Over my course of following the creative output of J. Michael Straczynski, one of his strengths has been the creation of diverse characters who form a connection with his audience. So, the highest compliment I can pay his latest offering Together We Will Go is that it continues that trend in the best possible way.
After suffering the latest in a long string of rejections, writer Mark has landed on his next project — an epistolary tale of a dozen strangers who have decided for one reason or another to end their lives. Renting a bus, Mark places an online ad to find people to join him on his final journey across the United States, planning to culminate the trip by everyone driving off a cliff near San Francisco. Riders earn their spot by agreeing to upload journal entries to a central server and occasionally having the audio transcript of dramatic moments archived and uploaded.
What Mark doesn’t count on is the diverse group of people who will join his cross-country trek and the ways various personalities connect and clash. He also didn’t count on the authorities in some of the states he’s crossing having an issue with a group of people on their way to commit suicide. Continue reading
Big Finish made headlines when they finally convinced Christopher Eccleston that returning to his role as the ninth Doctor was something that could and should happen. The result is a couple of box-sets of stories with Eccleston in the role — which is probably as close to him playing the Doctor again as we’ll ever get.
The first box-set is out now and I finally got around to listening to it. I reviewed each installment after listening. So, if you notice some kind of horrible error or oversight in my thoughts on part one or two, please know I had no idea what was coming….
1. Sphere of Freedom
Christopher Eccleston effortlessly steps back into his role as the ninth Doctor in this introduction to the series. The first installment is all about setting up things for what’s to come, including establishing a new character called Nova, who serves as a de-facto companion. Give the drama a bit of credit for having Nova call out the Doctor for issuing forth technobabble for his own sake and not because she understands a word of it. Continue reading
One of my reading goals for 2021 was to re-read or experience anew the classic sci-fi series getting pop-culture adaptations — Foundation and Dune.
Halfway though 2021, and I’ve made good on part of that with my listening to Issac Asimov’s Foundation. I have to admit that listening to the novel was a different way of experiencing one of the giants of the science-fiction genre and one of the pillars (notice I didn’t say foundation) that all of science-fiction is built upon.
The good news is that Foundation still holds up. It’s a rich, episodic novel that is less concerned with space battles and space opera and more on having characters debate big ideas and moments. The Galatic Empire is failing and historian Hari Seldon says there is nothing that can be done to stop it’s fall. However, the length of the coming Dark Ages can be shortened if all of humanity’s knowledge is collected together on a single planet in a single resource.
Early on, humanity looks to Seldon to guide them through various crises, before realizing that Seldon has pulled a bait-and-switch. There is no intention of publishing an encyclopedia with all of humanity’s knowledge included. Instead, Seldon has created a group to be a beacon of light in the dark times and to possibly consolidate and wield power. And so, over the course of several thousand years, Asimov details the men who will come to power and the crises that will face civilization continuing.
It’s a fascinating series of stories — ones that never fail to intrigue me or hook me. I will go out on a limb here and say that I don’t think Foundation is quite as solid as Asimov’s robot novels, but that’s probably because I read the Robot novels first. The first entry holds up well, though it does concern me how this might be adapted for the screen since most of (OK, all of) the huge dramatic action tends to take place off-screen and we’re treated to various characters talking about what happened and the ramifications of those actions.
I’ll still be tuned in for the upcoming series, though based on the previews, it looks like they’re adapting the first two books for season one. But after listening to this one again, I don’t hold out much hope that the series can and will be as good or as impactful as the book.
Now, time to keep that resolution and start the second installment….
I’m guessing this limited series hit shelves when Spider-Man: Far From Home was hitting theaters to tie-in to Mysterio featuring in that movie.
Set during the time when I was really into Spider-Man comic books and written by one of my favorite authors, Peter David, Symbiote Spider-Man should be right up my alley. And yet, I can’t help but come away from it feeling that it was good, but not necessarily great.
Set in the time before Spidey knew his alien costume was a symbiote looking to bond with him for life, this five-part storyline has Spidey squaring off with Mysterio and the Kingpin. Mysterio is determined to find out as much as he can about Spidey’s alien costume and to be seen as a bigger foe of our web-slinger than maybe many (including the reader) believe he actually is.
It’s a decent enough little story arc, slipped into the main storyline of the time. I will admit that the part that intrigued me the most was Felicia Hardy and Aunt May meeting and discussing Peter at the cemetery with Uncle Ben is buried. David makes these scenes alone worth the price of admission.
But the rest with Mysterio blackmailing Black Cat to get a sample of the suit and becoming symbiote Mysterio — I could take or leave. It was intriguing but you know it’s not going to all go anywhere in the long run.
