Doctor Who: Christmas Invasion by Jenny T. Colgan: Colgan Captures the 10th Doctor’s First Adventure Perfectly in this adaptation.

Doctor Who: Christmas InvasionDoctor Who: Christmas Invasion

by Jenny T. Colgan
Series: Doctor Who

Paperback, 176 pg.
BBC Books, 2018

Read: July 2, 2018
Back in High School, I remember attending an author event — some SF author that I’d never heard of (you probably haven’t either), but what did I care? He was an actual SF/Fantasy/Horror writer visiting Idaho (it happens a little more now, but back then I hadn’t thought it was possible). He discussed getting to write a novelization of a major Horror film thinking, “How hard can it be? Take the script, throw in some adjectives and verbs — maybe a few adverbs and you’re done!” He then went on to talk about all the things he learned about how hard it was taking a script of whatever quality and turning it into something that works in an entirely different medium. That’s really stuck with me for some reason, and I’ve always respected anyone who can pull it off well (and even those who get close to doing it well).

Before I babble on too much, Colgan is one who can pull it off pretty well.I discovered Doctor Who a couple of years before I saw that unnamed SF author, but didn’t get to watch much of it, mostly because I lived in about the only place in the States where PBS didn’t air old ones. I saw a few Sylvester McCoy episodes (mostly due to the magic of VHS and a friend who lived somewhere with a better PBS affiliate). Other than that, it was the small paperback novelizations of episodes. I owned a few, the same friend owned a few more — so I read those. A lot. Then comes Russel T. Davies, Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, etc. and all was better. But I still remembered those novels as being Doctor Who to me.

So when they announced that they were re-launching that series this year, I got excited. I own them all, but I’ve only found time to read one — I started with Jenny T. Colgan, because I know how Paul Cornell writes, and I assume I’ll love his — ditto for Davies and Moffat. Besides, The Christmas Invasion is one of my favorite episodes ever.

I won’t bother with describing the plot much — you know it, or you should. On the heels of regenerating into the 10th Doctor, Rose brings a mostly unconscious stranger into her mother’s apartment to recuperate. At the same time, an alien invasion starts — the British government — under the direction of Harriet Jones, MP — and the Torchwood project tries to respond, but really is pining all their hopes on the resident of the TARDIS.

Colgan does a great job bringing the episode to life — I could see the thing playing out in my mind. But she doesn’t just do that — she adds a nice little touch of her own here and there. Expands on some things and whatnot. In general, she just brings out what was there and expands on it. Adds a few spices to an already good dish to enhance the flavors. Colgan absolutely nails Rose’s inner turmoil about who this stranger in her old friend’s body is.

I particularly enjoyed reading the scene where the Doctor emerges from the TARDIS, finally awake and ready to resume being Earth’s protector — between Rose’s reaction, the already great dialogue, and Colgan’s capturing the essence of Tennant’s (and everyone else’s) performances in her prose. Seriously, I’ve read that scene three times. I never do that.

I’m not particularly crazy about the little addition she made to Harriet Jones’ downfall, but I get it. I’m not scandalized by it or anything, I just didn’t think it was necessary. Other than that, I appreciate everything Colgan did to put her stamp on this story.

If the rest of these books are as good, I’m going to be very glad to read them, and hope that there are more to come soon.

—–

3.5 Stars

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Sixth Prime by Dan O’Brien: The beginning of a sweeping epic that came up snake eyes for me.

Sixth PrimeSixth Prime

by Dan O’Brien
Series: The Prime Saga, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 240 pg.
2016
Read: May 23 – 24, 2018
There’s a danger that most readers have familiarity with — a novelist oversharing the details of their worldbuilding so much so that it drags down the story and characters. The opposite danger isn’t seen as often — the writer withholding the details so much that you spend half your time figuring out what’s happening, rather than paying attention to characters and plot. It’s a tricky balance, no doubt — and sometimes a novel can overcome an author falling into either ditch. Sixth Prime was not one of those success stories — for whatever reason, to be careful, to be coy, because he didn’t notice — this book fell into the “not enough information” ditch, and couldn’t find its way out of it.

