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Vintage SF Month Review: Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein

vintage-sf-badgeIn a way, I was participating in Vintage SF Month before it became an Internet sensation a couple of years ago.  I attended a local book club devoted to sci-fi and fantasy and one of the founders insisted that we kick off the new year with a work from Robert A. Heinlein.

So, this year as January approached, I decided that one of the books I’d read Vintage SF Month would be a new (to me) novel by Heinlein.  And so, I picked this one…and I’m not sure it really worked out all that well.

Podkayne of Mars

A decade or so ago, I participated in a local real-world sci-fi and fantasy book discussion group and each January, we’d kick-off the new year by reading an offering from Robert K. Heinlein. I first “discovered” Heinlein in high school when I attempted to read To Sail Beyond the Sunset simply because the cover featured a naked woman with her long, flowing red hair strategically covering up the “naughty” bits. (This was in the days before the Internet and nudity was harder to come by).

I never quite finished Sunset, though it sat on my shelves for years. Thankfully, the Internet came along and, in addition to making it easier to find nudity, it helped me understand a bit of the order that one can and should read Heinlein novels in order to fully understand and possibly enjoy them. I’ve gravitated toward the big names from Heinlein in my attempts to read his stories and slowly found that I prefer his “juvenile” offerings to some of his doorstop-sized tomes. Continue reading

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Audiobook Review: You Can Thank Me Later by Kelly Harms

You Can Thank Me Later: A Novella

Each Thanksgiving the Dickinson siblings gather together for a traditional meal and watching of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles on VHS. Little do they know that their gathering in the fall of 2016 will see their yearly gathering begin to profoundly change. Whether it’s the oldest brother Pete and his wife expecting their first child soon or middle brother Charlie’s wife’s latest diagnosis (it’s not good) or youngest sister Sophie and her tradition of naming the turkey after her disastrous previous Thanksgiving date from the year before, the next four years of the Dickinson’s lives are going to be a roller coaster ride.

You Can Thank Me Later is a bittersweet slice of the ups and downs a family faces over the course of four years. Checking in every two years at the Thanksgiving gathering, Kelly Harms weaves together a profoundly moving story that never fails to tug at the heart strings. There are moments of great hope, moments of great sadness, and lots of potential disasters for the three siblings. But all along the way, Harms never hits a wrong note nor does she allow her story to become too maudlin or melodramatic.

There were multiple points during the story that I found a bit of a lump in my throat, while at other I couldn’t help but grin with glee and hope.

Like a great Thanksgiving dinner, this one left me feeling completely sated but somehow wishing I had just a bit more room for just one more bite of everything. I wouldn’t be averse to Harms checking in with the Dickinson family again at some point in the future if only to see how certain developments in Sophie’s life pan out.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Adapt These Please

Today’s prompt for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is our choices for books or series that should be adapted for television. Of course, if these were all to be adapted, I’d probably immediately be behind on watching all of them.

  1. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Yes, I know SciFi did a version of this one a decade or so ago and it had its moments. But as I was finishing up “Peace Talks” earlier this week I couldn’t help but think a well-done urban fantasy like this one could be a great idea.
  2. The Robot Series by Issac Asimov. We’re finally get a Foundation series and while I’m intrigued by that, I can’t help but think the Asimov’s robot mystery novels might not be just as fertile a ground for adaptation. Maybe if Foundation is a success, we can get these for when these novels eventually tie-in.
  3. Spider-Man. I love the Marvel movies as much as the next person. But to really capture the essential angst that is Peter Parker, I can’t help but think a live-action series would be a great way to go. And the idea of a season-long build-up to a huge showdown with a big bad ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer is something that intrigues my inner comic book reading self.
  4. Villains series by V.E. Schwab. Seems like we’re awash in anti-heroes these days on various shows, so why not go for the ultimate anti-hero in a supervillain? Schawab’s novels seem perfect for adaptation and would be a ton of fun to see unfold over the course of a season or five.
  5. The Dark Tower by Stephen King. The shared universe series of movies and limited run series never got off the ground and it appears the latest attempt to bring this series to screens won’t happen at Amazon. Which is a doggone shame because this is a rich universe just ripe for adaptation. I do think it would require a good sized budget though.
  6. Golden Arrow series by Megan Scott Molin. If you’re looking for a great blend of geek-references, romantic triangles, opposites attractions, and suspenseful mysteries, this two book series is definitely one to pick up and give a try. And that’s all reason why I think this might work well as a series in the right hands.
  7. Book of the Ancestor by Mark Lawrence. A kick-ass heroine, a fascinating world and three books packed with epic fantasy action that often gets completely turned on its head. This could be better than a certain big name fantasy series that didn’t end well.

