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Remarks Remade: The Story of R.E.M.

Remarks RemadeOrder this bookStory: In a revised and expanded edition of this band-authorized biography, music writer Tony Fletcher recounts how Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe made their way to Athens, Georgia in the late seventies and formed a band to play at a friend’s birthday party. Eventually adopting the name R.E.M., the band became leaders in the college/alternative rock movement of the 80s and broke through to enormous worldwide success in the 90s. Fletcher tracks their story through Berry’s departure in 1997 and Buck’s acquittal in a British air rage trial 22 years to the day after their first performance.

Review: Fletcher does a great job of collecting details of the band’s recording, touring and other activities and forming them into a coherent narrative that spans more than two decades. I personally enjoyed the earliest chapters the most, because Fletcher is so effective at bringing those days to life. He quotes Peter Buck as saying “I just figured that you’d meet the right people, then you’d get in a band, then you’d make the good music, and people would come and see it.” Buck makes it sound ludicrously easy, and yet that’s what R.E.M. made happen, thanks to talent, a lot of work, and a fair amount of being in the right place at the right time. I can only imagine what it was like to live that lightning-in-a-bottle experience, but simply reading about it in “Remarks Remade” is exciting in itself. Continue reading

Honor Among Enemies

Honor Among Enemies (original cover)Order this bookStory: As the war between the Star Kingdom of Manticore and the People’s Republic of Haven grows in intensity, both sides’ attention turns to the space between the Silesian Confederacy and the Anderman Empire, where neutral shipping lanes have become ripe for raiders and pirates, costing both Manticore and Haven dearly. Honor Harrington is called up for duty aboard a Manticoran ship once again, an order she has the option to refuse but can’t bring herself to turn down. But her return to Manticoran uniform is anything but glamorous – she’ll be commanding a squadron of “helpless” merchant freighters retrofitted into warships – and her reinstatement has been engineered by old enemies bent on seeing her forced into a no-win situation. And if that’s not bad enough, then there are the forces at work against her within her own ship…

Review: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the course of slowly plowing through
the Honor Harrington series, it’s this: just about any ship and crew to whom we’re introduced outside of the first four chapters of any given book will not be returning to the shipyards intact by the last chapter. It’s the Honorverse’s equivalent of redshirts, dished up – and done away with – a couple thousand at a time. David Weber always walks a fine line here, making sure we know that Manticore’s most capable captain always has her eyes – and her conscience – trained on the body count. Though in “Honor Among Enemies,” Weber makes sure that the bad guys are so bad that no one’s really sorry to see them go. Continue reading

Looks Like Another Brown Trouser Job

Looks Like Another Brown Trouser JobOrder this bookStory: In a series of recordings culled from his series of one-man lectures in the 1980s, Monty Python star Graham Chapman talks about life before, during, and after his years with the seminal British TV comedy troupe, including a painful stint with the Dangerous Sports Club, an extreme sports outfit (before that term was even invented) that brought bungee-jumping into the public eye (and certainly right into Chapman’s). Chapman also discusses his battles with alcoholism, his close friendship with The Who drummer Keith Moon, and the inevitable censorship battles that have followed his brand of outrageously silly humor.

Review: I was surprised to see this CD appear so long after Chapman’s death (in 1989, just one day short of Monty Python’s 20th anniversary) – one would have thought that interest had long since waned, and it almost begs one to ask “Why now?” The answer is simply because the man’s humor is still relevant – and still quite silly, thank you. For those of us who didn’t get to take in Chapman’s college lecture tour in the ’80s, this is the next best thing. (There’s also a DVD available, of which more in a moment.) Those accustomed to Chapman’s outrageously iconic Python characters may be surprised to find that the man himself, while still quite silly, can be surprisingly circumspect. Continue reading

The Short Victorious War

The Short Victorious War (new cover)The Short Victorious War (original cover)Order this bookStory: Having recovered from the serious injures she sustained in the battle to protect Grayson, Captain Honor Harrington is assigned to her new command – the battlecruiser Nike, fresh out of Manticore’s shipyards and ready to take its place at the head of the fleet. Nike’s shakedown cruise is a little bumpy, however, delaying the ship’s participation in fleet wargames near the remote Hancock Station outpost – and giving Honor time to become friendly with Captain Paul Tankersley, overseeing Nike’s repairs at Hancock. But the wargames are in danger of becoming the real thing as the signs begin to point toward a sudden escalation in aggressive territorial moves from Manticore’s enemy, the People’s Republic of Haven. Eager to quell civil unrest within its own empire, the Havenite military plans a bold strategy to start a war with Manticore – intending all along to make it look like Manticore is the attacker.

Review: Whereas the first two books in the Honor Harrington series are more or less self-contained, with the universe’s backstory and a few tendrils connecting them, “The Short Victorious War” is clearly setting us up for big stuff down the road, while also giving the reader more than enough action to stay awake for. But this book shakes things up where storytelling in the Honorverse is concerned in other ways. Continue reading

You’re Him, Aren’t You?

