Monthly Archives: January 2022

Review: The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix

The Final Girl Support Group

Lynette is a horror story survivor, the last girl left standing after a killer’s reign of terror involving her family. Now paranoid to the n-th degree, Lynette rarely ventures outside of her secure apartment, except to the monthly meetings of her fellow survivors, which she’s dubbed The Final Girl Support Group.

As the group begins to question whether or not it’s lived past its expiration date, strange things begin to happen and soon Lynette finds herself on the run and the target of someone who knows her and knows her paranoid habits well.

Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group starts off on a propulsive note as Lynette’s greatest fears begin to manifest themselves. The novel maintains an early frenetic pace that left me eagerly turning one page after the next. And then, somewhere around the mid-way point, it stumbles a bit and never quite recovers. It’s not to say that this was necessarily a terrible book, so much as to say that Hendrix can’t quite sustain the momentum for the entire story.

Part of that is it becomes wearing to be in Lynette’s company after. As a first-person account of what she’s experiencing, we’re treated to her inner workings as she tries to figure out who is targeting the group and why. But, it becomes limiting later in the story as Hendrix piles one horror cliche after the next onto Lynnette, attempting to turn them on their ear and pointing out some of the absurdities of the genre.

I don’t necessarily mind a book that tries to take some of the mickey out of a certain type of genre. It can certainly work well (hell, we’re on the fifth Scream movie at this point). Deconstructing something can prove why you love it so much or make you appreciate the genre a bit more. And maybe it’s just that I didn’t grow up on a staple of horror fiction (beyond reading a lot of Stephen King, mind you). Either way, this is a solid book that wasn’t quite as great as the hype surrounding it would have you believe.

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Top Ten Tuesday: New (To Me) Authors From 2021

Time to get literary with this week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl).

This week’s prompt asks us to reflect on the new (to you) authors you read in 2021. Here’s my list in no particular order.

  1. Robin Hobb
  2. Sarah Pinsker
  3. Cassandra Rose Clarke
  4. Will Leitch
  5. T.J. Newman
  6. Alissa Nutting
  7. Chris Whittaker
  8. Jen DeLuca
  9. Mo Williems
  10. Stephen Shaskan

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Sally,” “Flies,” “Nobody Here But –” & “It’s Such A Beautiful Day” by Isaac Asimov

nightfallasimovAs #VintageSciFiMonth starts to wind down, I’ve got a few more thoughts stories collected in Issac Asimov’s Nightfall and Other Stories collection.

Sally (4 Stars)
One of the hallmarks of Asimov was his contributions to the fictional world of positronic intelligence. “Sally” feels like an interesting precursor to his robots in a lot of ways, concerning a time in which cars are given artificial intelligence. Originally published in 1953, the story is set in 2015 and indicates another one of those odd coincidences in which Asimov came close to predicting the date when his sci-fi would become reality.

Overall, this is an intriguing story. The idea of a farm to which the AI cars retire and the greedy man who wants to strip them of their AI with little regard for the impact it will have on the cars is a good one and sets up an interesting conflict. Honestly, I think this one would serve as a great basis for a movie (indeed, it feels like a shorter version of Stephen King’s Christine) since you have intelligent cars defending themselves.

Flies (1.5 Stars)
The first swing and a miss for this collection, “Flies” looks at a group of scientists, gathering for their twenty-year reunion and looking at their legacy and current work. All of them have gone into the field of studying flies, based on the fact that one of the group’s body chemistry seems to attract the flies.
There are some good ideas in here, but overall, this one didn’t quite connect with me as some of the other stories in this collection have.

Nobody Here But — (3 Stars)
Asimov attempts to write a rom-com with a sci-fi twist in “Nobody Here But –” It’s the story of two scientists who have invented an AI (a common theme for Asimov) and how the AI starts to become self-aware. Of course, this all comes to a head on the night of the narrator’s big date with his girlfriend and the question arises as to whether his colleague suggested he ask the girl to marry him or the computer did to survive or distract the two.

Nothing necessarily “wrong” about this story but it felt a bit forced at times. And Asimov is accused of not writing well for his female characters — and that certainly isn’t helped here.

