A Crucial Re-Examination of Stan Lee’s Legacy- “True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee” by Abraham Riesman

When I was younger, I never thought I’d be writing about how much I love reading biographies. They were part of that section at the bookstore I never wandered into–all those stuffy history books and books about people! Who cares? Now I have been devouring biographies at an obscene rate and churn through history books as quickly as I can get my hands on them. People change. That’s what makes them so interesting, and that’s why real life is often so fascinating to read about. Stan Lee is certainly best known for his work with Marvel comics, but what went on behind the scenes is of great interest for those wanting to know the “real story” behind the explosion of comic book popularity. True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee gives deep insight and raises many questions about who should really be credited for Marvel’s fame and characters.

All of this background is to say I didn’t have much invested here beyond a passing interest in the people involved and the characters around which Stan Lee and the other major players in the biography would revolve. True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee struck me like a hurricane. Abraham Riesman is clearly a skilled biographer with both the passion for the subject and strong prose required to make virtually anyone fascinating. And Stan Lee’s life is interesting on its own, for all that a large portion of it revolves around trying to make ends meet at a publishing company that would eventually turn out the now titanic Marvel.

Riesman gives readers background into why Stan Lee’s family ended up in America–fleeing anti-Semitism abroad. Lee’s father wanted his children to be devout Jews, but was ultimately disappointed by Stan. Reading the early life of Stan Lee gives the impression of someone who desperately wanted to make a name for himself and have that name acknowledged and acclaimed. What’s striking is that even in telling stories about how he landed his job in publishing, Stan Lee’s own tale changed. Did he just happen to have a talent for writing acknowledged long ago by newspaper editors (though documentation shows his story about this is a stretch of the truth as well), or was it because he was related to big shots in the publishing company he went to work for? In Lee’s telling[s], it’s all him, all the time. The credit belongs to him, and so does any fame that comes with it. That’s the story again and again throughout Stan Lee’s life.

The documentation Riesman provides is strong. He admits when he is putting forth conjecture or trying to piece together information from multiple, oft-conflicting primary sources. That latter point is worth reflecting on: Jack Kirby, Stan Lee’s long-time artist and compatriot, claimed credit for many of the same things Stan Lee did, whether that was the invention of the Fantastic Four or characters like Thor. Their origin stories of these larger-than-life characters are incompatible. Ultimately, one of them is telling something closer to the truth. Riesman notes the danger for the historian is trying to meet halfway in between and assuming that each has some portion of the truth. That goes beyond what the evidence can show and essentially means the historian or biographer is making their own account of what actually happened. That doesn’t mean something in the middle is untrue. It’s possible that Kirby and Lee collaborated on the idea of Thor, but when Lee claims a special interest in mythology led him to the idea (an interest Riesman points out is undocumented anywhere else) while Kirby’s own acknowledged and documentable interest was alleged to be his own inspiration, it becomes even murkier. Examples like this abound throughout the book and analysis thereof takes up many pages.

Readers interested in this kind of careful analysis of documentation, sources, and trying to piece together the facts of someone’s life will love it. Those looking merely for another work giving Stan Lee unvarnished acclaim will be deeply disappointed. Stan Lee certainly had revolutionary ideas. There seems to be a solidified notion in my mind that his innovation of having all of the Marvel comics inter-connect was a revelation at the time. But who gets credit for individual characters? It seems that, at best, Lee overstates his own genius in this regard throughout his life. Looking at interviews from the 60s vs. the 80s shows a decided change of tone from Lee. Earlier, he’d acknowledged collaboration and even credited others for ideas or writing of comics, while later the story changed to give himself virtually all the credit of any kind. Of course, the notable “Marvel Method” of collaboration on comics–which basically has the writer provide a generalized plot while leaving the innovation of layout of the panels and other big picture notions to the artist–likely helped yield a number of wonderful stories and superheroes also makes it extremely difficult to decide where credit is due.

And why does it matter? Well, certainly there’s a lot of cash on that question, and apparently some extremely large sums of the same were paid out in settlements behind non-disclosure agreements. But beyond that, it matters because there are others like Steve Ditko who deserve more credit for the creation of some of these iconic characters than they get. Hey, it’s all just superheroes, though, right? In a sense, sure, but as Riesman points out–sometimes even through Lee’s own defense of the cultural impact of comics–these characters have had monumental influence on many people’s lives and even on their beliefs. Ultimately, True Believer tells that tale as well: about how stories shape us and mold our perspectives in ways we may not truly expect.

