I’ve been hearing a lot about the Murderbot Diaries from people I trust within the literary community, so I decided it might be finally time to get the series a try.
Murderbot is a half-human/half-cyborg creation that has hacked its own software to give itself freewill. Murderbot turns around and uses that free will to begin binge-watching daytime television. Quite frankly, Murderbot would rather watch TV than help the human survey team explore the planet they’ve been assigned.
Turns out that in the future, the government still goes with the lowest bidder and may not always be upfront about the dangers involved. So, the human team is facing some unusual dangers out there.
The premise of a killing machine gone rogue to binge-watch TV seems uncannily relevant as we continue to face the pandemic. Murderbot’s snarky sense of humor and first-person narration are well done. The novella suffers a bit when it comes to giving us a fully realized crew — there are only about two crew members who get any character development. And the novella is just long enough so the fun doesn’t wear off.
I’m intrigued enough to want to read the second installment and see what happens next. Continue reading
When I first read Robert Whitlow, I was impressed by the authenticity of his novels — not just the legal thriller aspect, but also the journeys and arcs he put his characters through. Over the last two decades, I’ve read just about everything Whitlow has written. While I’ve enjoyed watching him stretch himself as a writer, there’s still something comforting about him returning to his roots with his latest novel. Trial and Error.
Seventeen years ago, Buddy Smith became a father. He got to spend a few days with his daughter before she and her mother vanished. Buddy’s spent the last seventeen years trying to find his daughter, all while building a legal career in his home of Milton County. Buddy’s passion is renewed when he finds evidence his father was supporting the mother of his child financially for years but kept it a secret from Buddy and his mother.
Clerk of the court and local softball team coach, Gracie Blaylock is on her own journey. She’s been Buddy’s friend since high school and she’s been praying for Buddy and his family for years. With the introduction of a new sheriff’s deputy who specializes in missing persons, could Gracie’s prayers be finally answered in ways she does and doesn’t expect?
Whitlow’s early legal thrillers centered on good people who have to make difficult choices. The one thing that always stood out about Whitlow’s novels was the authentic journey his flawed characters go on during the course of the novel. Whitlow does feature the story of a person’s conversion, but it’s not presented as a moment in which all of that person’s problems are swept away. There may be a peace that comes over that person and a new perspective, but it’s not like waving a magic wand to make all the issues and problems go away. (I’m looking at you LeftBehind novels).
Of course, part of the secret is that Whitlow gets you to invest in his characters so when the pivotal moment comes, you feel it along with the character. Whitlow also doesn’t have everyone magically gets saved on the same timeline. There’s a character of a visiting judge who is challenged by Gracie and begins to examine his life, but we don’t see a conversion from him. (It may happen off-screen, but Whitlow doesn’t tell us one way or the other)
Whitlow’s characters shine through as do his legal storylines. There are multiple stories going on and Whitlow expertly weaves them together. I found myself turning the last page of this one feeling fully satisfied with Trial and Error as a stand-alone story but that I wouldn’t mind going back to the world of Buddy and Gracie again, should Whitlow be so inclined.
This is one of the best novels Whitlow has written in a long time. Highly recommended.
I received a digital ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us about the books that made us laugh out loud. Here are my choices, in no particular order.
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series. Adams making being witty and humorous look effortless. Just read anyone who’s tried and failed to imitate him, and you’ll appreciate just how great he is at this.
- Terry Pratchett, The DiscWorld series. Like Adams, Pratchett makes it look easy. He seems to find the right combination of words to be witty, amusing, laugh out loud funny and more.
- Garrison Keillor, The Lake Wobegon stories Yes, I love Keillor’s writing, but I’d argue that his Lake Wobegon stories are best experienced in their original monologue format. Still doesn’t mean that the story about the Lutheran ministers and the pontoon boat isn’t hysterically funny on the printed page, mind you. I did an entire class project on Keillor and his humorous writing in college.
- Peter David, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Strike Zone. David has a gift for finding the funny in Star Trek — especially in areas where the franchise can or does take itself too seriously. His first Trek novel includes a scene that had me laughing out loud when I read it three decades ago. Set in season two of TNG, the scene has Riker and Picard meeting in a turbolift and Riker noting that it must really get Picard that he’s got more hair on his newly bearded face than Picard has on his whole head. I’m not doing a great job relating it here, but it was and still is awesome.
- Gary Larson, the Far Side collections. Seems that 2021 is similar to 1999 when it comes to laying out a page-a-day calendar. So, it is that I’m spending this year getting reacquainted with genius that is Gary Larson thanks to my page-a-day calendar. And with news that he’s publishing new cartoons again, the world has become a bit funnier.
- Dave Barry. Barry’s written a few good novels, but his old collections of newspaper columns or non-fiction humor books that examine one or two subjects are where he really shines.
- Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Twain is always going to make my list when it comes to humorous writers — and A Connecticut Yankee is one of my favorites
- Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet by James Goss. For years, this fan-favorite by Douglas Adams went unadapted for the Target range of books. Then, in the last decade, they’ve begun to slowly fill in the gaps with adaptations that weren’t limited by the page count of the original Target run. This may be the best of the lot, simply because Goss does what many have tried to do and come up short — imitate the great Douglas Adams. One sequence in particular as the Doctor imagines his greatest enemies unable to believe he’s been killed in a seemingly mundane way was a pure delight — part of that could be chalked up to listening to this as an audiobook and the performance.
- Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. One of my earliest — and still favorite — reads. Ramona goes to kindergarten and on the first day, she misunderstands that when the teacher asks her to sit in a chair “for the present” it means for right now and not that a gift is coming later. We picked up a full set of the Cleary books to share with Shortcake and I hope she loves that moment and this book as much as I do.
- John Scalzi, Redshirts. Like Peter David, Scalzi is able to find the funny in things by pointing out some of the absurdities of them all. He has serious concepts and ideas in his novel, but he populates his books with characters who can take the mickey out of things. No where is this more true than Redshirts, a homage to classic Star Trek that will have you laughing out loud one moment and thinking the next. I’m not sure it’s my favorite Scalzi (that is probably his Heads-On series) but it won him a well-deserved Hugo.
Being naked in Cat’s bed was a fantasy I was already entertaining, and I ran my hand along her white marble countertop, making a silent vow to christen that surface, also.
Cat Winthrope seemingly has it all — the perfect husband, William, the gorgeous home, the social standing among the who’s who of their California community.
Enter Neena, the life coach who can help put William’s company over the top. But Neena is harboring deep-seated jealousy of everything Cat has — and Neena is willing to do whatever it takes to set herself as the next Mrs. Winthrope.
Filled with dark, duplicitous characters, A.R. Torre’s Every Secret Thing will have you questioning your allegiances and changing “sides” in the ongoing struggle between Cat and Neena throughout the course of the book. Neena and her husband, Matt, buy the house next door to Wiliam and Cat, insinuating themselves in the lives of the Winthrope’s at every opportunity — both professionally and personally. But neither side knows the other is playing a long game, leading to a suspenseful, “I can’t believe she’s doing this” final third of the novel. Be warned that once you get past a certain point, odds are you won’t be able to stop turning the pages in order to see what happens or develops next.
Part of that hook is Torre’s telling the story from the alternating viewpoint of Neena and Cat. Seeing how each views the other and the mounting frustration and conflict between the two makes for a rich, rewarding payoff in the final pages. The final third of the novel is rich with melodrama – but it’s all earned by some Torre’s laying a solid foundation for it early in the story.
As I said earlier, don’t be shocked to find your allegiances changing — or that you’ll at least understand what motivates each side in the ever-escalating conflict. There is a final twist or two that had me raising an eyebrow a bit, but at that point, I’d just decided to go with the crazy and enjoy what was unfolding.
I hate the way consuming pop culture has become a contest these days — well, at least to certain sites. There is such a rush to consume something and to be the first to discuss the details or twists and turns of a thing.
Look, I get it — not everyone can consume something at the same time or at the same speed. And while I appreciated the light SPOILERs that staying through the closing credits was a necessity this week (I always have because I like opening credits), the big reveal was ruined for me Friday morning by a headline that came through my feed.
And I know, part of the SPOILER responsibility is mine. But I also think you shouldn’t put a freakin’ spoiler in your stinkin’ headline!
OK, rant over.
Because this felt like an episode that is setting up the end game for the series. All the pieces are in place and the revelations have come. Now, it’s just a matter of all those pieces getting knocked down. Continue reading
For 2021, I’ve decided to take a look back at what many fans consider the best writer Doctor Who has ever produced — Robert Holmes. With the exception of “The Space Pirates,” we have a full run of Holmes’ output in the BBC Archives. Today, I look back at his first offering, “The Krotons.”
Patrick Troughton’s final season as Doctor was marked by a lot of scripts falling through and a scramble to get something, anything onto screens. Out of that chaos came something good — the Doctor Who debut of Robert Holmes.
Sure, “The Krotons” isn’t exactly on the same level as “Spearhead From Space” would be just a season later. And Holmes’s distinctive writing style is a bit rough around the edges. But, this four-part serial is an interesting starting point for Holmes and offers hints of things to come.
Holmes would borrow elements from this serial for multiple other stories as the series went along. The concept of an alien taking the best and brightest from an alien society would be used in “The Trial of a Time Lord” close to two decades later. And he’d also recycle the backstory of the Krotons themselves a bit when we meet the Sontarans in “The Time Warrior” (lone ship from a fleet crashes on an alien world and uses local population to rebuild).
So, while “The Krotons” isn’t necessarily essential for the story itself, it is an essential part of Doctor Who’s history. Continue reading
Learning that Cassandra Rose Clarke was penning a couple of Star Trek tie-in novels, I decided to sample some of her back catalogs. The first book that hit my library reserve pile was the young-adult urban fantasy, Forget This Ever Happened.
