GUEST POST: My Favorite Space Operas (TV shows and Movies) by Russ Colchamiro

Since my novel CROSSLINE falls under the category of ‘space opera,’ the Irresponsible Reader has asked me to rank my top 10 favorite space opera TV shows and movies (I went to 15 – hey! My list!).

Before I dive in, I recognize that some of my entries may not be entirely space ‘opera,’ but, again, it’s my list, and this is how I’m doing it. Second, as expected, there’s a bunch of Star Wars and Star Trek on here.

And finally, my list is about the movies and TV shows I enjoyed the most, regardless of whether they were the technically the ‘best.’

Anyway… here goes*:

THE HOLY GRAILS
For me, the conversation begins and ends with these two movies, which to my space opera-loving eyes, hold up great after all these years. In fact, last summer I got to see Wrath of Kahn on the big screen (my first time seeing it this way since it first came out!), followed by a live Q&A with Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner. Absolutely awesome.

  • Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn
  • The Empire Strikes Back

CINEMATIC DELIGHTS
Where I’d rank any of these solely depends on how I’m feeling at the moment, and the mood I’m in (and there are other good movies out there, too), but if I had to pick, these are the ones I go back to time and again. Including the re-releases, I think I saw Star Wars on the big screen at least a dozen times. And Aliens? Whoa. I haven’t seen it in a while, but it’ll forever go down as one of my favorite blow-me-away movies ever.

  • Star Wars
  • Rogue One
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • Aliens

TV TALES
As far as TV space opera goes, the BSG remake and The Expanse have a lot in common, in that both have a hardcore military slant. They’re both great, with one my caveat that the final eps of BSG fell far short of its otherwise brilliant run. And The Expanse is still going, so only time will tell if the quality keeps up. The three Star Treks I have here are all great to me, in slightly different ways, accept that the original took a little bit to find its footing, and Next Gen was a semi disaster the first two seasons. And then, of course, Deep Space Nine is basically a carbon copy of Babylon 5 with more seasons and a bigger budget. Still, give me any of these shows, and I’m happy as a clam. And I’m proud to say that my 8-year twins—my ninjas—are starting to watch them, too!

  • Battlestar Galactica (remake)
  • The Expanse
  • Babylon 5
  • Star Trek: Next Generation
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

PURE FUN
These three movies to me all belong in the same general sub-category. They’re all fun (and sometimes darn cheesy!), but ultimately leave me with a smile on my face. Get the popcorn out and let’s have a blast!

  • Flash Gordon
  • Galaxy Quest
  • The Last Starfighter

*Note: I did not include Doctor Who on my list because I haven’t seen enough of it to form an opinion, nor did I include Firefly, only because it didn’t last long enough. And while I recognize that Guardians of the Galaxy is a quality movie, it just isn’t one of my favorites.

Read the novel that was inspired (in part) by this list, Crossline by Russ Colchamiro.

My thanks to Lola’s Blog Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

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EXCERPT from Crossline by Russ Colchamiro: There’s work to be done

An open-air man, Powell had been to cities. To Houston, and Denver, and San Francisco that one time for his cousin’s bachelor party. But there was something about the city ahead that made him shudder. It reminded him of his few trips to New York, that city that never sleeps. If you could make it there, the saying went, you could make it anywhere, and maybe even if that was true, Powell never understood why anyone would want to make it there, even if they could.

Powell had that rush he would get on the road to the launch pad. The pre-flight butterflies that caused his chest to tighten, his face to go flush, and the taste of adrenaline to coat his mouth, down to his teeth and gums. The difference between now and then was just so very small, but even if for just a few seconds, that intense queasiness would make him question in a shameful, shaky handed way if he knew what the hell he was doing, and consider that maybe he’d be better off hauling ass in the opposite direction and skipping out on the whole damn thing.

But then the intensity of the panic subsided—the urgency of the present snapping him back from his fears of a worst possible future, one that would require him to confront the demon at the gates. He steadied himself, because like his father told him: Nerves only mean you ain’t completely stupid. Get over it, boy. There’s work to be done. The clarity and confidence of his father’s voice resonated more than ever.

