Big Finish Reviews: “The Light at the End,” “The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs”

Doctor Who: The Light at the End (Standard Edition)Doctor Who: The Light at the End by Nicholas Briggs

While I loved just about every last moment of “The Day of the Doctor” (including getting a bit lump in my throat at a certain surprise scene), part of the classic Whovian in me was still a bit disappointed that we didn’t an appearance by all the remaining living Doctors. I realize that time has passed and that seeing the Doctors older might interfere with our memories of them (since they’re all ageless on the DVD releases), but I still think it would have been fun to see the Doctor run into some of his previous selves from the classic series run.

Leave it to Big Finish to fill in the gap with a year of connected audio stories, a series of adventures from the audio Doctors centered around the year 1963 and the jewel in the crown, “The Light at the End,” featuring all the remaining classic series Doctors and their companions in a huge, sprawling, convoluted and utterly enjoyable adventures that celebrates the fiftieth anniversary in style. The story even manages to find passable imitators of those Doctors no longer with us so we really can have a sprawling story featuring each of the first eight Doctors in a rousing adventures.

Interestingly, the story centers around November 1963 and several adventures by various Doctors all converging together. The script has just enough continuity nods and Easter eggs to the classic era, all while managing to tell a solid little tale. Of course, a lot of my enjoyment of this story could be the nostalgia factor alone and the realization that this is as close as we’ll get to the Doctors getting back together for one last reunion before we push on to the sixtieth anniversary. Continue reading

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Review: Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In

After a flu-like virus sweeps the world, a percentage of the population is “locked into” their bodies — unable to interact or communicate with the outside world. One of the victims of the virus is the wife of President Hayden, leading to the nation and world putting an emphasis on research to find ways to combat the disease as well as help those suffering from its after-effects find a way to once again become a participating member of society.

The result is a variety of new technologies stemming from a neural network that allows victims to download themselves into mechanical bodies known as threeps or into the minds of willing flesh and blood surrogates, for a limited amount of time.

As John Scalzi’s Lock In opens, governmental subsidies and funding for the victims of Hayden’s syndrome is about to be reduced, leading to protests and conflicts on both sides of the issue. And that would be the week that Chris Shane, one of the most visible victims of the syndrome thanks to famous parents, is about to take a job with the FBI’s crime unit that investigates crimes related to the neural network.

To welcome Chris to the job, a murder has taken place — one that could have implications far beyond those that are immediately apparent. And it’s up to the team of Chris and a partner who was trained to be part of the mind-sharing program but dropped out years before.

In many ways, Lock In reminded me of Issac Asimov’s The Caves of Steel. And if you know my preferences in reading material, you’ll know that is some pretty higTh praise since Caves of Steel ranks among my favorite novels — genre or otherwise. The pairing of two unlikely cops on a case that has implications far beyond the initial blush feels like it’s right out of Asimov. But there’s also an examination of how changes in technology can reveal what it means to be human and the implications for that on our rights as we move forward. Like a lot of the more memorable science fiction, Lock In if offering up an examination of certain issues of our time, all under the disguise of a future world setting.

And, for the most part, it works very well. The novel is part science-fiction novel, part procedural and it works very well as that hybrid. The familiar nature of the police procedural helps Scalzi set the table to some of his bigger ideas and concepts to the table, keeping them palatable to readers and not feeling like he or we have bitten off more than we can chew. He also weaves in enough detail to make the resolution of the mystery fit not only as from the murder mystery aspect but also within his science-fiction universe.

Reading Lock In, I can’t help but feel as though this is an early front runner for the Hugo Award for best novel next year. It’s certainly on the running to be one of my top five books I’ve read this year.

One final note.  I’ve seen a couple of reviews stating that you have to read an earlier Scalzi novella in order to fully enjoy Lock In.   I’ll say that I went into the book without reading the prior story and had no issue with figuring out what was happening or losing patience with Scalzi for not filling in certain details quickly enough.   I’m certainly curious to go and read the novella now, but I don’t think it’s essential to have read it in order to fully enjoy the novel.

Of course, you can take that with a grain of salt since I also love with the current series of Doctor Who and from what I gather, I’m in the minority there as well.

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Doctor Who Target Audiobook Reviews: “The Leisure Hive” and three quarters of “The Trial of a Time Lord.”

Doctor Who and the Leisure Hive (Target Doctor Who Library)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.

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Mini-Reviews: Leviathan Wakes, Wool, Dad Is Fat

Leviathan Wakes (Expanse #1)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

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Review: 24: Underground

Part of the hook of 24 is the real-time component of the show. Take that away and you lose some of what makes the show work so well and what makes Jack Bauer one of the more entertaining fictional heroes in recent memory.

I’ve tried reading some of the tie-in novels for the series and found them lacking, namely because the real time concept doesn’t translate quite as well to the printed page. With this collected comic book, 24: Underground, I was hoping the graphic novel structure might lend itself better to the show’s structure.

