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Eaters Of The Dead

(reprinted under the title The Thirteenth Warrior)

Eaters Of The DeadOrder this bookStory: A fictionalized account taken from the manuscript of an Arabic ambassador to the court of the Caliph of Baghdad. Ahmad Ibn Fadlan was sent north as the ambassador to the King of the Bulgars but was diverted along the way. His account of his exploits with the Norsemen he encountered was published, lost, and then found again centuries later. Crichton’s retelling was eventually made into the film The Thirteenth Warrior.

Review: Crichton begins by explaining in excruciating detail about how and where he found this story, as well as his reasoning behind retelling it. He seems to have put a great deal of effort into researching the book, which always wins an author extra points with me. I enjoyed the film version, especially Antonio Banderas’ portrayal of Ibn Fadlan, but as usual the book is better. Continue reading

Carter Beats The Devil

Carter Beats The DevilOrder this bookStory: Carter the Great is showcasing his latest and greatest illusions, including the most complex of the show, “Carter Beats the Devil”. President Warren G. Harding is on a tour of America and attends Carter’s show – but is dead the next morning. Is Carter responsible for his death? And just who is Charles Carter anyway?

Review: This book is a complex mix of history and fiction, mostly fiction. Charles Carter really did exist, plying his trade from the vaudeville stage to the Orpheum shows to grand exhibitions of magic, rivaling magicians as famous as Harry Houdini. Glen David Gold takes historical fact and seamlessly blends it with fictional fancy that results in an excellent read. Continue reading

Cabal

Book titleOrder this bookStory: Boone believes he is responsible for several horrific deaths; at least, that’s what his psychiatrist says. But after he’s killed at a small Canadian cemetery in a confrontation with the police, he learns much more about his own nature and that of the Nightbreed of Midian.

Review: I was lucky enough to find the hardcover version of this book in some discount bin somewhere, and smart enough to purchase it. Barker made a film from this novella called Nightbreed. The film version was quite graphic, but the impact wasn’t nearly as strong as the book’s. Barker can flesh out characters like no other horror author, except perhaps Stephen King. It’s no wonder Steve professes to enjoy Clive Barker’s books over any other horror author’s. I found myself rooting for Boone even though I thought he was a mass murderer, and especially during his encounter with the nightbreed. The woman he loves, Lori, acts somewhat like the reader – always confused by Boone’s activities but sticking with him until the story comes to its amazing conclusion. When the story moves into the supernatural, one finds oneself drawn into a world fully imagined and matured by an author with a truly macabre point of view. Continue reading

Babylon 5: The Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski

Season One (Vol. 1 & 2)

Babylon 5: The Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski: Season One (Vol. 2)Babylon 5: The Scripts of J. Michael Straczynski: Season One (Vol. 1)Order this bookStory: Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski republishes the scripts from the episodes he wrote; in addition to the shooting scripts, Straczynski provides a brand new introduction discussing each episode and the series in general. Photos and memos are also included to provide a look at the show’s development.

Review: These two books are part of a planned 14-book series of script collections that Straczynski and his partners are publishing through CafePress. They include only the scripts that Straczynski himself wrote, which he has the rights to republish due to Writers Guild rules. It’s a pretty simple presentation, right down to the bare-bones cover, but the books hold together well, the typesetting’s legible, and the copy-editing is better than on some of the academic books I’ve read recently, so I have nothing against the do-it-yourself approach. The scripts themselves are the heart of the books, and if you don’t already know if you like the episodes in question, this book is not for you. (I did, so I guess it is.) 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

Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom

Down And Out In The Magic KingdomOrder this bookStory: It’s the future, and the human race has given up the habit of dying, or, for that matter, the habit of killing over resources. Everything is plentiful because much of the human experience has shifted into the virtual realm; after death, people can be restored from their most recent backup brain-dump, their copied consciousness injected into a rapidly grown clone body. Money is a historical curiosity, replaced by “Whuffie,” a constantly-updated “feedback rating” given by others to reflect on one’s deeds and words. Julius, a resident of Disney’s Magic Kingdom (whose rides and attractions have each been taken up by “ad hoc” organizations who live or die by the popularity and collective Whuffie of their attraction), works on the Haunted Mansion and Hall of Presidents displays with his girlfriend Lil, who carries some weight in the “ad-hocracy.” When Julius’ old friend, an unconventional, somewhat rebellious sort named Dan, turns up with no Whuffie and talking about suicide – an unheard-of act in a world where people routinely “deadhead” until events are interesting enough for them to come out of cryogenic sleep – he insists than Dan move in with he and Lil and take a job at the Magic Kingdom to build up his Whuffie again. When Julius is murdered, however – also a very rare event – he is rebooted into a new clone body from his most recent backup, and his life and relationships begin to unravel as he obsesses over who killed him.

Review: Quite the heady futurist trip, “Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom” is very much a story of the Now. With Whuffie serving as a kind of eBay feedback rating of the soul, and a so-called meritocracy still boiling down to little more than a popularity contest, “Down And Out” takes plenty of “social networking” internet concepts and applies them to the bigger picture to show how these things might work – or might not. At times, it all almost feels like life-by-way-of-an-internet-message-board, with all of the attendant petty disagreements, blatant dramatic cries for attention or pity, back-biting and bitchiness. Continue reading

Empire

EmpireOrder this bookStory: What happens when a would-be world conqueror actually succeeds? An armored military genius named Golgoth is about to find out, as only a small corner of the globe sits outside of his empire. That empire is far from peaceful; not only is a rebellion brewing, but Golgoth’s own inner circle is far from trustworthy. Golgoth keeps their ambitions in check through his control of Eucharist, a highly addictive drug. The source of Eucharist is a closely guarded secret, but Golgoth has surrounded himself with men and women who will go to any length to achieve their ends . . . how long can the secrets last?

Review: “Empire” was originally meant to be an ongoing series from the late and lamented Gorilla Comics imprint. Gorilla shut down after only two issues were printed – and if you can ever get Mark Waid to tell you that story at a convention, go for it – but DC stepped in to finish off the first arc as a miniseries. This book definitely concludes with the feeling that there is more to the story, and sadly Waid and Kitson have not gotten around to telling it yet. Continue reading

Star Trek: Mission To Horatius

Star Trek: Mission To HoratiusOrder this bookStory: The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is growing restless after months without shore leave. Unfortunately, a distress signal has been sent to Star Fleet from the Horatius system and Captain James T. Kirk and the Enterprise are given the mission to find out which of the distant planets of the system has sent the message and help if they can. When they arrive at the system in question they find three planets colonized by humans, all in various stages of stunted development. Travelling to each one by one, the crew of the Enterprise try to determine who is the victim and who is the aggressor.

Review: “Mission To Horatius” has the distinction of being the first original Star Trek novel, published two years before James Blish’s “Spock Must Die”. It is also the only one published during the show’s original run. Reflecting the view of the day that Science Fiction was meant for children, “Mission To Horatius” was printed in a hardcover format similar to the “Hardy Boys” and “Nancy Drew” novels (and proudly boasts of being an “Authorized TV Adventure” on the spine). Continue reading

Superman Archives – Volume 1

Superman Archives - Volume 1Order this bookStory: Rocketed from a doomed planet as a child, Clark Kent grows up to find that he is endowed with super-human abilities. He takes a job as a reporter at a great metropolitan newspaper and fights for the good of all under the name of…Superman!

Review: When DC Comics decided to start producing a series of high-quality, hardcover reprints of their classic comics, they naturally began with Superman. But instead of beginning with Action Comics #1, they began, instead, with the first four issues of Superman’s eponymous title. This was natural enough, as Superman shared Action with several other series, while Superman was for the Man of Steel alone. Since the early issues of Superman mainly reprinted (and sometimes expanded) the stories from Action anyway, the decision makes even more sense. 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