After a lengthy portion of the book is dedicated to the burgeoning years of Marvel’s growth, Riesman sweeps us along Lee’s pursuit of Hollywood, his several failed attempts to market his name, and ultimately to his death. Lee’s later years have their own share of controversy, as people fought over who controlled his legacy and, ultimately, over who controlled Lee himself. Each of these stages of life are as elegantly covered through Riesman’s strong prose as the early Marvel years, though they don’t necessarily feel as intense. It’s like Lee himself put so much effort and energy into those years that it made the rest of his life kind of feel like it was winding down from there. What he’d set in motion–and really, there’s still reason enough to say he helped the Marvel ball roll along–kept going even as his own aspirations floundered and took hits as he missed opportunities or invested in the wrong interests and, sometimes, people. The end of his life is a messy, tragic tale of people deceiving him, trying to deceive the public, and many questions that still need to be asked. Lee died with some of his inner circle mourning him, while others sought to immediately exploit it, and some of his closest, longest friends having long been alienated by his own relentless pursuit of sole credit.

True Believer is a tragic story of a man whose legacy deserves a more objective look. Lee wanted to make a name for himself and craved fame. He got those things–but at what cost? Was alienating all of his friends and even his family worth the gains he had? I don’t think so. It’s a tragic story that lies at the heart of Marvel. It will take decades to sort everything out even more, and I doubt we’ll ever know the facts of who invented which character or where credit lies. Ultimately, Riesman’s biography is important not just as a correction of Lee’s legacy, but also as a key work for touching of future exploration. Fans of speculative fiction, comics, and biographies should all be grabbing True Believer and reading it as soon as they can.

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Indie Highlight: “Project Nemesis” by Jeremy Robinson

The “Indie Highlight” is a series of posts in which I shine the lights on Indie/Self-Published books that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’ll be writing reviews and recommending them, along with providing links on where to get the books. This is a special edition post for Indie April!

Project Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson

Look, I’m a simple person. I like stories about big monsters. Is it too much to ask that we have more novels based upon them? There just aren’t very many. After watching the absolutely fantastic “Pacific Rim: The Black” on Netflix (which I wrote about here), I was scrambling to find some kaiju reads to fill the void. Project Nemesis was one of the novels recommended to me in a group I’m in when I asked for recommendations, and I’m glad I got it.

Based on the cover, I expected to basically be thrown into a Godzilla-like scenario with some apocalyptic creature blowing up whole cities. Instead, after a few intense scenes setting up what’s to come, readers start following Jon Hudson, a DHS investigator in a secret division tasked with investigating the paranormal. He meets up with Ashley Collins, the local sheriff, as he works to investigate alleged Bigfoot sightings. The winsome way Robinson writes these characters drew me in, and the steady stream of self-deprecating humor from Hudson makes it fun to read all the way through.

There is, of course, plenty of Kaiju action once push comes to shove, too. Here, though, our kaiju is three-dimensional rather than being exclusively a “destroy-everything” creature. I thought Robinson did a great job adding some flesh and bones to the concept of a kaiju without taking it too far. Though I’d not call the book thoughtful, it is pure fun and has more layers to it than may be expected for the genre.

This novel can also serve fairly well as a standalone, but the series is completed at 5 novels.

There are a few issues here. There are a few nods to gender norms such as a line about “throwing like a girl.” Even there, though, it’s not entirely clear that even lines like that are intended as reinforcing such norms, because contextually we have Collins subverting those expectations. I still could have done without comments like that, however.

Overall, Project Nemesis is a blast of pure fun to read. I recommend it to readers who, like me, thirst for a story about gigantic monsters with at least some thought put into it.


Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time, Season 5: Episodes 17-20

Vir getting ready to save the day.

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Please don’t spoil anything from later episodes for me! 

This one is a bit long. A lot to discuss as the series starts to wrap up!

17: Movements of Fire and Shadow

That escalated quickly. The Drazi and Centauri are blasting each other to pieces in space, apparently. Also, anyone else spot those Firefly-esque ships? On station, Lochley notes that she’s increased security, but Sheridan’s message about the war’s escalation means that Babylon 5 will almost certainly not be neutral any longer. 

Vir works to find out more about the conflict, and back on Centaur, Mollari is taken by some nefarious looking aliens. He’s subjected to some invasive-looking procedure and then awakens in confusion before another alien speaks and says “He will be sufficient.” He then awakens in his cell, apparently from a nightmare? I am confused. Later, G’Kar makes some horrific smell that gets Mollari out of the cell. Mollari meets with the Regent, who seems just about as out of it as usual. And I suddenly remember we had that random scene with him getting an eye or something on his shoulder? What the heck happened to that? Will we find out?

