Monthly Archives: October 2014

Doctor Who: Kill the Moon

killthemoonThere must be something about the Doctor using a Scottish accent that makes him go dark, alien and manipulative.

As I’ve said all season, it feels like Stephen Moffat is deconstructing the character of the Doctor to answer the question, “Am I a good man.”   I have a feeling after the events of “Into the Moon” that Clara’s answer would be slightly different than the one she gave a few weeks ago.   She’s probably gone from uncertain to convinced that this new Doctor isn’t really a good man after all, but instead a dark, manipulative character.

It’s interesting to imagine how this story might have played out with other modern Doctors.  It’s easy to see the David Tennant or Matt Smith Doctor figuring out a way to save the alien creature that is hatching from the moon.  In fact, I felt like there were call backs to Matt Smith’s second episode and the space whale with the Doctor’s speech about finding a new name after he’s forced to kill the space whale because that isn’t what the Doctor is or does.    Contrast that with Peter Capaldi’s Doctor who is initially enthusiastic about the discovery but then takes a hands-off approach on the decision on whether or not the young alien hatchling will live or die.  It even gets to the point that the Doctor abandons Clara and Courtney, leaving them to make a momentous decision without his advice or wisdom.

In some ways, “Kill the Moon” felt a bit like Torchwood’s “Children of Earth” in that we are presented with a situation to which there is no right solution — just varying degrees of wrong.  Seeing the Earth people be of one mind to kill the creature rather than risk the possible destruction of Earth was a chilling one.   Coupled with Clara’s conflict over what should be done (I almost wish there had been one single light left on to give us some hope) and her impulsive decision to save the creature, there were moments in the final few minutes that almost felt suffocating.

And yet, unlike “Children of Earth,” the Doctor arrives in the end to say that everything worked out as it should.   Humanity has its moment to look upward and be awed by the universe again.  This story sets into motion the future Earth empire that we’ve seen in other stories with humanity spreading out to the stars.

Of course, it does bring up the question of what did the Doctor know and when did he know it.  Citing a grey area and certain points in history that can’t be altered ,the Doctor refuses to give Clara the assurance that everything will work out, regardless of what her decision is.   It brings up the interesting question of whether or not he’s testing Clara, knowing full well how everything works out.  Or if he’d have come in to save the creature had Clara chosen not to abort the countdown.

It leads to a final scene in the TARDIS that echoes Ace’s anger at the Doctor in “The Curse of Fenric.”  In both cases, the Doctor is keeping details from his companions and allowing them to make decisions, observing them and possibly testing them.  And in both cases, the companions figure this out and blow up at the Doctor, demanding answers.  And while Ace demands answers mid-story, Clara’s wrath comes in the form of rejecting the Doctor and telling him not to come back.    Whether or not she’s truly done with the Doctor remains to be seen.  Danny believes she isn’t because he can still make her angry.    And I have a feeling that the Doctor may try to win Clara back — or at least have her parting with him be under better circumstances.

It should be an interesting ride to the end of the season.

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Running the Middle Half (2014)

A little over a year ago, I was less than two weeks away from participating in my fourth straight Middle Half Marathon when I tried to avoid tripping over the cat in the middle of the night and ended up with a fractured great toe.   The injury sidelined me from the event, but I made a promise to myself that I’d back out there in 2014.

That promise was fulfilled today when I completed 13.1 miles through beautiful Murfreesboro.*  And while it wasn’t a personal best or a record setting performance, I will still able to complete the course in a few minutes under the time I had  decided on in my mind.

* The course really is a scenic one and I really enjoy the various sites along the way as a nice distraction from the “Dear heavens, why did I decide to run 13.1 miles?!?)    I also like that the course loops back on itself a couple of times so you can see other runners who are in front of you and those behind you.    Seeing people you know who you can give a thumbs up to and who can give you one back is a treat.   That and I always respect the hell out of those people who finish in what I consider absurd amounts of time — like the runners who are tearing it to finish in an ninety or so minutes and are cruising to mile six while I’m settling into mile three and the heart of my iTunes playlist. 

I began running the Middle Half a few years ago when I completed an indoor triathlon and wanted something else big to test my overall fitness level, endurance and a big event to work toward.  As the bumper sticker and t-shirt say, “I run half marathons because I’m only half crazy” and I’ve determined that 13.1 miles is about the longest distance I want to run.**

** Unless being chased by a bear or doing some extraordinary to save the lives of small children.  Then, distance is out the window. 

