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….
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
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.
Nostalgically, “Time-Flight” holds a special place in my heart as the first Doctor Who serial I watched one warm summer evening on San Jose’s KTEH. The story of a Concorde vanishing into pre-historical times hooked me on Doctor Who for life. And since I didn’t have much to compare it to, I thought it was one of the best things I’d ever seen.
It didn’t take me long to realize that “Time-Flight” wasn’t necessarily the best offering for not just the Peter Davison era but also Doctor Who as a whole. That’s probably why I skipped the Target book during my teenage years.
Forty years later, I’ve finally experienced the Target version of the story in audiobook form. And it was about as disappointing as I thought it might be forty or so years ago.
Freed of the limitations of an overstretched budget, I’d hoped that author Peter Grimwade might use the printed page to enhance and expand the story a bit. Instead, Grimwade seems to follow the Terrance Dicks of the Tom Baker era model and just translate the script to the page with a few descriptions of items, sets, and characters thrown in for good measure. The story of a Concorde being stolen down a time corridor in order to help out the Master’s latest nefarious scheme doesn’t even come close to making one lick more of sense on the printed page. It really does make one yearn for the days of Roger Delgado as the Master when the villain’s schemes felt like they had a bit more planning behind them.
The audio version of this one tries its best with Peter Davison in there giving it his all and the story full of sound effects that try their darnedest to make it all a bit more palatable. Alas, it never quite all gels and I can’t help but feel that this one was a bit of a disappointment.
Like most people, Nora Seed has regrets. She regrets giving up swimming because of the strain it placed on her relationship with her dad. She regrets calling off her wedding to Dan and working with him to start a country pub. She regrets quitting a band with her brother just as they were on the cusp of success due to crippling social anxiety.
After being laid off from her dead-end job in a music store, Nora decides that her life is no longer worth living. She sets about ending things, only to find herself at The Midnight Library. The library is a kind of way station between this world and the next, in which Nora is allowed to pick from a myriad of books that represent different choices she could have made during her life’s journey. The hope is that Nora will find a life in which she’s happier or one that helps her erase the heaviness of her personal book of regrets.
And so, Nora starts trying on lives. She can return to the library at any time if she starts feeling the life doesn’t live up to her expectations. Continue reading
An updated take on Lucifer’s Hammer, Claire Holroyde’s The Effort speculates that it (still) wouldn’t take much for civilization as we know it to collapse and our world to descend into chaos. In the case of The Effort, it’s a large comet that is on a collision course with our planet. Holroyde bounces between multiple characters in the story, from members of a team, tasked with finding a way to save the planet from destruction to those dealing with civilization as we know it falling into chaos as some of humanity’s more base tendencies toward self-preservation kick in.
Like Lucifer’s Hammer, I found myself slowly starting to root for the cosmic calamity to befall the planet and start getting rid of certain characters, chief among them the head scientist Ben. Ben’s worst tendencies include not allowing members of his team to manifest any physical appearance that time is passing and his lack of consideration for those he doesn’t consider of immediate benefit or impact to the group trying to find a last-second way to save us all from destruction. 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
One of the eternal questions debated on many a playground is if you could pick one superpower, which one would it be and why? Odds are that a lot of the responses are going to be the old standards of flying, running fast, or becoming invisible.
The becoming invisible portion is the basis for one of the building blocks of the science-fiction genre in H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man. Odds are that even if you haven’t read it, you’re aware of the basic outline of the story thanks to multiple pop-culture retellings or uses of the character over the years.
For this year’s Vintage SciFi Month, I decided that I’d take a look at the foundational novel in the genre and see if it holds up.
Since it was included as part of my Audible subscription, I decided to take advantage of it and began listening. And immediately found myself not really looking forward to going back to it. The story of a scientist who invents a serum that allows him to become invisible and then becomes a raging ball of id just never quite connected with me this time around. Doing a bit of research, I found that Wells initially serialized the story, which then put into the Doctor Who frame of mind of figuring out where the cliffhangers all were. And maybe the story would have worked better unfolding in weekly or monthly installments. But I’m honestly not so sure. Continue reading