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Fallen Down: Heartache & Compassion in Undertale

Fallen Down: Heartache & Compassion in UndertaleOrder this bookStory: Writer Joel Couture (whose work you may recognize from Siliconera, Gamasutra, and IndieGames.com) ventures into the world of the computer game Undertale, meeting its unique cast of characters under very different circumstances, as the game allows players to remain neutral, take a pacifist stance throughout the game, or go on a blood-soaked “Genocide Run”, killing everything and everyone in sight. It’s the last of these that affects him so profoundly that he admits he may not be able to play Undertale again, and explains why the game’s varying modes of play have had such a seismic effect on him.

Review: In the interests of full disclosure, a lot of Undertale goes on under my roof. My oldest is nearly obsessed with it, we’ve both played it, and I’ve given my stamp of approval by way of starting his collection of the Fangamer “Undertale little buddies” figures (of which more another time). So far down the Undertale rabbit hole has my son gone that he’s been working on his own version of the game – except with characters and scenarios of his own creation – programming it entirely in Scratch. We’ve watched YouTube videos that put forth outlandish theories on the origins of wisecracking skeletons Sans and Papyrus, postulating that Undertale may be an offshoot of Mother / Earthbound, and so on. What inspired me to give this game my wholehearted endorsement? The tagline that sells the game – “the RPG where you don’t have to kill anybody!” – scratches the surface: very much like an all-time favorite computer game of mine, Ultima IV, Undertale has a system of morality built into it, holding the player accountable for his actions. Continue reading

Season Finale: The Unexpected Rise and Fall of the WB and UPN

Season FinaleOrder this bookStory: Industry insiders trace the two rival attempts to create the “fifth network” of the 1990s – Warner Brothers’ WB network and the United Paramount Network, from the earliest discussions of starting them through their mutual decline and merger into the 21st century CW network. Spoiler: neither of the networks, only a handful of the networks’ shows, and only some of their executives’ careers, make it out of the story alive.

Review: As a promo writer/producer at two UPN stations in the 1990s – one in Arkansas, one in Wisconsin – it was my job to try to make all of the network’s shows look good to our audience, as best I could, with the material the network made available to us. It wasn’t easy. UPN was a schizophrenic beast: hip, urban humor one night, sci-fi the next night. And when the network suddenly claimed all five weeknights for its fall 1998 season, that wild spread of shows and genres got even wilder. I always wanted to know: how did those decisions get made, who made them, and why did the promotional push for that…diverse (trying to be charitable there)…1998 season seem to evaporate as soon as the shows premiered?

Written by WB programming executive Suzanne Daniels and Daily Variety reporter Cynthia Littleton (likely drawing from her own coverage of UPN), Season Finale answers that question and many more. Continue reading

The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011

The Brilliant Book of Doctor Who 2011Order this bookStory: A mashup of fiction, behind-the-scenes fact and a treasure trove of photos, the Brilliant Book covers Matt Smith’s first season as the Doctor. Profiles of the show’s stars and creative staff include looks at the production of the 2010 season and glimpses into the history of the show. The Dream Lord put in an appearance to drop vaguely spoilery hints about the 2011 season, but those hints are wedged in between lots of misleading red herrings and other total fabrications.

Review: When I was a kid and Doctor Who was on the cusp of being in vogue in America in the 1980s, Doctor Who books usually shared many qualities – they were nifty hardbacks with nice cover art, they had gobs of information about the show’s past that you were unlikely to find anywhere else in the days before the web and the commercial availability of every complete story in existence, and they also usually happened to be compiled by the late Peter Haining (I hesitate to use the word “written” because Haining made an art form out of collating essays and other content that was written by others). Not unlike the show that inspired it, Haining’s books were wordy and progressed at a very leisurely pace (even for non-fiction), and contained lots of exlamation points!

By contrast, “Doctor Who: The Brilliant Book 2010” changes topics, typographical/layout styles and authors every few pages – a sort of printed representation of the breakneck pace at which the Doctor’s adventures unfold in the modern series. Continue reading

On The Outside, It Looked Like An Old-Fashioned Police Box

Story: Presenter Mark Gatiss revisits a now-bygone era of Doctor Who appreciation – in the pre-video, pre-DVD days when Target’s compact, economically-worded novelizations of past television stories were all that younger fans had to rely on for knowledge of the show’s early years, and got a great many young people hooked on reading into the deal. Interviewed guests include Terrance Dicks (writer of the majority of Target’s Doctor Who books), frequent cover artist Chris Achilleos, Philip Hinchcliffe, Russell T. Davies and Anneke Wills.

Review: An affectionate overview of the origins of the Target Books Doctor Who novelizations of the 1970s and ’80s, On The Outside, It Looked Like An Old-Fashioned Police Box is a good “introductory essay” to the phenomenon that has now sadly faded into a specific period: to the modern generation of Doctor Who fandom, Target’s novelizations, seldom exceeding (or even approaching) 200 pages, are more likely to be something younger fans have read about than read first-hand. Continue reading

Boarding The Enterprise

Boarding The EnterpriseOrder this bookStory: A lively mixture of SF writers (many of them with connections to the original Star Trek) and other essayists look back to the dawn of Star Trek, dissecting the original show to ponder its meaning, and stepping back to analyze the meaning that the Trek phenomenon has taken on over time. Contributors include David Gerrold (who also co-edited), D.C. Fontana, Norman Spinrad, Howard Weinstein, Eric Greene, Michael Burstein, Robert Metzger, and several others.