Read the rest in Crossline by Russ Colchamiro.

My thanks to Lola’s Blog Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

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EXCERPT from Crossline by Russ Colchamiro: It was another ship

The warp engines were ready for the first of six return blasts it would take to get him back to Earth, when a blip came across the screen. Powell shifted toward the incoming message, but his short-range sensor interrupted him. Something in the Saturn rings. Video amplification revealed that among a cluster of particles was an odd-shaped fragment, with sharper, more reflective edges than he would expect. But he supposed that after debris crashed around over millions if not billions of years, who knew what was really out there? He looked again. Probably nothing of consequence. Just some lagging hallucination from the multiple warps.

As suspected. Just ice particles swirling around the planet. Billions of frozen blue ice particles floating in space that—

Powell focused his monitor on the third ring layer. Studying it more carefully, his sensors revealed that the particle cluster wasn’t in the Saturn ring, but among it. The fragment wasn’t random, a collection of dust, or some anomalous asteroid fragment.

It was another ship. Looking just like Crossline. And headed his way.

Read the rest in Crossline by Russ Colchamiro.

My thanks to Lola’s Blog Tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

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Fahrenbruary Repost: Rubicon by Ian Patrick: A thrill-ride that will stay with you long after the action ends.

I bought this shortly after it was released, and then let it collect e-dust on my e-reader, and pretty much used Damp Pebbles’ Book Tour for this as my excuse to read it. I wasn’t over the moon with this one, but I liked it a lot. And then I spent months thinking about it until the sequel came out. Batford’s the kind of character that will not move out of your headspace like any respectable character does when you start a new book. Rather, he’ll take up residence — scratch that, he’ll squat there, not allowing the lease holder to get comfortable sharing the space with him…. I think this metaphor has gotten out of hand, so I’m going to shut up and get on with the post.

RubiconRubicon

by Ian Patrick
Series: Sam Batford, #1

Kindle Edition, 232 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2017
Read: May 31 – June 2, 2018

. . . there’s no money in policing unless you cross the line.

But that doesn’t mean that Sam Batford isn’t going to try.

Batford is an undercover police officer who’s after a kingpin of some repute and his guns and drugs importing. DCI Klara Winter is a no-nonsense head of a task force going after the same kingpin, Big H, more directly — phone taps, applying pressure to associates, interrogations, etc. Batford is assigned to her task force to supplement their intelligence. Neither want this assignment, and work to undermine it immediately. They do actually help each other out — but it’s almost despite their best efforts. Their mutual dislike, distrust and antagonism is one of the more interesting dynamics that I’ve run across lately.

We see most of the novel through Batford’s eyes, with the occasional glimpse from Winter’s perspective. It doesn’t take much to get a strong sense of Winter’s personality and thought process. Just from the volume, the reader ends up seeing things Batford’s way — whether or not they should.

Batford infiltrates Big H’s organization — at least to a degree — for one job. A large one, no doubt, one that would secure Winter’s career (and would do his own some favors). Like most undercover officers (especially in fiction), he cuts many legal and ethical corners to do so. There’s some question — as there should be — whether or not Big H really trusts him, and the constant testing, evaluation and insecurity makes for great reading — it’s an atmosphere you can almost feel through the words.

So Batford is doing what he can to get enough information to take down Big H, to gain his trust (and therefore access), to disrupt the flow of drugs and guns — and mostly to stay alive. If he can find a way to make a little money while he’s at it . . . well, he might as well. Winter just wants enough evidence to make some arrests — and maybe some headlines — so she can get the budget to keep her team working.

This is not a book for the squeamish — there are a few scenes I know that would cause some of my friends and readers to throw the book down in disgust (the same scenes will cause other friends/readers to fist pump their excitement — I’m not sure which of these bothers me more). There’s one scene in particular that made me think of the dental scene from Marathon Man (I’ve never watched the movie just in case they nail that scene from the novel).

