Sunday, October 12, 2014

Doctor Who Time Trips: A Handful of Stardust

Author:  Jake Arnott

First Publication:  2014

Source:  NetGalley

Summary:  The TARDIS is diverted to England in 1572, and the Sixth Doctor and Peri meet John Dee – ‘mathematician, astrologer, alchemist, magician, and the greatest mind of our time’. (‘Only of your time?’, the Doctor asks, unimpressed.) But what brought them here? When the Doctor discovers that Dee and his assistant have come across a ‘great disturbance in the cosmos, in the constellation of Cassiopeia,’ he realizes that they are all in terrible danger.

Jake Arnott is best known for his crime novels.  Based on what I could see this is his first time writing science fiction or Doctor Who.  Arnott does a good job with this short story.  He does an excellent job of capturing the feel of a very good Sixth Doctor episode.  The dialogue and characterization was spot on.  I especially like the way Arnott incorporates the various morality discussions concerning imperialism and colonization.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Peril on the Screen: "Listen"

Doctor Who

Season 8

Episode 4

Story No. 245


Written by Steven Moffat

Watched as part of “the Peril of the Screen” for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

From Carl’s R.I.P. post:  Stories can make us look back over our shoulders and question every creak and groan on a dark, quiet night. Stories can cause our hearts to race with ever-increasing tension as we forgo sleep to rush towards a surprising conclusion. Stories can make us suspicious of every character as we challenge the protagonist to be the first to solve the crime. Stories can make us sleep with the lights on, make us pull the covers just a little bit tighter, and can make every shadow seem menacing.

This is a perfect summary of the Doctor’s story in this episode.  He theorizes that we have constant companions that are always just out of our sight.  When the hair stands up on the back of your neck?  It’s them.  The sounds you hear when the lights go out?  It’s them.  When you are sure you put a cup on the end table but find it somewhere else?  They did it.  He drags Clara along on a journey from a children’s home, to the end of the universe, to a barn to try and solve the riddle of our invisible companions.  And the scene in the barn is a surprise that caught me off guard.

If I had to compare this episode to another, I would say it is similar in mood and atmosphere to the classic “Blink”.  The main differences being this one focuses more on the Doctor and the twist ending takes this one in a different direction.

The parallel story being told features another form of scary story.  The first date where everything goes wrong.  Clara finally goes out with her co-worker Danny and every comment is the wrong thing to say. But that is a different kind of horror story.

Another excellent episode in what is shaping up to be a great season.

A New Doctor in the House

I was concerned with Matt Smith leaving Doctor Who.  His energy and interactions with the various companions (Amy and Rory then Clara) swept me up and made me a fan of his incarnation of the Doctor.  It was obvious that there was an attraction between the Doctor and Clara.  With Peter Capaldi taking over, it was announced that those days were gone.  Let’s take a look at the first three episodes of the new season and see how the show is doing.

Using one of River Song’s favorite phrases…SPOILERS

Episode 1 (or overall story #242):  “Deep Breath” by Steven Moffat. 
Some have complained about the fantasy element Moffat has used in this series but I do not have a problem with it.  In my mind when you are dealing with a main character that is this old some of the adventures would seem more like fantasy.  I always think of the show as more of a science fantasy than a straight science fiction series.  “Deep Breath” started out as a somewhat disjointed, confusing episode to reflect the Doctor’s state of mind.  He has just regenerated and is still recovering.  Moffat made a good choice of giving us some popular familiar characters to help Clara this time around.  Clara also suffers confusion trying to deal with the loss of the man she was in love with.  Capaldi turned in an excellent performance in his first full episode.  I liked the mix of confusion, humor, and the parts that show this is a darker Doctor.  Among my favorite segments are the return of the Paternoster Gang, the Doctor (and others) confusion concerning Clara, the link between the androids and an earlier episode, the hints of a “promised land” and the surprise guest appearance near the end who convinces Clara that the Doctor needs her more than ever.

Episode 2 (Story #243):  “Into the Dalek” by Phil Ford & Steven Moffat.
Another example of the new “dark” Doctor.  His treatment of the soldiers on the military station in space was something we did not see from the previous doctors.  I liked the idea of a damaged Dalek, nicknamed Rusty by the Doctor, becoming good.  Things go terribly wrong when the Doctor tries to fix him.  One of the high points of the series is when Rusty calls the Doctor “a good Dalek”.  Calpaldi nails the expression and makes the viewer feel his pain.  Once again we see a short scene tying into the “promised land” subplot from episode one.  Danny Pink is introduced as a co-worker/love interest for Clara.  Based on the Doctor’s treatment of the soldiers on the station, it should be interesting when he meets Danny.  One of the other things that impressed me with “Into the Dalek” was the way it was the thematic  connection between this episode and Clara’s first appearance.  In that episode, the Doctor tries to rescue a woman who is trapped on a Dalek station.  It turns out that she is a damaged Dalek who thinks she is a human woman.  In this one the Doctor and Clara physically journey into the mind of a damaged Dalek in an effort to help it.  I will be curious if this is connected to Moffat’s arc for Clara.