Review: I’ve been an admirer of BenBella’s Smart Pop books for some time now, enjoying the variety of ways of looking at their subjects that the standard-issue scattershot of writers brought to the table for each book. Sure, there are the occasional bone-dry essays, and there have been a few occasions in the past where attempts at humorous essays flatlined like badly-written internet humor. Generally, though, I look forward to the more-or-less factual essays, examining their subjects from an angle that I might not have previously considered. And if there’s an occasional essay from someone who’s worked on the show, that’s icing on the cake that elevates it slightly above the other “Unauthorized! And Uncensored!” books about various pop culture phenomena that are already on the market. When you look at the short list of honest-to-God Star Trek luminaries lining this book’s table of contents and credits, it’s clear that “Boarding The Enterprise” has hit something of a home run. Continue reading

The Forgotten Network

The Forgotten NetworkOrder this bookStory: How does a television network die? These days it might just be a lack of sustainable advertising revenue, or a merger with a competitor, but then, there are so many networks on the air today on satellite and cable. But before those two means of delivering a signal were widespread, television pioneer Allan Du Mont tried to put into practice his dream of creating a new television network, and completely rewrote the rules of the nascent broadcasting networks. Within a decade, however, the DuMont Television Network was already no more – even though the other networks were now playing by DuMont’s rules. The author makes, and convincingly backs up, a case that DuMont signed off the air because the Federal Communications Commission, at the behest of its lobbyists within the “Big Three” networks, sabotaged the new network at every step.

Review: You know, there’s an epic movie somewhere just waiting to be made out of this story. It could be a dry pile of politics and technical jargon, but the author does a great job of putting the understanding of those two elements within grasp, and then spends even more time on the true soul of the story – Allan Du Mont’s almost cheerfully Ed-Woodian, “carry on regardless” spirit that infuses the story of his short-lived network from its beginning to its near-tragic end. I say tragic loosely, because it’s the death of a dream and an ideal rather than the death of a person, and yet by the end of the story my heart ached for the dream and the people who dared to dream it. Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – A Vision Of The Future

Star Trek: Voyager - A Vision Of The FutureOrder this bookStory: A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the first two seasons of Voyager, including the torturous pre-production process of developing the show’s premise.

Review: This book received much pre-release hype as being a product of the same author who penned the justly acclaimed 1968 behind-the-scenes story of “The Making of Star Trek”, though this time writing under his own name instead of the pseudonym of “Stephen E. Whitfield.” Since Poe’s definitive tome inspired many later works, including the excellent books by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, it stands to reason that surely he can exceed his own previous work and give us a Star Trek behind-the-scenes book like no one else can. Continue reading

The Making Of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

The Making Of Star Trek: Deep Space NineOrder this bookStory: The authors go behind the scenes of the first two seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, talking extensively with producers, writers, designers, make-up artists, special effects technicians, oh, and actors too – from the original premise and character lineup to the changes that were made and why they were made, touching on every step of the production process along the way.

Review: It’s rather ironic that the most poorly-marketed Star Trek spinoff (with the possible exception of Enterprise) has turned out to be the best documented one. Paramount initially threw tons of money at the launch of Deep Space Nine, and then backed off – there was a new Trek movie to promote, as well as yet another spinoff series upon which an entire network, and not just syndicated advertising profits, would be riding. From about the middle of year 2 onward, DS9 got the short end of the Star Trek stick. Continue reading

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine CompanionOrder this bookStory: A season-by-season guide to the television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Includes season overviews, episode summaries, behind-the-scenes info and insights, photos, production drawings, and anecdotes.

Review: As a huge fan of Deep Space Nine, I had patiently waited for a definitive episode guide to my favorite Trek incarnation. Fortunately for all of us with limited budgets, Pocket Books refrained from releasing a guide until the series had run its course, instead of releasing three or so versions with a little added each time.

So it was with great glee I ripped open that box from Amazon.com and grasped the official episode guide to DS9. The first thing that struck me was that it’s friggin’ huge. Weighing in at over 720 pages, the thing nearly has its own weather! The cover is also very nice, with a nice collage of the station, wormhole, and Sisko. And as much as I like the U.S.S. Defiant, I was pleased to see it absent from the cover. After all, the show was really about the three entities thusly displayed. Continue reading

G-Force: Animated

G-Force: AnimatedOrder this bookStory: The authors chronicle the origins and history of, and public reaction to, both the Japanese animè series Kagakaninjatai Gatchaman (Science Ninja Team Gatchaman) and its heavily re-edited American counterpart, Battle Of The Planets, imported by U.S. syndication pioneer Sandy Frank. Cast members and the makers of the shows are interviewed extensively, and the recent revival of interest in the shows are covered in terms of merchandise and an extensive interview with Alex Ross, artistic director of a new latter-day Battle Of The Planets comic. (Ross also contributes the cover artwork.)

Review: A fascinating, one-of-a-kind guide to a classic animè series and its distinctly different but joined-at-the-hip Americanization, “G-Force: Animated” contains a wealth of information I’d never seen or heard elsewhere. It seems like a fairly thin book for the price, but for one thing, it’s an oversized trade paperback, and for another, I imagine a great deal of the price is tied into the licensing from both Tatsunoko Productions and Sandy Frank. It’s also full color throughout (with a great many rare merchandise photos, initial character design sketches, animation cels, and so on). It may not be cheap, but if you’re a fan of either or both of these shows, this is the only game in town. Continue reading