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Review: Star Trek: The Galactic Whirlpool by David Gerrold #SciFiMonth

The Galactic Whirlpool (Star Trek Adventures, #14)

After James Blish’s adaptation of most of the original Star Trek episodes and the first published original novel, “Spock Must Die!”, Star Trek novels entered an interesting era. Many of the books that made it to the market were one step removed from glorified fan-fiction.

But as publishing rights were shifting to Pocket Books with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, one glimmer of respectability hit shelves with David Gerrold adapting his initial story pitch for the original series for the printed page. The result was “The Galactic Whirlpool.”

I read “The Galactic Whirlpool” during my intensive Trek novel phase during my teenage years. The only thing I recalled about it was the opening featuring Kirk reflecting on the nature of his middle name and what that means about his character.

sfm-2022-bannersPicking up it close to three decades later, I was struck by how my memory had confabulated this sequence a bit and how little else I recalled about the novel as a whole.

Given that Gerrold was part of the writing team for the original series, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s got a good grasp on writing for the regular crew – and that he even brings in a few recurring characters as well, including Lt. Kevin Riley who was seen twice in season one and then vanished off-screen. (I guess if you take over the engineering section and demand ice cream for dinner, Kirk takes a dim view of things).

The Enterprise encounters a large vessel in the depths of space on a course for destruction between two interstellar phenomena. Once the crew has entered the ship, they find a group of colonists that left Earth a long time ago, divided into factions. Can Kirk and company convince them they need help before a course change is too late and their ship is destroyed? Continue reading


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Review: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabriel Zevin

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

Sam Mazur and Sadie Green meet and bond over a Super Mario Brothers on the Super NES at the local children’s hospital – Sam is there recovering from a devastating car accident and Sadie is there with her sister, Alice. The two quickly become best friends, until Sam catches wind of the fact that Sadie was receiving community services hours for her bat mitzvah for spending time with Sam and he severs the friendship.

Until a chance encounter years later brings the two gamer lovers back together. Their friendship rekindled, Sam and Sadie become forever linked when they spend a summer creating an iconic video game and then the next twenty or so years trying to follow up on that initial success. Sadie wants games to be an art form, Sam wants to make money. In the middle is Sam’s roommate Marx, who becomes a business manager for their company and the third side of an intricate love triangle.

Borrowing a title from the Bard himself, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is an immersive love story of flawed, intriguing people and their impact on each other’s lives. It’s the story of rifts that develop and how they crumble and fragment the friends sometimes, bringing them together at others. The initial estrangement over Sam’s perception that Sadie was in their friendship for something more than just a shared love of video games is nothing compared to the fissure that develops early in their professional relationship when Sam insists on changing the identity of their main character from gender neutral to male and that the team take a deal to distribute the game that will give them a quicker payday up front, but limit their options down the road.

The slow burn that Sadie goes through for the next decade and the impact is has on the trio drives a good portion of the book – though it took a few pages and chapters to realize just what was happening and why it was happening.

Zevin clearly has a love of gaming – something that comes across on every page. The details of certain games will leave you yearning to revisit a couple of the games and even wishing that somehow the games we read about Sadie, Sam, and Marx developing and marketing could somehow become real and we could at least try them out. (I especially want to try Sadies’ game that involves blasting fragments from Emily Dickison poems)

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is an immersive story, at times, washed over me. The celebrations and the tragedies (both large and small) are profoundly felt. Each of these characters is fascinating, flawed, and unforgettable.

This is the type of story that comes to a natural conclusion, and yet you won’t want it to end. Simply put, this novel was the perfect read at the perfect time for me, connecting with me in all the right ways.

Easily one of the books I’ve read this year. Highly recommended.

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#VintageSciFiMonth Review: The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

H. G. Wells: The Invisible Man

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.

vintage-sf-badgeFor 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

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Review: Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone

Driven to raise her math grade from a B+ to an A, Ellie begs her mother, Laurel, to hire a tutor for her. The tutor does her job, but Ellie begins to get an odd vibe off her and decides to end the lessons. A few weeks before her exams, Ellie mysteriously vanishes.

A decade later, Laurel is beginning to piece her life back together. Divorced, she’s met a new suitor who seems like the perfect guy. He has two daughters and one of them, Poppy, is the spitting image of Ellie. Is Laurel seeing a ghost or is there something more sinister going on here?

