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The Black Douglas

The Black DouglasOrder this bookStory: William, Earl of Douglas, has struggled since the death of his father to keep his lands intact and in the hands of the Douglas family. But he has enemies at every side. King James II of Scotland wants the lands, while his uncle James, the Red Douglas, covets his titles. When an emissary from France arrives on scene it sets in motion a series of events that will change the political landscape of Scotland forever.

Review: I need to make it clear why I read and am reviewing a little-known book first published over a hundred years ago. It all starts in an unlikely place: “The History of the Hobbit” by John D. Rateliff. I should point out that I am a big fan of “The Hobbit” (even more than its sequel), so the two-volume history of its creation was a must-have for me. But I found that work to be far too opinionated and simple-minded for my taste. Among other issues, Rateliff had a tendency to denigrate any author he did not feel worthy of association with Tolkien. One such author was S. R. Crockett and his novel, “The Black Douglas”. Continue reading

Dirty Harry #11: Death in the Air

Death in the AirOrder this bookStory: Detective “Dirty” Harry Callahan, investigating a series of subway attacks, finds himself caught up in a rogue government program.

Review: As always with these kinds of things, whether you like it or not will be directly linked to your feelings towards the ‘Dirty Harry’ films series. If you find them tedious, this book is not going to change your mind. But if you enjoy a bit of low-grade cop drama, this isn’t a bad choice. Continue reading

Star Trek: The New Voyages

Star Trek: The New VoyagesOrder this bookStory: A collection of short stories about the journeys of the starship Enterprise and her crew.

Review: It’s hard to realize nowadays, when fan fiction is so prevalent (some would say invasive) but in 1976, the idea of finding a broader audience for fan fiction (outside of the meager readership of fanzines) was a fantastic notion. Without the all-powerful, all-seeing Internet, the only hope for fanfic writers would be the outlandish idea that Paramount themselves would allow a professionally published collection of such stories. But that’s just what Paramount did. They were about to launch the regular series of Star Trek novels with “Spock, Messiah!” and, perhaps, “Star Trek: The New Voyages” was an easy way to get material out to the public while the more professional work was being finalized. (They also upped the ante by getting Gene Roddenberry and the principal cast to write introductions, maybe as a way to take the curse of fanfic off.) Whatever the reason for the book’s publication, it’s good to know that this isn’t the first properly published Star Trek original fiction (having been preceded by junior novel “Mission to Horatius” and James Blish’s “Spock Must Die!”) as it is one of the most embarrasingly amateurish collection of nonsense ever to get the “official” stamp of approval. It basically proves that fan fiction hasn’t changed all that much in thirty years: it stinks. Continue reading

I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol / 12 Days on the Road / Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs

Book titleOrder this bookStory: Three books tell the story of legendary punk band the Sex Pistols.

Review: My fascination with the Sex Pistols began with my brother giving me the documentary The Filth and the Fury for either my birthday or Christmas one year with the cryptic words “You don’t know you want this.” He followed that up with John Lydon’s autobiography, “Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs”, but I just couldn’t get into it, not getting past the first few pages before I put it down. But about a year later, I acquired a different book on the Sex Pistols by their US tour manager, Noel Monk; “12 Days on the Road”, the story of the band’s raucous career-ending tour. With its much more visceral feel and crazy stories right off the bat, it was much easier to get into. So after finishing that, I went back to “Rotten” and then bought original bass player Glen Matlock’s autobiography “I Was a Teenage Sex Pistol”. Three very different perspectives on the story of the band lead to three very different books. Ultimately, they compliment each other, helping to give a more rounded view than any one book would have done alone. Continue reading

Jason of Star Command 1: Mission to the Stars

Jason of Star Command 1: Mission to the StarsOrder this bookStory: As Jason, Professor Parsafoot and the crew of Star Command deal with the arrival of a new leader, Commander Stone , an ancient evil has returned to the Galaxy. But Dracos, Galactic Dictator from the distant past, isn’t the only surprise in store, as Jason comes across Samantha, a mysterious alien whose origins and motivations are unclear.

Review: For those of you unfamiliar with Jason of Star Command, it was a Saturday morning live-action sci-fi show by renowned production company Filmation. Spun off from (and replacing) their existing show, Space Academy, Jason took on a more serious tone and tried to capture some of the excitement and spectacle of a little film that had been released the previous year, Star Wars. The show was surprisingly good, with special effects far and above anything else seen on TV in 1978. (They honestly put Space: 1999 to shame in that department.) After a season as a fifteen-minute segment on Tarzan and the Super 7, the show was upgraded to a full half-hour standalone show. “Mission to the Stars” is primarily an adaptation of the first few episodes of the second season. But even though it follows the plot fairly closely, it fails to capture the spirit of the show. Continue reading

The Dune Encyclopedia

The Dune EncyclopediaOrder this bookStory: A collection of essays on various aspects of Frank Herbert’s Dune series, written as an in-universe encyclopedia.

