Gone Tomorrow — a review

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Gone Tomorrow isn’t the latest Jack Reacher book, but it’s the most recent one that I’ve read. Listed as number thirteen in a series that’s now over twenty books, Gone Tomorrow finds dedicated drifter and ex-military police officer Jack Reacher in New York City, riding the subway after visiting a jazz club. He encounters a strange woman on board the subway, a woman who’s wearing a large winter coat in the middle of a hot and humid summer. Reacher is alarmed, because this woman is showing the warning signs of being a suicide bomber. And so he gets up and goes over to her, to try and talk her out of what she‘s about to do–and that’s when she blows her head off with a gun that she had concealed.

Normally Reacher would just give his account to the local cops and then just depart and that would be that. But this woman’s suicide winds up being the beginning of a twisted and tangled tale involving a candidate running for senator, and a group of mysterious federal agents who are hot on Reacher’s trail. Lee Child delivers another fun, fast-paced thriller that sees Reacher dodging and chasing (sometimes at the same time) villains all around the Big Apple. And his feel for the city is very well done. Child’s description of New York really makes you feel like you’re there. There’s a nice romantic subplot that’s not too overplayed, but when Reacher goes after the villain at the end, it turns into a 1980s action film.

That’s both a good and a bad thing; Gone Tomorrow suffers from the usual action film cliché of the hero never being hit with a bullet while engaged in a massive gunfight with the bad guys. But Child takes the edge off of the silliness by explaining in great detail how Reacher gets the drop on each and every one of the bad guys–all while still suffering a nasty plot twist. Gone Tomorrow is an enjoyable lark. –SF

Lost In Space: The Authorized Biography of a Classic Sci-Fi Series, Volume One — a review

The book's cover

The book’s cover

The 1960s is considered by many to be the pinnacle age for American culture, not the least of which was television. With color TVs making their way into homes across the country, TV shows seemingly exploded with vividly imaginative stories, and perhaps no better example of this was Lost In Space, the science fiction saga of a family marooned among the stars. Created by legendary producer Irwin Allen, LIS remains a thoroughly enjoyable excursion that fired up the imagination within young minds like no other show did, starting with its memorable theme, created by a young John (credited then as Johnny) Williams, who would go on to do the music for Star Wars, among many other films.

Jacobs Brown Press has released a fascinating new book that peeks behind the curtain at the creative process behind Lost In Space. Lost In Space: The Authorized Biography of a Classic Sci-Fi Series, Volume One, is an exhaustive look by author Marc Cushman at the creation of the series, as well as its entire first season (which was shot in black and white). Focusing on Irwin Allen, we follow his career while he’s making Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which was when he initially got the idea for doing an adventure show that was set in space. Originally darker and more somber in tone, the network forced the LIS producers to lighten things up for its kid-friendly time-slot).

Cushman does an extraordinary job at covering not just the creation of the overall series of LIS, showing how the actors were cast, but he also dives into the back story on each and every single episode of the first season as well. Each episode has a synopsis of the story line, as well as a lengthy behind the scenes story of the making of that particular segment.

This attention to detail makes this book a great reference for the first season of Lost In Space (Volume Two will cover the latter two seasons). But even casual fans of Lost In Space will be captivated by the extensive information that’s on display in this hefty volume, which is also loaded with plenty of great rare photos from the series. Whether you’re a rabid Lost In Space fan or enjoy reading about classic TV productions in general, this volume is highly recommended. Bring on volume two. –SF

Personal — a review

This looks pretty personal.

This looks pretty personal.

The French president just barely survives an assassination attempt by a sniper with a high-powered rifle and Jack Reacher is called onto the case. How could this possibly be Reacher’s problem? After all, he’s a retired Military Police Army officer who’s presently drifting his way around the U.S. But after his former commanding officer, General O’Day, manages to contact Reacher, he reveals that one of the top suspects in the attempted assassination of the French President is a man named John Kott.

Reacher arrested Kott years ago back when he was still working in the military police. And Kott, having served his time of fifteen years, is back out in the world and is apparently already up to no good. In addition to trying to kill the French president, the vengeful Kott also has Reacher in his sights, making this adventure very personal.