There were two . . . I don’t want to say problems for me, but things that kept me from going over the moon with Rubicon: Batford works his way into this assignment by worming his way in to the trust of one Big H’s associates while they’re in Bali. Do Metropolitan Police Undercover Officers really get to globe-trot the way that Batford does? Is that a bit of Artistic License? Is it a sign of just how far outside the lines that Batford colors? Does it tell us that he’s not just a Metropolitan Police Officer? It’s a minor point, I admit — and it’s really easy to accept as kosher (but that doesn’t mean I don’t wonder), because watching Batford’s machinations there is fascinating.

Secondly, Batford displays a very particular vocabulary — I’m not sure if it’s London slang, or Ian Patrick-slang. I could believe either. I will admit that there were periods that the slang got in the way of the story. That’s probably on me — and some of it is Shaw’s two countries separated by a common language phenomenon. With a little bit of work, and a small amount of guesswork (and a willingness to go back and revisit a passage later), it was all accessible enough and perspicuous.

There’s a lot about this book that I’m not sure about — I’ve been chewing on it for a couple of days, and it’s going to take a few more at least. Patrick’s characters take a little chewing, I think. It’d be easy to put Batford in the “murky anti-hero” category and move on — but I’m not sure he fits there; I’m even less sure where Winter fits — she’s not the straight-laced cop you’re at first tempted to label her, nor is she just the figure that makes life difficult for our anti-hero to do what he wants (although she functions pretty well that way). But even if/when I decide how to categorize these two — then I have to decide what I think of them as these characters — are they good people? No. That’s easy. Are they good fictional beings in their particular roles? My gut says yes, and my brain leans that way, but I’m still working on that.

Either way, I’m enjoying chewing on the novel and these ideas — and I’m definitely getting my money’s worth out of this book, just having to think about it this much.

There is part of this evaluation that’s easy — the writing? Gripping. The pacing? Once it gets going, it’s a runaway train that you’re just hoping you can hang on to long enough to get through to the end. The narrative voice is as strong as you could ask, and even when you’re thinking this cop might be more deserving of a being handcuffed on his way to a long incarceration than his targets, you’ll need to hear his singular perspective on the events around him.

Strong writing (some of my favorite sentences of the year are in this book), characters that demand thinking about, a plot that you can’t wrap up in a tidy bow — this isn’t your typical thriller. Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, it’s one that you won’t forget easily.

—–

4 Stars

Fahrenbruary Repost: The TV Detective by Simon Hall: A Murder. A Reporter. A Police Detective. Maybe the beginning of a beautiful friendship

Meet Dan Groves, a good reporter with a good dog. Which is enough reason to read the book, but there are others, too, as I was happy to discover.

The TV DetectiveThe TV Detective

by Simon Hall
Series: The TV Detective, #1
Kindle Edition, 290 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: May 16 – 17, 2018

The first interview with a witness.

Or, as Breen had put it, ‘Initially a witness, anyway.’

‘Meaning?’ Dan asked, as they walked down the stairs from the MIR.

‘It’s remarkable how quickly a witness can become a suspect in this business.’

All it needed was a musical sting to emphasise the drama of the detective’s words. Dan was beginning to suspect his new colleague was a frustrated actor. He certainly enjoyed a little theatre.

Dan deposited the thought safely in his mental bank. It might just be useful.

Carter Ross, I. M. Fletcher, Annie Seymour, and Jack McEvoy are my favorite reporters who happen to find themselves in the middle of criminal investigations (“find themselves” is typically code for throw themselves into, slip past the all the blockades surrounding, etc.) — I think Dan Groves has added himself to the list. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Dan Groves is a TV Reporter for Wessex Tonight, covering environmental news. With the Christmas holiday rapidly approaching, he’s forced to help cover the latest in a string of attacks on prostitutes. He and his cameraman/friend Nigel are found taking a less-than by-the-book approach to getting a colleague of the latest victim on camera (really, Nigel didn’t do anything — but he didn’t stop Dan, either). The story they aired was good, but their tactics were reported — between his editor’s need, his skill, and his editor’s fresh material for leverage — Dan’s taken off the Environment beat and made the program’s new crime reporter.