All of that sounds pretty exciting, right?

This is why I’m a bit sad to report that Lisa Jewell’s Then She Was Gone isn’t nearly as exciting or thrilling as a whole as the individual components make it sound like it should or could be. Part of the issue is that once Jewell puts all the pieces into play, there aren’t any huge shocks or revelations to come. I’d figured out a large part of what was going on long before the book begins to pull back the curtain on where Ellie went, who Poppy really is, and just how the math tutor ties into all of it. I kept waiting for something darker or more sinister to come of the story and nothing really did. Maybe I’m too conditioned by other suspense thrillers with a dark streak to really fully enjoy this one. But I did find myself reading more to see if my suspicions were correct than because I was fully invested in the story unfolding.

That’s not to say this is necessarily a bad book. It’s just one that disappointed me a great deal, especially after hearing positive reviews from other readers who share my tastes.

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Review: Oona Out of Order

Oona Out of OrderTime-travel isn’t a new trope in fiction, but Oona Out of Order‘s take on how time travel could work is one of the more interesting storytelling devices I’ve come across in time.

Each year on her birthday (which happens to be January 1), Oona Lockhart leaps forward or backward in time. Externally, she’s whatever age she would be in the year she’s arrived, but internally, she’s only aged one year. Each time she leaps (I couldn’t help but have visions of Quantum Leap while reading this novel), Oona equips herself with knowledge for the year, a secret binder containing information on investments that can be made to support her independently wealthy lifestyle, and a letter from her previous self to help get her up to speed on where she is in time and her various relationships.

Like Quantum Leap, Oona has her own version of Al — in this case, it’s her mother and her mysterious assistant Kenzi, both of whom are there to try and help her transition from one year to the next. Continue reading

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Review: The Wives by Tarryn Fisher

The WivesTarryn Fisher says her fascination with polygamy and its impact on women led her to write The Wives. But after reading The Wives, I feel like she hasn’t really explored the impact all well.

But it’s not like she doesn’t have all the elements for a great story. It’s just that she doesn’t use them all that well.

Thursday is one of Seth’s three wives. Not only is Thursday her name, but that’s the only day of the week she’s allowed to share with Seth. The other days and nights are given over to his other wives. One of the stipulations to this unusual arrangement is that Thursday can never meet or have a relationship with his other wives. But driven by jealousy and a spirit of rebellion, Thursday begins a friendship with Seth’s newest wife and is horrified to discover she has bruises and other signs of abuse at Seth’s hands.

At this point, the novel raises an interesting question of just how well Thursday knows her husband and what, if anything., she owes to his other wives. Should she interfere? Should she intervene and try to help the wife escape Seth’s potential abuse? Continue reading

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Review: Snowbound in Vegas by Sally Kilpatrick

Despite being assured by friends that they were “perfect” for each other, Geo Russell and Truvy Fuller’s first blind date didn’t end in a love connection — or even a second date.

Years later, the Geo and Truvy are the best man and maid of honor for their best friend’s wedding. But little do they know that their friends not only still think they’re perfect for each other, but they’re going to prove it to them.

Geo and Truvy are tricked into spending a week together in a remote, snowbound cabin  (nicknamed Vegas) in Gatlinburg with no cell service, no television, and no contact with the outside world.   Will there be a love connection this time or will these two end up loathing each other even more?

Sally Kilpatrick’s “Snowbound in Vegas” is a sweet romance with just enough heat to it to fuel but not overfeed your imagination.  Alternating viewpoints between Geo and Truvy allows us to see inside each one’s world-view and assumptions about the other and see just how these two didn’t connect on that first date but might connect now.

“Vegas” is a bit different from Kilpatrick’s previous stories in terms of setting and turning up the heat factor. But what she doesn’t sacrifice is her commitment to building strong, relatable characters with their own quirks and foibles that serve as both an asset and a hindrance to romance.   The remote setting and confined quarters make for a lot of fun and there are some genuinely sweet moments between Geo and Truvy.

And any story that uses the word “nekkid” in reference to its characters being sans-clothing  (because neither one packed a suitcase for the trip and there is a hot tub) wins major points in my book.

Sweet, charming, and relatable, “Vegas” is another winning story from Kilpatrick.

This story is part of the Once Upon A Wedding anthology.