Lyta and Dr. Franklin go to the Drazi homeworld to investigate a lead, paid by Vir. They discover that the Centauri ships had no people on board, and that they had left over Shadow technology on board. These revelations show Sheridan the Alliance was manipulated into war. 

The Regent has apparently sent away all the defensive ships from Centauri, and brought all the enemies of Centauri to the homeworld, ordered by “them.” A huge amount of ships shows up and opens fire on the homeworld at the end of the episode. Things are moving very quickly, and it seems the Shadows–or some other unknown ancient figures–may have been manipulating things all along.

18: The Fall of Centauri Prime

The weird third party that has been intervening on Centauri is somehow linked to the Shadows. They might just be the Shadows? We also get to replay one of the most epic moments Mollari has had on the show as he blew up the island to destroy the Shadows. But these allies of the Shadows have come and taken over the Regency, essentially. They have manipulated the Centauri into war, and they demand a new home. 

The Regent shows his eye, finally, and it is a Keeper–something the Shadow allies put on him to force him into actions they wanted. He says Mollari will become the Emperor, but will still be run by the Shadow-allies. The Keeper extracts itself from the Regent, and he dies. Meanwhile, the Centauri ships are coming back to the planet, ready to fight for revenge. Mollari rouses himself after this and speaks with G’Kar, who notes that he can never forgive the Centauri for what the ydid to his people, “But I can forgive you.” Mollari grips arms with his old rival, in yet another amazing scene between these two, and he walks to face his doom.

The Shadow-ally thing breaks part of itself off to become the Keeper on Mollari–and I’m honestly a bit confused as to why Mollari would accep that in any way. Does he just think he has no option? I don’t get it. Moreover, he seems to almost immediately have no control over the fate of the Centauri, and I am even more confused as to why he’d agree to this action. As he meets with Sheridan, this becomes even more clear. Moments after pleading for Delenn’s life from the Shadow-ally thing, he lies to Sheridan’s face about what he knows. But this is clearly what the Shadow thing was making him do. And again, I find myself asking–why did he choose to accept the “keeper” thing? 

We see Delenn and Lennier alone on their ship, about to be destroyed, when Lennier tells Delenn he loves hear and Delenn says “I know.” But right as they are about to be destroyed, the ships use tractor beams instead of destructive fire. Back on Centauri, Vir finds Mollari to check on him, but is utterly confused by Mollari’s reaction. Mollari then gives a speech that is inflammatory against the Alliance, stating that he will walk alone, and be pushing a new isolationist agenda. He gives this speech as the Shadow-ally looks on in approval. He then dispatches vir to Babylon 5 as ambassador–possibly a ploy to get him out of contact with any Shadow allies? We’ll see how this plays out. 

I have to say I’m saddened to see Mollari under control of these Shadow people. We’ve seen him manipulated, cast aside, imprisoned, and more. But to have him under a kind of mind control is beyond any of these–he’s unable to fight back, and this is perhaps the greatest aspect of Mollari’s personality: his independence. The bell tolls as we see a brief montage of Mollari’s past, and wonder about his future. I hate it and love it all at once. The final scene is Mollari sitting in his throne room, looking disturbed. We’ve seen this before through time travel (not this exact scene, but a similar one), and it’s heart rending to see how it came about. It’s not, as I thought back then, either an invented, non-inevitable scenario that would be avoided or a result of his own machinations. No, it’s due to events entirely outside his control. And that’s… pretty brutal. Mollari! 

Lyta does not have time for your nonsense any more.

19: The Wheel of Fire

G’Kar is back on Babylon 5? Why isn’t he with Mollari!? And Lochley comes to meet him, which surprises him. There’s also a massive crowd of Narn chanting his name, with statues of him to lift above their heads. Lochley only came along to enjoy G’Kar’s bafflement! Yes! And as he starts talking, “I–” they all kneel and become instantly silent! I laughed out loud at that, for real! 

Garibaldi is caught flat-footed and drunk at a meeting by Sheridan, Delenn, and more. It’s such an utterly human moment, and it’s heart-rending. Sheridan pulls Garibaldi aside for a one-on-one and both notes his own complicity in ignoring some of the warning signs while acknowledging the strain on Garibaldi. But then, he says he’s not angry with Garibaldi–he’s “very disappointed.” The quintessential, awful statement that basically anyone wants to avoid. “I didn’t say I was disappointed in you because of your failure” Sheridan says. He notes that he’s disappointed that Garibaldi didn’t come to him straightaway and ask for help, or reach out to others for help. He suspends Garibaldi immediately until whenever it takes. Briefly, I thought about how that might impact his ability to pay rent–something we saw Lyta struggle with for a bit. But of course there’s a lot more going on than that for Garibaldi, and such problems don’t usually get raised on shows like this. It would be pretty awesome if we lived in a world in which losing your job didn’t automatically mean losing your ability to live in your home. I digress, though, because this scene was one of the more emotionally impactful scenes on a show full of them. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking.

