BanacekOrder this bookStory: Freelance insurance investigator (a “ten percenter”) Thomas Banacek tackles one of his most intriguing cases, as a high-profile professional football player disappears from under a tackle pile-up in front of a sell-out crowd and millions of television viewers.

Review: Banacek was a part of NBC’s popular “Mystery Movie” series that followed in the footsteps of Columbo and the other series that pioneered the genre. It proved to be quite popular and lasted two seasons, only being cancelled when star George Peppard decided to back out rather than earn more money that would count towards his then-impending divorce from actress Elizabeth Ashley. While never reaching the success level of Columbo (due to its short lifespan), Banacek nonetheless is a well-remembered series, but one that totally escaped my notice until a DVD release was announced in 2007. So when a copy of the series’ only novel, “Banacek” turned up at a local thrift store, I was intrigued enough to pick it up. […]

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Avatar: Book Two

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Avatar: Book OneOrder this bookStory: The discovery of an ancient prophecy about 10,000 deaths before the birth of the Avatar – the son of the Emissary – worries Kira and Ro. When Vedek Yevir is summoned to investigate the ancient book, he instantly denounces it as the writings of a Bajoran heretic cult that turned away from the teachings of the prophets. But Kira isn’t so sure – all of the prophecies thus far have come true. She doesn’t have time to worry about it, however, when a new crisis arrives – the Jem’Hadar soldier who claims to have come to DS9 under orders from Odo breaks out and goes on a killing spree, making his way toward the station’s reactor core to overload it. Commander Vaughn, having just arrived aboard the recently-docked Enterprise-E, helps Kira to prevent the station’s destruction, but the two only survive with the help of another Jem’Hadar who claims to be on the same mission. A Starfleet attack force masses in anticipation of a new Dominion War, unless the new Jem’Hadar arrival can prove what he says to be true – and Kira unleashes chaos on Bajor by revealing the forbidden prophecies to the general population…only to discover that the prophecy of 10,000 sacrifices has already come to pass.

Review: I was sharply critical of the first volume of the two-book “Avatar” because it seemed like it was all setup. Book two is all payoff, and it really does redeem the story as a whole. Maybe this is a better relaunch for Deep Space Nine than I was really capable of giving it credit for after reading only the first book. […]

Doctor Who: Made Of Steel

Doctor Who: Made Of SteelOrder this bookStory: Martha’s journeys with the Doctor are exciting, but she wants to drop in and check on her friends at the hospital where she worked before stepping into the TARDIS. When the Doctor and Martha arrive, they find they’re not the only otherworldly visitors around – Cybermen appear out of thin air and attempt to kidnap them, but the attempt fails. But the Army also wants to talk to the Doctor – Cybermen have been on the move, stealing electronic gear from retail stores and military supply depots alike. The Doctor realizes that these are Cybermen that must have been constructed from local material during the invasion of Canary Wharf, so, untouched by “voidstuff,” they wouldn’t have been sucked back into the Void. When Martha is abducted by the Cybermen, the Doctor – with military backup – goes on the offensive.

Review: There’s something about a Doctor Who story written by Terrance Dicks that fits like a comfortable old shoe. As the script editor of the series during the Pertwee years, Dicks had the unique opportunity to become the chief writer – by default – of the Doctor Who novelizations in the 1980s, writing prose versions of dozens of the TV stories that didn’t have much more of a page count than this. So in that respect, “Made Of Steel” is back to Target Books basics. […]

The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. Bach

The Definitive Biography of P. D. Q. BachOrder this bookStory: Professor Peter Schickele charts the life and career of P. D. Q. Bach, the twenty-first of famed composer Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty children. Professor Schickele covers the three main phases of P. D. Q.’s musical output: the Initial Plunge, the Soused period and, finally, Contrition. He also delves into the legacy of P. D. Q. Bach, those he has influenced (or at least prevented from making the same mistakes) and a history of the rediscovery of the works of this justly underappreciated artist.