Episode 3 (Story #244):  “Robot of Sherwood” by Mark Gatiss.
Following a very dark episode is one that is more in line with the previous two Doctors.  “Robot of Sherwood” is a fun romp that starts when Clara wants to go back in time and meet Robin Hood.  The Doctor argues with her that he is a myth.  He takes her back to prove it to her and the first person they meet is Robin Hood.  An epic sword fight occurs between Robin and the Doctor.  The twist is that the Doctor uses a spoon instead of a sword.  The conflict between the Doctor and Robin had me cracking up.  It was a fun break from the darkness.

I am enjoying the Peter Capaldi Doctor.  It is interesting watching as the Doctor and Clara figure out what their relationship is.  Steven Moffat has shown, once again, why he is one of my favorite creators for this series.

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

Fall is my personal favorite season of the year.  In our area we celebrate with a Fall Foliage Festival the first two weekends in October.  The mountains are filled with various colored leaves on the trees.  The ones I like most are the red and orange leaves.  The thing I enjoy most about the festival is the food.  Apple cider made on the spot, home-made apple dumplings, maple syrup, funnel cakes, and other local favorites make me hungry just by thinking about them.

Local high school football is back in action with the start of the new school year.  In small rural Pennsylvania towns this is almost like a community event on the night of home games.  People you don’t see very often during the rest of the year regularly show up for the games.  And it is a generational sport.  Many of the players are the children of people I went to school with.  It gives our town a reason to come together and enjoy spending time at a social event.

The other big event of the fall is Carl (of Stainless Steel Droppings fame)’s annual hosting of the R.I.P. challenges from September 1 through October 31!  Congratulations for hosting this for the ninth year in a row.  What is the challenge?  A reading and viewing event for all things that fall in the following categories:  mystery, suspense, thrillers, dark fantasy, gothic tales, horror, supernatural or others with the same moody atmosphere. 

This year I am planning on participating in the following Perils:

Peril the Second:  read two books

Peril of the Short Story:  I am thinking about reading one of Isaac Asimov’s “Black Widowers” collections.

Peril of the Screen:  I am starting with an episode of Doctor Who with other shows to follow.

I also plan on reviewing some graphic novels/collections that fit the guidelines.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living

Author:  Paul Collins

Publisher:  New Harvest

First Publication:  August 20, 2014

As it is approaching the fall time of the year, I thought it would be interesting to read about the life of Edgar Allan Poe.  Unfortunately “The Fear of Living” missed the mark for me.  It was interesting to read about some of the incidents of Poe’s life.  I was looking for more poetic writing but thought this book was a little “dry”.  I have no reason to question the facts presented here but will look for another book that does a better job of  drawing you into the life of Edgar Allan Poe.

Friday, August 29, 2014


Author:  Karl Schroeder

First Publication:  2014

Source:  Amazon

Publisher:  Tor

Cover:  Victor Mosquerra

Karl Schroeder is an author I always thought of trying but never got around to it.  When I saw “Jubilee” was available I thought it would be a perfect time to try his work.  It is a far future version of “Romeo and Juliet”.  The other thing is that it belongs to the same universe as his recent “Lockstep” novel.  Schroeder chooses to tell the story from one of the planet’s natives who is supporting the main story.  If this is typical Schroeder, I have another author to add to my must read list.  He seamlessly works in classic style science fiction ideas with a modern storytelling style. 

Based on this story, I have to read “Lockstep” in the near future.  

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

World Without Stars

Author:  Poul Anderson

First Publication:  1967

Source:  News stand

Publisher:  Ace Books

Serial:  Analog June & July 1966

Cover 1:  Michael Whelan

Cover 2:  Kelly Freas

Cover 3:  Chesley Bonestell

Way back in the days I bought books off a spinner rack at a newsstand, one series of books seemed to jump off the racks at me.  They were the reissues of Poul Anderson’s novels with new covers by Michael Whelan.  Whelan has created many classic covers but one of my favorites was always his one for this cover.  To this day I still can spend time staring at it.

A bonus, in addition to the cover, was the fiction of Poul Anderson.  I had previously read one of his Dominic Flandry novels in the final issues of “Worlds of IF”.  That was “A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows”.  It led me to search out other books he wrote.

“World Without Stars” has many classic elements.  Travel to an alien world, trying to establish trade relations, alien contact, and a traveler who is separated from the woman he loves.  That relationship is what ties the book together.

At this short length, I would recommend reading this Anderson classic.