Dr. Franklin goes to meet with G’Kar, getting handed a figurine of the Narn along the way, and he talks to G’Kar about the latter’s greater popularity, as well as questions of God. Then, Lochley goes to talk to Garibaldi about his alcoholism. It doesn’t really go well at first, but then she reveals that she also struggles with alcoholism. She tells him that he’s not alone, and what he does with that from there is up to him. It’s a tough love moment, but one that offers some hope. Lochley goes to arrest Lyta on some charges, but Lyta does “not choose to be arrested,” and shows an impressive amount of telepathic powers. Her Vorlon enhancements make her seem invincible, but Sheridan shows up. “You’re not the only one touched by Vorlons,” he says, and helps get her arrested. 

Lochley, meanwhile, sent a message to Lise with Garibaldi’s name, saying “I need you,” which brought her running. It’s a touching moment, if a bit manipulative. Lise offers Garibaldi a chance to help run one of the biggest corporations on Mars with her, which sets him off after… something? Meanwhile, Delenn is pregnant. Yep! Sprung that one on us quickly! I guess I should have been expecting it at some point, given what we saw earlier in the series, and the way this series seems to play with time travel, prophecy, and the like. 

Garibaldi offers Lyta a trade–use the corporation Lise controls to help drop charges against Lyta in exchange for her removing the mental block on him, which he thinks is at least partially responsible for his own problems. But Lyta changes the deal, and we see G’Kar overhearing Garibaldi cutting a deal with Lochley. This is getting to be a highly complex deal. But G’Kar steps in and offers to go “out there” with Lyta and explore with her. Later, we see Lyta’s actual deal with Garibaldi–they make a secret account to use against the Psi Corps while leaving the neural block in so that it can motivate him. But she says she’ll come back in 2 years and fight Bester with him. Garibaldi says the deal has to include her telling him what the Vorlons did to her, and she finally reveals that she’s essentially one of the “big weapons” type telepaths the Vorlons made. She’s the “telepathic equivalent of a doomsday weapon.”  

20: Objects in Motion

Number One shows up on station, and she has a name! Tessa Hollorand. Dr. Franklin meets her as she comes on board, and she immediately goes to warn Garibaldi (who’s going through a detox from the alcohol) and Lise that someone’s going to try to kill them. Meanwhile, G’Kar meets with Lyta and discusses his proposal to travel the stars with G’Kar. “We are all the sum of our tears,” he says, in another beautiful line. Later, he’s confronted by one of his legions of followers, who demands that G’Kar teach him instead of leaving. During the confrontation, G’Kar tells him to go home, snaps the statue of himself in half, and walks away as the acolyte calls after him. At a guess, in the moment, I figured this student might go violent and try to kill G’Kar for shattering his dreams. Meanwhile, Zack and Sheridan propose using G’Kar’s sending ceremony as a cover for getting Garibaldi’s would-be killer to show him- or herself. And, there it is! At the ceremony, they capture Garibaldi’s would-be assassin, but G’Kar’s angry would-be acolyte tries to kill him, and in the process of saving G’Kar, the bullet is redirected and hits Lise. 

This does not, shall we say, ingratiate the would-be killer to Garibaldi. Garibaldi takes the assassin (not the acolyte, about whom he cares little) to Lyta and leverages their partnership to get the telepath to extract the one who sent him. It was the Edgars Industries board of directors, which was something of a surprise–tension on Mars is not going away. Back in the sickbay, Lise finally awakens. Garibaldi has a minister ready to get them married “before the universe throws anything else at us.” And then, he confronts the Board, dropping a surprising amount of blackmail-able information on them, while introducing Hollorand as the new chief of intelligence for the Alliance. 

Garibaldi shares an extremely heartfelt goodbye with Delenn and Sheridan as he leaves for Mars. My heart! It aches. 


Babylon 5 Hub– Find all my Babylon 5-related posts and content here.

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Initial Thoughts on the 2021 Hugo Nominees

The 2021 Hugo Nominations have been announced. I’m pleased to say I was involved this time as a paying member and got to help nominate. It was a ton of fun, though I absolutely agonized over my choices for best novel. I wanted to talk about the shortlist now that it’s been announced and highlight a few things.

