Monthly Archives: August 2019

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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