It’s Such A Beautiful Day (4 Stars)
This one feels oddly prescient today, even if we don’t necessarily have technology that allows us to instantly move from one point to another. The doors system is a technology that allows people to travel instantly from one place to the other (it feels like the transporter on Star Trek). When the door breaks down at one family’s home, their young son takes the scenic route and walks to school instead. He finds he likes it and much to the chagrin of his teachers and others, he begins to walk instead of beaming from place to place.

The question of just because technology makes life easier does it necessarily make it better looms large over this one. The horror of various people that the boy wants to get wet and muddy is well-realized and it keeps this story feeling relevant to today as we all become increasingly dependent on technology that supposedly makes our lives better.

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Breeds There A Man,” “C-Chute” & “What If –” by Issac Asimov

nightfallasimovAs #VintageSciFiMonth continues, I’ve read/listened to a few more of Issac Asimov’s short stories from his Nightfall and Other Stories collection.

Breeds There a Man?  (4.5 Stars)

“Breeds There a Man?” shows a different side of Issac Asimov and it’s one I found fascinating.

Elwood Ralson is a brilliant physicist who can apparently look at a problem and come up with a solution. As humanity lives under the threat of nuclear war, Ralson may be the only hope for one side to create a defense against nuclear attack. The only issue is that Ralson is suicidal and psychologically unstable.

Ralson operates under the theory that humanity is little more than an experiment in a test tube for higher intelligence and that anytime humankind gets to a certain level, the experiment is wiped out and everything starts over again.

The concept is a compelling, fascinating one and Asimov explores it well in the course of this story. It’s interesting to note how early on, Asimov shows an inclination to exploring why there are highs and lows in the history of humanity and how his characters attempt to combat them.

C-Chute (5 Stars)

Asimov’s work is typically filled with robots rather than aliens. So a short story that presents an alien race is intriguing for him.

“C-Chute” is a bit of space opera with loftier ideals and well-drawn characters. In the near future, humanity is at war with an alien race. Our freighter is caught in the middle and its various passengers and crew are taken as prisoners of war. The group goes from being at each other’s throats to trying to find a way to escape and rescue themselves before being held on the aliens’ home world.

A compelling, taut story that was adapted for X-Minus One. I will definitely be listening to it at some point. This is one of my favorite stories from this collection to this point.

In a Good Cause— (2.5 Stars)

In the preface, Asimov notes that this is a story where he disagrees with his main characters’ viewpoint. And I suppose, that could be interesting if the story were a bit stronger.

Two friends come into repeated conflict over whether or not Earth should become part of a central, unified government (think the Federation in Star Trek). The story unfolds on three days when one of them was arrested for his beliefs and explores why the two are on opposite sides.

It’s good, but I can’t help but think this one should have been stronger. The idea of one man being right at the wrong time is intriguing. I did have a hard time not seeing this as a potential stepping stone for Gene Roddenberry in creating Starfleet, though it feels more like the Starfleet of TNG and beyond than it does TOS.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Recent Additions

Time again for Top Ten Tuesday. This literary meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, offers a book-related prompt each week. This week asks what are the latest additions to your book pile.

We made a journey up to our local used bookstore a few weeks ago and I added a few items to my stack. I also picked up a few new to me books at a local thrift store.

  1. Timescape by Greg Benford
  2. Dune box-set (Dune, Dune: Messiah, Children of Dune) by Frank Herbert
  3. Good Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
  4. Star Trek: Trek to Madworld by Stephen Goldin
  5. Doctor Who: Time and the Rani by Pip and Jane Baker (audiobook)
  6. The Winds of Change and Other Stories by Issac Asimov
  7. The Suspect by Michael Roboham
  8. Close to Critical by Hal Clement
  9. Superluminal by Vonda M. McIntryr
  10. Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

Some of these were picked up to (possibly) be included in #vintagescifimonth. We will see how many I can get to before January closes!


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The Robert Holmes Doctor Who Rewatch: “Pyramids of Mars”

downloadWhile his name doesn’t appear in the opening titles, Robert Holmes heavily rewrote “The Pyramids of Mars” enough that it I can count it as one of his stories for the purposes of my rewatch. (And if you doubt me, Steven Moffatt cited Holmes as the writer when this serial was chosen as the representative of the fourth Doctor’s era for the fiftieth anniversary, saying that Holmes was teaching everyone how to write for Doctor Who).