There are a few storylines, somewhat connected — it becomes somewhat clearer later how they are — there’s a murder investigation conducted by a corporation that supersedes the local authorities’ own investigation; a high-ranking military official on trial (and the strange aftermath of that); a jail-break leading to another jail-break on its way to an assassination; a scientific exploration goes awry; and a couple of competing treasure hunters hunt for an artifact. Somehow these all connect to an interstellar war and forces as old as creation itself.

The characters were lifeless, little more than names and job titles — with just a couple of exceptions. The characters in the murder investigation had promise — and if this book had just focused on that storyline, this’d be a much different post. At least one of the characters in the treasure hunting story have promise (but the more villainous one was so over-the top that literal mustache twirling wouldn’t have seemed out of place).

This entire novel seemed to be a set-up for the coming series — not a novel that’s part of a series. The various stories didn’t have endings, there wasn’t an overall arc to the novel that I could see — the stories stopped, or “resolved” by authorial fiat, nothing organic. This is a problem — I can accept not tying up everything in a tidy little bow, but there needs to be some sort of closure to a novel, some sort of point to that one thing. I’m not sure I’m being entirely fair here — 1 or two of the stories might actually have had a decent resolution, but by that point, I was out of patience with the entire endeavor. A dynamite ending, or compelling hook could’ve saved it (I think), but they were nowhere to be found.

Nothing about this really worked for me — one storyline came close — but being surrounded by the rest, it never stood much of a chance. A little more restraint, a little more discipline — maybe a longer book — I don’t know. There’s something missing, I’m not sure what it was, really.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinion as reflected above. Sorry about that, Mr. O’Brien, but thanks anyway.

—–

2 Stars

Towel Day ’18: Some of my favorite Adams lines . . .

There’s a great temptation here for me to go crazy. I’ll refrain from that and just list some of his best lines . . .

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

  • Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • This must be Thursday. . . I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”
  • “You’d better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It’s unpleasantly like being drunk.”
    “What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?”
    “You ask a glass of water.”
    (I’m not sure why, but this has always made me chuckle, if not actually laugh out loud. It’s just never not funny)
  • He had found a Nutri-Matic machine which had provided him with a plastic cup filled with a liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.
  • In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centuari. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before . . .
  • “Look,” said Arthur, “would it save you a lot of time if I just gave up and went mad now?”

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

  • It is a curious fact, and one to which no one knows quite how much importance to attach, that something like 85 percent of all known worlds in the Galaxy, be they primitive or highly advanced, have invented a drink called jynnan tonnyx, or gee-N-N-T’Nix, or jinond-o-nicks, or any one of a thousand or more variations on the same phonetic theme. The drinks themselves are not the same, and vary between the Sivolvian “chinanto/mnigs” which is ordinary water served at slightly above room temperature, and the Gagrakackan “tzjin-anthony-ks” which kills cows at a hundred paces; and in fact the one common factor between all of them, beyond the fact that the names sound the same, is that they were all invented and named before the worlds concerned made contact with any other worlds.

Life, the Universe, and Everything

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has this to say on the subject of flying.There is an art, it says, or rather, a knack to flying.

    The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

(It goes on for quite a while after this — and I love every bit of it.)

  • “One of the interesting things about space,” Arthur heard Slartibartfast saying . . . “is how dull it is?””Dull?” . . .

    “Yes,” said Slartibartfast, “staggeringly dull. Bewilderingly so. You see, there’s so much of it and so little in it.”

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

  • Of course, one never has the slightest notion what size or shape different species are going to turn out to be, but if you were to take the findings of the latest Mid-Galactic Census report as any kind of accurate guide to statistical averages you would probably guess that the craft would hold about six people, and you would be right.You’d probably guessed that anyway. The Census report, like most such surveys, had cost an awful lot of money and told nobody anything they didn’t already know — except that every single person in the Galaxy had 2.4 legs and owned a hyena. Since this was clearly not true the whole thing eventually had to be scrapped.
  • Here was something that Ford felt he could speak about with authority.”Life,” he said, “is like a grapefruit.”

    “Er, how so?”