Best Related Work

I start here because one of the selections truly blew me away. Finding new things that I’d never have thought about before is THE reason I read through lists of any sort. Well, when the nominees were announced, I saw “The Last Bronycon: a fandom autopsy” from Jenny Nicholson, a YouTube video pop up. I know a couple bronies, and my kids love the Friendship is Magic show, so I’ve seen glimpses of it here and there. I figured, what the heck, I’ll watch this video. It’s a bit over an hour long and I was just enthralled the whole time.

First of all, Nicholson is an engaging speaker. She blended humor, personal experience in the community, and a critical eye into a genuinely wonderful piece. It would be easy to make videos mocking bronies or asking why people are how they are. Nicholson has enough firsthand experience to love the community and acknowledge its faults. It was an incisive look at how the fandom rose up around My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and how some parts could be quite toxic while others were wonderful.

The video also made me want to watch My Little Pony much more than I have with my kids watching it in the background. I think it’s always fun to join new fandoms, though trying to navigate the unfortunate (and sometimes, it seems, inevitable) toxicity and gatekeeping makes it tough to get on board.

As a related work, though, what a great work “The Last Bronycon” was. It offered insights into the subject while also calling on viewers to experience the joy and love that Nicholson herself had/has for both the community and the content. I highly recommend you watch it. (Fair warning: some adult content, language, and discussion.)

I love this thumbnail, it’s so great!

Just another quick note, I was tickled to see the article “George R.R. Martin Can Fuck Off Into the Sun, Or: The 2020 Hugo Awards Ceremony” by Natalie Luhrs on there. The 2020 Hugo Awards ceremony was certainly an interesting thing to behold, but I only watched it intermittently. This analysis helped me see more of the problems with it. I confess I’m a huge Silverberg fan as far as much of his fiction, but the searing he got in this article may have been deserved too. Whether it was or not, I do think that articles like this that help make us aware of potential problems in fandom are helpful.

Best Novel

This is probably the category with the most buzz, and, as I said, I agonized over my own choices. There was so much fantastic speculative fiction released last year. The nominees are

  • Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse (Gallery / Saga Press)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)
  • Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir (Tordotcom)
  • Network Effect, Martha Wells (Tordotcom)
  • Piranesi, Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury)
  • The Relentless Moon, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor Books)

I’ve read most of these, but not Harrow the Ninth or The Relentless Moon. I did a deep dive into some Mary Robinette Kowal recently, though, reading the entire Glamourist Histories series, which was fabulous, along with some shorter fiction. I need to go back and read the whole Lady Astronaut series. As for Harrow–well, I did not enjoy Gideon much at all, but since I try to read every single Hugo nominee for best novel, I’ll be giving the series another chance. I genuinely think Harrow will win regardless. The first book had so much hype and this one seems to be getting just as much. The other four novels, which I’ve read, would each be deserving in their own way. So far, out of these (and excluding by default those I haven’t read), I’d probably pick Network Effect, but they’re all great choices.

I gotta say I was shocked that To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini wasn’t on this list. I thought it was a shoe-in for at least getting a nomination. It was one of the biggest surprises of last year’s reading for me, and I wrote about it in longer form already. I loved it. Given Paolini’s big name from the Eragon books (which I admit I didn’t like much, having only read the first), I figured he’d be on it for sure. Goes to show how much I know!

Best Video Game

I believe it’s the first year for this category, and the nominations are all over the board. A few are expected–Animal Crossing and the Final Fantasy VII remake (which I still need to play, come on PC release!), while others are surprises. Like Blaseball? I’ve never even heard of it, but apparently it’s a browser based horror baseball game? Uh, I’ll be giving that a try.

Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book

Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko should win this. It’s one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in years. I loved it so much, and I encourage you to go read it as soon as possible! I keep seeing A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking showing up places–I need to read it. I wrote a review of Raybearer if you’d like to check it out.

Astounding Award for Best New Author

The choices here are:

  • Lindsay Ellis (1st year of eligibility)
  • Simon Jimenez (1st year of eligibility)
  • Micaiah Johnson (1st year of eligibility)
  • A.K. Larkwood (1st year of eligibility)
  • Jenn Lyons (2nd year of eligibility)
  • Emily Tesh (2nd year of eligibility)

This is an incredibly solid list. I personally lean towards Simon Jimenez because his The Vanished Birds is a spectacular debut work. Found family, shades of “Firefly.” Check it out.