I’m sure I’ll think of a few more within five minutes of posting this. But I think this would be a great start!

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Movie Thoughts: The Invisible Man (2020), Scoob

The Invisible Man (2020)

The_Invisible_Man_(2020_film)_-_release_posterWatching Blumhouse’s latest take on The Invisible Man after watching the latest installment of HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Night probably wasn’t the best idea.

Or maybe it was because after seeing an hour focusing on the quest to find a real-life sociopath that (until recently) came up empty, spending two hours watching a fictional sociopath get caught in the end was a bit more satisfying.

The Invisible Man is a fascinating, suspenseful film that delights in making you pay close attention to every scene.  Every bit of apparently empty background could have the titular character hiding it, ready to spring out and terrify our heroine, Cecilia.   The movie even toys with the audience a bit, giving us long, lingering shots of empty rooms or hallways, almost as if daring you as a viewer to see if you can spot some clue that the Invisible Man is lurking there.

Escaping from her abusive and manipulative boyfriend, Cecilia is shocked when the boyfriend apparently kills himself and leaves behind a large sum of money to her.  However, before long, Cecilia begins to suspect that Adrian is still alive and trying to pull her strings in an attempt to either win her back or force her to return to him by cutting all her means of support.  Continue reading

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Movie Thoughts: John Wick

johnwickThe unwritten code of Westerns is that you don’t ever, under any circumstances, harm a man’s dog.

This code also applies to the retired hitmen.  At least, that’s what John Wick tells us.

An elaborate revenge story is kicked off when a trio of guys break into John Wick’s home to steal his car and end up killing his dog as well.   Little did these guys know that Wick is a retired hitman who recently lost his wife to cancer and that the dog was a gift from her so he would have something to care about besides his grief and pain.

What follows is an hour plus of John pursuing the ringleader of this gang of idiots through multiple layers of organized crime and the use of a large amount of ammo.  One area I’ll give John Wick credit for is that the movie occasionally sees our hero running out of ammo and having to reload.

The film gives us a good backstory for John, detailing how he was one of the most feared hitman out there and the circumstances that led to his retirement.  An early, memorable scene finds John digging up his basement to unearth a suitcase full of gold coins that he will use to finance and pay-off various figures during his long vendetta.   The coins are even used to pay a cleaning service to remove the bodies of half-a-dozen or so men who come to John’s home after the mafia puts out a bounty on his head.

John Wick is a clever, entertaining revenge flick that has superbly choreographed action sequences and just enough character insight to make us root for its central anti-hero.  I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen it before watching a few weeks ago.  But after watching it, I can see why the movie has garnered a following and prompted two sequels and an upcoming fourth entry.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks by Eric Saward

Doctor Who: Resurrection of the Daleks: 5th Doctor Novelisation“Resurrection of the Daleks” has a history of delays. Initially commissioned to celebrate Doctor Who‘s twentieth anniversary, the serial was delayed until season twenty-one. Then the Target adaptation of the serial was long-delayed over rights issues.

Finally after thirty-plus years, “Resurrection of the Daleks” has finally hit shelves. And now, the biggest question facing us is, was it worth the wait?

Yes and no.

