, was built to serve as an example of the sustainable cities of tomorrow.  

Ecotopians eat a largely pescatarian diet, with meat being reserved as more of a luxury and treat.  Insects are also a staple of the Ecotopian cuisine.  Hunting is allowed, though tightly regulated, and cattle drives have made something of a comeback.  Most buildings have rooftop gardens and poultry roosts built into them.  Those that don't usually have solar panels or wind turbines instead.  Most cities have plenty of parks and other green spaces.  The prevailing architectural philosophy is to work with nature, not against it.  Most Ecotopians drive electric cars, though most cities have plenty of public transportation options.  Cities are also built with walkability and biking in mind.

Secularism is rather prevalent, but Buddhism remains the most practiced religion.  However, Ecotopian Buddhism tends to place more emphasis on environmentalism than it does on breaking free from the cycle of reincarnation.  There's also a rapidly growing neopagan movement underway.  In fact, all religions are legal in Ecotopia...within reason, that is. For example, Christianity is legal, but the Bible has been banned due to promoting violence and bigotry.  Recently, the Koran has also been put on the list of banned books.  

Ecotopia has a thriving art scene, but all works of art and literature must be submitted to government boards for approval.  After all, wouldn't want any "problematic" themes infiltrating the artistic world and corrupting the youths.  Hate speech is considered a serious crime, and there are harsh penalties for any caught perpetuating bigoted opinions.  There have been grumbling about the definitions of hate speech getting broader and broader.  Though, officially, the Ecotopian government maintains that it supports free speech...within certain boundaries.  

It's not all fun and games, however.  Ecotopia has a large standing army, and they're certainly not afraid to use it.  In their early days, they got into quite a few skirmished with the Mormon Republic of Deseret.  These days, both nations have something of an uneasy truce with each other.  Ecotopia's biggest foreign intervention, however, hardly required any military action.  The Republic of SoCal gets most of its water from North California.  Therefore, whenever SoCal gives them trouble, Ecotopia just has to turn off the tap until they come around.  SoCal, much to its chagrin, is also quite dependent on Ecotopia to supplement its food supply.  This has, effectively, turned SoCal into an Ecotopian colony. 

The SoCalians are splits about what to do.  Some favor formally joining Ecotopia, while others suggest going to war over the former Northern California.  Still others suggest slowly working to find solutions, such as desalinization plants, that would reduce their need for Ecotopia.  In more friendly relations, the Republic of Hawaii is quite close diplomatically with Ecotopia.  The two nations share similar philosophies, and there is talk of a possible merger of the two nations.  Admittedly, many are skeptical that it will get off the ground, but hope springs eternal. 

Despite these problems, Ecotopia is looking towards a brighter future.  Despite their isolationist beginnings, in more recent times Ecotopia has begun to open itself to the wider world.  Trade relations have been established with several nations of East Asia.  Ecotopia is quickly become a hub of trade, bringing to goods of Asia to the North American continent.  A sea wall project is currently underway to reclaim coastal lands lost to rising sea levels.  Ecotopia hopes to learn from the mistakes of the past to build a better tomorrow.  Let's just hope they don't become the monsters they seek to fight.  

The flag reflects Ecotopia's environmentalist philosophy.  The brown stands for earth, the blue stands for water and the green stand for plant life and sustainability.  The phoenix represents Ecotopia rising out of the ashes of the old world to build a better tomorrow.  

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Comic Review: Ministry of Space

I’ve been on a roll with alternate history comes lately.  In particular, with regards to realistic alternate history.  There's not too many alternate history comics that don't involve aliens of magic, so it's kind of slim pickings.  Never fear, I still managed to find a really good realistic alternate history comic to share with you guys.  Today we're taking a look at Ministry of Space, created by Warren Ellis and Chris Weston.

In the world of Ministry of Space, at the end of World War II, British soldiers were able to reach Peenemünde before American and Soviet forces.  As a result, the British were able to capture all of the German rocket scientists.  To make sure nobody else gets any of the goodies, the British proceed to bomb Peenemünde to rubble, just as a troop of American soldiers arrive.  All of this was masterminded by Air Commodore Sir John Dashwood, who convinces Winston Churchill to establish a Ministry of Space using a black budget.

The comic is told as a series of flashbacks, with a framing story set in 2001.  We get to see Britain's triumphant achievements in the final frontier.  From their first satellite, to their first manned space flight, the first mission to the Moon, the first mission to Mars and so much more.  Meanwhile, in 2001, America is trying to break into space.  They're doing this by trying to blackmail the British over the nature of the black budget that created the Ministry of Space.