    Well, it’s sort of orangy-yellow and dimpled on the outside, wet and squidgy the middle. It’s got pips inside, too. Oh, and some people have half a one for breakfast.”

    “Is there anyone else out there I can talk to?”

  • Arthur had a swordfish steak and said it made him angry. He grabbed a passing waitress by the arm and berated her.”Why’s this fish so bloody good?” he demanded, angrily.

    “Please excuse my friend,” said Fenchurch to the startled waitress. “I think he’s having a nice day at last.”

Mostly Harmless

  • A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

  • Let’s think the unthinkable, let’s do the undoable. Let us prepare to grapple with the ineffable itself, and see if we may not eff it after all.

(I’ve often been tempted to get a tattoo of this)

The Last Chance to See

  • “So what do we do if we get bitten by something deadly?” I asked.He looked at me as if I were stupid.

    “You die, of course. That’s what deadly means.”

  • I’ve never understood all this fuss people make about the dawn. I’ve seen a few and they’re never as good as the photographs, which have the additional advantage of being things you can look at when you’re in the right frame of mind, which is usually around lunchtime.
  • I have the instinctive reaction of a Western man when confronted with sublimely incomprehensible. I grab my camera and start to photograph it.

And a couple of lines I’ve seen in assorted places, articles, books and whatnot

  • I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.
  • A learning experience is one of those things that says, “You know that thing you just did? Don’t do that.”

Towel Day ’18: Do You Know Where Your Towel Is?

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Hence a phrase that has passed into hitchhiking slang, as in “Hey, you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is.” (Sass: know, be aware of, meet, have sex with; hoopy: really together guy; frood: really amazingly together guy.)

One of my long-delayed goals is to write up a good all-purpose Tribute to Douglas Adams post, and another Towel Day has come without me doing so. Belgium.

Next year . . . or later.

Adams is one of those handful of authors that I can’t imagine I’d be the same without having encountered/read/re-read/re-re-re-re-read, and so I do my best to pay a little tribute to him each year, even if it’s just carrying around a towel (I’ve only been able to get one of my sons into Adams, he’s the taller, thinner one in the picture from a couple of years ago below).

TowelDay.org is the best collection of resources on the day, recently posted this pretty cool video, shot on the ISS by astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Even better — Here’s an appearance by Douglas Adams himself from the old Letterman show — so glad someone preserved this:

Love the anecdote (Also, I want this tie.)

Jimbo Yojimbo by David W. Barbee is strange, bizarre, funny, tragic and will make you say “ew” a lot.

Jimbo YojimboJimbo Yojimbo

by David W. Barbee

Kindle Edition, 154 pg.
Eraserhead Books, 2018
Read: April 14 – 16, 2018

           “Ready to make it official?” said his father.

Jimbo closed his cuttlefish eyes and prayed the revenge vow.

Let me kill ‘em, he thought. Let me exist only to punish them that wronged me, for such is the pain of my life that only the pleasure of their death will weigh it equal. Amen.

“Now that’s what I’m talking about,” his dead father said.

Who doesn’t like a good revenge story? Especially one featuring swords and blood and gladiator-like battles, and surgically-enhanced hybrid warriors, and warlord chefs, and . . . oh, man. I don’t know how to summarize this one, I really don’t. So let me just steal from the publisher:

           From the author of Bacon Fried Bastard and A Town Called Suckhole, comes a countrified samurai epic in the vein of Squidbillies if directed by Akira Kurosawa.

A flood of frogs drowned the cities and gunked up all the guns. Now an evil restaurant chain called the Buddha Gump Shrimp Company rules a finger-licking shogunate of seafood mutants and murderous redneck swordsmen like Jimbo Yojimbo. Jimbo wants revenge on the Company for killing his family and stitching a cuttlefish to his face. After a daring escape, he will hack his way through hordes of crawdad soldiers, a church of quacking gun nuts on a jihad, and Bushido Budnick, the master chef who rules them all. But with every step he takes, Jimbo Yojimbo’s sweet revenge will surely begin to taste like shit gumbo.