Best Fanzine

I am so pleased to see the “Unofficial Hugo Book Club Blog” ed. Amanda Wakaruk and Olav Rokne on there. I enjoy their presence on Twitter so much, as they both interact so kindly and also help highlight so many works. They’re great at signal boosting others and I just love that.

Other Categories

I’m sorry if I didn’t comment on your favorites, but I’d love to read your thoughts! Let me know what you think in the comments, please! I love talking about this stuff. I also tried to avoid commenting on anything I just hadn’t read or didn’t know enough about to comment upon. Congratulations to all the nominees!


Announcing the 2021 Hugo Award Finalists– Tor dot com’s post about the finalists, a convenient place to view them all.

Science Fiction Hub– I’ve discussed past Hugo Awards extensively, and would love to chat about them and hear your own thoughts! I have several posts discussing entire years’ worth of nominees/winners for best novel as well as my own choice for a winner. Check out all my posts on science fiction (and some fantasy!) at this hub.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Indie Highlight: “The Sovereign of the Seven Isles” by David A. Wells

The “Indie Highlight” is a series of posts in which I shine the lights on Indie/Self-Published books that I believe are worthy of your attention. I’ll be writing reviews and recommending them, along with providing links on where to get the books. This is a special edition post for Indie April!

The Sovereign of the Seven Isles by David A. Wells

“The Sovereign of the Seven Isles” is a lengthy epic fantasy series by David A. Wells. Some time ago, the first book popped up as free on Kindle, and I snagged a copy. With Indie April approaching, I decided to finally dive into the series, and read the first book, Thinblade. I quickly followed up by reading the second in the series, Sovereign Stone. I can’t yet comment on later books in the series, as I’ve yet to read them. But I already got the third book from Kindle Unlimited, so I will be continuing this series fairly soon.

The core thrust of the series is a story of prophecy and expectation regarding the Sovereign of the Seven Isles. It’s a setup that will seem familiar to fans of epic fantasy, and so far the series doesn’t diverge much from what one would expect going in. There is ancient family expectation woven seamlessly into ancient evil and, as I said, prophecy.

So far, what makes the series stand out is mostly that it has been so conventional. Normally, that would be a point to potentially un-sell a novel for me, but there’s a sense of comfort reading these books that comes from being a longtime fan of fantasy. It’s easy to sit down and churn through half the book in an afternoon because it just feels like entering into a fantasy world that doesn’t ask too much from its readers. There are a lot of characters, but it’s never overwhelming. More importantly, the action keeps up at such a brisk pace that some of the flaws regarding narrative or prose are easy to ignore for the sake of continuing to the next major point.

The first book, Thinblade, has Alexander working to find the titular blade, which is so fine that it seems to be able to slice through or destroy just about anything. By the second book, the importance of this blade is tempered a bit by Alexander learning he must also have sound strategy and skill. It’s a coming-of-age story in the middle of world-rending events, and fans of fantasy will be quite comfortable.

Wells has written an intriguing world, and for fans of epic fantasy, it’s easy to recommend this one to give a try, especially if you have Kindle Unlimited. I recommend these especially for those looking for some epic fantasy that don’t also want to spend actual hours trying to figure out the world or memorize all the names going in. Sometimes I love books like that–but we all need a break once in a while. These books are a good bridge book for those breaks between heavier reads. The first book, Thinblade, is still just $0.99 on Kindle, so it’s worth a try if you’re interested. Let me know what you think!


Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!


Watching Babylon 5 for the First Time, Season 5: Episodes 13-16

This is… ominous.

I am very late to the Babylon 5 party. As it came out, I was a bit young for the show and the few times we tried to watch as a family, it was clear we had no idea what was going on. After several people bugged me, telling me it was the show I needed to watch, I grabbed the whole series around Christmas last year on a great sale. I’ve been watching it since, sneaking it in between the many things going on in my life. It quickly became apparent that I’d want to discuss the episodes with others, so I began this series of posts. Please don’t spoil anything from later seasons or episodes for me! 

13: The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father

I do not like the look of that title. 

This episode is a unique one in the overall series. For one, gives us a glimpse of the Psi Corps’s headquarters. It initially seems to be a day in the life of Bester. Of course, it doesn’t stay that mundane (sorry, I had to use the word!), if one could call any day in Bester’s lifeby that word. A murder investigation quickly takes Bester’s time and takes him to Babylon 5.

