Category Archives: SciFi Month

Audiobook Review: Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks: 4th Doctor NovelisationThanks 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.

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The Best of Terrance Dicks

sfm2019-button-roundEarlier this year, iconic Doctor Who writer Terrance Dicks passed away.   To memorialize the man who molded and developed the series on-screen and on the printed page, BBC Books is planning a hardcover release of fan-chosen Target adaptations by the prolific author.

And it’s almost as if BBC Books knew it was #SciFiMonth and a great time to celebrate all things Doctor Who.  (Oh yeah, the big 56th anniversary is Saturday, November 23!)

Starting on Monday, November 18th, fans can cast their votes for their favorite Target novels.  Dicks’ sixty-four novels are being broken into brackets and then the stories will face off.

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I know I will be voting.  And I know which of the iconic adaptations I hope wins the whole thing.  ::cough::cough::Day of the Daleks::cough:::cough:::.

If you want to vote, set your browser coordinates for the BBC Books official Twitter feed next Monday!

 

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Remembering the Star Wars Radio Drama

sfm2019-button-roundLike many, Star Wars was an entry point into my love of all things science-fiction.  At one point in my young life, if a show or movie looked anything like Star Wars, I was all-in.  That included such things as The Black Hole, the original Battlestar Galactica and the 70’s version of Buck Rodgers. 

So, in the early 80’s when I heard there was a radio show based on Star Wars, I was all-in.

Originally airing on NPR, the radio show adapted and expanded the two-hour movie into thirteen half-hour episodes.  I’m fairly certain I didn’t hear all thirteen when they initially aired, though I did manage to record an episode or two off the air on my dad’s fancy stereo.

SW-RadioPosterI recall listening to the episodes using a seat of headphones and marveling at the immersive nature of the sound experience.  Sure, it isn’t the surround sound we have today,  but it was mind-boggling back in the day.  It was even more mind-boggling that Mark Hamill and Anthony Daniels reprise their roles from the movie for the radio drama.

Star Wars was such a hit that NPR adapted The Empire Strikes Back for radio as well.  There were plans in place to adapt Return of the Jedi, but they fell through.   That movie eventually got adapted for radio years later when the radio shows were commercially released on cassette and CD.

As the movie version was an entry point into the larger world of sci-fi, so was the radio radio show an entry point into the world of audio dramas — specifically old time radio shows.  My NPR station followed-up the broadcast of Star Wars with a three-hour block of old radio shows called “The Big Broadcast” each Sunday evening.

I’ve had the full run of the radio shows thanks to the commercial releases in the early 90’s.    I had Star Wars and Empire, though it took me a long time to get around to listening to Jedi. (I finally checked it out of my local library and listened to it).   I’ll dust off my CDs every once in a while and listen to them while commuting or doing stuff around the house, taking a trip down memory lane and hearing the expanded story of these iconic movies.  (Though, Jedi is probably the least expanded and most straight-forward retelling of what you see on screen).

Last week, my good friend Barry sent me a link to a podcast that delved into the history, impact, and influence of the radio shows.  It was a trip down memory lane and underscored just how cool the Star Wars radio dramas were.  (It also gave me a new respect for them since the podcast tells us there were only 28 minutes of dialogue in the original Star Wars and yet writer Brian Daley found a expand that to six and a half hours!)  It also made me wonder (as I think Barry and I did twenty or so years ago) what it might be like if they adapted the prequel trilogy for radio.  It might be interesting to see what might happen if they adapted the new trilogy for radio as well

If you haven’t listened to the radio drama, I highly recommend them.  They’re available for digital listening and might be a fun way to get into the spirit for the upcoming Rise of Skywalker. 

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Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

ArtemisAfter the runaway success of The Martian, it would have been easy for Andy Weir to publish his grocery list and have it race to the top of the bestseller list.

Instead, Weir made fans wait what seemed like an eternity for his sophomore effort, Artemis. Good things come to those who wait.