The problem is, he knows nothing about reporting on Crimes. And demonstrates it with a facepalm-worthy performance at his first crime scene (a murder, of course) after getting this assignment. So he pitches this idea to his editor, who in turn runs it by the local police. The police haven’t been looking good to the (and in the) press lately, Dan needs a crash course in detective work — so why doesn’t he shadow the investigation, giving the police some good coverage and PR while he learns on the job from the best around. DCI Breen — and (the underused) DS Suzanne Stewart — aren’t crazy about this idea, but they aren’t really in a position to argue with the brass, so they bring him on. Tolerating his presence largely at the beginning, but gradually finding ways to use him.

This is one of those cases that the police would probably be okay with not solving — at least most of the police. Edward Bray was in Real Estate — he owned many buildings, treated his tenants horribly and evicted them when he could find a way to make more money off of the land/building. He was heartless, notorious, and had an enemies list worthy of a, well, an unscrupulous land-owner. Yet, he also gave generously to a local hospice — so generously that many people had a reflexive notion to commend him while they suffered cognitive dissonance between his perceived nature as a shark, and his obvious and selfless good work with the hospice center. The list of suspects is long — former tenants, an employee, competitors he profited from and ruined, his own father — and the head of the hospice center who chafed under his authoritative hand.

So there’s the setup — a pretty good hook, I have to say. It’s an interesting pairing — Castle-ish, but not as goofy. I could totally buy this without suspending a whole lot of disbelief. The reactions of the other police officers help ground this. So who are the investigators?

First is Dan Groves — he seems to be a decent reporter, we’re told repeatedly that he has a history of looking out for the little guy in his news stories. He’s into the outdoors, hiking and whatnot. He’s very single and has been for some time — there’s a hint of something significant in his past that put him there, but we don’t get into that in this book. I’ve never read about a reporter not wanting the crime beat — it’s the most interesting, right? I just didn’t get his rationale for quite a while. But by the time we’ve heard about a few of his past stories, I guess I could see it (and have to admit that Environmental News sounds pretty dull, but wouldn’t have to be in the right hands). Lastly, Dan has a German Shepherd named Rutherford, who seems like a great dog. This speaks volumes for him.

DCI Adam Breen is your typical driven detective — stern, unbending (at first, anyway), not that crazy about the unusual staffing on his inquiry. He has a flair for the dramatic (as noted above — but it’s worse), seems to spend more time and money on clothing than most (somewhere, Jerry Edgar is fist pumping the idea that he’s not alone). We eventually get to know a little about him outside the job — and it seems to go well with the character we’ve met. He seems like the kind of detective most police departments could use more of. Breen will warm to Groves (and vice versa) and will find ways to use his strengths, as Groves finds ways to flex them.

DS Suzanne Stewart, on the other hand, is little more than a name and a presence. Hall needs to find a way to use her character in the future or drop her. This character is the biggest problem with the book. Not an insurmountable one, or one that greatly detracts from the book, but still. I get that Hall’s priority was establishing the relationship between Groves and Breen — and he nailed that. But he could’ve given us more of Stewart along the way. We could also use a little more development with Nigel and Dan’s editor, Lizzie — but I honestly didn’t notice how underused they were. Stewart stuck out to me.

Hall does a really good job of balancing the murder inquiry and dealing with the characters outside of the case — Breen off-duty, Dan’s blossoming personal life, another story or two that Dan works on. The suspects are well-developed and interesting — and there are times that you could totally buy all of them (well, maybe all but one) as the actual perpetrator. That’s really hard to pull off, many writers will start off with a long list of suspects and really only have one or two that you can believe being the killer after one conversation. They all have similar but individualized reasons to want Bray dead. Most of them also have strong alibis, because you don’t want this to be easy. The solution to the case is clever — and better yet, the way that Groves and Breen have to work together to get the solution proven is well executed.

