Monthly Archives: August 2012

Review: Mortal Fear by Greg Iles

Mortal Fear (Mississippi #1)

Give Greg Iles credit–he never writes the same book twice.

By day, Harper Cole is a self-employed commodities trader. By night, he’s a system administrator and participant in the erotic on-line community EROS. Populated by highly successful and affluent people, the EROS offers discreet on-line connections for those seeking something or someone different.

Married to his high school sweetheart, Harper has his own sets of secrets–not just related to his communications on EROS but also to his personal and relationship history.

When Harper notices a pattern of women disappearing from the EROS boards and ending up murdered, he deduces a serial killer is targeting the group. Informing the authorities of this, Harper and his long-time friend and co-system admin Miles become the prime suspects in the murder. Harper is forced to help the authorities try to draw out the killer, leading him to take greater and greater personal and professional risks to try and smoke out the person or persons committing the crimes.

While some of the technological aspects of Mortal Fear are a bit dated (transmission of pictures across the Web is a new thing in the novel), the suspense and psychological depth of Mortal Fear are not. Harper has his secrets and things in his past he’d rather keep buried–things that will all come to light during the course of the story. Harper isn’t necessarily the cleanest of heroes, but Iles does a nice job of getting us to root for Harper even as we recognize that the seeds he’s sewn are beginning to bear fruit.

It helps that Iles keeps the story moving forward at a near relentless speed. In many ways, this is the book equivalent of a good Hollywood thriller movie–it rockets along, not slowing down to allow you to question too much of the logic or motivation of the situation. Characters in the novel make some spectacularly bad decisions during the story (Harper’s attempt to flush out the killer by adopting personality traits from his sister-in-law to create an on-line profile, for example), but a lot of them come from characters not thinking through the consequences of their actions, as could and would happen in real life.

As with other works by Iles, this isn’t one to start reading late at night because you’ll find yourself saying, “Just one more chapter” until it’s three in the morning and you realize the alarm will buzz a lot earlier than you expected.

Another winner from Iles.

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Review: The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1 (1929-1964), Edited by Robert Silverberg

The Science Fiction Hall of Fame 1

Twenty six influential stories from the early days of science-fiction are collected in this book. For years, friends of the genre would tell me that this is the one collection I had to find and read. I haunted used book stores for it–and the other volumes in the set. Eventually I broke down and bought the newly published edition, only then to find a full set at my local used book store.

So, yes I have two copies now.

One to keep and one to loan out.

Simply put, this is a great collection of some great stories that chart the course of the sci-fi genre. Not every one is a winner in my book, but I can see why each one is as respected as it is. And the good thing about a short story collection is if one story isn’t my cup of tea, I can skip to the next one or come back later to see if I’m more in the mood for a certain author or story.

I’ve written down a few thoughts on each story in the collection. I will warn you this is a long post since it looks at all the stories.

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Ten “Must See” Classic “Trek” Episodes

This week’s TV Club 10 over at the Onion AV Club focuses on the original (and still the best) Star Trek.

Zach Handlen (who did a review of every episode of classic Trek a couple of years ago and just finished up a look back at TNG) recommends ten “essential” episodes of classic Trek that you should see.  Here’s his list (they’re by season and in broadcast order, not a top ten list)

Balance of Terror
The Squire of Gothos
Space Seed
The Devil in the Dark
The City on the Edge of Forever
Amok Time
Mirror, Mirror
The Trouble With Tribbles
Spock’s Brain
Spectre of the Gun

It’s a solid list, but being the big Trek fan that I am, I disagree with some of the choices.

As good as “Squire” is, I’d drop it off in favor of season two’s “The Doomsday Machine.”   And while I can see that you’d include “Spock’s Brain” as one of the nadir’s of classic Trek (and the entire franchise as a whole, though it doesn’t make me shudder and want to weep like TNG‘s “Imaginary Friend” does), I think you’d be far better served to include “The Enterprise Incident” or “The Tholian Web” as examples of Trek’s third season.