Review: I never read “Dune”. Oh, I tried. How I tried. But Herbert’s dense writing was simply impenetrable to me at an age when I was reading everything. My brother had read the books and it was the fact that he had them that made me try to read them in the first place. I found the stories fascinating, but simply could not get into the novels themselves. (The passage of time has robbed of the memory as to whether I had seen the movie or not.) But then my brother got the book that seemed to solve my problems: “The Dune Encyclopedia”. Continue reading

Phoenix Without Ashes

Phoenix Without AshesOrder this bookStory: A young man named Devon finds himself ostracized from his community of Cypress Corners because he dares to defy the Elders. It has been decreed by “the Creator” that Rachel, the woman Devon loves, is to marry another young man, Devon’s childhood friend, Garth. After learning that the Elders have been manipulating the judgements of “the Creator”, Devon is sentenced to death. But he escapes to the hills, where he finds a portal to an extremely perplexing place filled with shiny walls and technology the likes of which he has never seen. He learns that what he thought was the world was merely one of thousands of ecopods that house the remains of the human race. These pods form The Ark, a gigantic ship built to bring a cross-section of humanity to a new world, safe from Earth’s impeding destruction. But Devon also learns that something has gone horribly wrong. Hundreds of years earlier, a disaster struck the Ark, diverting it from its course and sending it instead towards the heart of a star. Devon decides to return to Cypress Corners to find help in saving the Ark and all that remains of the human race. But will they listen?

Review: Phoenix Without Ashes is an adaptation of Harlan Ellison’s original pilot for a television series called The Starlost. In a nutshell, The Starlost was a television series that Harlan was hired to create. After quickly falling into his typically antagonistic relationship with the producers, Harlan left the show, disowning it and publicly declaring his contempt for it. His original script was reworked for the first episode and Harlan later allowed author Edward Bryant to adapt that original script into novel form. But far from serving to highlight why Harlan’s script is superior, it only serves to highlight how little it takes to make Harlan feel that his work has been ruined. Continue reading

Banacek

BanacekOrder this bookStory: Freelance insurance investigator (a “ten percenter”) Thomas Banacek tackles one of his most intriguing cases, as a high-profile professional football player disappears from under a tackle pile-up in front of a sell-out crowd and millions of television viewers.

Review: Banacek was a part of NBC’s popular “Mystery Movie” series that followed in the footsteps of Columbo and the other series that pioneered the genre. It proved to be quite popular and lasted two seasons, only being cancelled when star George Peppard decided to back out rather than earn more money that would count towards his then-impending divorce from actress Elizabeth Ashley. While never reaching the success level of Columbo (due to its short lifespan), Banacek nonetheless is a well-remembered series, but one that totally escaped my notice until a DVD release was announced in 2007. So when a copy of the series’ only novel, “Banacek” turned up at a local thrift store, I was intrigued enough to pick it up. Continue reading

The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach

The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. BachOrder this bookStory: Professor Peter Schickele charts the life and career of P. D. Q. Bach, the twenty-first of famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty children. Professor Schickele covers the three main phases of P. D. Q.’s musical output: the Initial Plunge, the Soused period and, finally, Contrition. He also delves into the legacy of P. D. Q. Bach, those he has influenced (or at least prevented from making the same mistakes) and a history of the rediscovery of the works of this justly underappreciated artist.

Review: The guys of Spinal Tap ain’t got nothin’ on Peter Schickele. In the late 1960’s, Schickele began performing the “lost” works of little-known composer P. D. Q. Bach, described by Schickele as the “oddest of Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty-odd children.” He even adopted a fictional version of himself, Professor Peter Schickele, to differentiate when he is working in the real world from when he is working in P. D. Q.’s. In the years since, he has built up an enormous life story for P. D. Q., which was first set down as a single biography in this book. Also similar to the later Spinal Tap, Schickele portrays P. D. Q. himself, although given the character’s position in history, only through portraits. Schickele is an accomplished musician and composer, having written many award-winning pieces and even several movie scores (including genre work, such as the film Silent Running). All of this is evident in the text of “The Definitive Biography”, a book that any fan of music, classical or otherwise, should read. Continue reading

Star Trek: Mission To Horatius

Star Trek: Mission To HoratiusOrder this bookStory: The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is growing restless after months without shore leave. Unfortunately, a distress signal has been sent to Star Fleet from the Horatius system and Captain James T. Kirk and the Enterprise are given the mission to find out which of the distant planets of the system has sent the message and help if they can. When they arrive at the system in question they find three planets colonized by humans, all in various stages of stunted development. Travelling to each one by one, the crew of the Enterprise try to determine who is the victim and who is the aggressor.

Review: “Mission To Horatius” has the distinction of being the first original Star Trek novel, published two years before James Blish’s “Spock Must Die”. It is also the only one published during the show’s original run. Reflecting the view of the day that Science Fiction was meant for children, “Mission To Horatius” was printed in a hardcover format similar to the “Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” novels (and proudly boasts of being an “Authorized TV Adventure” on the spine). Continue reading