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Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story

Brighter Day: A Jellyfish StoryOrder this bookStory: In tracing the family histories of the band members, charting their musical adventures before and after Jellyfish, and recounting conversations between the band themselves, their agents, label reps, producers, and occasional session players, the author is really trying to answer one question: why were there only two albums?

Review: Jellyfish is a band whose all-too-brief body of work has been dissected, repeatedly remastered, relentlessly reissued, and held up as the standard of an entire genre of music…which really isn’t bad when that body of work consists of the band’s two early ’90s albums, the demos for those albums, and a handful of demos – maybe half an extra album’s worth – of songs pitched to other artists during the band’s active years. None of the demos made it out until nearly a decade after Jellyfish disbanded, though, so we’re talking about two really influential albums. Continue reading

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

The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed

The Policeman's Beard Is Half ConstructedStory: Can computers think? Dream? Display emotion? Racter can. And for the first time, he offers a glimpse into the mind of a computer through a collection of and prose and poetry written without any aid of human interaction or influence. Racter’s thoughts may baffle or confuse you, but they are always sure to make you ponder.

Review: Unfortunately, The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed is one of those times where the story surrounding the end product is more sensational that the end product itself. In 1983, two men named William Chamberlain and Thomas Etter created a computer program that generated prose by using text templates. They called the program “Racter”, which is short for “raconteur”. As a “proof of concept”, they published a book using nothing but the output from the Racter program. Only the introduction, written by Chamberlain, contained human input. That book was “The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed”. 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

Star Trek: Voyager – The Farther Shore

Star Trek: Voyager - The Farther ShoreOrder this bookStory: With Borg assimilation slowly spreading in viral form on Earth, and Voyager’s holographic Doctor accused of having a hand in a violent “holorevolution,” suspicion is cast on Voyager’s crew. Admiral Janeway is already putting plans into action to free the Doctor, Seven of Nine and Icheb, in the hopes of not only clearing their names, but putting them to work solving the Borg mystery. With help from Lt. Commander Data, who has ostensibly arrived to provide legal counsel in the Doctor’s fight for recognition as a sentient, Janeway and her reunited crew retake Voyager and prepare for the fight ahead, when a shocking discovery is made: a new Borg Queen is behind the assimilation virus, and has been working on it for years – from within Starfleet itself.

Review: Picking up from the end of “Homecoming” and barreling toward the story’s conclusion without pausing for breath, “The Farther Shore” continues to complicate the immediate plotline for Voyager’s crew, but is clearly setting up problems for them to tackle down the road. 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

Ashes Of Victory

Ashes Of VictoryOrder this bookStory: Honor Harrington’s triumphant return home from her miraculous jailbreak from the prison planet Hell, deep within enemy territory in the People’s Republic of Haven, becomes a rallying crew among her own people on Mantocore and Grayson – and a massive public embarrassment for Haven, whose officials not only claimed to have executed her, but created “news footage” of the event to prove it. The two remaining top leaders on Haven are not only trying to dance around that issue, but they find themselves growing increasingly wary of their own hand-picked Secretary of War, whose charisma could command more respect from the military than Haven’s own leaders do. Honor is taken off of active duty as she recovers from the brutal injuries she suffered on Hell, but this also clears the way for her promotion to admiral and an opportunity to teach advanced tactics at the legendary Saganami Island Academy. As Honor shapes the future of Manticore’s military, other events are set into motion that will change the future of both sides of the war.

Review: “Ashes Of Victory” has a feeling of being a pause in the ongoing Honor Harrington saga…albeit a pause where a lot manages to happen. The moment Honor is relieved of active duty to recuperate, rather than being patched up and sent back into battle, you know that “Ashes” isn’t going to be a typical book in the series (if indeed there is such a thing at this point). David Weber spends a lot of time behind enemy lines, setting up monumental events from the Haven side of the story, and certain tactical advantages on Manticore’s side that have been built up since the previous book turn out to be something of a red herring. 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