Remembering Terrance Dicks

terrancedicksIf you make a list of the most influential people in the history of Doctor Who and writer Terrance Dicks would be at or near the top of it.  Not only did Dicks create some of the series iconic backstory, but with producer Barry Letts, Dicks shepherded the series for five years in the 1970’s as the script editor for the Jon Pertwee era.

That alone would earn Dicks a spot in the Doctor Who hall of fame (if such a thing existed, mind you). But it was his other role with Who that arguably had an even more profound influence on entire generations of fans.  It was Dicks who served as the chief writer in the influential range of Target novels, adapting 60 original scripts for the printed page over close to two decades.

In the days before repeats or home video, Dicks and the rest of the Target team, kept the stories that fans couldn’t see alive on the printed page.  The Target range is credited for engaging several generations of young readers.  In some ways, the Target range was a precursor of the Harry Potter novels —  books that even young readers who didn’t like to read would crack open.

When Dicks was engaged, his adaptations of stories were particularly good, sometimes even great.  “Day of the Daleks” and “The Auton Invasion” show just how good Dicks could be when given time to put care and love into a novel.   As the series continued to sell and Dicks was writing nine to ten adaptations a year, the novels would often be little more than a re-telling of the shooting script without the early flourishes.

In an extra on the DVD, Dicks said one of aspect of his career that brought him pride was that he always brought his work in on time.  As a trained journalist, I appreciate anyone who understands the importance of meeting a deadline.  Dicks was also a humble man, not seeking out credit or glory for doing what he saw as his job.

There are a lot of authors that could be considered influential on me.  And Dicks is probably one of them.  In fact, I’d argue that outside of Robert Holmes, no writer had a bigger influence on Doctor Who than Dicks.

I read and re-read a metric ton of Target novels in my youth.  I loved them and have fond memories of them.   Today I’m rediscovering them thanks to BBC audiobooks of the range.  As I discovered then, some are good, some are OK and some are great.

So, thank you to the man known in Whovian circles as Uncle Terrance.   I hope that your family finds comfort in this time of loss and that you rest in peace.

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Review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The ChainRachel O’Neill’s life is finally getting back on track. Following a divorce and intensive chemotherapy, Rachel is set to begin the next stage of her life as a professor at a local community college and continue raising her teenage daughter. That is, until, she her caller ID shows up with UNKNOWN CALLER and everything comes crashing down.

Rachel has become the target of The Chain, a mysterious group that kidnaps kids and holds them hostage until the latest target completes a series of tasks, including a huge cash ransom (delivered in Bitcoin) and kidnapping a new target to bring into this pyramid scandal gone horribly, horribly wrong. If she doesn’t comply, Kylie dies and a new target is chosen. If she goes to the authorities or chooses a victim with connection to authorities, Kylie dies. If she tells anyone during the process or after, she and Kylie die.

The set-up for Adrian McKinty’s The Chain is one of every parent’s worst nightmares (or at least that’s how the dust jacket describes it). But the novel itself is one of two halves — one of them an intense one that keeps you on the edge of your seat and the other that piles on one twist too many and ruined this reader’s willing suspension of disbelief.

The first half with Rachel struggling to find a way to get Kylie back is wonderfully done. McKinty gives us glimpses into not only what Rachel is doing, but also Kylie and Rachel’s former brother-in-law, Pete, who will be instrumental to getting Kylie back and meeting the demands of The Chain.

I’m going to hide some of my thoughts from this point forward due to SPOILERS. Continue reading

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Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Stracynski

Becoming Superman: A Writer's Journey from Poverty to Hollywood with Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War CrimesFor a journalism course in college, we were assigned an in-depth piece on a business issue. Being a fan of sci-fi pop culture, I decided to marry my love of two new series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon Five in my assignment. Both shows were in their early days (B5 was about six to seven episodes into season one) and I decided to look at the business aspects of what kept a syndicated genre series on the airwaves.

At the time, B5 creator J. Michael Stracysnki had an open dialogue with the Internet, taking us behind the scenes at the creation of his space opera. (Think DVD extras before there were DVDs). JMS (as he was called online) posted his email address in the B5 forums (ask you parents, kids) and I crafted an email to him, outlining my project and what I hoped to achieve.

I received back a reply from JMS, stating that he understood what I was doing and that he was extremely busy running his show. But he didn’t want to dismiss the request of a college student and as long as the article wasn’t published for anytime of gain beyond a grade and I came up with three good questions (no more), he would be happy to do what he could.

I then got to work, getting my background and drafting the article. When I got to a point that I felt like I could and should approach JMS again, I sent him three questions along with a draft of my story. A day later, he responded. But it wasn’t just a few curt answers to my questions. What JMS gave me was several good, quotable paragraphs for my story (reading this autobiography and seeing that he worked for a time as a journalist makes it clear why he did this). I used the quotes, put the polishing touches on my article and turned it in.

I got an “A” on the story and I made sure to send a thank you message to JMS, letting him know that his comments had helped as had his encouragement.

I’m a writer junkie — I tend to find and follow writers. I’m one of the few people who will read the crawl on the opening of a TV show to see who wrote a particular episode (I blame Doctor Who because the writer of a story is hugely important there). And when JMS took the time to work with me, it cemented my fandom and I’ve followed his career with interest ever since. I can’t say I’ve seen or read everything he’s written (I’ve still got to find time for Sense 8), but I’ve seen and read a lot.