I get that any list has to include “City on the Edge of Forever” as well.  However, while I like “The Trouble With Tribbles,” it’s not going to make my top ten classic Trek episodes.  It’s good, yes.  It’s funny, yes.  But for some reason, I just find it a bit overrated.  In fact, I’d almost say you could drop it and include “The Doomsday Machine” instead (original or remastered) in its slot.  I get it that it’s an iconic episode that most people cite when you mention original Star Trek to them.  But, to my mind, it’s still not as interesting or compelling as “The Doomsday Machine,” “Amok Time” or even season two’s other funny episodes “I, Mudd” or “A Piece of the Action.”

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Review: Spider-Man, Batman and Sandman (oh my!)

Inspired by the release of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man, I’ve been inspired to go back to the original comic books and read some stories with each of the characters.

Once upon a time, Batman was my favorite super hero. I have an early memory of watching an episode of the Adam West classic with Batman and Robin frozen in some type of machine. I can still see the image of the two trapped in my mind and remember the sense of horror at thinking this could be the end for our heroes.  Unfortunately, I don’t recall if I tuned in for the next episode to see how they got out of the trap and I can’t recall enough of the details from the episode to figure out which one it is and view it again in syndication.

But it was thanks to the Electric Company that I found Spider-Man and the rest is history.  I still like Batman, but I’m more a Spider-Man fan.  I watched a lot of the various cartoon incarnations growing up, read a lot of comics and embarrassed my family no end by running around, shooting webs at complete strangers.  (Wait…did I just admit that in public?!?)

So when I found a couple of collections of various issues featuring these heroes, I decided to give them a whirl.  That was all leading up to my finally getting ready to attempt and cross-off a major gaping hole in my TBR pile–Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series.

Spider-Man: Origin of the HobgoblinSpider-Man: Origin of the Hobgoblin

It’s difficult for me to be objective about this collection of Spider-Man stories from the 80’s simply because I remember reading some of them as a young collector. It was in the days before comic book stores and direct sales when I’d beg my parents to take me into any 7/11, drugstore, grocery store or book store that might have a comic book rack filled with the latest issues of Spider-Man. Not knowing the release dates for various issues, my collection was more of less hit or miss, but those few I collected I read over and over again.
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Review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, #1)

In the previews section of several Dresden Files entries, Jim Butcher includes a personal note about how Lord of the Rings inspired his love of epic fantasy and his epic fantasy series The Codex Alera. Given my feelings about LotR (respect them for their place in the history of fantasy, but don’t love them), I probably should have assumed that this series wouldn’t necessarily be my cup of tea. But given how much I’ve enjoyed Butcher’s Dresden Files series, I was cautiously optimistic that he’d offer something new, different or unique to the epic fantasy genre.

Based on the evidence of Furies of Calderon, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Continue reading

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Booking Through Thursday — Different Genres

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A while ago, I interviewed my readers for a change, and my final question was, “What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask?” I got some great responses and will be picking out some of the questions from time to time to ask the rest of you. Like now.

Amy and Sarah both asked about genres:

Amy asks:

Name a book you love in a genre you normally don’t care for. What made you decide to read it? Did it make you want to try more in that genre?

While I read a lot of fiction from a lot of different genres, I will admit that I generally steer clear of some of the contemporary Christian fiction on the market.   Part of this is that I believe that novels, short stories or music in this arena should be read or listened to not out of guilt, but out of merit.  The books should be held to the same standards as any other professionally published work.

Unfortunately, a lot of what rises to the top of the best-seller list in this arena isn’t always the best-written fiction out there.  This is especially true when it comes to the Left Behind novels, which I think are poorly written novels that don’t necessarily accurately reflect what’s in the Book of Revelation.   After reading two and a half of them with increasing frustration, I decided my time would be better spent reading and studying the actual Biblical text itself and not having it interpreted for me in a fictional allegory.

That said, in the arena of Christian fiction there is an author who stands out–Robert Whitlow.  I picked up one of his legal thrillers years ago and was struck by how well written it was, how authentic the characters were and how compelling the stories could be.    Some of his books are among my favorites (and there have been a few I didn’t care as much for, but that’s the way it is with all authors) and I find myself looking forward to each new novel from Whitlow.  If you haven’t read him, I highly recommend starting with The List.  A great book that didn’t translate well as a movie.

