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Doctor Who: Parasite

Doctor Who: ParasiteOrder this bookStory: So this inside out planet, which is also shaped like a snail shell, is known as “the Artifact.” It is of great interest to many people, and there are always groups coming and going, studying, and otherwise theorizing on its origins. But, you see, all is not as it may seem inside this “Artifact,” as usual. One expedition living inside this planet has been killed, and another, arriving by spaceship, is sabotaged by – you guessed it – Unknown Forces! (There seem to be quite a few unknown forces in the Universe; please e-mail me if you come across any.) And so, just when all the weirdness begins, along comes the Doctor and company. Before any of them can tell what is going on, the TARDIS disappears (again!). Now we all know what is going to happen next: the separation. Yes, the Doctor goes off on his own to find the TARDIS, then gets this overwhelming feeling that he is being hunted. Bernice, who floats off by herself, befriends a once-human blob called Midnight that is confused about where he came from. And Ace…well, she seems to act more like the Doctor in this story. She uses reasoning instead of guns!

Review: Sadly, the true secret of this inside out planet is rather trite. I was hoping it wouldn’t turn out to be what I thought it would be, but I won’t say more to prevent me from getting egg all over my face…ahem. I suppose if you like long-winded descriptions of fantastical environments, and overused formulaic SF concepts, you’ll love “Parasite”. If you like Doctor Who, you’ll read this book anyway just to preserve continuity, and get you to the next book. Only a 5/10 by my scale, but don’t just listen to me – read it for yourself. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Falls The Shadow

Doctor Who: Falls The ShadowOrder this bookStory: In a house called Shadowfell, Mysterious Forces abound. These forces cause the TARDIS to be redirected to the cellar of this old house, and relieve the machine of its power. So, our three heroes are forced to explore their surroundings, using that old fashioned plot expander: to seperate the three characters to allow more hjinks to prevail! Bernice is the first person to run into someone – a deranged lunatic locked in a basement room. He proceeds to give her quite a scare, as well as confusing her thoroughly. The Doctor and Ace, realising that Bernice is missing, decide to search for her by going upstairs, thus increasing the running-into-weirdoes factor to 10. The Doctor runs into a dottery old gardener, who has a green thumb for meat-eating orchids. And Ace of course runs headlong into trouble, fists a-swinging, meeting up with a man wearing a strange wooden mask. (Now if that isn’t creepy…)

Review: Just when you think all has gone awry, the author twists and turns you through the ever-changing rooms of the house, tormenting residents and readers alike. Also, the continued use of a dead companion in the furthering of the story is both unusual, and well done…Bernice is quite good in this role. Death becomes her! (Oh, how I wish it was Ace that died…) Continue reading

Doctor Who: No Future

Doctor Who: No FutureOrder this bookStory: The Doctor, Benny and Ace, having survived a series of narrow escapes in incidents where time and history have changed around them, go under deep cover in 1976 London. The burgeoning punk rock movement, just as in the history that the Doctor and his companions remember, is spawning a movement toward anarchy. But unlike the time travelers’ memories, this time the push toward anarchy is all too real – a terrorist organization known as Black Star firebombs Big Ben, and Queen Elizabeth II narrowly escapes assassiantion. In the midst of all this, Benny has become the lead singer of a punk band called Plasticine, the Doctor broods over his inability to understand the changes in the timeline, let alone restore things to normal, and Ace seems to take anarchy to heart, routinely interfering in both the Doctor’s and Benny’s activities. Even U.N.I.T. has been somehow changed, and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart has the Doctor locked up in a cell. And in the background, another time traveler waits and schemes, planning to use a horrifyingly dangerous creature to further corrupt time and conquer Earth. He is a fellow Time Lord who is beating the Doctor at his own manipulative game.

