If I hadn’t read Ben H. Winter’s The Last Policeman trilogy this year, I might have enjoyed We All Looked Up a lot more than I did.
Both novels start from a similar point — an asteroid is bearing down on Earth, ready to wipe out life as we know it. But where Winters’ trilogy centered on a single character and gave us an extended view of how society might break down under the threat of imminent chaos and destruction, Tommy Wallach’s novel details only a few months of the final days and centers on four teenagers whose lives intersect during the final days of our planet.
Before the news that an asteroid is hurtling toward our planet, our four teenagers are presented as your standard cliches — the driven student, the girl with the bad reputation, the stoner guy and the jock. Wallach introduces us to each of them before the idea of the asteroid is brought front and center and shows us how each person got their reputation and self-image and whether or not its fully applicable to the person. (In most cases, there’s a hint of truth to it, but things have been blown out of proportion).
Then news of the asteroid shows up and everything changes. The driven student suddenly finds that all the sacrifices she made for the future her parents wanted for her have become less important since in all likelihood she won’t live to fulfill them. One of the other character makes a bet with his friend that he’ll sleep with the girl with the bad reputation before the world ends. There are some interesting observations about how society would collapse in the face of imminent destruction (one interesting observation is how very few people would actually use calculus with or without global destruction looming large). But the closer we get to the end of the world, the less interested I became in the characters as a whole. Once each character has shed his or her definition, it doesn’t feel like anything interesting or compelling really happens to them.
It leads to me walking away from the book a bit less enthusiastic about it than I was initially.
Since I’m behind on my Doctor Who reviewing, I’m offering commentary on “Mummy on the Orient Express” and “Flatline” in one post. It’s two posts for the price of one!
Mummy on the Orient Express
In the 80’s, the production team wanted to introduce audiences to a more alien, less likeable Doctor who would slowly mellow over time and become more and more liked by the audience. The result was the sixth Doctor and the plan didn’t exactly go, well, as planned. Colin Baker’s era was one of the most polarizing in the classic series run and led to the show becoming the target of a great deal in internal criticism at the BBC and the show going on hiatus for eighteen months.
With the Peter Capaldi era, I feel like that in addition to destructing the character of the Doctor, Steven Moffat has taken on that task of giving us a more alien, less likeable Doctor and is showing us how it could have and should have been done. With “Mummy” we look into the question of just how the Doctor goes about solving the problem or defeating the alien threat facing him in each story. Do the ends justify the means?
In this case, it’s a high body count (nothing new, just watch any story by Robert Holmes) that piles up before the Doctor can come up with a way to stop the Mummy from killing everyone on the train. Does the Doctor have the right to ask each of these various people to sacrifice themselves in the interest of obtaining data on how to defeat the Mummy and Gus, who has lured the Doctor into this particular trap (interestingly, the Doctor has turned down multiple invitations to come on board and solve this until Clara threatens to leave him. More on this later). The Doctor realizes there is a way to stop the Mummy, but it takes data (in this case the death of innocent people) to give him the pieces he needs to solve the puzzle.
Of the stories we’ve seen this year, this one feels like it comes closest to the classic Who model of the “base under siege” story. In fact, I’d say it felt a great deal like the Tom Baker era story “The Robots of Death” with people trapped in an isolated, locked-room location and a force coming to kill everyone on board. Having the Doctor chose to take Clara into what can be summed up as “the most typical of classic Who models” for what she wants to be her last hurrah in the TARDIS is interesting. The Doctor doesn’t give her a tour of the marvels of the universe and all the beauty within it, but instead a classic battle against the forces of evil that he faces. And in doing so, he gives her a bit of insight into who he is now and just how alien he truly he is. He also feeds her addiction to traveling with him — the excitement of the discovery and just how these various monsters are defeated. Continue reading
Robert Whitlow returns to his roots with his latest character-driven legal thriller The Confession. After giving us a couple of novels that stretched both him and his readers, it’s nice to see Whitlow get back to a well-told legal story that is easily on par with some of his best works.
Years ago, Holt Douglas made a mistake — and his best friend died. Holt lied at the time and has been carrying around that guilt since that time. But you wouldn’t know it from looking at Holt’s life today. He’s an assistant DA in a rural Georgia county whose star is on the rise, he’s dating a successful and beautiful business-woman and he’s got a nice home complete with a friendly, lovable dog. But when a cold case is left on his desk, Holt begins to put his personal and professional future on the line as he begins to do a bit of digging into a mysterious death in the town’s history.