The murderer, apparently a Jonathan Harris, is a telepath who can apparently shatter minds if he manages to get to someone without defenses up. He flees to Babylon 5, and after a confrontation over gambling, we see that Harris’s mind is apparently itself possibly split into different personalities. But the plot thickens even more, as we see someone else is following Harris–an unknown quantity who even kills one of Bester’s colleagues. There’s a lot of detective work going on this episode, and several murders. Chen, one of the two other telepaths traveling with Bester, ends up dead as well. 

Eventually, Bester’s deductions and station security manage to combine to find and capture Harris. On the way home, Lauren Ashley, the other telepath with Bester, asks to deal with the “mundane.” Bester agrees, and we see the mundane floating through space, having been shoved out of an airlock. It’s a chilling moment, especially when we get back to Bester and Ashley and see Bester’s approval alongside her hero worship. 

14: Meditations on the Abyss

Delenn sneaks out of her quarters and gets in a… bar fight? She meets with Lennier after he intervenes in the fight. It turns out that she thinks there is more to the attacks happening on the border than she’s even revealed to others. She wants Lennier to investigate and is hiding it from Sheridan because she thinks he won’t send Lennier even if he’s the best one for the job. Lennier reveals that his own Day of the Dead vision told him that he would betray the Rangers, something that is clearly bothering him. Delenn doubts it, but there’s an interesting thread hanging out there.

Meanwhile, Vir! I thought this scene was hilarious as Mollari discovers a bug and then makes a number of colorful comments about the Drazi. But the Drazi seem to be in up to their elbows in everything nefarious. Mollari tells Vir that Vir will be the ambassador once Mollari departs. Mollari’s later stomping on the Drazi ambassador in public is a delight as well. But then Vir confronts the Drazi retailer who bugged the merchandise and, when pressed, comes back with a sword and destroys the guy’s stand. It was an intense moment that certainly shows a change in Vir I didn’t anticipate. But, as has been the case in pretty much every instance of change in a character, I don’t think it’s horribly out of character. This is a real change to a character, not just a convenient plot point that goes against Vir as an established personality.

Captain Enrique Montoya–the cadance and the way he says it echoes “I am Inigo Montoya…” from “The Princess Bride.” I don’t know if this is an intentional reference or not. He’s pretty fricking hardcore, too. He puts Lennier and a Ranger companion through a test without their knowledge as they start to run low on air. He lectures Lennier’s companion on the importance of various virtues for the Rangers. But later, we see Lennier get his what for as well in a turnabout test. Ranger training would be something I would wash out of very quickly. 

Dr. Franklin replaces G’Kar’s eye with one that matches, and also tells him he’s been reading his holy book. Franklin asks to come to one of G’Kar’s talks, and looks, well, at least amused by the insights of G’Kar. The episode ends with a great summary dinner among some of the senior staff… and then a scene showing Garibaldi in a drunken stupor. 

15: Darkness Ascending

Garibaldi dreams and then welcomes Lise into his cabin; Lyta works to sell the rogue telepaths’ services in order to try to find a new homeworld; Lennier and Delenn continue investigating while Sheridan starts to get suspicious; everyone’s cancelling appointments with the Centauri, which flags Mollari’s radar for strange diplomatic behavior. Just another day on Babylon 5. 

Lise is… unimpressed when she finds a half empty bottle of liquor in Garibaldi’s apartment. After a fight, she urges him to prove that he’s in charge of himself regarding alcohol, and he dumps the liquor down the sink. I’m hoping this will lead to a permanent fix. Meanwhile, Lennier has already (!?) rebelled against the Rangers because he wants to continue investigating the attacks. Oh, and Lyta goes to G’Kar to offer her genetic material of as many telepaths as she has access to as a trade for money, starships, and secrecy. Numerous double entendres ensue on the latter one, by the way. Just another day on Babylon 5, right?

…And on Garibaldi’s date with Lise, he spikes his coffee with liquor. Lennier records an attack (this makes me wonder if this counts as his rebellion or not). G’Kar agrees to Lyta’s terms, so the Narn and rogue telepaths will be working together to an extent.

The episode ends with Garibaldi urging Lise to leave because he believes the Alliance will be at war with the Centauri. The recording from Lennier shows Centauri ships attacking the innocent trade vessels. But, as was pointed out earlier, the Narn have access to some Centauri vessels. There’s got to be more going on here.

16: And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder

The Alliance meets sans the Centauri, over Mollari’s protest. Delenn and Sheridan say they have proof the Centauri Republic specifically carried out the attacks. But I wonder how they came to that conclusion simply from seeing Centauri ships. Of course, they then present a bunch of evidence to that effect. We see the evidence being handed to Vir and Mollari as the individuals testify to the gathered Alliance personnel. It’s pretty conclusive, and Mollari and Vir start to doubt the alleged disinformation campaign the homeworld is pushing as the real culprits behind the campaign. But this doesn’t stop Mollari from doubling down when he goes before the Counsel and delivers to them a categorical denial and ultimatum. 

