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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

Stepping Through The Stargate

Stepping Through The StargateOrder this bookStory: Authors and experts in several fields – ranging from experimental physics to parasite pathology to archaeology – chip in to offer their insights on what could make the universe of the TV series Stargate SG-1 work (or, in some cases, which parts of the fiction decidedly don’t work).

Review: Once upon a time, I wasn’t that crazy about books that bore the word “Unauthorized!” on the cover like a badge of unlicensed honor – chalk it up to a not-so-great experience (as a contributing writer) with the author and publisher of such a books several years ago. To me, this basically translated to “we’re tap dancing around the outskirts of legal action as fast as we can without blowing our chance at geting to the bank in time to cash the check.” But I’ve recently become a fan of BenBella Books’ series of pop culture anthologies – sure, they too are “Unauthorized!”, but they at least have some meat between the pages. In “Stepping Through The Stargate”, we learn why the Tok’ra are marginally more plausible than the Goa’uld from a parasitic biological standpoint, some possible explanations as to why the stargate makes such a big “splash” when it opens, whether or not Samantha Carter’s career trajectory in the U.S. Air Force is a realistic one, and even hear from the show’s special effects supervisor and one of its recurring guest stars. Not too shabby. Continue reading

The Salmon Of Doubt

The Salmon Of DoubtOrder this bookStory: The writings of the late Douglas Adams (of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fame) are gathered into four categories. “Life” collects essays by (and interviews with) Adams on the subject of his life, career, and reactions to seemingly everyday happenings; “The Universe” widens the scope to include Adams’ love affair with technology, computers, science and conservation; “Everything” covers everything else (including the author’s fascination with religion and evolution), and “The Salmon Of Doubt” collects the best drafts of the Dirk Gently novel Adams left unfinished at the time of his death.

Review: I think it goes without saying that Douglas Adams left us far, far too soon. I’ve been taking a crash course in bittersweet reminders lately as I’ve alternated between this book and the 3-CD Douglas Adams At The BBC set, which also chronicles his many interviews and early radio work. It’s brought back forcefully my feeling that Adams will go down not just as one of the 20th century’s most influential writers, but in time will be recognized as one of its foremost speculative thinkers as well. Continue reading

The Anthology At The End Of The Universe

The Anthology At The End Of The UniverseOrder this bookStory: A variety of authors relate their various disciplines to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy novels, discussing everything from the books’ impact on them to the books’ impact on science fiction to follow, and perhaps even on such real-life things as computer user interface design.

Review: Another entry in Benbella Books’ “SmartPop” series, “The Anthology At The End Of The Universe” targets the breadth and depth of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” saga, cannily timed to arrive at the same time as the Guide’s big screen edition. (That last bit’s actually a pity – one wonders what the various essayists thought of the movie.) The sundry contributors offer their views on the symbology of the towel, the underlying grimness at the heart of Adams’ SF-comedy epic, the place of eschatology in the series, Adams’ literary and SF influences (and his influence on the SF literature that followed him), and whether or not Americans are truly capable of “getting” Hitchhiker’s humor. As always, the spread of topics is admirable, the degree to which the essays explore their chosen premises varies, and you’ll probably learn at least a little something from the proceedings. Continue reading

The Planets

The PlanetsOrder this bookStory: The Planets is, quite simply, one of my all-time favorite books, a mind-boggling and impossible-to-pigeonhole anthology of scientific essays and short stories from some of the best science fiction authors on the planet. The Planets is a brilliant combination of facts, speculation, and artwork, each section of the book focusing on one of the planets in our solar system, as well as the asteroids, comets, and Earth’s moon, and how humankind could change it – or how it could change us.

Review: Though it’s most likely out of print now, this book is one of my most prized literary possessions. Smartly-written factual essays combined with mold-breaking science fiction short stories made for a book whose contents have challenged and awed me since my early teens. (Somehow, the follow-up book, The Stars, edited in much the same staggered science/science fiction format, didn’t thrill me as much.) Continue reading