Bookish Sarah asks an interesting assortment of questions:

What genre do you avoid reading and why?

I’d have to say romance novels is the genre I avoid most. I don’t begrudge anyone enjoying them because I have my own love of genre tie-in novels from the Star Trek or Doctor Who universes.   But if I’m in the bookstore or library, I don’t seek out romance novels.  Or let me clarify and say I don’t seek out bodice-ripper romance novels.   (Though on some level, it is amusing to see the various euphemisms used in the love scenes.   You gotta love any book that can use the phrase “love muffin”).


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Movie Review: Ruby Sparks

A romantic comedy with elements of magical realism, Ruby Sparks is one of the more refreshing and original movies of the summer.

Lonely novelist Calvin is suffering from writer’s block and a lack of romance in his life.  His previous (and only) girlfriend left him a few weeks after his father passed away and his attempts to reconnect with the world aren’t working that well, much to his therapist and family’s chagrin.

Calvin begins to have vague dreams about a girl, which he begins to write down in the form of new story.  Calvin begins to find evidence of a girlfriend appearing around his apartment–from a woman’s razor and shaving cream in his cabinet to a bra in between his sofa cushions.  Then, one morning, Calvin awakes to find the dream girl, Ruby, in his apartment.  Once he verifies that others can see Ruby, the two begin a relationship (or continue it as the case may be).

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Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent, #1)

Sometimes on-line buzz and accolades can set expectations so high that no novel could ever hope to live up to them. That may be the case with Veronica Roth’s Divergent, a novel that I think if I’d read it when it first came out, I might love a bit more than I did.

Reading the novel now as the second installment hits shelves and the third one is on the horizon, I couldn’t stop myself wondering just what all the hype was about. It’s not that Divergent is a terrible novel.

In a near future dystopia, society is divided up into five factions–Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). When young people turn sixteen, they are given the choice of remaining with the current faction or choosing a new one. Each person is given a test to help determine which faction is the best “fit” for each one. However, should you choose a faction and wash-out, then you are sent to be one of the faction-less, performing the most menial tasks and having little or no room for growth within the society Roth creates.

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Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)

Made at the time when Arnold Schwarzenegger was the king of the summer action movie, 1990’s Total Recall is an entertaining popcorn thriller that probably isn’t being dissected by budding film students as an example of cinema at its best.

Odds are film students won’t be dissecting Len Wiseman’s Total Recall reboot either.   Like its predecessor, it has no aspirations beyond a popcorn action thriller.

And while there are some minor tweaks to the original story and some at attempt to give this Recall a different visual look and feel (and a lot of lens flare!), if you’ve seen the original, you’ve pretty much seen the new version as well.    Odds are younger viewers who aren’t familiar with the original will get a big kick out of this one while older viewers like myself who saw the original in theaters or on VHS will likely be disappointed that the writers weren’t willing to play more with some of the more intriguing concepts and questions raised by the original script and the rebooted version.

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Review: A Deeper Darkness by J.T. Ellison

A Deeper Darkness

After reading and not particularly loving the middle installments of J.T. Ellison’s Taylor Jackson series of novels, I’d given up on the series and Ellison. While I enjoy reading novels set in and around Music City, the fun of seeing local real-world landmarks incorporated into the pages of standard procedural had lost its appeal.

So it came as huge surprise to me when I saw Ellison’s latest, A Deeper Darkness on the new books shelves at the library that not only did I pick it up but that that back cover blurb was enough a hook to make me want to give Ellison another shot.

In the months and years following the Nashville floods, coroner Samantha Owen is struggling under a flood of her own. She lost her family in the flood and has been muddling through life since that time. When the mother of an ex-boyfriend calls, asking Sam to come to Washington DC to offer a second opinion on the cause of death of her son, Sam reluctantly agrees. Sam and her ex, Eddie Donovan, had a brief romance while in grad school with Eddie breaking off the romance to return to his first love, the military. Donovan served a couple of tours in the Middle East, married and had two children, but never lost contact with Sam.

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