Monthly Archives: January 2014

Booking Through Thursday: Multi-Tasking

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Do you do other things while you read? Watch TV? Cook? Brush your teeth? Knit?

(For the record, I’m guilty of all of the above.)

Or is it a quicker question to ask when you DON’T read? (Please tell me you don’t read while you’re driving.)

Sometimes I’ll listen to background music while reading but that’s about it.  I like to be able to focus on what I’m reading and give it my full attention while I do that.

On the other hand, I suppose you could say I do other things while reading when it comes to listening to audio books — I can drive, work out, work around the house, etc.

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Review: Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

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Better late than never, I guess. January is the Vintage Science-Fiction Non-Challenge month hosted by Little Red Reviewer. I had intended to read a few more vintage sci-fi novels during the month to participate, but the best laid plans often go astray….

However, I was able to pull a book off the TBR pile and read it, as well as watch the movie. It’s Isaac Asimov’s adaptation of Fantastic Voyage.

If you want to read what others have done for the month, check out Red’s page. You’ll find some great stuff!

Fantastic Voyage

Being a bibliophile (aka literary snob), I generally like to read the book (or short story as the case may be) before I see the movie. But in the case of Fantastic Voyage, it isn’t necessarily that simple. The novel is a tie-in into the movie and it’s likely the book wouldn’t exist without the movie. But a quick clicks of the keyboard quickly helped me discover that Isaac Asimov’s adaptation of the 20th Century Fox blockbuster hit the shelves a few weeks before the movie opened, so I felt comfortable in my decision to read the book first and then see the movie.

And I think it all worked out for the best.

My research leads me to believe that Asimov had to be talked into adapting the movie’s script for the printed page and that he agreed to do it if he could be allowed to at least bring some put some science in the science fiction of the plot and premise.

And you can certain see Asimov trying to put some credible science into the concept of miniaturizing a top-secret, top-of-the-line submarine with five people inside down to the point where they can be injected into the body of an injured man. The man in question is a high ranking scientist who is defecting and could help keep the balance of power in check for both sides during the Cold War. The Enemy (they are always capitalized by Asimov) try to take him out on the way to the top-secret installation where he will reveal his secrets to our side and help us either keep up with our Enemy and maintain the balance of mutually assured destruction.

Just as the film spends the first half hour or so setting up the situation and the characters, so does the book spend its first third or so setting up the background. As I said before, it’s interesting to watch as Asimov attempts to reconcile the fantastic premise with real-world science of the day and to speculate on if this could or would happen in the future. The concept of shrinking down people to go inside a person and help break up a clot in a near inoperable place is a fascinating and intriguing and it was apparently very influential. Most genre shows worth their salt will feature a story with character shrunk down a bit — in fact, Doctor Who did it at least twice that I can think of during the classic series run.

Interestingly, Asimov’s book inserts a bit more drama to the situation by emphasizing that this is a race against time — not only to help break up the clot and help reduce any permanent damage to said scientist but also because there is a limit to how long the sub and crew can be miniaturized before the process wears off and they began to revert back to normal size. There’s also the intriguing idea that the passage of time will FEEL different to our heroes in their miniaturized form as opposed to how time is really passing for all of the normal sized people on the outside. The movie does give a nod or two to this, but it doesn’t feel quite as pressing and weighing on everyone as much as it does in the novel.

There’s also the angle of a saboteur being on board the ship and wondering who it might be. Again, the movie brings this up, but it’s not quite as pervasive as Asimov makes it out to be in the novel. Of course, it could be that reading the novel takes a bit longer than watching the film and that allows time for these ideas and turns of events to sink on the reader, rather than just being another obstacle to overcome on-screen.

And while the mission is fairly straight-forward on the outside, once inside the body of the scientist, things go a bit awry. Both the movie and the novel have to come up with a crisis point every few minutes or pages to keep our heroes on their toes. And it’s probably a good thing because it would be rather dull if they just zipped right to the clot, broke it up and got out again without any complications. It’d also make for a shorter book and movie.

Honestly, I have to say that I enjoyed the novel more than the film. The film is good and I can respect and admire how ground-breaking and spectacular the effects were for the time. But there are large parts of the film that feel like stretches of Star Trek: The Motion Picture — we’re supposed to sit back in awe and wonder of what’s unfolding because holy cow, this is fantastic and amazing. And while I’m all for stunning visuals, I still think there should be a plot driving these visuals.

