Archive | October 2011

Spiderman 2099

Picture courtesy of IGN.

As of a few months ago, I decided I wanted to get back into comics. This may or may not have been directly influenced by successfully turning a B&N Nook Color into an epic full color comic reader. More on that later.

Part of what makes comics difficult to follow is the sheer volume of options and issues that stories are spread across. Unsure of what to read or what superhero arc to pick up on, I thought back to the two issues of Spiderman 2099 I owned as a kid. I was always a big fan of the original Spiderman (lots and lots of those lying around in a basement somewhere), but for some reason, I had the first issue of Spiderman 2099 and the 41st issue. Turns out the series did not run too much longer than the 41st, finishing with 46 regular issues, two annual specials, and one cross-over with the friendly neighborhood Spiderman we all know and love — a relatively limited series to ease my way back in. Also, the 2099 version of Spiderman seems to be seeing a resurgence in popularity primarily due to his being featured prominently in all of the newer Spiderman video games, and not just as a bonus costume.

In the 1990s, Marvel had this habit of doing grand-scale things that nobody ended up liking a whole lot. A prominent example is the Spiderman clone saga. I think the 2099 series was one of those things. The 2099 series followed different iterations of superheros in the year 2099. Some titles included Doom 2099, Ravage 2099, Punisher 2099, X-Men 2099; you get the idea.

But while the overall concept wasn’t too much of a success, Spiderman 2099 stuck out as a fresh take on an old Spiderman. The setting is a dystopian cyber-punk future where corporate empires run everything and something in the past has wiped out the entire population of superheroes. When Miguel O’Hara, a geneticist at Alchemax, tries to recreate superpowers sabotage and accidents lead to his genetic code being infused with spider genes. From there on out, Miguel not only fights crime and super-villains (such as 2099 revisions of familiar foes, such as the Vulture and Venom), but becomes the champion and hope-bringer of the underclass that is downtrodden by society. The series had many upsides and a number of downsides, but was generally fresh, entertaining, and worth the read. If you have to read any 2099 series, make it Spiderman.

Positives

  • Fresh character; personality is remarkably different than Peter Parker. He’s a little bit edgier and actually kills when pushed to it.
  • Character development is well-paced and doesn’t seem contrived; Miguel is a selfish corporate scientist who goes on to fight for the opposite side in class warfare. The drastic shift is well characterized.
  • Various degrees of classic dystopian science fiction theme intelligently infused into the series.
  • Likable supporting cast, including Miguel’s younger brother.
  • Well-paced story arcs throughout the series run.
  • Post-feature featurettes such as “Young Miguel” help to provide back story on various characters without bludgeoning the reader with exposition within the actual issues. Also utilized effectively as a foreshadowing tool.
  • Possibly the coolest Spiderman costume since the black and white one.

Negatives

  • Series ended far too quickly and in a rushed manner. It was a tough period for Marvel and comics in general, with various firings and financial troubles, and the 2099 series suffered at large for it.
  • There were some tie-ins, but there could have been more tie-ins with past Marvel events. Part of writing the future is seeing how the events of the present affect those futures.
  • More super-villains — there was a distinct lack of them throughout the series.
  • The virtual reality elements were somewhat cheesy, but that may have been done with campy intentions.

3/5

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the postmortal

Drew Magary is a blogger best known for his work on Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber. If I’m a little bit biased in this review, it’s because I’m an admittedly big fan of his dick jokes work at these two rather irreverent sports blogs. But I won’t be biased. I promise.

At first blush,  The Postmortal is simple enough. Magary utilizes the soft science fiction device of “What If…?” while keeping everything more or less recognizable to our world — in this case, “What if we all lived forever?” To begin answering this question, the primary action of the novel begins in the very near future and introduces a world that has discovered the pharmaceutical fountain of youth. Through the rediscovered digital journal of John Farrell, encompassing a period of 60 years from 2019 AD to 2079 AD, the social, psychological, economic, religious, and political implications of eternal youth are explored.

In most minds, eternal youth seems to go hand in hand with every concept of an utopia (along with golden toilet seats). Like a number of speculative fiction authors before him, Magary does an excellent job of turning a simple assumption on its head, and does so by infusing tragedy, comedy, and some downright horrifying things into his tale. The concepts are well thought-out, the technological development is realistically paced and believable, while the characterization is consistent.