I admire and respect those who can and do run more — even more so my friends who do IronMan competitions.   You have my undying respect and admiration, but I can honestly say the thought of doing an Iron Man just intimidates the heck out of me.  For one thing, it’s a huge commitment of training and planning.  For another, you’re not allowed to have any type of listening device out there on the course while running.  And really part of the fun of planning for a long run (for me anyway) is picking out a playlist and then adding and subtracting to it as the big day looms on there.

There are a lot of random thoughts that wander through your mind as you run 13.1 miles.    A lot of them aren’t unique to me, but some are.  I figured I’d share a few here.

  • There’s always a point at which I question my sanity in doing this and swear off ever running more than three miles in a row ever again.   This year, that didn’t really happen until the final mile and at that point I could see the end point looming on the horizon, which helped me put these thoughts aside.
  • No play list is complete without Rocky Top.  And preferably multiple versions (I’ve got the original, the UT band playing it and the dance mix in mine).  You can never have too much Rocky Top while running.   Early in the race, I like to pretend I’m running for a big TD as the Vols beat Florida or Alabama and the band is encouraging me onward and faster.
  • No matter how tired I am from running, signs promoting fandom of Alabama or Florida still annoy me.
  • Putting “Don’t Fear the Reaper” and the theme from “MASH” on your playlist may seem like a good idea at home, but when you’re out there running, having these songs come up isn’t as helpful as you might think.
  • Am I the only one who puts musical scores from my favorite movies and tv shows in the list?  You can’t go wrong with themes from various Star Trek shows and Doctor Who and I defy anyone to not put a John Williams musical cue or two on there and not given a boost.   The Superman theme or the Imperial March have given me a bit of a boost many times while out pounding out the miles.
  • While I have a certain time I’d like to finish in, I don’t get obsessed with it out on the course.  Yes, I use RunKeeper and it’s nice to look back and see how things unfolded.  But I feel like some of my fellow runners get too focused on how fast they’re doing or their pace and don’t take a moment to enjoy the run…or the scenery…or to savor how good that gulp of Gatoraide really was, even when you generally don’t like the lemon-lime flavor, but it’s all that you had and it could be be the BEST GATORAIDE ever!
  • No matter where I put certain songs in my list, they always come up at the moment I need them most.   The Mars Cheer by the UT band and certain songs by Casting Crowns and Poe.
  • Today was my first half marathon in rainy conditions and I found it ironic to listen to “I Sure Can Smell the Rain” and “Set Fire to the Rain” while running in the rain.
  • I respect family and friends who are willing to hug a runner at the end of an event.   I know that I wouldn’t want to hug me after I’d just run for close to two and a half hours…cause I stink.
  • The longest portion of the race is the walk back to your car once you’ve completed the course.

I’m sure there were others, but that will do for now.   I’m tired, my legs are sore and I need a nap.

But I’m glad I made it back.  Not sure what the future holds (again no Iron Man), but I may be back out there next year, ready to tackle 13.1 miles yet again.

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Review: The Complete Peanuts, Volume 1: 1950-1952 by Charles M. Schultz

The Complete Peanuts, Vol. 1: 1950-1952The 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

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TV Thoughts: The Flash, “Pilot”

theflashMarvel may be crushing it at the movie theaters these days, but when it comes to super heroes on TV, DC is more than holding its own.*

* If you count cartoon franchises, DC wins by a mile. The best Marvel animated series of the past decade was cancelled after two seasons (that series being The Spectacular Spider-Man).

As much as I liked the post-Captain America 2 run of Agents of SHIELD last year, I have to admit it had to do a lot of heavy lifting to get there. If you’re a fan who tuned out, I suggest you check out the last two DVDs from the set, catch-up and come back in. And while SHIELD came into its own late last year, it was Arrow that consistently delivered the best live-action comic book stories last season.

One of the many threads from Arrow last year was the set-up for a potential spin-off centering on The Flash. Now, I was a fan of the late 80’s CBS version, mainly because we got a preview of Mark Hammill’s genius work to come as the definitive Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. But I’ll admit that it’s been a while since I watched the show, so my memory could be cheating a bit.

Of the new fall shows, I’d have to say it was The Flash I was most looking forward to. So much so that I passed on the chance to obtain a copy of the pilot when it leaked on-line earlier this summer and instead made myself wait to see it actually unfold on its premiere date. One reason is that I didn’t want to have to wait two months for the next installment if the show was good and the other was I wanted to enjoy the show in all its HD glory.

So, I’m a bit behind some of my fellow geeks out there when it comes to enjoying this pilot. But I’m glad that I waited to see it because it gave me something to look forward to during the fall premiere season.

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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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