It’s also interesting to see that Asimov expands the ending a bit more — he gets out two love-crossed heroes together (sort of) and we get confirmation the mission was a successful one. Watching the movie, I guess we can figure that it worked because our heroes remove the clot and escape before they revert back to regular size, but the movie doesn’t confirm this for us. Instead, everyone is shaking hands and congratulating our heroes on a job well done and ignoring the fact that we left one guy behind for dead and the sub breaking up inside the scientst. After putting so much emphasis on why we had to get out in time, the movie seems to say — well, it’s OK cause those white blood cells took care of it all. Asimov at least attempts to explain why it’s OK in his version of events.

One thing I find interesting is that outside of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, this is probably his best known work. And while part of me wishes that his Robot novels were better known, I still can’t help but think this book is a good entry point for readers who want try some Asimov but not necessarily feel like they want to take on his Foundation series just yet. It’s a good entry point book. And the fact that you can go out and see the movie after you’re done reading is probably another good selling point.

Is this great Asimov? Probably not.

Is it good Asimov? Absolutely.

It also intrigued me enough to make me want to pick up Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain and read it. I’ve read that it’s less a sequel to this on but instead more of a re-telling with Asimov trying to put better science into the science fiction.

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Review: Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without A Date by Katie Heaney

Never Have I Ever

Katie Heaney has never had a boyfriend. She’s never had a boyfriend. She’s had crushes on boys since kindergarten and while she’s kissed a few toads, she’s never quite found her prince.

Katie’s lack of a significant other is the subject of her memoir, Never Have I Ever. Katie turns the harsh light onto herself to look at everything from those first crushes we have upon entering school to the dating scene in college to the world of on-line dating. She tells each story with honesty, wit and humor (if necessary). Katie not only puts her crushes under the microscope for examination, but also herself. The end result is an entertaining memoir that isn’t cruel to either her dates or herself, but is instead a journey into understanding who Katie is and why she’s willing to wait for that perfect person to experience all the highs and lows of a relationship.

Along the way, she sprinkles in a few wry observations that had me chuckling out loud including

“It isn’t true that letting people copy your homework makes you popular, but it definitely doesn’t hurt.”

“Middle school is three years spent worrying whom to sit and stand with.”

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of this as the anti-thesis of Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. Katie never seeks to demean or put down her potential dates and she doesn’t offer any excuses for her behaving poorly (she doesn’t). Instead, she allows the story to unfold in a conversational tone. (Reading the book, I couldn’t help but want to hear the audio version to hear these stories told in her own voice. Alas, the audio book is read by someone else). And while some of the assessment of on-line dating and those who on-line date may seem a bit harsh, at first, I chalk it up to these experiences being closer to the time of writing.

There were many times reading this that I felt like I’d found someone who understood the trials and tribulations that can come from dating — or not dating, in this case. Reading Katie’s struggles, I was reminded of my own while single. I’m pleased that she had the courage to write this book and to put herself out there for the world to read about.

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

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Booking Through Thursday: Hated

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If there was one book you could make sure nobody ever read again … what would it be? And why?

We’ve all read books we don’t care for.   But one book that I read and really disliked was John Norman’s Time Slave.

This book was chosen by a sci-fi and fantasy book club for discussion. Otherwise it’s unlikely I’d have ever picked it up or read it all the way through.   It’s a misogynistic tale of a future woman who goes back in time and becomes the wife of a cavemen.  And she likes it because the caveman keeps her in line and is more man than any of the men of her century.

The book is terribly written and not really worth the paper it’s printed on.  The bad part was that this  book was out of print at the time so I had to go out of my way to find an affordable copy to read.

It was so bad that I refused to take it to my local used bookstore when I was done with it and trade it in for something else.  I didn’t want anyone else to pick up the book and be suckered into reading a trite, terrible written, awful book like I had been.

I’ve disliked a lot of books over the years, but I hated Time Slave.

Don’t read it….

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Review: Crash Into You by Katie McGarry

Crash into You (Pushing the Limits, #3)

Isaiah and Rachel are from two different worlds with one thing in common — a love of fast cars.

For Rachel, driving fast is a way to escape the pressure her seemingly perfect family places on her to “replace” her deceased older sister. For Isaiah, fast cars are a potential way to make enough money to continue to survive and keep just under the radar of the foster care system.