While not as immediately engaging as The Martian, Weir’s Artemis avoids a sophomore slump by delivering an entirely new narrator and story. Set in the near future, Artemis introduces us to Jazz, a citizen of the lunar colony Artemis. Jazz wants to help guide tours of the lunar surface, but while she trains for that role, she makes ends meet by running the lunar black market. This leads her to a complicated plot to pull off what should be a perfect crime and earn a reward that will see her set for life. Continue reading

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Review: Machine Learning by Hugh Howley

Machine Learning: New and Collected StoriesIn an afterword to one of his stories, Hugh Howley suggests that the sci-fi trope of AIs rising up and going to war against humanity probably won’t be the way things really happen. Instead, he sees how AIs could go into battle with each other, with humanity being little more than ants in the /8956-9battle between intelligences. We’d be a distraction and little else..*

Several stories in his short-story collection, Machine Learning, delve into this question with varying degrees of success. One memorable story finds humanity falling because of an oversight involving a Roomba. Other stories look at what will happen when we have artificial lifeforms and people begin to fall in love with them and engage in a romantic relationship.

Howley’s stories (collected together by theme) show a wide range. Howley includes a story he thought was long lost from his website as well as several short stories set in his popular Silo universe. If you’re a fan of the Silo universe, those stories alone make this a must-read collection.

Howley also offers an afterword to the stories, giving us a bit of insight into the creation of the stories or further reflections on some of the central themes and questions raised. Using the afterward to address these questions allows the reader to go into each story fresh and without having anything of what’s to come given away by a well-intentioned introduction.

If you’re a Howley fan, this collection is a worthy addition. If you’re not, this collection is a nice way to dip your toe in and see why Howley is one of the more respected writers in the business today (though I will warn you that having a familiarity with his Silo universe lends more enjoyment to that section of stories).

In the interest of full disclosure, I received an ARC of this book as part of the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review.

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Sci-Fi Month 2017

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Just in time to celebrate the anniversary of the greatest television show ever made, November is Sci-Fi Month!  I’ve participated in this in the past and always enjoyed it.

This year, Sci-Fi Month is hosted by Lisa and Imyril (shout out to Rinn for getting it started!)  It’s a month to celebrate all things sci-fi.

And while I won’t be able to participate in the Read-Along for the month (it’s book six of a series that I’ve only read the first book!), I still plan to actively post about sci-fi in lots of pop-culture variations.

Who’s with me?!?

You can sign up at Lisa ‘s site above. And don’t forget that Sci-Fi Month has its own  Twitter handle (@SciFiMonth) and a hashtag (#RRSciFiMonth).

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Review: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

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As part of the 2016 Sci-Fi Experience and getting in early for Vintage Sci-Fi month, I thought I’d offer up some thoughts on Arthur C. Clarke’s classic genre novel Childhood’s End.

I read this one a decade ago as part of a vintage genre campaign, but large chunks of it had slipped my memory. So when SyFy’s new mini-series showed up on the DVR, I decided to re-visit the original material before I started watching the new adaptation.

So, here we go….

Childhood's EndOne of my big complaints about the current state of science-fiction and fantasy is the overwhelming need to make EVERY single concept into a trilogy or on-going series.

Which is what makes going back to the classics of the genre such a pleasure.

Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is one of the most economic genre novels ever published. But I’d argue that the novel packs more ideas and punch into its two hundred pages than some on-going series have packed into their thousand plus (and counting) pages.

In many ways, Clarke created the mythology of the alien invasion. The Overlords arrive in ships that hover over the greatest cities on Earth, saying that they are here to help humanity. The Overlords put an end to petty conflicts and help point humanity toward a better tomorrow — but there could be a price to it all. They refuse to allow human beings to see them as they really are for the first fifty years of their overseeing our world. Instead, a single human is chosen as the intermediary for humans and Overlords. Continue reading

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In Defense of Doctor Who

It’s been a decade since the Doctor came back to our television screens and in that time, I’ve seen Doctor Who soar to heights of popularity I never imagined.

If I could take a TARDIS back in time and tell my younger self that not only would episodes air on the same day in America as they did in the UK but that there would be (sold out) screenings of the fiftieth anniversary special in movie theaters, I’m not sure my younger self would necessarily believe it.