Review: Though author Paul Cornell has decried “No Future” as his least favorite of his Doctor Who New Adventures, I have always found it very enjoyable, and for the record, I’d certainly place it at least a notch above “Oh No It Isn’t!” and possibly even “Happy Endings”, two of Cornell’s other books. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Love and War

Doctor Who: Love and WarOrder this bookStory: The Doctor, having suddenly taken Ace to a funeral for one of her Perivale friends, takes her to the planet Heaven to recuperate as he goes on an abrupt quest to retrieve the Papers of Felsecar. Ace encounters a band of gypsy-like Travelers, some of whom hide extremely dark secrets; she begins to fall in love with Jan, their ringleader. During a group linkup to a virtual reality ‘puterspace mechanism, Christopher, the most mysterious of the Travelers, is apparently killed as his comrades see their first glimpse of an enemy who is closer than they think. The Doctor, growing increasingly aware of a grave threat to Heaven and everyone on it, meets archaeologist Bernice Summerfield, who currently holds the Papers of Felsecar. In the crucible of the growing danger is Ace, confused by her love for Jan and her intense loyalty to the Doctor, and determined to bring the two together. But by the time the Hoothi – an enormous, self-contained necrosphere consciousness who reanimate and absorb the dead – are finished with Heaven, Ace will have lost both Jan and the Doctor.

Review: Though I’m inclined to nominate Paul Cornell’s later novel Human Nature as the best of the Doctor Who novels, “Love And War” is a very close runner-up and was, in my opinion, the book which redefined and redirected the entire New Adventures series. Cornell proved that it was possible to tell a mature and intense story against the backdrop of Doctor Who’s sometimes whimsical and more science-fantasy-oriented millieu. The author excels at spinning a very dark horror story, capable of scaring the pants off of nearly anyone, while still ensuring that the characters at the heart of the story are recognizable as the Doctor and Ace as portrayed by Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Timewyrm: Revelation

Doctor Who: Timewyrm: RevelationOrder this bookStory: The Doctor and Ace brace themselves for their final confrontation with the time-manipulating Timewyrm, with whom they’ve done battle from the dawn of man to World War II and beyond. But the Timewyrm sets a subtle trap for them as its final gambit, luring them out onto the surface of the moon sans protective gear. Ace is left on the brink of death, forced to relive repeated encounters with Chad Boyle, a schoolyard bully who once tried to kill her as a show of playground superiority. The Timewyrm then hold the Doctor’s tormented companion hostage to ensure his cooperation – but she hasn’t anticipated that the Time Lord would receive help from a handful of strangers, including an out-of-place couple, a bewildered vicar, and a psychic entity living within the structure of a country church.

Review: For years, I kept away from any mention of “Timewyrm: Revelation”. The book simply did not appear on the bookshelves near my home in 1992, and I never got to find out how the Timewyrm cycle which kick-started the New Adventures novels came to an end. Not until ten years later.

Why so gung-ho about this one book, when I long ago sold or gave away much of the rest of my New Adventures books? For one thing, it’s by Paul Cornell, my favorite Doctor Who author, and not only that, but it’s his first Who novel and forms the first of a loosely-connected series of four such books. And by God, I stayed right away from the spoilers for ten years until I got to read it myself. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Timewyrm: Exodus

Doctor Who: Timewyrm: ExodusOrder this bookStory: The Doctor and Ace, still following the temporal trail of the Timewyrm, track it down to World War II-era London, but somehow the timeline has been significantly altered – Britain has been overrun by Hitler and the Nazi regime, and the Doctor and Ace find themselves trying to ply both the Britischer Freikorps (a cell of resistance fighters) and the local Nazis, led by the fanatical Lieutenant Hemmings, for information on what has happened. To Ace’s horror, the Doctor tries to infiltrate the Nazi ranks, endearing himself to none other than Adolf Hitler…only to discover that the Furher has the Timewyrm on his side.

Review: Good old Terrance Dicks. Nobody can lay out a good old-fashioned Doctor Who storyline like this man can, and perhaps he should’ve been given the opportunity to launch the New Adventures. “Timewyrm: Exodus” is ultimately the strongest of the foor-book cycle that led off the series, and shows that Dicks, a traditionalist though he may be, understood the demands that the new novels be more complex than the average Target novelization. (In case you’ve never touched a Who book in your life, Dicks wrote something like 80% of those novelizations, so if anyone knew what the parameters were, it’d be him. Continue reading

Doctor Who: Timewyrm: Genesys

Doctor Who: Timewyrm: GenesysOrder this bookStory: The TARDIS brings the Doctor and Ace to ancient Mesopotamia, a critical juncture in human evolution which demands strict non-intervention. But Ace is appalled at how women are treated in this place and time, and worse yet, the Doctor receives a recorded message from his fourth self warning about an ancient menace capable of ravaging the web of time from its beginning to its end. On Gallifrey, they had a name for this menace – the Timewyrm. And to the Doctor’s horror, it has arrived on Earth and is already influencing events.