JIMBO YOJIMBO is [a] fast-paced post-apocalyptic redneck samurai tale of love, revenge, and a whole lotta mutant sumbitches.

I’ve read plenty of imaginative works over the last couple of years where I asked myself “what did I just read?” Typically, that was because as imaginative as the novel might have been, the author didn’t relay the information too well and I just couldn’t follow it (I usually didn’t feel like I missed much). With this book, every time I asked something like, “Did he just say this cult was called the Holy Quackers?” I’d have to answer with, “Giant figures, wearing tattered camouflage kimonos and rubber boots, with giant duck bills on their face? Yup, he did say that.” As strange, as out there, as bizarre as the trappings got — the story made complete sense. It wasn’t overly complicated, it wasn’t overly messy, it was really a straight-forward revenge tale. Just one that felt like it was the offspring of any two randomly selected sentences from My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist.

Strip away everything and you’re looking at a tale of a guy who was betrayed by his wife and watched his father be butchered by a megalomaniacal dictator, who just wants to rescue his daughter from that dictator’s clutches (and, sure, maybe overthrow the government while he’s at it) while being pursued by his wife and his arch-enemy (who happens to be fixated on his wife, too). It’s a basic story, decently developed and told — effective enough to entertain. But, once you add in the humor, the voice, the panache, the multiple cults, the hybrid warriors, the very strange world all this takes place in — and the tale becomes dazzling.

And you buy it — you buy all of it. Including the fact that Bushido Budnick can create entirely new species in his lab, but can’t figure out how to take guns work anymore because science is hard or something. I’m not even sure it’s that your disbelief is suspended, the book’s just so cool that your disbelief says: “Who cares? I’m not Neil deGrasse Tyson. Just turn the page ‘cuz I want to see what’s next.”

The fight scenes are disturbing, and bloody and . . . you’ll say “ew” frequently. There’s one fight near the end that just might be the grossest thing I read in 2018. There’s another that’s as close as you’ll get to the Bride v the Crazy 88s in The House of Blue Leaves in print (just with robots, warriors with crawdad claws for hands, a samurai with sea anemones attached to his head in place of hair, and so on).

I’m tempted to just list off some of the stranger and/or cooler ideas that are given life in these pages, like the cult that “worshipped ideas and facts, and their relics were strange, ancient items that had mostly turned soggy in the flood: books. . . building a small army of highly literate and lethal fanatics dedicated to discovering and protecting that which would outlive them all: the untouchable truth of knowledge.” But I won’t — just trust me, there are plenty. This book is like the Mos Eisley cantina scene — something strange and interesting to look at everywhere, with a bit of violence and a bit of business going on in the midst of it all.

I’m in danger of going on too long here and I’m pretty sure I’m repeating myself — if you like bizarre settings, stories told with panache and boldness, and don’t mind a good bit of violence along the way — get this. David W. Barbee is the real thing, I’ve got to get more of his work soon.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this in exchange for my honest opinion — I greatly appreciate it (the book wouldn’t have appeared on my radar if not for that), but it didn’t make an impact on my opinion (beyond giving me something to have an opinion about).

—–

4 Stars

Wires and Nerve, Volume 2 by Marissa Meyer, Stephen Gilpin

Wires and Nerve, Volume 2Wires and Nerve, Volume 2: Gone Rogue

by Marissa Meyer, Stephen Gilpin (Illustrations)
Series: Wires and Nerve, #2

Hardover, 324pg.
Feiwel & Friends, 2018
Read: March 30, 2018

I’m really not sure what to say about this one. It’s part two of the story begun in Wires and Nerve where Iko is tasked with hunting down rogue Lunar wolf warriors scattered over the Earth. We also see what reforms Cinder is bringing to the Lunar government and what happens to the rest of the main characters from The Lunar Chronicles following Winter.

Honestly, I think I’m going to just copy and paste from the last book, because this is really just part 2 of that same story and my comments stay the same:

The Lunar wolf warriors are not just going to roll over, there are some that are preparing to strike back against Iko — and Cinder.