Review: The guys of Spinal Tap ain’t got nothin’ on Peter Schickele. In the late 1960’s, Schickele began performing the “lost” works of little-known composer P. D. Q. Bach, described by Schickele as the “oddest of Johann Sebastian Bach’s twenty-odd children.” He even adopted a fictional version of himself, Professor Peter Schickele, to differentiate when he is working in the real world from when he is working in P. D. Q.’s. In the years since, he has built up an enormous life story for P. D. Q., which was first set down as a single biography in this book. Also similar to the later Spinal Tap, Schickele portrays P. D. Q. himself, although given the character’s position in history, only through portraits. Schickele is an accomplished musician and composer, having written many award-winning pieces and even several movie scores (including genre work, such as the film Silent Running). All of this is evident in the text of “The Definitive Biography”, a book that any fan of music, classical or otherwise, should read. […]

Star Trek: Voyager – Homecoming

Star Trek: Voyager - HomecomingOrder this bookStory: After Voyager’s spectacular return to the Alpha Quadrant, Captain Janeway and her crew have mere days en route to Earth to readjust to life as they once knew it. Amid subdued ceremonies at Starfleet HQ, Janeway is promoted to Admiral, and several of her officers – including Tuvok, Tom Paris, B’elanna Torres and Harry Kim – receive promotions as well. The standing charges against the Maquis crewmembers are dropped and each is offered an opportunity to resume their Starfleet careers at their previous ranks (an offer Chakotay prefers to sleep on). The heavily modified Voyager is immediately impounded by Starfleet Command so that its unusual technology can be studied. The holographic doctor is annoyed to find that virtually no one pays him any attention in this new environment, while Seven of Nine is just as annoyed to find herself at the center of attention. Voyager’s crew scatters to new lives and new assignments, but when a fanatical hologram rights activist launches a full-scale revolution – inspired by the doctor’s holonovel – and several incidents of spontaneous Borg assimilation befall unsuspecting victims, Starfleet brings Voyager’s crew together again…to arrest and detain them on unspecified charges.

Review: I think I’ve stated, more than once, a faint annoyance with most “licensed property” fiction. With the “reboot” of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Pocket Books had a chance to get daring, and a few years later, Pocket got the chance to do it again with the now-decommissioned Star Trek: Voyager. And this time, they got it right – “Homecoming” is not just an inventive way to continue Voyager’s story past the television series’ irritatingly lame finale, but the book also does one Mr. Roddenberry proud by using its 24th century setting to address serious issues that were just beginning to make themselves known in the post-9/11 21st century. […]

To The Stars

To The StarsOrder this bookStory: Engineer Tenth Class Alan Corday has a dream of settling down with the woman he loves, but knows he’ll have to put in at least a trip to Mars to save up for the big day. When he goes looking for a ship that needs an engineer, he is seized by Captain Jocelyn of the Hound Of Heaven, a ship making the Long Passage – near-light-speed journeys to nearby stars to bring back riches and other valuable resources. But the Long Passage exacts a heavy price on its crew: due to the effects of time dilation, the Earth to which they return will never be anything like the Earth they last saw. Corday rails against his captive tour of duty and even becomes briefly involved in a mutiny attempt, but when the Hound Of Heaven returns to Earth, Corday seeks out his lost love – and what he finds drives him back to the stars again.

Review: This has to be one of the more interesting books that has been sent to me out of the blue by a publisher. Originally published in serialized form in 1950, “To The Stars” is an interesting take on the theory of time dilation; essentially, the theory is that travelers leaving Earth and going to the stars at velocities near light speed would age normally, but upon their return would find that many more years had passed on Earth. Still in his pulp SF heyday (and many years prior to the non-fiction and self-help books that earned him a somewhat more controversial reputation), L. Ron Hubbard tried to use “To The Stars” to use that already disquieting theory – actually, Hubbard was among the very first SF authors to address time dilation as a story element – as a backdrop for a more human story without jettisoning the science that drove it. […]

The Stand

The StandOrder this bookStory: A horrible plague, dubbed the “superflu,” has been released from a lab in California. As approximately 90+ percent of the population dies of the disease, something much more sinister is beginning to happen. Survivors are being drawn to Boulder by the vision of “what has to be the oldest woman in America” or to Las Vegas by the vision of “The Walkin’ Dude.” When both communities are re-established, the showdown between good and evil must begin.

