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
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
Leading up to Christmas, I enjoyed a few holiday-themed audiobooks from Audible’s free for subscribers collections. One was my traditional (at least for a while) visit with Charles Dickens and the other two were very different ends of the rom-com spectrum.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (Adapted by R.D. Carstairs)
For a while, I followed a tradition of visiting Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol each holiday season. And while that tradition fell to the wayside the last few years, I decided that 2020 seemed like as good a time as any to revive it.
This year’s visit is a full-cast adaptation by R.D. Carstairs. Featuring a solid cast that includes Derek Jacoby as the narrator/Dickens, this version of the Carol hit all the right notes. The cast is solid, the adaptation is good, and I even found myself picking up a few highlights or notes that I hadn’t before.
Eight Winter Nights by Liz Maverick
Rachel met Oz at last year’s Hanukah party. But despite having a great connection and meeting him first, her friend Tamara swooped in and has been dating Oz for a year while Rachel pines away for him, filling journal after journal with love letters for Oz. Then, Oz hurts his leg and gets jilted by Tamara, who conveniently asks Rachel to take care of him while she’s partying in a sunny, warmer clime. Continue reading
Thanks to a myriad of media releases and repeats, “Genesis of the Daleks” is a story that’s never been very far from the zeitgeist of Doctor Who fans. Regarded as one of the finest installments in the series long run (classic or new), it’s one that many fans (including this one) can recite key moments from (especially those on the abridged LP released in the ’70s and re-released on every possible format since).
Knowing the key dialogue from these moments only makes the differences between what we saw on-screen and what Terrance Dicks adapts to the page stand out a bit more. It’s clear that Dicks is working from an earlier draft of the script since the cliffhangers are moved about and fall in different places than we see on-screen. (The lore has it that the cliffhanger to episode five was supposed to be the famous “Do I have the right?” speech and not the Dalek battling an uncased Dalek mutant). But while minor moments are different, Dicks is still able to do justice to this undisputed classic when it comes to translating it to the printed page.
Dicks is able to condense a bit of the running back and forth between the Kaled and Thal cities (it’s a six-parter, so there’s a lot of running about) and he even makes the three corridors sets that double as both cities on-screen seem more expansive than they are on-screen. And while Dicks can’t quite capture how great Michael Wisher is in creating Davros, Dicks is still able to convey the menace and tragedy of the character here.
While this script is Terry Nation’s finest hour for Doctor Who, it isn’t necessarily Terrance Dicks’ finest hour in the Target line. But you can still tell that Dicks has put some care and time into crafting this story for the printed page. It’s certainly miles better than many of the adaptations to come during the fourth Doctor’s tenure.
The audiobook of this one is quite good. Jon Culshaw does his usual great work at imitating Tom Baker. Wisely, Culshaw doesn’t try to sound exactly like the screen versions of each character and his performance here continues to cement him as one of the better readers in this range. And, of course, Nick Briggs is on-hand to give us authentic Dalek voices.
All-in-all, this is another solid audiobook in this range and I find myself beginning to become nostalgic as the end of the range looms nearer.
Heading into the final semester of her senior year, Holland is trying to figure out her future. Where will she go to school? What are her goals in life? Will she stay with her perfect boyfriend Seth?
Instead of taking an extra study hall, Holland takes an art class. She also starts to notice and make friends with the new girl, CeCe, who has just transferred to her school.
Before the semester ends, Holland’s life will change completely in ways she couldn’t expect.
Julie Anne Peters’ Keeping You A Secret is a coming of age and coming out story for Holland. Over the course of the story, Holland begins to realize that the dreams her mother has for her (and seems to consistently force upon her) aren’t the dreams she has. Her mother dismisses her interest in art, continually belittles any school that isn’t Ivy-League-level, and even casts dispersions upon Holland’s growing friendship with CeCe, at one point telling Holland she needs to drop CeCe as a friend. (SPOILER alert — things get a lot worse when Holland comes out to herself and is then forced out by her vindictive ex-boyfriend, Seth). Continue reading