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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

Sojourner

Book titleOrder this bookStory: Subtitled “An Insider’s View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission,” this book recounts the history of the original Mars rover mission that inspired millions in 1997, from its genesis as a retrofitting of long-outdated unused moon rover hardware to the little rover’s landing and exploration of the Martian landscape. Despite being written by Andrew Mishkin, the Senior Systems Engineer for the Sojourner rover for JPL, the book is culled from extensive interviews with his teammates and co-workers.

Review: An eye-opening book, “Sojourner” is an incredible tale of a little unmanned mission that could – despite obstacles on two planets. The forbidden environment of Mars is enough of a hazard to survive, to say nothing of the months of deep space journey before Soujourner and its Mars Pathfinder mothership arrived at the red planet. Just as many obstacles threatened to keep Sojourner’s wheels on Earth, from technical difficulties to petty bureaucracies. Continue reading

The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs, Volume 2

The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs, Volume 2Order this bookStory: Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner (1980-1990) relates the story of his tenure as the longest-serving producer of the series, virtually guiding it through the entirety of the 1980s until the BBC quietly cancelled it. In this volumes, he takes listeners, episode-by-episode, through his work on the show, starting halfway through 1986’s Trial Of A Time Lord, and then covering the tumultous unseating of leading man Colin Baker, the casting of his successor Sylvester McCoy, and the making of McCoy’s three seasons as the Doctor. Nathan-Turner’s continuing association with Doctor Who, even after the show was no longer being made, is covered, as are his thoughts on the show’s future (a few years before Russell T. Davies’ new series was announced) and some of its more vocal fans.

Review: A bit closer to what I was hoping to hear from The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs, the second volume of the former Doctor Who producer’s audio memoirs still comes in for a landing wide of the mark. Like the first volume, this one concentrates too much on story-by-story anecdotes in a way that doesn’t pause for breath and doesn’t allow for a more elaborate exploration of JN-T’s opinions of any particular event. Continue reading

The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs, Volume 1

The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs, Volume 1Order this bookStory: Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner (1980-1990) relates the story of his tenure as the longest-serving producer of the series, virtually guiding it through the entirety of the 1980s until the BBC quietly cancelled it. In this volumes, he takes listeners,episode-by-episode, through his work on the show, starting as a studio floor assistant in the Patrick Troughton story The Space Pirates, through his work as production unit manager, through his rise to the position of producer at the end of Tom Baker’s reign. At the end of the second disc, “JN-T” discusses the 1985 cancellation/hiatus crisis and the beginning of production on The Trial Of A Time Lord.

Review: I’ve had both 2-CD volumes of the late John Nathan-Turner’s memoirs sitting on the shelf for some time, but they sat there until a recent listen to fellow Doctor Who producer Barry Letts’ memoirs spurred me to listen, contrast and compare. As with the two wildly different epochs of Doctor Who itself, trying to compare the two showrunners’ memoirs is an exercise involving apples and oranges. Continue reading

Who And Me

Who And MeOrder this bookStory: Doctor Who producer Barry Letts (1923-2009) narrates the story of his own beginnings in TV and theater, from second-string actor to writer to producer of one of the BBC’s most popular series during its first seasons in color starring Jon Pertwee. This first volume, featuring Letts reading his own memoirs, covers his early career, his first Doctor Who directing gig (Enemy Of The World starring Patrick Troughton) and his eventual ascension to the chief creative mind behind the series. Jon Pertwee’s first two seasons are covered in depth, including many remembrances of Pertwee himself and his co-stars, the introduction of Roger Delgado as the Master, and more.

Review: I had Who And Me sitting on the shelf for a long time before former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts died in October 2009, but I just hadn’t listened to it; Letts has already been interviewed, and has written up anecdotes about his time working on Doctor Who, and has done enough DVD commentaries…I wasn’t sure there was anything new to tell. Who And Me proved otherwise. Continue reading

Racing The Beam: The Atari Video Computer System

Book titleOrder this bookStory: In this college-level text, the authors discuss the nuts and bolts of writing programs on the Atari Video Computer System (more commonly referred to as the 2600), including the unique challenges necessitated by trade-offs that were made for many reasons – including cost – at the hardware design stage. To examine different approaches to the inherent limitations of the VCS, the authors examine the design and programming of several of its major games in depth: Combat, Adventure, Pac-Man, Yars’ Revenge, Pitfall! and The Empire Strikes Back. Other prominent games are discussed, usually as sidebars to the in-depth dissection of the above games, along with commentary on trends in the video game industry at the time and eventual downfall of the industry which brought Atari’s dominance to a close.

Review: “Racing The Beam” is not for the faint of heart; this is no sweeping overview of video game history, but rather a collegiate media studies text with a healthy dose of computer science mixed in for good measure. I opened the book with the expectation that I’d hopefully find some new insights into some of the most iconic Atari 2600 games; I closed the book with an understanding of the machine’s hardware (and its legendary limitations) that I almost felt like I was closer to having the know-how to program for it. 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

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

Invading Spaces

Invading SpacesBuy this book in theLogBook.com StoreStory: Author (and theLogBook.com contributor) Rob O’Hara discusses the basics of collecting arcade games, from acquiring them to repairing them, and along the way tells many a tale of his own adventures in arcade collecting, from acquiring the very same beloved arcade machine he played in his own youth to a few eBay seller horror stories.

Review: Rob O’Hara knows a couple of things about collecting arcade machines. I knew that before reading this book – there’s something about his back yard outbuilding full of working classic machines vs. my one broken-down machine uselessly taking up a refrigerator’s worth of space in my game room that says he’s definitely got the jump on me in this hobby. “Invading Spaces” is where he shares that obvious wealth of knowledge with coin-op newbies like myself. Continue reading