Throw in a love story, an examination of Iko’s true nature, and some nice catch-up with our old friends, and you’ve got yourself a fun story. It’s fun, but it’s light. If it were prose instead of a graphic novel, it might take 40 pages to tell this story. Which doesn’t make it bad, just slight.

I was shocked to see a different artist credited with this one — maybe my memory is shakier than I realized, but man…I thought it was the same stuff. Gilpin did a great job keeping the look the same. Yeah, cartoonish — but it fits the story. It’s dynamic, eye catching and fun — just what Iko’s story should be.

I’m glad I read these two, but I hope Meyer walks away from this world now to focus on whatever’s next. Read this if you read the first. If you’re curious about what happens after Winter, these two are a fun way to scratch that itch, but totally unessential.

—–

3 Stars
2018 Library Love Challenge

Blood Binds the Pack by Alex Wells

Blood Binds the PackBlood Binds the Pack

by Alex Wells
Series: Hob Ravani, #2

Kindle Edition, 496 pg.
Angry Robot, 2018

Read: February 20 – 23, 2018


How do you follow-up a book like Hunger Makes the Wolf? Which took the elements of a biker-gang, oppressed miners (and other blue-collar types), magic, space travel, and corporate greed to create an action-packed, fun, suspenseful and surprising read. Well, you take that foundation, and build on it to create a book that takes those elements and does a better job with them.

The pressure on TransRift Corporation is mounting (even when they don’t realize it), especially on their operations base on Tanegawa’s World. There’s a growing level of unrest with the miners — which they respond to in a way that hasn’t worked for anyone since the opening of Exodus. There’s the constant need for more resources, if possible, resulting in stronger and more efficient product. The government is sniffing around, wondering about what they’re up to and how they’re treating people. Meanwhile, the loose organization of miners in each city is getting stronger as are the ties between them. All in all — it’s a powder keg ready to blow.

Not having to create a world, Wells is able to spend more time on characters this time (at least that’s my impression — it’s not like I was dissatisfied with the characters in Hunger). We see depths and shadings of character in people I wasn’t sure where capable of depths and shadings — and if we get that from beings like that, imagine what we get from the more fully-formed people.

When writing about the last book, I said that I wanted more with the Ghost Wolves as a whole, to get a better feel for them. I got that this time — but not quite enough. I’m not sure what it would’ve taken, however. They seem more cohesive as a unit — Hob taking to leadership, and the Wolves taking to Hob. It’s a fascinating group — and one I clearly can’t get enough of.

There were plenty of mysteries, questions, enigmas wrapped in each other about the nature of the Weathermen, the Bone Collector, Hob’s abilities (and those of others, too) and what TransRift Corporation has found in the mines left over from Hunger — and Wells doesn’t answer them all. Are some things clarified? Are some things better understood? Yup. Does everything get spelled out for the reader? Nope. I love the fact that there’s a whole lot that we don’t get to wrap our brains around, but that we just have to accept — just like the characters. But it’s done not in a way that you feel unsatisfied with what you’re given.

There’s even a little bit of sweetness to be found in friendship, family, and romance. Not so much that it becomes a “kissing book” or anything, it’s just an added touch.

I find the politics a little hard to swallow and simplistic — but I can’t think of the politics of any SF book/world that don’t strike me this way, honestly. At least not once they get beyond the most vague notions. I’m only mentioning it because it seems that important to the novel. Which is not to say that it detracts from things too much — if I can suspend disbelief enough to buy the capabilities of the Weathermen, or a fire-throwing, one-eyed, space-biker; I can buy whatever the workers on Tanegawa’s World try to replace the corruption they’ve suffered under.

I get the feeling that this is going to be a duology — there might be more stories to tell with the Ravani, or Tanegawa’s World, but they probably won’t be as closely tied to these two. I’m satisfied with a duology — we got a complete story and a very satisfying one. Wells started strong and ended stronger — can’t ask for more than that.

I’m excited to talk about this book and I want to say a whole lot more — and feel like I should. But I’m not sure what else to say without giving anything away. Hunger Makes the Wolf was one of my favorites last year, and this is better. Ultimately, there’s not much more to say than that.

—–

4 1/2 Stars