If you’re a completist, finally hoping to fill in a gap in your Target book collection, you’re one step closer to having the full set. But if you were hoping for a novelization worthy of a thirty-plus year wait, odds are you’re going to be a bit disappointed.

In an interview, Saward said that he had a difficult time dusting off his Target novel writing skills for this one — and it shows. The serial already boasts the highest body count of any classic Doctor Who story and that fact is only underlined. On-screen, many of the characters marching off to be exterminated at the hands of various factions were nameless victims. Here, Saward is able to give them names and a bit of backstory, making the story even more grim as you realize just how high the body count really is. Continue reading

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SciFi Month begins tomorrow!

scifimonth2019Oh, my poor, neglected book blog.  It’s not that I don’t love you — I do.  I really do. But the real world keeps taking my attention away for real world types of things.

But what better way to try and get back into the world of book blogging (or just blogging in general) than #SciFiMonth.  I’ve participated before and had a great time discovering new friends, reconnecting with old friends, and sharing my thoughts on certain areas of the genre.

It all begins tomorrow, November 1!  And it’s not too late to sign up to be part of it and/or join the read-along of Maria Doria Russell’s classic novel The Sparrow.  (Which it’s been a while since I’ve read it, so I may have to jump back in there too!)

 

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Review: Becoming Superman by J. Michael Stracynski

Becoming Superman: A Writer's Journey from Poverty to Hollywood with Stops Along the Way at Murder, Madness, Mayhem, Movie Stars, Cults, Slums, Sociopaths, and War CrimesFor a journalism course in college, we were assigned an in-depth piece on a business issue. Being a fan of sci-fi pop culture, I decided to marry my love of two new series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon Five in my assignment. Both shows were in their early days (B5 was about six to seven episodes into season one) and I decided to look at the business aspects of what kept a syndicated genre series on the airwaves.

At the time, B5 creator J. Michael Stracysnki had an open dialogue with the Internet, taking us behind the scenes at the creation of his space opera. (Think DVD extras before there were DVDs). JMS (as he was called online) posted his email address in the B5 forums (ask you parents, kids) and I crafted an email to him, outlining my project and what I hoped to achieve.

I received back a reply from JMS, stating that he understood what I was doing and that he was extremely busy running his show. But he didn’t want to dismiss the request of a college student and as long as the article wasn’t published for anytime of gain beyond a grade and I came up with three good questions (no more), he would be happy to do what he could.

I then got to work, getting my background and drafting the article. When I got to a point that I felt like I could and should approach JMS again, I sent him three questions along with a draft of my story. A day later, he responded. But it wasn’t just a few curt answers to my questions. What JMS gave me was several good, quotable paragraphs for my story (reading this autobiography and seeing that he worked for a time as a journalist makes it clear why he did this). I used the quotes, put the polishing touches on my article and turned it in.

I got an “A” on the story and I made sure to send a thank you message to JMS, letting him know that his comments had helped as had his encouragement.

I’m a writer junkie — I tend to find and follow writers. I’m one of the few people who will read the crawl on the opening of a TV show to see who wrote a particular episode (I blame Doctor Who because the writer of a story is hugely important there). And when JMS took the time to work with me, it cemented my fandom and I’ve followed his career with interest ever since. I can’t say I’ve seen or read everything he’s written (I’ve still got to find time for Sense 8), but I’ve seen and read a lot.

Which is why I was eager to pick up his autobiography.

As I’ve come to expect from several decades of JMS’ written output, Becoming Superman is compelling, page-turning and compulsively readable. And reading it, my profound respect for the man and writer JMS has become grew in leaps and bounds. The sheer amount of things he had to overcome, from his abusive, manipulative father to his family full of secrets, only enhances the respect I have for him. It also makes me understand a bit more about his generous nature and spirit (again, see the story above about my article) and his encouragement of other writers. JMS knows what it’s like to serve the writing muse and that passion to the creative side comes across here.

