The New York Times has a review of Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, a biography and critical study by Blake Bell (Fantagraphics). Stan Lee always knew how to promote himself, and the late Jack Kirby is getting the props he deserves. Ditko is less well known to the public, but of course every comics fan knows he was the original Spider-Man artist. (Tobey Maguire was such a great casting choice, capturing the antiheroic geekiness of the early Peter Parker.)
Ditko now seems now to be leading a strange, sad life, recounts Times reviewer Douglas Wolk:
He split with Lee and Marvel in 1966. By then, he’d fallen under the spell of Ayn Rand and Objectivism, and started producing an endless string of ham-fisted comics about how A is A and there is no gray area between good and evil and so on. “The Hawk and the Dove,” for instance, concerns two superhero brothers who … oh, you’ve already figured it out. Ditko could still devise brilliantly disturbing visuals — the Question, one of his many Objectivist mouthpieces, is a man in a jacket, tie and hat, with a blank expanse of flesh for a face — and his drawing style kept evolving, even as his stories tediously parroted “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” at the expense of character, plot and ultimately bearability.
He drew Transformer coloring books and Big Boy comic books, almost as if he followed John Galt on strike.
(Self-indulgent note: Rand is always good for starting an argument, in my experience…)
[Image: book cover from Fantagraphics]
As the year draws to a close I thought I’d highlight some of the delights I’ve read in the SF genre this year.
Two of the best books I’ve read this year are Spook Country by William Gibson and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon but as they are generally considered mainstream rather than SF, I’ve left them out of my top five. Gibson in particular brings the boundaries between the present and the future closer together than ever before.
Top Five for 2007:
5. Joel Shepherd – Breakaway/Killswitch (books 2 + 3 of the Casssandra Kresnov trilogy) – Pyr have brought over this extremely good trilogy from Australia and the combination of insightful interstellar politics, kickass action and Battlestar Galactica-esque discussion of what it means to be human make these books following android Cassandra Kresnov a real hit.
4. Alastair Reynolds – The Prefect A real step up for Reynolds comapred to his previous work, with a much more sympathetic protagonist and a racy police-thriller plot. The worldbuilding in each of the space stations along the Glitter Band and the crisis that develops are intriguing and engaging.
3. Ian McDonald – Brasyl Three plotlines across three times in Brazil’s past, present and future interconnect with dizzying vision and skill. In addition to some incredibly cool future tech and scientific ideas, McDonald continues his trend of highlighting a country less explored in SF, really giving the reader a feel for the wonderfully different world of South America.
2. Charles Stross – Halting State Stross has many pans in the fire but this is easily my favourite of his novels so far. The extrapolation of today’s MMOs and online games into a complex near future of virtual realities and spy networks is breathtaking and the humour helps the thriller aspects tick along nicely. This year’s Rudy Rucker in the ‘most likely to happen’ category.
1. Richard Morgan – Thirteen (or Black Man in Europe) Morgan really stepped it up a notch with his fifth novel. The near-future Earth is brilliantly done and the moral ambiguities of the genetically altered hero and the world’s politics resonate strongly with current events. The action is frenetic and the plotline zips along but the worldbuilding of 90 years from now is what made me love this novel.
A special mention to the anthology edited by Lou Anders – Fast Forward #1. It’s really encouraging to see a broad remit anthology featuring superb new stories from big authors, rather than reprints and best of the year collections. John Joseph Adams’ Wastelands is also excellent. I’m sure I’ve missed a few books – what were your highlights of 2007?