Hall’s writing is confident and well-paced. He knows how to use characters and plot to strengthen each other. There are occasional turns of phrase that will really make the day of readers. I have a lot of “oh, that’s nice” notes throughout the book. This is a solid start to a series — the kind that makes me want to read more. I’m looking forward to finding out a little more about Dan’s history as well as seeing the relationship between he and DCI Breen grow and change (and be challenged, I assume). Good stuff.

—–

4 Stars

Finders Keepers: The Definitive Edition by Russ Colchamiro: A Very Strange SF Romp

Finders Keepers: The Definitive EditionFinders Keepers: The Definitive Edition

by Russ Colchamiro
Series: Finders Keepers, #1

Kindle Edition, 310 pg.
Crazy 8 Press, 2018

Read: January 4 – 7, 2019


This is a very strange ride. That might be the most important thing to take away from my experience with this book. Strange is good, strange is unique, strange is the kind of thing you can only read here (well, you can read strange SF in other places, too, but they won’t be this kind of strange).

That doesn’t tell you a lot, though, does it? This is the story of two twenty-something guys (one from the US, one from New Zealand) backpacking their way around Europe. It’s the story of a young woman, an artist trying to escape from something, and her life-changing interactions with those two guys. It’s also the story of a young couple, trying to better their station in life, who might have taken on a job they shouldn’t have — and their tragic blunder in the middle of carrying out that job which just might ruin their lives. There’s also the woman whose ambition and slip-of-judgement that has led to her fall into disrepute and her loyal assistant as they try to stage a comeback. Oh, yeah, and there’s Ira and Howard — a dolphin and a whale — who are basically the sea mammal answer to Cheech and Chong.

Jason’s waiting tables at a small restaurant, putting off getting a teaching job, because he’s just not ready to take that step, when one of his customers inspires him to head to Europe for a while. This was a huge mistake — he’s unprepared for anything, the fact that he’s not robbed blind by the first slightly crooked person he meets in any country is a wonder. He eventually runs into Theo Barnes, who’s only a moderately better traveler. He’s on a quest — the exact nature of which I’ll leave to you — but Ira and Howard gave him some pretty specific directions. Primarily, these two do what backpacking twenty-something males do: the drink a lot, they chase girls, the drink some more, they get lost in Europe, and drink to excess.

I’m going to pass on explaining how the others I mentioned get into the story — there’s a lot of complicated explanation — that makes perfect sense in Colchamiro’s narration, but wouldn’t quite work in my summary. But most of the other people in the book aren’t human — they’re a different form of life who are responsible, in one way or another, for the construction of Galaxies, Star Systems and Planets — most notably, they’re all involved in the creation of our solar system. And all of them have done something horribly wrong (inadvertently or otherwise) and all are in the middle of crazy, elaborate plans to regain their status. Colchamiro tells us about their falls and their various efforts to fix things while we watch Jason and Theo binge drink their way around Europe.

I’m honestly not sure if that paragraph made much sense — I bet if you’ve read the book, it does.

What surprised me about the book wasn’t the strange antics these pairs got into — but that Colchamiro works a lot of heart and some pretty serious emotional arcs into the zaniness. He does so in a way that doesn’t seem forced, it doesn’t seem like he’s taking a break from the outrageous actions to have a heartfelt moment, or anything — but he seamlessly merges personal growth, insight or complex emotions into the same scenes as a talking dolphin or biker gang interrupting a son introducing his girlfriend to his mother.

There was a time back in the 90’s or so where it seemed that not a week could go by without someone on a sit-com ask the clarifying question: “Did you mean funny ‘ha ha,’ for funny ‘peculiar/strange/odd’?” I thought of that frequently while reading this book — and once I abandoned the idea of this book being “funny ‘ha-ha,'” and instead embraced the strange, the absurd, the idiosyncratic peculiarity of Finders Keepers, I enjoyed it a lot more. I’m not saying that there aren’t funny moments, and it’s definitely not a serious work — it’s a fun, goofy, and strange SF adventure, which we need more of. I just don’t think I laughed or chuckled all that much.