Review: Who would have guessed that great things would have come of this first book? It’s almost hard to imagine that a series of novels with the depth and complexity of the New Adventures began with this novel, which barely fit the range’s early tagline of “stories too broad and too deep for the small screen.”

For what it’s worth, John Peel does a decent job of picking up from where Survival left off (though that’s almost been made obsolete by the flood of BBC past Doctors novels and audio plays that also happen in an unspecified post-Survival timeline). But there’s something pedestrian about Peel’s writing style that always kept me from really sinking my teeth into this book. Continue reading

R.E.M.: The Rolling Stone Files

R.E.M.: The Rolling Stone FilesOrder this bookStory: This compendium collects every item that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine concerning R.E.M. from 1981 to shortly after the release of Monster in 1995. Album reviews, cover stories, interview features, Random Note mentions and year-end Best Of lists are included, along with a new introduction by writer Anthony DeCurtis.

Review: I checked this book out of the New York Public Library shortly after reading of Bill Berry’s retirement; with the sense that an era was ending, I wanted to try and vicariously experience its beginning. There are a number of fine books on the band on the market, but all of those have the advantage of hindsight to lend perspective and structure to their narrative. The advantage of this book – which most of those other works cite as an enormously helpful reference – is that the story is being written as it happens; neither the band nor the writers know where things are going, so there’s an immediacy and occasional unintended irony as the band’s stature and career evolve. The album reviews and feature stories, by a variety of writers, all have an impressive level of depth, thoughtfulness and clarity – you can see why the band developed a rapport with the magazine, and how that pays off in the quality of the magazine’s coverage. Continue reading

It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. Companion

It Crawled from the South: An R.E.M. CompanionOrder this bookStory: In a thematically organized set of lists and essays, the author provides historical information and analysis of R.E.M.’s career from its members early musical activities through the band’s 1995 world tour.

Review: Last updated in early 1996, “It Crawled from the South” suffers somewhat from unfortunate timing. It is by now several years out of date, and it just narrowly misses the natural close point of Bill Berry’s retirement. As a result, certain comments come off as dated, such as the author’s speculation that Peter Buck’s decision to move from Athens to Seattle in 1992 might ultimately sink the band. But the book is a storehouse of trivia and information about not only the band but those people and places that intersected with R.E.M.’s path over the years. One chapter discusses collaborators and contemporaries, another maps out the clubs and hangouts where the band played its first shows. There are comprehensive lists of the band’s songs, both released and unreleased, along with the occasional pointer to well-known bootleg collections. Many television and promotional appearances are listed, and Gray tracks the development of the band’s video aesthetic from the grainy low-fi oddities like “Radio Free Europe,” “Driver 8” and “Fall on Me” to the high production values of “Losing My Religion,” “Everybody Hurts,” and the glitzy rock star clips from Monster. Continue reading

R.E.M. Inside Out

R.E.M. Inside OutOrder this bookStory: Journalist Craig Rosen collects anecdotes and information about every song on R.E.M.’s albums from 1981 through 1996. Rosen draws on his own interviews with the band plus many of the articles and books on the band in print at the time to talk about production techniques, instrument lineups, lyrical inspiration and other tidbits. Heavily illustrated.

Review: There are a number of good books about R.E.M., so at first glance it might seem like this relatively short, photo-laden book is superfluous. But its subtitle suggests the niche that Rosen has managed to find and fill quite well. Every song gets at least a few lines of discussion, and many get considerably more. Some of the detail is probably best suited to the hardcore R.E.M. trivia fan who’s interested in things like the source of the siren wail on “Leave,” or why Buck plays drums on the 11th untitled song from Green. On the other hand, someone not fully immersed in the band’s lore might appreciate this quick history that focuses primarily on the band’s recording career (as opposed to live performances, work with other artists, personal biographical information, or political activism, to name a few topics covered in detail elsewhere). Continue reading