You're Him, Aren't You?Order this bookStory: Actor Paul Darrow, best known to SF fans for his four-year stint as the amoral Kerr Avon from the BBC’s Blake”s 7, discusses his childhood, his early decision to become an actor, how his stage name came about (he reasons that “Paul Birkby” isn’t a name that would’ve kept him working), the many twists and turns of his career both before and after Blake’s 7, and of course, knowing who’s likely to be reading, spends quite a bit of time on his most famous role, deconstructing the character and even offering an episode-by-episode breakdown of his own analysis of the stories and his memories of making them.

Review: If there’s anything I’ve gleaned from listening to and watching some fairly recent interviews with Paul Darrow, it is that this guy who is remembered as one of British television’s quintessential badasses of the 1970s and 80s is, naturally, a soft-spoken gentleman with both a great deal of pride in his career, and a great sense of self-effacing humor. These traits are even more to the fore when Darrow puts his own story on paper. He comes across as one of the most pragmatic of actors – he freely admits that he’s taken some roles to set his bank overdraft right (!), and has put everything on hold for other roles (including Avon). Amusingly enough, much of “You’re Him, Aren’t You?” is a glorious exercise in name-dropping, with Darrow telling stories of his experiences with such luminaries as John Hurt, Ian McShane, Patrick McGoohan, and every Doctor Who except William Hartnell and Christopher Eccleston. Darrow admits that he wouldn’t mind piloting the TARDIS himself (Russell T. Davies, please take note, as I’d love to see Paul in a guest-starring role on the new show), and even has a fairly reasonable theory about the longevity of Doctor Who vs. Blake’s seemingly frozen-in-amber-and-never-to-be-continued state. Continue reading

The Actor Speaks: Paul Darrow

The Actor Speaks: Paul DarrowOrder this bookStory: Best known as the gravelly voice, stony face and acid wit of unscrupulous genius Kerr Avon from the cult favorite BBC SF series Blake’s 7, Paul Darrow talks about his career – both Blake-centric and otherwise – as well as reaching the age of 60, playing the role of Elvis Presley on stage, and performs several short dramatic scenes written especially for this presentation.

Review: Though it might seem, on the surface, to be a slightly silly idea to combine listener-submitted Q&A sessions with dramatic readings, this fourth entry in MJTV Productions’ The Actor Speaks CD series really, upon further reflection, gives you what you’d get from a really good convention appearance – except you can have that experience in your headphones rather than in a crowded convention center. As usual, Darrow is engaging and gracious when faced with the usual barrage of Blake’s 7-related questions, even though some of them have been asked before. (To give credit to the show’s producer and presenter, Mark Thompson, there did at least seem to be enough foresight to realize that the fans who would be this product’s target audience would be well-acquainted with the most frequently asked questions, so the Q&A material tends to venture further afield, or at least presents familiar questions with a twist.) As usual, Darrow demonstrates that he’s put an awful lot of thought into what made Avon tick – and what could continue to make him tick in any continuations of the story. Continue reading

Powers: Roleplay

Powers: RoleplayOrder this bookStory: A group of college students impersonate Powers in a live action role playing game, breaking the laws that prohibit non-Powers from wearing costumes. When several of them are murdered, Walker and Pilgrim get the case. The trail leads to a long inactive former associate of suspected criminal Johnny Stompinato. The detectives’ efforts to enlist Stompinato’s cooperation go seriously awry, threatening the investigation and Pilgrim’s career.

Review: The second Powers collection is an interesting follow-up to Who Killed Retro Girl? The aftereffects of that story still clearly linger over the entire city, and the roleplaying imitators open up an interesting perspective on how regular humans make sense of a world with superhuman beings floating around. One of my favorite exchanges in the series actually covers that topic and takes place in this story, as Walker and Pilgrim banter about the nature of time and subjective sensory perception. But Bendis makes it a lot more entertaining than that last sentence might suggest. Continue reading

Feel This Audiobook

Feel This AudiobookOrder this bookStory: Comedians Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo dispense relationship advice both plentiful and disturbing, using the rather unfortunate model of their own failed celebrity romance as the basis of their words of wisdom. Stiller later goes off on tangents involving new-age affirmations and an attempt to discover himself on a cross-country trip. Garofalo takes well-earned potshots at the Hollywood concept of what makes people attractive.

Review: Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo’s vocalization of their own Feel This Book self-help spoof does a rare thing – it exceeds the potential and enjoyment of the original medium when performed vocally. Continue reading

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?

Powers: Who Killed Retro Girl?Order this bookStory: Homicide detective Christian Walker specializes in cases involving the superpowered individuals that operate in the city. His new partner, Deena Pilgrim, is eager to work with Walker – and just as eager to learn what secrets he may be hiding. As the two get to know each other, they must solve the murder of one of the city’s most popular heroes amidst growing media scrutiny and take care of a child Walker rescued from a hostage situation.

Review: This is a book that clicks on all cylinders, with excellent dialogue, evocative art and crisp plotting. The story opens with homicide Detective Christian Walker being called into a hostage negotiation – the guy holding the hostage has powers, and he asked for Walker specifically. The pacing and dialogue in this opening scene are excellent. The build-up of tension is great, Walker really shines as a tough cop who can nonetheless empathize with a guy who’s so at the end of his rope that he’s ready to do something desperate and foolish, and the little asides between the cops have a world-weary wit about them. Continue reading