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Review: The Perfect Girlfriend by Karen Hamilton

The Perfect GirlfriendThe Perfect Girlfriend turns the “crazy ex” thriller on its head a bit by taking us inside the mind of one of the craziest ex’s you’ll ever meet.

Since Nate asked Juliette for some time and space, she’s been more than willing to give it to him. Eventually, he’ll realize what Juliette has known since they first met — they are meant for each other. In the meantime, Juliette still has Nate’s keys, his passwords, and multiple social media accounts to keep up with all his moves. She wants their paths crossing again to look completely natural and not planned down to the last detail.

Karen Hamilton’s debut novel puts us inside Juliette’s head, getting to know her motives and justifications in her lifestyle makeover and pursuit of Nate. Early on, Juliette hints there may be things from Juliette’s past in play that make the whole game to win Nate back a bit more twisted and devious than it might appear at first. Hamilton walks a fine line between creating sympathy for Juliette and readers being horrified at the lengths she will go to in order to win Nate back.

The first three-quarters of the novel unfolds with a growing sense of dread, tension, and growing horror at just how far Juliette is willing to go. But in the first quarter of the book, things begin to slowly break down as revelations surface and narrative threads come together. And it’s at this point that the book begins to lose a bit of its momentum and comes to a close that isn’t satisfying. The actual ending of the book is a bit abrupt and really left me wondering if there wasn’t an extra chapter or two somewhere on the cutting room floor.


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Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

The Cabin at the End of the WorldOn a warm summer afternoon, Wen is capturing grasshoppers in a jar near the cabin rented by her fathers. Fully intending to return the grasshoppers to their native habitat after she’s done naming and studying them, Wen finds her peaceful afternoon interrupted by the arrival of four strangers.

Taking her fathers and Wen prisoner at the isolated cabin (cell service is non-existent), the four strangers say they’ve come to ask an extraordinary favor of Wen and her fathers. One of them must willingly sacrifice themselves in the next few hours or else there will be serious consequences to their captors and the planet as a whole.

A slow-burn of ever-increasing horror, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World slowly draws you in and then dares you to look away as things slowly spiral out of control. Tremblay spends the first third of the book developing Wen, her fathers, and their captors so that, even while you don’t agree with this decisions and choices, you understand their motivation and what’s brought them to this brutal crossroads. Exposing old fears, long-held resentments, and areas of their relationships that probably would be better staying hidden, each character is stripped down during the course of the standoff.

The first chapters are almost hypnotic, but once the revelations come, they’re well paced and well earned by Tremblay. The master of modern horror, Stephen King, called this Tremblay’s best offering to date. And while I’m not sure I necessarily agree (A Head Full of Ghosts haunted me in ways this one didn’t. But that’s probably just a matter of personal preference), this is still one of the more haunting page-turners I’ve read this year.

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Review: The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton & James Patterson

The President Is MissingThe President Is Missing is the literary equivalent of a blockbuster action film — better when you sit back, turn your brain off, and just go along for the ride.

President Jonathan Duncan faces attacks from all sides. As he faces impending impeachment hearings in Congress, Duncan is made aware of an attack on the United States that will send our nation back to the stone age. Duncan is forced to go rogue to try and take down the threat before it comes to fruition and to ferret out who in his inner circle is leaking vital information to his enemies.

Promising “insider secrets only a president could know,” The President Is Missing is less a political thriller and more a political fantasy. At multiple points, you can’t help but wonder how much Bill Clinton would have given to shake off the threat of impeachment by going John McClain to save our country from an attack and then riding that to astronomical approval rating.

And that may be the biggest thing that holds the novel back from being a “bubble gum for the brain” thriller. I kept looking for clues as to which author wrote which part of the novel.

This novel also reminded me why I’ve stopped reading James Patterson novels. His novels feel a bit formulaic and rushed to press. And that’s how this one ends up feeling as well. Staccato chapters, quick pacing so you don’t have to ponder the implications of things as the develop, and a lack of room for any substantial character development add up to a disappointing novel. The final third of the book piles on absurd twist after absurd twist until I felt like crying, “Enough already.”

The President Is Missing feels like a missed opportunity. With a former president co-authoring and able to offers insights into the office and what might really happen if our president vanished for a significant length of time, the novel instead is told mostly from the first-person perspective of Duncan, thus negating the title early and often. I’m not sure what I expected, but this one didn’t fit the bill.


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