This results in the Counsel telling Mollari that as he leaves the station to go back to Centauri and try to sort things out, he will not be allowed back. The Counsel is “satisfied” with the evidence that the Centauri committed the great crimes against the Alliance peoples. Surprisingly, G’Kar insists on going back to the Centauri homeworld with Mollari, but decides to do so without Mollari’s immediate knowledge. Meanwhile, Zack Allan discovers Garibaldi is an alcoholic as well, and after a stern talking to, helps him get presentable to go talk to Sheridan. 

Later, however, Garibaldi sleeps through a transmission from a White Star with extremely important information regarding the attacks on the freighters. This happens right as the first major conflict between an Alliance member–the Drazi–and the Centauri comes to a head with shots fired. The situation escalates quickly on station, as people of the various Alliance worlds. Then, Sheridan absolutely loses his crap on the gathered delegates and screams at them about how they wanted a war and have now gotten one. 

On Centauri, Mollari and G’Kar get locked in prison as Mollari protests the Regent’s actions. As an aside, Sheridan’s outfit in the scene where he sees Delenn praying is quite… something. I think it’s just a night robe but wow, somebody got carried away with their pattern! 

Anyway, things seem pretty grim right now. I want to pause and just make a few predictions, because it’s fun. 

  1. I think Mollari and G’Kar are going to bust out of prison.
  2. I think Lennier’s “rebellion” hasn’t actually happened yet, and may involve finding out something regarding the Centauri/Alliance war buildup.
  3. Lochley will, at some point, have a hugely necessary piece in the action. She’s barely even shown up in the last several episodes, so I think she’ll have a big part sometime.

Anyway, only 8 episodes left to find out!


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“Invincible” – Getting hooked on a new superhero show (Episode 1 Chat)

PLEASE don’t SPOIL events later in this series! I’ve only seen the first episode and will try to watch the rest ASAP.

Anyway, I just watched the first episode of “Invincible” on Prime Video. I actually watched it twice because after seeing it I wanted to share it with other people and my wife and I watched it later the same day I saw it the first time! What an absolutely fantastic hook in that first episode!

I saw the ads on Amazon and thought oh well, just another superhero show. But then someone whose opinion I think pretty highly of retweeted something positive about the show and I thought I’d give it a try. One episode wouldn’t really be that big a time sink if I didn’t like it.

The show starts off and yeah, it seems like a somewhat generic superhero story. Some security guys standing around shooting the breeze outside the White House. Some heartfelt dialogue between the two (I mean, it actually really hooked me in right away with the story of the stepson coming back), and then bam! Time for action as some clone (?) brothers show up to wreck the White House. Then we have a bunch of heroes show up, and they work together like the Justice League. They’re definitely not the Justice League, right? They have similar outfits, traits, and abilities, but this is all part of the setup for you, the viewer.

There’s some other dude with them who seems way stronger and more powerful, and you quickly learn that he’s his own superhero Omni-Man and the others are the Guardians of the Globe. Again, still feels like standard superhero fare. Omni-Man is definitely not Superman, but he’s from some far off planet where everyone has superpowers and looks like humans. Anyway, he has a son and a wife who’s a “normal” human. The son is waiting for his powers to manifest. It seems like we’ve got a kind of coming-of-age superhero storyline tagged on, right?

That’s how the rest of the episode seems to run. And then there’s a massive, enormous twist.

Huge SPOILERS for episode 1 follow.

We see all the Guardians of the Globe having some great character pieces, enough to hook me even more onto them as characters, even if they really are… er, aren’t stand-ins for the Justice League. But then they all get summoned to headquarters and no one summoned them but Omni-Man shows up and literally tears them all to pieces in the bloodiest fashion possible. Wait, what!? He’s a good guy! He seems a somewhat distracted dad trying to figure things out! But what the heck? Why did he just murder all the good guys? It’s a stunning twist, and watching the show the second time I wonder what it has to do with him saying that he wasn’t ready for his son to get superpowers and how maybe it would have been better if he hadn’t. Maybe that has something to do with what he does to the Guardians? What’s the bigger story? I don’t know, but you better believe I’ll be diving back into the show to find out.

I’m dying to talk about it with other people. Tell me your thoughts on episode 1 here! I can’t wait to watch more. I almost want to just buy all the comics and go!


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