Isaiah and Rachel’s paths cross at an illegal drag race one evening and before long, the two are thrown together and have a smoldering interest in each other. The pressure on them both amps up with the organizer of the race blames Rachel for cops breaking up the race and costing him money, leading to Isaiah taking on her debt. Now the two have six weeks to come up with $5000 or else they face disastrous consequences.

Katie McGarry’s Crash Into You chronicles Rachel and Isaiah’s lives and budding relationship. What could have been your typical bad-boy meets good-girl who reforms him story becomes something more thanks to an emphasis on flawed but believable characters and the external pressure each party faces. It’s not just the judgement of family or friends these two star-crossed lovers have to fear, but also the pressure of figuring out how to survive together, all while facing the pressures of their respective lives.

From my understanding, this is the third book in a series of novels by McGarry. I haven’t read the first two installments of the series but I had no issue following the story told here. There may be some nuances and Easter eggs to other books and characters that long-time fans will pick up and simply went over my head. But the book is not less enjoyable for that and fans who haven’t read the first two will be able to enjoy this one.

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Review: Doctor Who: The Trial of the Valeyard by Alan Barnes (Big Finish Audio Drama)

Doctor Who: Trial of the Valeyard

This year’s Big Finish extra release explores one of the more controversial and debate-worthy characters from the original run of Doctor Who — The Valeyard..

The Doctor is recalled to the station and asked to defend the Valeyard on a series of charges. But has the High Council stacked the deck against the Valeyard even before the trial begins and does that answer tie into the “true” identity of the Valeyard?

For years, the Valeyard was declared off-limits by the BBC for further explanation. But with the series continuation, the question of if or when the series might be allowed to delve into the Doctor’s darker side has been one that has cropped up from time to time (especially after the Dream Lord made his appearance in series five).

“The Trial of the Valeyard” is geared directly at hard-core classic Who fans, full of speculation and piecing threads together along with winks, nods and Easter eggs galore for long-time fans. I’m not sure if writer Alan Barnes was aware of how things would play out with the 50th anniversary special and the Doctor’s regeneration order, but if he wasn’t, he and Moffat must be on the same wave length or drinking some of the same Kool-Aid.

And yet for all the answers and connecting the dots, Barnes still leaves us with new questions about the identity of the Valeyard and just how the revelations here could or should play out within the establishing continuity of the show. With the recently released “Night of the Doctor” bringing some of the Big Finish continuity into the official canon of the series, I can’t help but wonder if some of the ideas put forth here might not be included in future installments.

If they are or if they aren’t, this is still a fun audio adventures with plenty of rewards for the obsessed Who fan in me.

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Review: Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living by Nick Offerman

Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man's Fundamentals for Delicious Living

If you’re like me, you’re probably familiar with Nick Offerman from his role as Ron Swanson from the hilarious series Parks and Recreation. And having had some good luck with reading books from other funny people closely associated with other comedies (Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, Ray Romano), I picked up Paddle Your Own Canoe with a couple of expectations.

One is that the novel would be funny. And the other is that while it said Nick Offerman on the cover, the book would really be written by my favorite Parks and Recreation character.

Well, you know what the old adage about assume says, don’t you?

That’s not to say that Paddle Your Own Canoe isn’t amusing at times. It has some genuinely funny moments and stories about Offerman’s upbringing in there. But those moments are buried in between essays by Offerman on a variety of subjects and viewpoints that either differed with my own views so such a degree that I found myself wanting to debate the book or else they didn’t interest me because they went too far afield to hold my attention for long.

As for my assumption that Offerman equal Swanson, I can say that while the two share some traits, they are radically different people. I suppose it would be similar to me assuming that Henry Winkler is exactly the same as Fonzie and being shocked to not see Winkler in the famous black leather jacket were we ever to encounter each other in real life. (Which is highly unlikely considering that he lives in Hollywood and I live in Music City).

It all adds up to a book that has some humorous moments, but it’s no where nearly in the same stratosphere at Fey’s Bossy Pants or Seinfeld’s SeinLanguage.

I will also admit there were times reading this book that I felt like I was doing myself a disservice by not listening to it as an audiobook, hopefully read by Offerman. Comedy is about timing and I wonder if the book might have been more amusing with Offerman delivering the jokes and anecdotes.

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