But even as the show rose to new heights of popularity, I knew it was only a matter of time before a certain segment of the fan population began to jump off the band wagon for the next new and shiny thing.  I predicted it would happen when David Tennant left and was pleasantly surprised when that fans who jumped on board for Tennant stayed around for the Matt Smith era.

But now in the second year of the Peter Capaldi era, I’m finding more fans who jumped on board with the modern Who are beginning to look around for the next new shiny thing to come along.  As part of SciFi Month 2015 Rinn Reads published a piece about Falling Out of Love With Doctor Who, which I read and disagreed with on just about every point.  Continue reading

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Review: Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

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Better late than never, I guess. January is the Vintage Science-Fiction Non-Challenge month hosted by Little Red Reviewer. I had intended to read a few more vintage sci-fi novels during the month to participate, but the best laid plans often go astray….

However, I was able to pull a book off the TBR pile and read it, as well as watch the movie. It’s Isaac Asimov’s adaptation of Fantastic Voyage.

If you want to read what others have done for the month, check out Red’s page. You’ll find some great stuff!

Fantastic Voyage

Being a bibliophile (aka literary snob), I generally like to read the book (or short story as the case may be) before I see the movie. But in the case of Fantastic Voyage, it isn’t necessarily that simple. The novel is a tie-in into the movie and it’s likely the book wouldn’t exist without the movie. But a quick clicks of the keyboard quickly helped me discover that Isaac Asimov’s adaptation of the 20th Century Fox blockbuster hit the shelves a few weeks before the movie opened, so I felt comfortable in my decision to read the book first and then see the movie.

And I think it all worked out for the best.

My research leads me to believe that Asimov had to be talked into adapting the movie’s script for the printed page and that he agreed to do it if he could be allowed to at least bring some put some science in the science fiction of the plot and premise.

And you can certain see Asimov trying to put some credible science into the concept of miniaturizing a top-secret, top-of-the-line submarine with five people inside down to the point where they can be injected into the body of an injured man. The man in question is a high ranking scientist who is defecting and could help keep the balance of power in check for both sides during the Cold War. The Enemy (they are always capitalized by Asimov) try to take him out on the way to the top-secret installation where he will reveal his secrets to our side and help us either keep up with our Enemy and maintain the balance of mutually assured destruction.

Just as the film spends the first half hour or so setting up the situation and the characters, so does the book spend its first third or so setting up the background. As I said before, it’s interesting to watch as Asimov attempts to reconcile the fantastic premise with real-world science of the day and to speculate on if this could or would happen in the future. The concept of shrinking down people to go inside a person and help break up a clot in a near inoperable place is a fascinating and intriguing and it was apparently very influential. Most genre shows worth their salt will feature a story with character shrunk down a bit — in fact, Doctor Who did it at least twice that I can think of during the classic series run.

Interestingly, Asimov’s book inserts a bit more drama to the situation by emphasizing that this is a race against time — not only to help break up the clot and help reduce any permanent damage to said scientist but also because there is a limit to how long the sub and crew can be miniaturized before the process wears off and they began to revert back to normal size. There’s also the intriguing idea that the passage of time will FEEL different to our heroes in their miniaturized form as opposed to how time is really passing for all of the normal sized people on the outside. The movie does give a nod or two to this, but it doesn’t feel quite as pressing and weighing on everyone as much as it does in the novel.

There’s also the angle of a saboteur being on board the ship and wondering who it might be. Again, the movie brings this up, but it’s not quite as pervasive as Asimov makes it out to be in the novel. Of course, it could be that reading the novel takes a bit longer than watching the film and that allows time for these ideas and turns of events to sink on the reader, rather than just being another obstacle to overcome on-screen.

And while the mission is fairly straight-forward on the outside, once inside the body of the scientist, things go a bit awry. Both the movie and the novel have to come up with a crisis point every few minutes or pages to keep our heroes on their toes. And it’s probably a good thing because it would be rather dull if they just zipped right to the clot, broke it up and got out again without any complications. It’d also make for a shorter book and movie.