Unfortunately, that turns out not to be the case. Set before the events of the recently concluded 24: Live Another Day, this five-issue series attempts to fill in some of the gap of what happened to Jack Bauer between the end of season eight and the start of season nine. Jack’s working the docks somewhere in Russia and his past is about to catch up to him.

My big issue is that there’s too much of a “been there, done that” feeling to the story. Jack’s hiding out and making friends, but then his past comes calling and his new friends are caught in the middle. Feels like the start of a lot of previous days in the life of Jack Bauer. And since we’re only given a brief glimpse into his current life, we never quite feel any connection to these new characters or much concern over their fate.

There’s also the issue of the art for this series, which I find hit or miss. I must be getting too old for tie-in comics because I actually feel like the characters should look like they do on the show and be easily identifiable. And I also wish there were more distinctions between the supporting characters and villains, many of whom simply blurred together as I read. (And I read the entire arc in two sittings. I can’t imagine waiting a month between issues and losing track of who is who!)

If you’ve missed 24, stream a season via various on-line services, watch it on DVD or pick up the latest shortened season to get your fix of Jack Bauer. This one is a miss.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: A Place Called Hope by Phillp Gulley

A Place Called Hope

In the introduction to A Place Called Hope, writer Philip Gulley admits he “lost touch” with his old friend and pastor Sam Gardner. But when the two crossed paths at a recent “Quaker’s pastor retreat,” the two reconnected and have in contact since. The result is the first Harmony novel in five years.

It was worth the wait.

As his oldest child heads off to college and his youngest son contemplates joining the army, Sam finds himself having issues at home and in his professional life. At home, his wife wants the chance to use the degree she earned in college now that they are facing an empty nest. In his professional life, Sam agrees to do a favor for the Unitarian minister in town and ends up saying a prayer over a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony. And while Sam sees nothing wrong in offering up a prayer for two people who love each other, members of his small Quaker church (especially Dale Hanshaw, who is in fine form for the novel) disagree.

Suddenly Sam is faced with a future of selling cars or working at the coffee show with Deanna while his work supports them on her new part-time salary working for the local library. Offering his resignation rather than tearing his small flock apart, Sam finds himself black-balled by the local church higher ups and in need of a new church home.

Just when it seems as if all hope is lost, Sam gets a call from a once thriving congregation that is down to a dozen members (but they have a really great pie ministry). Sam must consider this calling, all while trying to balance the needs of his wife and family.

As a fan of Gulley’s Harmony novels, I was absolutely delighted when I found out he was returning to the Quakers and Sam Gardner. Gulleys novels remind me of the Garrison Keillor, though without as much cynicism. Gulley uses his fiction to help make points about grace, love and how we are called to relate to each other as Christians. And he does all this by keeping his characters grounded and authentic. While Sam may gain a few points for his open mindedness on the same gender couple’s commitment ceremony and the role he plays it in it, it’s still nice to see he’s not exactly a saint in others areas of his life (dealing with Dale and the rest of the crew at his local church, his consistent ability to drive his wife just a little bit crazy, etc.). All of the characters in this book are human, flawed and just as inconsistent as many of the people we know and love (including, if we’re honest, ourselves).

Since his last Harmony novel, Gulley has written a couple of books on grace and you can hear echoes of the lessons he conveyed in those books on full display here. It makes for one of the strongest entries in the Harmony series to date and it left me feeling like the fictional exploits of Sam Gardner aren’t wrapped up just yet. Thankfully, Gulley appears to agree since the A Place Called Hope includes a chapter from the next novel in the series and a forecast publication date of early next year.

Consider this one reader who will definitely be back for more.

In the interest of full disclosure, I requested a copy of this from NetGalley but then found it on the New Book shelf of my local library.  I was then given access to a digital ARC from the publisher and NetGalley and I’m happy to share these thoughts on the book.   I hope this counts as an honest review.

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TV Thoughts: The Animated Crossover

2013-07-19-family_guy_simpsons-e1374238709146The long-anticipated animated crossover of Family Guy and The Simpsons finally happened last night and coming away from the hour-long extravaganza, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed by the whole thing.

Part of that could that it wasn’t necessarily a true hybrid of both animated series so much as it was an episode of Family Guy that featured characters from The Simpsons as guest stars.   Apparently the writers for The Simpsons gave their blessing to the Family Guy creative team to write the episode, but didn’t necessarily have much more input into the final product.

I have a feeling whether or not you enjoyed the episode depends a lot on how you feel about Family Guy and the Seth MacFarlane animated empire.  I’ll admit I lost interest in Family Guy right after it was resurrected from cancellation and haven’t dropped back in much since (the Star Wars parody episodes being the exception and even those didn’t really click for me).   I felt like the ratio of hits to misses in the joke department was growing too far into the misses side and that even jokes that hit their target tended to overstay their welcome.

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