The town of Indianola, Texas is off-the-grid, even in the early ’90s. That’s because there are monsters who live out by the old power planet who live in a tentative alliance with the town’s humans. And anyone who leaves town forgets about the monsters and details of their lives in the small town.
In the summer of 1993, Claire is exiled to Indianola, Texas to care for her aging grandmother. When a monster shows up in her yard, taunting her, Claire calls the local exterminator to remove the creature back to the power plant. That’s how she meets Julie, whose family owns multiple local businesses. Claire’s grandmother is convinced that Julie’s family “stole” their family home out from under them years ago and is less than pleased with Claire and Julie’s strike up a friendship. Claire’s grandmother would rather she spent time with Audrey, the girl who is almost too good to be true.
The first third of Forget This Ever Happened builds the world of Indianola and the budding relationship between Julie and Claire. Pieces of the larger mystery of what’s happening in town and the connection to everyone are slowly sewn and established. Once the pieces are in place, the novel proceeds at a slow-burn toward the final revelations of just what’s going on in the town and why. Clarke earns each of the reveals, all while giving us a good dollop of teen angst. This angst comes in the form of Claire’s rising attraction to Julie and her feelings about it.
To say too much more would probably ruin some of the developments of the novel’s last third. Forget This Ever Happened is an intriguing treat with strong, female protagonists that earn most of the surprises from the novel’s final third. Given that Clarke’s upcoming TNG novel will focus on Dr. Crusher from season seven, I can’t help but look forward to that book arriving on my shelf later this year.
Until then, there are more novels from Clarke to explore — something I’m looking forward to doing.
Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?
After a couple of weeks of wondering just how the people trapped in Westview were faring if not in Wanda’s immediate sphere of influence, we found out this week, thanks to the Vision. The answer is — not well. They appear to be stuck but with an awareness of what’s happening to them. I’m going to assume based on the tear rolling down the cheek of the woman apparently stuck forever hanging laundry, that they’re all in some type of pain — whether it’s physical or emotional. I imagine it’s frustrating for them to be stuck in the perfect for her only town that Wanda has (apparently) created around her.
The more we see, the more I wonder just how much control over this scenario Wanda actually has. Last week, she told the kids she can’t resurrect the dead — but she’s done that with Vision and now her brother. Despite being the center of this universe, I can’t help but wonder how much control she really has over things. She can apparently expand that power and the sphere of the universe a bit. But what would she have done if pulled Hayward in there with her? Would she enact some type of revenge on him for attacking her home and family? While we met Wanda as a villain, it’s hard to imagine (at this point) that she’d hurt someone. Continue reading
Victoria Schwab is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers — and I’m having a lot of fun exploring her catalog.
One aspect that makes Shwab’s output so appealing is her world-building. And that strength is fully on display with This Savage Song. In an urban fantasy world, a monster wants to be a human, and a human resisting the urge to become a monster. August and Kate come from the ruling families on opposite sides of a brewing conflict who are sent to the same school. Kate has been trying to get back home with her father since her mother died and August is sent undercover to keep an eye on her.
Schwab resists the urge to make August and Kate into a Romeo-and-Juliet-like couple, instead opting to make them become friends and reluctant allies in an attempt to keep a seemingly unstoppable impending war from happening. Each has his or her own secrets (August’s is particularly intriguing) and could be a useful pawn in the other side’s attempts to sway the balance of power.
Schwab’s world is full of strong characters, careful world-building, and earned dramatic escalations. The novel builds up the tension and does end on a cliffhanger that left me curious to pick up the next installment in the series and continue to explore this world and the lives of August and Kate. Continue reading
Thanks to the quirks of KTEH’s (a bastion of Doctor Who in the U.S. back in the day) scheduling of Colin Baker’s first season as the Doctor, I saw season 22 of classic Who a lot during my first decade or so as a fan. That kind of explains why it’s been a hot minute since I dusted off that particular season on either my VHS or DVD collection. It’s probably been at least a decade since I really dabbled in season 22 in a serious way — and boy, did revisiting Philip Martin’s adaptation of his script for “Vengeance on Varos” show that.
Martin takes a page from the master of the Doctor Who adaptation, Terrance Dicks, and gives us essentially the same story we get on-screen. Though to Martin’s credit (and Dicks in the early days before they chained him to a typewriter and he churned out eight novels in a year), he does at least try to make the story feel like it unfolds over a longer duration of time than what we got on-screen. Martin makes it feel like the Doctor, Peri, Jondar, and Arata spend a bit more time wandering around the punishment dome, trying to find a way out and escape. He even extends things out enough so it appears the Doctor has passed away for longer than five-minutes than we see on-screen.
There is an extended sequence where we pull back the curtain and see how the Governor truly lives when he’s not negotiating with Sil or being sprayed with death rays. And don’t forget that part where he has Sil fall into the vat of liquid that he’s constantly being sprayed with on-screen.
But despite all these flourishes, it’s the story of “Varos” that continues to shine through and where the success or failure of this particular story lies. Continue reading