The Postmortal does a lot of things well in terms of story and characterization, but it falls short on a few other fronts. It’s always easier to criticize, so here goes:

This is a frame story. You are reading a man’s journal in the year 2090 AD, and the individual posts cover 60 years. I was never particularly sold on the “blog” format. They rarely read like blog posts. Some just read like regular narratives with too many details for the chosen frame.  The blog format could have been used to tell the story in a clever manner, but it really seemed as if the author just wanted to tell his story and the frame was an afterthought. It is also stated that the “text files” have been formatted for the reader to skip over certain things. That could explain the gaps where the story flashes forward  anywhere from a decade to multiple decades, but I have a hard time believing nothing significant happened in the meantime that our prolific blogger main character did not blog about.

The gaps lead into the second issue I had with the book — the pacing always felt off. It does not feel like the first part of the book was really written with the ultimate object of the second part in mind. Some things went really quickly, some things dragged on. For instance, the pacing might have felt off because the tone shift felt too quick and never settled completely in the second part.

Finally, the twist with Solara Beck (a character mentioned in the opening pages), was a little contrived. I can’t really go into it without spoilers, but the outcome felt forced and out of place considering the context and history.

Overall, the book is an excellent and very readable first effort. I think Drew has some great potential as an author of speculative fiction. Lucky for him, he has the intangibles down — he can conceive a story and he can make it interesting. The story falls short on the things that promising authors tend to improve upon on their following efforts.

3/5

datawind aakash

The sky is usually the limit, but the Aakash (Hindi for “sky”) is only the beginning of leapfrog tablet technology.

Though the “tablet industry” is currently synonymous with “iPad”, there are a number of game-changers emerging. Amazon, one of the few companies that competes with Apple among a specific demographic of tech consumers, recently released the Kindle Fire, a fully functional Android-based tablet. Costing a competitive $199 when compared to the iPad’s $499 price tag, it offers a dual core processor, vivid display, and focuses on excelling at the primary content-based functions of an iPad (music, video, books, magazines). For a machine designed to compete directly with the Barnes & Noble Nook Color (a $250 device that is only a true tablet if one knows how to root/flash/mod it), it is an intriguing (if not surprising — Amazon is traditionally heavy-hitter due to expansive content) competitor in the general tablet market.

(Note – I’ve left out the HP Touchpad because of discontinuation, but the fire sale from a few months ago, along with the always impressive Cyanogenmod development team’s Alpha release of their open OS on the device, may have residual impact on the tablet world. I’ve also left off others, such as the Blackberry Playbook and a host of various Android tablets because they’ve failed to make a major splash. )

$199 is the kind of price tag that sounds nice in comparison to available options, but it’s certainly still expensive enough to be considered a consumer luxury. It is not quite cheap enough to make tablet computing ubiquitous as, for instance, mobile phones.

Indian Minister for Communications and Information Technology brandishes an Aakash. Photo swiped from http://www.kitguru.net.

Enter the UbiSlate by Datawind: Also known as Aakash, this Indian product would already be the world’s cheapest fully-functional, dual-core, tablet in the world at $60. However, in many cases (such as with students), the Indian government will subsidize this device down to $35, or roughly RS 1750. As with mobile phones (owned by many who have never owned a land-based line) or laptops (owned by a substantial amount of people who have never purchased their own desktop computers), this affordability may induce a generation of tech. consumers to “leapfrog” over the laptop all together.

A Public Health Perspective:

Widespread availability of mobile phones in some of the poorest parts of the developing world over the past decade has served as the springboard for various mHealth (a practice of public health and medicine supported by mobile devices) services and initiatives. The UN Foundation currently promotes the following categories of mHealth applications:

  • Education and awareness
  • Helpline
  • Diagnostic and treatment support
  • Communication and training for healthcare workers
  • Disease and epidemic outbreak tracking
  • Remote monitoring
  • Remote data collection

If a cheap, intuitive, and GPRS-enabled (for nationwide connectivity) tablet managed to undercut other mobile devices (such as laptops and netbooks), it could represent an improvement in nearly all of those categories.

Imagine a world where registered community health workers can sign out a tablet computer from a central location. All the reference documents he or she could possibly require in one 16 oz item, as well as counseling tools, and the ability to consult with physicians from the field. Not to mention access to YouTube. Everybody knows that watching videos of cats and babies being cute is its prime function, but YouTube is also possibly the largest visual “how-to” database that has ever existed.

The Aakash may not go so far yet, but the door has been cracked. Innovation breeds innovation, and the Aakash has the potential to take a large step forward in mHealth.

Specs:

  • Android OS 2.2 (Froyo)
  • Connexant with Graphics accelerator and HD Video processor
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 2 GB Internal Flash/External support up to 32 GB
  • USB 2.0 (1 Port)
  • 7″ Display, 800×480 pixel resolution
  • GPRS/WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/c