People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
During a recent Twitter DM thread with an old friend and published romance author, I asked if the fact that I not only read but enjoyed both of Emily Henry’s “romance” novels meant that I had to turn in my “guy card.” She assured me that it was OK to enjoy any writer and genre I wanted.
Reassured, I’m here to report that I really enjoyed Emily Henry’s latest novel People You Meet on Vacation. Poppy and Alex became accidental best friends following their freshman year of college. Carpooling back to their small town in Ohio, the two bonded over various shared interests and some interesting disconnects. A year or so later, the two made a pact to take a summer vacation together each year.
And so, things went well for the first decade or so as Alex pursued his master’s degree and then began to share his love of literature with unsuspecting English students and Poppy pursued her dream of traveling the world and getting paid to share her experience and advice. Then, there was the infamous summer in Croatia and the two haven’t spoken much for two years. Continue reading
This is one of the few novels from the Tom Baker/Louise Jameson era of classic Doctor Who I had in my original Target books collection. It was only because I somehow kept missing the serial — whether it was my PBS station skipping it in the rotation or just plain not setting the VCR right to catch it when it was repeated (ask your parents, kids).
So, for a long time, my only impression of this story came from Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the Bob Baker and Dave Martin scripts. And that probably helped things a good bit because, quite frankly, Dicks seems a bit more invested in this fourth Doctor story than he is in many of the others he adapted. Continue reading
For the series’ twenty-fifth anniversary, Doctor Who took a moment to offer up a satire of the series and its fans with “The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.” Set at the Psychic Circus, the serial sees various parties trying to keep a trio of ever-hungering god-like beings entertained with varying degrees of success. In many ways, the serial is a predictor of the ever-increasing hunger that the world seems to have to consume pop-culture and then how quickly it can be and is forgotten. The Gods of Ragna Rock use up various acts, quickly moving on to the next one with the constant chorus of “Entertain us.”
It’s a brilliant, subversive bit of Doctor Who and one that sits in my top ten.
But, it wasn’t the first time that Doctor Who would be so subversive. The series would offer up a satire of itself fifteen years early to celebrate the show’s tenth anniversary. But as with everything involving the late, great Robert Holmes, not only would the serial be subversive and point out the current state of Doctor Who, but it would also create a template for the next decade or so of our favorite program. Continue reading
Reading/listening to What’s Not to Love, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the early days of the Sam and Diane romance on Cheers. One scene, in particular, kept standing out, when during an argument that ends up with Sam and Diane smacking each other, Sam points out that he didn’t hit Diane as hard as he wanted to. It’s a dark moment for the show, one that indicates just how opposite these two romantic partners really are.
Of course, if you’ve watched Cheers (and if you haven’t, why are you still reading this?!? Get to streaming it immediately!), you know that Sam and Diane were on-again, off-again for several more seasons before she left.
I bring up that moment because it feels like the kind of moment you can’t really come back from — and there’s one like it in the middle of What’s Not to Love. Ethan and Allison have been rivals for all four years of high school, competing against each other with ever-increasing stakes and a blatant disregard for themselves or the people around them. Both of them want to get into Harvard and are on the school paper, which brings things to a huge boil when both parties do something equally unforgivable in an attempt to sabotage the other — again, not thinking about if or how their actions might impact other people in their lives. Continue reading
Like many of the fifth Doctor stories in the Target range, this is one that I simply skipped in my earlier collecting years and never got around to reading. Listening to the audio version, I can see why.
Arc of Infinity is a solid example of Terrance Dicks taking the shooting script and adapting it for the printed page with ease and professionalism. But for a story that’s a sequel to one that Dicks himself worked on during his tenure as script editor, it feels a bit wanting and thin at times. The story goes to great lengths to keep the identity of various villains secret during its four-episode run time. And translated to the printed page, it feels like there’s a lot of treading water taking place from the Doctor’s being almost taken over by Omega in episode one until Omega is dispatched in episode four. In between, there is some running up and down corridors and later along the streets of Amsterdam.
Dicks is able to consolidate much of the running about via his prose, but somehow it makes the story feel thinner than it did on-screen. I couldn’t help but find myself wishing for the Dicks who gave us “The Auton Invasion” or even “The Three Doctors” to fill in some gaps here or to give us some other reason Omega is still lurking about other than “well, we wanted to bring him back for the twentieth anniversary.”
All that said, the saving grace for the audiobook is the performance by Geoffrey Beavers. As I’ve said before, Beavers could read a take-out menu and hit the right notes of menace for a Doctor Who villain — and that is certainly the case here. Beavers does his best with the material he’s given, elevating it a bit and making the entire experience a bit more enjoyable.