For a while, “Pyramids of Mars” was my favorite Doctor Who story. The years have reordered my list a bit and it’s still in the top ten.

I clearly recall the first time I saw it on KTEH in San Jose, being utterly mesmerized by part one. It aired on a Friday night and by the time we got the “I bring Sutekh’s gift of death to all humanity” cliffhanger to end part one, I was hooked. We had a VCR at the time and I was allowed to collect favorite stories on video-tape. I found myself wishing I’d recorded part one that night and vowing I would have it as part of my collection.

Pyramids_of_Mars_1988_VHS_USThe story was one of the first wave of VHS releases and came to the United States in the omnibus format. I plunked down by twenty dollars (mail order through the PBS catalog) and couldn’t wait to watch this one over and over again.

Which may be the reason that before my rewatch, it had been seven or eight years since I’d dusted off this one and watched.

My enthusiasm for it hasn’t changed. Despite feeling like I know large passages of this one by heart, the story still enthralled and entertained the heck out of me this time. It’s easily one of the top ten greatest stories in the Doctor Who canon and it’s Robert Holmes having a marvellous time rewriting. Continue reading

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Review: The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

The Girls Are All So Nice Here

While many of us may say we dread our ten-year college reunion, most of us would probably enjoy the opportunity to catch up with old friends. Ambrosia Wellington has good reason to dread her tenth college reunion — she’s spent the past decade distancing herself from the person she was in college and some of the decisions she made back then.

Determined not to attend, Amb receives a hand-written note saying “We need to talk about what we did that night,” and suddenly Amb has to return to Wesleyan to see if someone is prepared to dredge up the past and expose a side of herself she’s worked hard to deny for the past ten years.

Amb’s best-friend from those days was Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, a partner in crime who brought out the best and worst in everyone around her. While Amb was content enough to party her way through school following her high school boyfriend cheating on her, that all goes out the window when she meets Kevin, a guy she has an instant connection with from Dartmouth. One small problem — he’s the steady boyfriend of her roommate, Flora, who Amb has a complicated relationship. Amb is turned off by Flora’s “too good to be true” persona and sets out to destroy not only her relationship with Kevin but also Flora herself. All of this is, of course, egged on by Sully.

Meanwhile, a decade later, Amb is happy and married, sharing a life with her new husband who wants to have a family with her. While Amb outwardly seems to embrace the role as a potential mother, deep down she admits she doesn’t want a child and is still secretly on her birth control medicine. Her husband is enthusiastic to find out more about his wife at the reunion — something Amb wants to control for fear he will discover the truth of who she really is.

Amb and Sully were “mean girls” for lack of a better term — bullies who burned through boys and friends at an alarming rate. They pulled no punches back in the day to get what they wanted — even sewing seeds of distrust between Kevin and Flora to facilitate the break-up. But how far they’re willing to go to get what they want drives the story, as does the alternating back and forth between then and now as reveal after reveal happens.

The Girls Are So Nice Here is told (almost) exclusively from Amb’s point of view and it makes for a fascinating non-reliable narrator study for much of its page count. Amb’s perpetual justifying her behavior (both then and now) helps us understand why she does what she does, even while we don’t necessarily like or agree with it. The question of just how far she will go (again, then and now) drives much of the story and the growing sense of dread at what really happened back then kept me intrigued and hooked.

And then, the novel devolves a bit in the final quarter as the truth comes to light and it becomes less a suspense story and more a slasher/thriller. My eyebrows kept raising for the final quarter of the book — and not always in a good way. The narrative loses some momentum late in the game and rushes in an ending that I’m not sure entirely fits with all the build-up that has come before.

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Hostess” by Issac Asimov

nightfallasimov“Hostess”:  Five Stars

You’d think Asimov couldn’t top “Nightfall” in his Nightfall and Other Stories collection, but he has.

This is a fascinating, compelling little story that is one part mystery, one part science-fiction, and one part mind-blowing concept. Rose married late in life to a police officer, something her friends and colleagues didn’t understand. Rose is a biologist, but there’s something about Drake that has forged a connection between the two.

Now, Rose has the honor of hosting an alien dignitary in their home Drake isn’t overly thrilled, but Rose is delighted to learn more about the alien world and culture — beyond what they allow the people of Earth to know.