That said, do I encourage you to read it? Oh yeah. Am I curious about what the next two installments of this trilogy might bring? Oh yeah. And I fully intend on finding out as soon as I can. I wager if you spend some time with this particular batch of oddballs you’ll be as curious as I am — yet pleased that you spent this much time with them. It’s a great mix of heart, oddball characters, youthful indiscretions, and wisdom that time and suffering can only bring — all in one goofy adventure.

—–

3.5 Stars

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided, including a copy of the novel.

Murder in the Dark by Betsy Reavley: This look at murder’s aftermath feels as authentic as a True Crime book

Murder in the DarkMurder in the Dark

by Betsy Reavley

eARC, 245 pg.
Bloodhound Books, 2018

Read: December 10, 2018


One fateful day, Tilly, a veterinary student in Cambridge goes to the bookshop she works at to open for the day. Inside, she finds the owner of the shop, her boss, hanging and clearly dead. She calls the police, who (unlike Tilly) realize that this was not suicide and begin their investigation right away.

While the investigation goes on, we spend a lot more time with Tilly and her coworkers as well as the family of Dennis Wade than you do in most Crime Fiction. Tilly is haunted (practically literally) by what she found. Her other coworkers are focused on trying to act appropriately in this situation, or worried about their jobs. Wade’s widow, her sister, and the Wade’s son all react in very different ways. His poor widow’s life is shattered, her pain and lost-ness is palpable — just great work on Beavley’s part, although watching what Tilly goes through may be more devastating.

Meanwhile, DCI Barrett, DI Palmer and their team start their procedure — knowing full well they need to close the case early for the good of the city, the Wade family — and because no one wants to spend Christmas (which is just around the corner) finding out why a body was left hanging. When other bodies start to be discovered, the pressure builds (internally and externally) and yet the procedure has to continue. Even when the procedure involves things like thoroughly vetting Wade’s son (with a criminal record) and spending a good deal of time pursuing other dead ends.

Beavley’s work showing the way the police have to tick off every box, have to turn over stone — even when they are virtually certain that no answers will be found by doing so — just to move on to another stone. There’s no maverick cop saving the day here. No detective relying on instinct. Just dedicated professionals doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to do them to get the result they need. It’s really kind of striking that in the ocean of “police procedurals” out there, just how few actually rely on the procedure.

When the answers come — they come from going through all the steps and no one is more surprised than the detectives who uncover it. It feels as authentic as you could want. The depravity uncovered by these detectives is the kind that makes you glad this is fiction, so you can pretend that such things only happen in books. And you will keep turning the pages until you get to the bottom of everything.

You get a much better sense of Tilly, a couple of coworkers, and the Wade family than you do the detectives investigating the case — which isn’t to say they’re strangers to the reader. But by and large, these are primarily people doing a job – with the emphases on the job, not the person.

I’d have appreciated more time with the family and friends of some of the later victims — just to see Reavley get to show off a little. We get a little taste with the second victim’s family — just not as much. But their reactions are so different from Wade’s family and friends, it’d be great to get more time seeing that.

One tangent — I’m counting on readers to comment on this — there’s a golf club mentioned a couple of times in the book, “The Gog Magog Golf Club” to be specific. Now, when I read that name I think of the figures and places mentioned in Ezekiel and Revelation. Neither of which is suggestive of a stroll along the greenways or putting around. Is this the kind of names used in England? In the US, courses are named after hills, valleys — that kind of thing. Not names steeped in apocalyptic visions. It’s a minor point, but it really threw me.

This is (I believe) the second book to feature DCI Barrett and DI Palmer and their team — I’m curious about how they work together both before this case (also book related) and in the future. But this works well as a stand-alone, too. You don’t have to sign up for the long haul to get anything from this. A solid mystery, one of the best procedurals I’ve read in ages, and a depiction of the aftermath of violent crime that you won’t easily forget. A Murder in the Dark will stick with you.

—–

3 Stars


My thanks to Bloodhound Books for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided. The opinions expressed are all mine, however.