Honestly, I have to say that I enjoyed the novel more than the film. The film is good and I can respect and admire how ground-breaking and spectacular the effects were for the time. But there are large parts of the film that feel like stretches of Star Trek: The Motion Picture — we’re supposed to sit back in awe and wonder of what’s unfolding because holy cow, this is fantastic and amazing. And while I’m all for stunning visuals, I still think there should be a plot driving these visuals.

It’s also interesting to see that Asimov expands the ending a bit more — he gets out two love-crossed heroes together (sort of) and we get confirmation the mission was a successful one. Watching the movie, I guess we can figure that it worked because our heroes remove the clot and escape before they revert back to regular size, but the movie doesn’t confirm this for us. Instead, everyone is shaking hands and congratulating our heroes on a job well done and ignoring the fact that we left one guy behind for dead and the sub breaking up inside the scientst. After putting so much emphasis on why we had to get out in time, the movie seems to say — well, it’s OK cause those white blood cells took care of it all. Asimov at least attempts to explain why it’s OK in his version of events.

One thing I find interesting is that outside of Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, this is probably his best known work. And while part of me wishes that his Robot novels were better known, I still can’t help but think this book is a good entry point for readers who want try some Asimov but not necessarily feel like they want to take on his Foundation series just yet. It’s a good entry point book. And the fact that you can go out and see the movie after you’re done reading is probably another good selling point.

Is this great Asimov? Probably not.

Is it good Asimov? Absolutely.

It also intrigued me enough to make me want to pick up Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain and read it. I’ve read that it’s less a sequel to this on but instead more of a re-telling with Asimov trying to put better science into the science fiction.

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TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD: The Hub

agents-0f-shield-the-hubWith “The Hub”, I find myself far more intrigued by the coda of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD than I did the forty-one or so minutes leading up to it.

It’s kind of a shame because there were some interesting pieces to the episode, but they didn’t all come together.  If anything, “The Hub” suffered from a lack of focus.

When SHIELD intel reveals that a new weapon nicknamed the Overkill Device has been built and fallen into the wrong hands, agents Ward and Fitz are sent in to sabotage it.  It’s a covert mission and one whose details are only known to agents with a level eight clearance or higher — a clearance level Coulson has when we start the episode, but one that he may not necessarily still have when the episode is over (looks like we’ll have to wait and see on that one).

Of course, being kept out of the loop doesn’t sit well with Skye, who immediately begins plotting to find a way into the top secret files to determine the truth of the mission.  She’s helped out by Simmons, who proves to not be so deft on her feet in coming up with a convincing cover story.  There’s probably a reason she’s not in the field that often.   I will say that the scene with Simmons coming up with excuses for why she’s at a panel with a flash drive was one of the more amusing on the program.  It also shows that Elizabeth Hendridge does well with humor and that she could be more capable of delivering Whedon-esque dialogue than I’d originally given her credit.

I also liked the continued plot threat of Skye’s growing loyalty to the team and her friends.   Presented with the chance to try and find out more about the mystery surrounding her parents, Skye goes for the data on Ward and Fitz’s mission, only to uncover an uncomfortable truth — it’s actually a suicide mission since SHIELD has no extraction plan in place for the two.

On the one hand, I can see how Ward might be expendable, but it’s hard to believe that SHIELD would want or allow someone as technologically savvy as Fitz to be killed in the field or worse yet, captured and allowed/forced to develop tech for the enemy.  Sure, it worked out that Tony Stark’s tech helped him to escape from his captors and eventually became an asset for the good guys, but we can’t forget that Starks initial mandate was to develop and replicate his work on weapons systems for terrorists.

The mantra of this episode was “Trust the system.”  And it really felt like the series was trying to remind me that I needed to have faith that all these pieces would come together and that the series will eventually find its footing and become the show we’re all hoping it’s capable of being.  And yet, it’s another week where I feel like the pieces were all there for a home run of an episode and instead we only got a run-it-out double.

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