I’ve just skimmed the surface of this story because it’s one of those delights that it’s best you don’t know much if anything about it before embarking on it. As with “Nightfall,” there are echoes of future, longer works by Asimov here — the police officer who is skeptical of a new form of life and intelligence, the debate over hosting such a being in one’s home, etc. But this one has a bit more sinister thread running through it than the Bailey novels.

If you haven’t read this one, you should. If you’ve read it, it might be time to read it again. A marvel.

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#VintageSciFiMonth: “Nightfall,” “Green Patches” by Issac Asimov

One of the great things about Issac Asimov is his prolific body of work. This means there will probably be no shortage of material for #VintageSciFiMonth featuring Asimov in my lifetime. I’ve read Asimov since my teens and it looks like I won’t soon run out of new (to me) stuff to read.

And while I’ve read a good portion of his longer works, I’ve not sampled as many of his short stories as I should or could. So, this year for #VintageSciFiMonth, I decided to dip into his prolific short story output with the collection Nightfall and Other Stories. Over the course of the next month, I will be offering up my thoughts on the stories from the collection as I read through.

Nightfall (1949): Five stars

Asimov prefaces this story by saying that many consider it to be his best story and that while it was anthologized elsewhere he had never included it in one of his collections. Fifty-plus years later, “Nightfall” is the selling point of this collection and it’s interesting that Asimov puts it upfront instead of making us wait until the end to read it.

The planet Lagesh has multiple suns, meaning that people of this world are rarely without light. Once every two thousand or so years, the suns all set, sending the society of that work into chaos and ruin since the mere concept of a sky without at least one sun in it sends much of the population into madness. As the story opens, it’s a few hours from the last sun setting and civilization as we know it ending.

In many ways, this feels like Asimov trying on some of the concepts he will later explore in his Foundation novels. There’s a society on the brink of chaos, facing a coming dark age with a group of learned scientists who attempt to preserve some of the civilization and its learning in a secret location. “Nightfall” shows us the beginning of the fall of the Lagesh civilization and the madness that comes when people who have never missed light are deprived of it.

As with a lot of Asimov, this story features a lot of characters sitting around and having deep conversations about what’s unfolding. And yet, there is still a bit of action as the sun slowly sets and people dread the coming of the mysterious objects known as stars. The world-building for a short story is nothing short of remarkable and the growing sense of dread is palpable.

It’s easy to see why many consider this one of, if not the, best Asimov short stories.

The story was expanded to a novel with the help of Robert Silverburg in 1990. I’ve read that book but don’t recall much about it. I may have to dip into it again this year.

“Green Patches”: Four stars

The second expedition to Saybrook’s Planet wants to determine why the initial expedition destroyed itself after sending back one final message. Turns out the planet’s life is all part of one organism with a unified consciousness. This consciousness wants to help organize the chaos is that is humanity and Earth.

Everything lives in balance with the plans producing enough food for consumption and being allowed to thrive. Biological lifeforms that have been fertilized by the planet are known by the green patches in the place of eyes.

The story is a bit of a race against time to keep a rogue lifeform from getting to Earth and taking over the planet. But the concept of a world where everything is in perfect balance is one that intrigues me. Reading this, I couldn’t help but draw parallels to the Borg on Star Trek and Mary Doria Russell’s superb The Sparrow.

While this one isn’t as strong as “Nightfall,” it’s still pretty solid and one I really enjoyed.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’m Looking Forward To In 2022

Time to celebrate all things literary with the Top Ten Tuesday. This week’s prompt is what books are you looking forward to seeing on the shelves (physical or ebook) in the first part of the year.

  1. Something to Hide by Elizabeth George
  2. The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
  3. In Every Generation by Kendare Blake
  4. The Bastards and the Knives by Scott Lynch
  5. Gallant by Victoria Schwab
  6. Alone Out Here by Riley Redgate
  7. Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins
  8. Book of Night by Holly Black
  9. Book Lovers by Emily Henry
  10. Doctor Who: Battlefield by Ben Aaronvich and Marc Platt (audiobook release)
  11. The City Inside by Samit Bansu
  12. Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Cybermen by Terrance Dicks (audiobook release)


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