Which is why I was eager to pick up his autobiography.

As I’ve come to expect from several decades of JMS’ written output, Becoming Superman is compelling, page-turning and compulsively readable. And reading it, my profound respect for the man and writer JMS has become grew in leaps and bounds. The sheer amount of things he had to overcome, from his abusive, manipulative father to his family full of secrets, only enhances the respect I have for him. It also makes me understand a bit more about his generous nature and spirit (again, see the story above about my article) and his encouragement of other writers. JMS knows what it’s like to serve the writing muse and that passion to the creative side comes across here.

This isn’t an easy read. As JMS uncovers and relates stories about his family, there are some hard truths and struggles chronicled. But you can see a bit of the catharsis taking place as JMS tells these stories. He also points out that he tells aspiring writers that if he can do it, anyone can but then realized he hadn’t provided the backstory for them to understand why.

He has now. And I thank him for a great, moving and powerful read.

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection, Volume 7: The Goblin’s Last Stand

Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection Vol. 7: The Goblin's Last StandLike classic Doctor Who, comic books published during the Silver Age don’t necessarily hold up well to being binged.

Collecting two years of issues from the run of The Amazing Spider-Man, this volume has some of some series highs and some series moments that may leave you scratching your head a bit. Of course this collection includes the pivotal and comics changing “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” arc, seeing us lose not only Peter Parker’s love interest but also the original Green Goblin over the course of two pivotal issues. This story and the one after it stand out as some of the most intriguing from this influential run, as does a multi-issue run with Doc Ock battling Hammerhead to become the crime boss of New York, all with Aunt May caught in the middle.

There’s also a sojourn to Canada to battle the Hulk and track down and trace down an old family mystery to add to the intrigue.

But then there’s a couple of forgettable enough stories in there as well. While the return of Flash Thompson from the Vietnam War and the implications this has for the character and his friendship with Peter Parker still echo today, there are a few moments that haven’t aged as well and are less than politically correct today.

And then there’s the Gibbon. This multi-issue arc sees a character who wants to be Spidey’s partner in crime fighting only to be humiliated by Spider-Man and then taken under the wing of Kraven the Hunter. It sounds silly and it doesn’t come across much better on the printed page. Odds are they won’t be raiding this arc for future Spider-Man movies. And there’s probably a reason that the Gibbon doesn’t make the upper pantheon of great or even so-so Spider-Man villains.

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Review: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule

The Stranger Beside MeLike many, I’ve had a renewed fascination with convicted serial killer Ted Bundy thank to Netflix. With not one but two new offerings on the infamous murder, one a four-part documentary and the other the feature film with Zac Effron taking on the role of Bundy, it’s hard to look away. And while I appreciate what both Netflix offerings gave us, I still think Ann Rule’s first real-crime book recalling her friendship with Ted Bundy is one of the more definitive works on the subject.

Part of it this stems from Rule never losing sight of the fact that the real tragedy of the Bundy story is the lives of his victims that were cut short. While Rule does relate conversations and letters shared with Bundy, she never allows the reader to forget the toll in human lives that Bundy exacted.
In fact in a new forward, Rule says that while this book helped launch her career to a different level, she’d trade all of that if it meant those Bundy killed had been allowed to live their lives instead of seeing them cut short.

Rule met Bundy while working on a crisis hotline in Seattle. It’s fascinating to read how a real-crime reporter could have such conflicting emotions about Bundy and whether or not he was guilty of the horrible crimes associated with him. One of the most riveting moments of the book is when Rule realizes in a Florida court room that there is no way Bundy isn’t guilty of all the horrible things he’s being charged with.

The book paints a chilling portrait of Bundy and his crimes. But Rule stays away from trying to determine more about what motivated Bundy or getting inside his head.

It’s a compelling, chilling true-crime read that may be one of the definitive works on Ted Bundy. But it’s one that, at times, you may want to read with the lights on.

 

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Summer TBR

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This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us what are the top ten books on your summer to-be-read list.  Here are a couple of mine.

  1. orangetree Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett
  2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
  3. Magic for Liars by Sarah Galley
  4. Recursion by Blake Crouch
  5. Limited Wish by Mark Lawrence
  6. Star Trek: Captain’s Oath by Christopher L. Bennett
  7. The Dragon Republic by R.F. Kuang
  8. Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker (audiobook)
  9. Doctor Who: Mawdryn Undead by Peter Grimwade (audiobook)
  10. The Queen Con by Meghan Scott Molin

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Excerpt: Fury from the Top of the Stairs

Last week, Shortcake was startled while climbing the stairs and I got to find out how fast I can run.

I decided it was a good chance to post on my “being a dad” blog.  Here’s an excerpt:

Shortcake doesn’t react well to being startled.  Most of the times, she’ll just let out a yelp. But last week, she was climbing the stairs to give Mommy and her sister cat a hug.  I was planning to follow her upstairs, but got distracted by something that kept me from being on the stairs with her at the moment of the big scream.

If you’d like to read the entire story, you can HERE.

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