Review: The term “epic novel” truly applies in this situation. At over 1100 pages, it is a gargantuan book, especially by paperback standards. I first read what was to become known as the “edited” version of “The Stand” way back in the late 1970s. I was instantly engrossed and immediately became what King aficionados call a “Constant Reader”. I have read this novel at least once every year since then. […]

My Soul To Keep

My Soul To KeepOrder this bookStory: Jessica is an investigative reporter for a Miami newspaper, her husband David is a jazz and languages scholar and university professor. Their lives are filled with happiness and love – for their beautiful home, for her mother and sister, and for their 5-year-old daughter. Then Jessica accidentally uncovers evidence that makes her suspect David is not exactly what he seems. He has a secret that, if revealed, will put his wife and daughter in mortal danger.

Review: In my quest to expand my knowledge of African-American storytelling, I found a revelation – a black female author who writes horror stories! I was reading through the book section of the CNN website one day and came across an article about a young woman who was chosen to finish up Alex Haley’s book about Madame C. J. Walker. Intrigued by the praise Ms. Due was receiving for her work on that novel (“The Black Rose”), I decided tolook at more of what she’d written. I was utterly thrilled to find that she has written several horror novels, so I added this one to my wish list – and Santa came through. […]

Lucky Wander Boy

Lucky Wander BoyOrder this bookStory: Listless Adam Pennyman has been drifting through a variety of creative jobs since college, working for independent movie studios and dot coms, and usually getting fired when his bluff is called on his invented qualifications for these gigs. In his spare time, Adam begins toiling on a true labor of love, the Catalogue Of Obsolete Amusements, a comprehensive list of arcade and home video games which usually dwell on his own philosophical interpretations of each game’s meaning. When the time comes to deconstruct his all-time favorite, however, Adam is at a loss – Lucky Wander Boy hasn’t been, and can’t be, played on an emulator, and it’s never been made available for any of the modern machines. A chance encounter with an old high school buddy lands him a new job at a Hollywood development entity precariously balanced between on-again, off-again movie deals and a series of sometimes questionable web ventures, and it just so happens that this studio holds the film rights to Lucky Wander Boy. Now, not only does Adam think he may have a chance to rediscover the object of his youthful fascination, but he may be able to bring it to the big screen in a unique vision and meet the game’s enigmatic creator. And all he has to do is break every rule and endanger every relationship in his life to do it.

Review: An interesting debut novel by D.B. Weiss, “Lucky Wander Boy” made me break out in a cold sweat a few times just from the familiarity factor alone. Why I’d find myself relating to a guy who spends large amounts of his free time compiling an exhaustive compendium of video games he used to play as a kid, I have no idea. Some of the scenes involving a small scale retrogaming get-together, and the descriptions of Pennyman’s moment of epiphany when introduced to emulation and his journey into the dark heart of eBay to reacquire the real hardware, rang of authenticity. But does all of this tell a story? […]

Jennifer Government

Jennifer GovernmentOrder this bookStory: The future: capitalism has spread like wildfire throughout the world. Or is it more like a virus? Schools are owned by corporations, and corporations own everyone – to the point where there are no longer family surnames, but surnames identifying one’s allegiance to an employer or school sponsor. Hack Nike is offered a chance to enter the hallowed realm of marketing in his company when a senior executive, John Nike, contracts him to murder anyone buying the company’s new shoes at a store in Melbourne, Australia, U.S.A. Hack is nervous about the job – and with good reason, since he signed the contract before reading it. He most now kill or be killed, and all to increase the buzz around Nike’s new shoes. When the hit goes down horribly wrong – 14 teenagers are killed – Agent Jennifer Government takes the case personally. Because she too has a young daughter. Because she has a strong sense of justice, even in the face of a Government that doesn’t prosecute crimes unless a victim’s family personally funds the investigation. And perhaps because she has a bone to pick with someone working at Nike – someone who she may overstep the bounds of her authority to get.

Review: Max Barry’s second novel is billed on the cover as “‘Catch-22’ by way of The Matrix” (that splashy thumbnail description apparently lifted from the Kirkus Reviews). Actually, that sounds more like the kind of omnipresent marketing hype that “Jennifer Government” is supposedly making fun of. Isn’t that ironic (don’tcha think)? […]