This isn’t an easy read. As JMS uncovers and relates stories about his family, there are some hard truths and struggles chronicled. But you can see a bit of the catharsis taking place as JMS tells these stories. He also points out that he tells aspiring writers that if he can do it, anyone can but then realized he hadn’t provided the backstory for them to understand why.

He has now. And I thank him for a great, moving and powerful read.

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Shelf Space

Author Fonda Lee took to Twitter recently, lamenting the lack of shelf space in her local Barnes and Nobel for new fantasy authors. In the post, Lee points out that J.R.R. Tolkien had “3.5 shelves worth of space” and Robert Jordan had “2.5 shelves.”

Putting aside that 2.5 shelves of space for Jordan probably adds up to a total of four books (cause man, that guy wrote some huge tomes!), I find Lee’s comments interesting.  I understand her point about new authors trying to find a way to break into the publishing ranks and even her point that it was difficult to find novels that had either been recently nominated for or won genre awards.

When Barnes and Nobel opened a store that was convenient to where I shopped and did my errands, I was excited.  I frequented the store regularly and enjoyed browsing the aisles to find something new that may not have necessarily been on my radar at the time.  These days, it’s been months since I darkened the door of that local Barnes and Nobel.   And a large part of it ties into Lee’s lament.

In the past five years, I’ve noticed that more of the floor space of Barnes and Nobel has been given over to items that may or may not necessarily be related to the reading experience.  Everything from toys and games to collectible figures to things associated with reading.  I’ve also noticed that the amount of room for actual books has decreased dramatically.  At first, it was a shrinking of the shelf-space for new releases, then slowly the aisles for each genre seemed to become smaller.  What was first two and a half aisles for sci-fi and fantasy has become one and a half.  Same thing for mystery novels.  And while we get a bit of space given over to new releases, I find that what whoever deems a book worthy of such a spotlight has very different tastes than I do.

Insert rant about how much shelf space in the SF/F aisle paranormal romance gets these days here.

I understand what Lee is saying about the limited shelf space being given to older books by authors who may or may not necessarily be still around.  And while I share her concerns, I feel certain if we asked the buyers at Barnes and Nobel why this was, it would go back to the old adage that things like Tolkien and Jordan move product.

Look, I’m all for the classics getting shelf space.  Certainly, they’ve a proven track record and that fact that they keep finding Tolkien to publish (I expect his grocery lists to be published at some point) means he and other authors are always going to take up some shelf space.  I just wish that the experience of going to Barnes and Nobel was closer to what it was when my local store first opened and not what it is today.  I feel like the stores have become more about book adjacent items and less about the books themselves.

And that’s a shame.

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Audiobook Review: Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: And Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

Luke Skywalker Can't Read: And Other Geeky TruthsListening to the essays that make-up Luke Skywalker Can’t Read: And Other Geeky Truths, I feel like Ryan Britt and I would be good friends if we ever met in the real world.

Covering things from why reboots happen and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing to the sad truth that Luke Skywalker and company don’t place a high value on literacy to the admission that he grew up listening more to Star Trek soundtracks that he did the popular music of the day (boy, did that one resonate with this guy, who can tell you pretty much were most musical cues from the original series featured first but couldn’t tell you much about the popular music of my teenage years), Britt keeps things entertaining, humorous, and compelling throughout.

Pointing out how the Back to the Future is every genre of film in one trilogy and then proceeding to deconstruct the time travel paradoxes within the film, Britt had me nodding in agreement at multiple points and considering some of my favorite genres and some of their most popular entries in a new light. And his final essay finds me wanting to visit Issac Asimov’s I, Robot again to see how it differs from most of the other robots in pop culture since the mechanical creatures don’t want to rise up and exterminate us all.

And while I agree with what Britt says in most of the essays, I differ greatly with him in his analysis of modern Doctor Who (but then again, I differ from a lot of fandom in my assessment and enjoyment of the revived series, especially the esteem to which a certain Doctor is held (ahem..David Tennant…ahem)). But that’s why I say I feel like Britt and I could be friends – because you don’t want to agree with your friends on everything….

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