To help him dig into the past, Holt asks Deputy Trish Carmichael to delve a bit into the details of the cold case. Like Holt, Trish is dealing with some issues from her past that are clouding her present. And she’s also got a bit of a crush on Holt, which could be holding her back from a potential new boyfriend in her life, Keith. Continue reading
Maybe I’m expecting too much from IDW’s Star Trek comic book line. Every time I pick up a collection, I find myself coming away disappointed in some way. In the case of this collection of seven stories from Star Trek: Year Four, I came away with far more disappointments than I anticipated or wanted.
Freed from the limitations of a television budget, I was hoping for some stories that captured the spirit of the original series while taking full advantage of the nearly limitless special effects budget of what can be drawn within a comic book panel. Instead, what we get are some stories that feel like they’re trying to be too clever for their own good (including one where the crew stumbles across a planet that is addicted to reality TV shows and the Enterprise becomes the focus of one. It should have been fun, but the meta-ness and the feeling of the writers trying to be too clever for their own good quickly takes over. It even feels too long and it only runs about twenty or so pages) or end up feeling a bit too rushed into the single-issue running length. It’s ironic that many times reading modern comics, I can’t help but wonder if we’re getting one issue of plot spread over six issues of publication. But I kept thinking that maybe making some of these stories into two-part installments might have allowed them to breath a bit or given us a few more moments to enjoy a bit of time with the characters. Continue reading
The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 1: 1950-1952 by Charles M. Schulz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Growing up, I loved checking collections of Peanuts comic strips out of the library. During my younger years, there were two size to the Peanuts collections — the smaller, standard size paperbacks, which rarely included the Sunday strips and the larger trade paperbacks that included more comics per page and the Sunday strips. I have found memories of reading those collections over and over again and always heading to that section of the library with the hope that a new collection was on the shelf today — or at least one I’d only read a dozen or so times before.
Part of this love stemmed from the animated Peanuts specials and the feature length movies. And part of it came from the collection of Charlie Brown records, where dialogue from the animated specials was put onto vinyl and I could listen them over and over again. Like the books, there were two sizes — the shorter play records that ran from eight to fifteen minutes and the LP that included pretty much the entire special in audio form. In the days before we had VHS (yes, there were such dark days. We also walked to school, against the wind both ways through snow drifts, even in the middle of summer or when I lived in climates that didn’t have snow), those records helped me to enjoy the stories of Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and Snoopy over and over and over again.
It was always fascinating to see the strips that became some of the source material and inspiration for those various animated specials (and records). Continue reading
Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive by David Fisher
Revisiting some of the original Doctor Who Target novels in audio form has been an interesting experiment, especially going back to those that I have strong memories of or recall enjoying a great deal the first time around.
One that elicits good memories and feelings of enjoyment is David Fisher’s adaptation of his script for “The Leisure Hive.” My recollections of the novel were that it did a nice job of world-building and character development, all while keeping the basic story from the television screen in tact, even if it wasn’t necessarily a beat for beat adaptation.
In fact, I’d say that Fisher spends the bulk of his time adapting what is (on-screen anyway) the first installment of the story that the rest of his novel ends up feeling a bit too rushed to get to the finish line. I’d love to know what Fisher might have done without the publisher imposed page-count on the Target novels of this era.
Alas, it appears that Fisher isn’t going to re-work his initial novelization or expand it any for the audio release, which I think is a bit of a shame.
All of that said, this one holds up remarkably well. Again, a lot of it comes down to Fisher’s world-building and filling it details that are merely hinted at in the television version. Fisher also brings a bit of a Douglas Adams sensibility to certain passages of the novel, which works fairly well, for the most part.
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakes languished on my to-be-read pile ever since it was nominated for the Hugo Award a couple of years ago. I’m not sure what this says about me as a reader, but it was news that the novel was being developed for a potential SyFy series that finally drove me to crack the cover and give it a chance.
Also, the notion that with the series reaching a fourth book and getting some good buzz, I’d better jump in now or risk being so far behind that I’d never want to catch up.
I’m glad I waded into the book because it’s one of the more enjoyable space opera novels I’ve read in a long time. Space opera can be a bit bleak at times and while this one does have those moments, it still manages to rise above them at others and keep things entertaining. Part of it could be the parallel stories that intersect at just the right point and then continue to escalate events from there. Part of the hook is that one is a mystery set within this genre universe and that helped me to connect to the story and want to keep reading. It also helps that both storylines reveal different aspects of the politics of this universe and how they are unfolding and developing. Even the info-dumps necessary for a novel like this don’t feel like the entire plot is screeching to a halt in order to have characters stop and give us information we need in order for the story to continue. Continue reading