Ministry of Space is one of the most famous alternate history comics out there.  In fact, it won the 2005 Sidewise Award for Best Short Form.  For those who don't know, the Sidewise Awards are an annual award that recognizes outstanding alternate history fiction.  It's basically alternate history's equivalent of The Oscars or The Hugos.  Thus far, Ministry of Space is the only comic to win a Sidewise Award.

First, let's take a moment to talk about the artwork and the designs.  The art is top of the line.  It's certainly what you might expect for something produced by Image Comics.  Of course, if there's one true star of this comic, it's the technology.  It's all very sleek and Jet Age, with a bit of British flair, of course.  Many of the vehicles and missions seen in the comic are based on actual proposals by scientists such as Wernher von Braun.  It is mentioned that Von Braun was among the scientists that the British captured, so this isn't all that surprising.  The technology really embodies that optimistic can-do attitude you see in a lot of science fiction from the 1950s and 1960s.

Now let's talk about the alternate history.  As stated above, it's in large part based on actual plans and is very optimistic...perhaps a bit too optimistic.  Let me give you a few highlights of this alternate British Space Program: breaking the sound barrier (1946), first satellite (1948), first manned spaceflight (1950), first space station (construction from 1953-1956), first mission to the Moon (1957), and first mission to Mars (1969).

This is clearly meant to be a nod to Collier's Magazine's famous Man Conquers Space series of covers, but I'm not sure how realistic it is.  Britain might have the willpower and the money, but they've also got quite a few problems.  In 1945 cities across Britain were still clearing away the rubble from the Blitz, and strict rationing was still in place.  Having a black budget is going to help, but it won't make all of the other problems magically disappear.  In fact, it will potentially make things worse.  People are gonna wonder why money is being wasted on a space program, and not on helping them.

Still, I'm willing to give it a pass.  The premise of the comic is about Britain developing a successful space program.  For the sheer awesomeness of that alone, it's all worth it.  Still, there is a slightly more pressing issue.  Towards the end of the comic it's implied that, for all its technological advances, the British Empire remains socially backwards.  There's a couple panels that show that British space stations are racially segregated, for example.  The problems is that the comic contradicts this on multiple occasions.  The leader of the first mission to Mars was a black man, and in the present, there's a Sikh man on the space station council.

It also doesn't make sense given historical precedent.  The British have always been leader when it comes to human rights.  They abolished slavery in the home isles in 1800, and in their colonies in 1833.  They were able to do this without spilling a single drop of blood.  After that, the Royal Navy spent quite a bit of time intercepting slave ships.  During their time in India, the British worked to abolish practices such as sati, aka Hindu wife-burning.  Also, many American ideals of freedom come strait from the works of British thinkers.

I'm not saying the British were always perfect.  They had their share of flaws, just like any other nation.  However, I seriously doubt they'd still have segregation in 2001 of this alternate world.  There's also the question of how the Cold War played out.  We get a few throwaway lines about America and the Soviet Union squabbling with each other, but that's about it.  The Soviets would have been set back a bit without German scientists of their own, but they still had Sergei Korolev.  Was there a very one-sided space race between the British Empire and Soviet Union?

Towards the end of the come we see that America is attempting to launch a Moon mission...using Apollo era technology.  I'll grant that NASA would have be set back quite a bit, but they wouldn't still be using Apollo tech.  Surely, they would have been able to observe British spaceplanes enough to at least come up with their own version.  That brings us to the nature of the black budget.  This is a bit of a spoiler, so turn back now if you don't wish to find out.

Okay, everyone gone who wants to be gone?  Good, let's talk black budget.

So, how did the impoverished post-war British government procure the funds to fund a space program?  Why, by looting gold and other assets from the victims of the Holocaust, of course.  Would that have realistically have been enough to fund a space program? got me there.  Math has never really been my strong point, so I'll give that one to the comic.

Alright then, maybe the alternate history is a bit optimistic at times, but is this comic worth a read?  Yes, it absolutely is.  The Space Race has always been one of my favorite points in history.  I've always loved the idea of space traveling being more advanced than it is in our world.  I've also been intrigued with the idea of a successful manned British space program, and manned space flight in general being more widespread.  Yes, I am aware that Britain has a space program in our world, but it's only ever launched a few probes.

The comic is worth it for the great artwork alone.  As far as I'm aware, Warren Ellis has no plans to revisit Ministry of Space.  That's certainly a shame, we get some very tantalizing glimpses into this world, but it feels like there so many great stories that could be told in this world.  Still, what we got is pretty good, if a bit short.  Ministry of Space is one of the best alternate history comics out there, and it is more than worthy of your time.  You can find it pretty easily on Amazon, and you can also find it digitally on Comixology.

Well, I think that does it for now.  I'm off to find some more great alternate history comics to share with you guys.  I will see you all next time.