Lee Child creates another great, rip-roaring adventure for Reacher by changing things up in Personal. This time, instead of bumming around the United States, Reacher is stalking Kott first in Paris and then in and around London. He’s accompanied by Casey Nice, a rookie CIA agent who may or may not be up to this assignment. But while the locales may have changed, Reacher hasn’t; he’s still using his fists–when he doesn’t have a gun–to deal with whatever gets thrown at him. He’s also still buying his clothes off the rack every few days and throwing away the old ones–it’s because of his drifter mentality that Reacher is referred to in the book as ’Sherlock Homeless’.

Personal is still relentlessly exciting, with Reacher and Nice being a very sympathetic pair of characters whom Child makes you care about. The paperback has an extra short story at the end, Not A Drill, as well as a sneak preview at the new Reacher book, Make Me. Recommended. –SF

Restoree — a book review

Baby, you're the greatest!

Baby, you’re the greatest!

I bought this book in a used bookstore that I recently discovered near my home. I got this along with three other books, all for the grand sum of twelve dollars. After buying books mainly on Amazon for the past twelve years, now (and e-books on the Kindle for the last five), I’ve got to say that it’s very nice to find a book after casually browsing a bookstore. You just walk in, not looking for anything specific, until you find yourself looking through the worn out paperbacks on the science fiction and fantasy shelves (which are usually my favorite subjects to peruse) and you come away enjoying a book you’d never consider reading.

One such book was Restoree, which was first published in 1967 by Anne McCaffrey. It deals with a young woman named Sara who’s abducted from her mundane life in New York City by aliens. She awakens on an alien planet named Lothar in a completely different body (although it’s still a human female body) and gets caught up in the political intrigue converging around the Regent, a seemingly slow-witted man named Harlan. Sara discovers that she’s a lowly servant who’s taking care of Harlan–yet as she does her job, two things occur to her: she realizes that Harlan is being kept in a dim-witted mental state thanks to drugs that’s being given to him. The second thing Sara realizes is that she’s fallen in love with Harlan.

McCaffrey, who is better known these days for her Dragonriders of Pern novels, sets up Restoree as a one-shot romantic adventure that’s very dated in many aspects. But while Sara is clearly a pre-women’s lib heroine, she’s still very strong-willed and able to stand up for herself…and winds up doing so admirably on several occasions. Despite the book’s dated SF aspects (it was McCaffrey’s first novel), Sara’s journey through this strange land is still an interesting one, which I very much enjoyed taking. The copy of Restoree that I bought is the second edition, which came out in 1977 with a cover by the Brothers Hildebrant. This book is still available.

Wonder Woman ’77 — a review

Behold, for I am armed with bracelets!

Behold, for I am armed with bracelets!

Back when I was a kid, I was introduced to Wonder Woman via the wonderfully wacky TV series that starred Linda Carter. It was a series that showed Diana Prince, WW’s civilian alter-ego, changing into the Amazon Princess just by spinning around (she would spin in the opposite direction to change back into Diana, which often made me wonder what would happen if she just kept spinning–would she wind up being naked? Yes, I was a real perv as a kid…still am, come to think of it.).

The first season took place in the 1940s, showing Wonder Woman’s campy adventures at fighting the Nazis during the Second World War. But the second and third seasons had the show take place in the swinging seventies (when the series itself was shot).

Behold, I still have bracelets in electronic form!

Behold, I still have bracelets in electronic form!

Well, DC Comics has decided to release Wonder Woman ’77, an e-comic strip based on the 1970s Wonder Woman series, with the title character drawn very closely to the likeness of Linda Carter as possible (did they need to get Carter’s OK to do this?). I read the first chapter on my Kindle Fire.

There’s no origin tale; we meet up with WW in action fighting against a Russian Women’s Rollerball Team as they try to abduct a Russian scientist who defected to the West (???). Steve Trevor shows up, warning WW there’s another defected Russian scientist who’s in danger…oh, and by the way, has she seen where Diana Prince has gone off to?

The horizontal adventures of Wonder Woman continue.

The horizontal adventures of Wonder Woman continue.

This comics series tries to recapture the goofiness of the latter two seasons of the 1970s Wonder Woman TV series. Eventually, their investigation takes them to Studio 54–which, of course, everybody back in the has been to at least once (well, my mother actually went there one time, and she said later that it was wildly overrated).

The problem for me is that when I watched this series as a kid, I preferred the first season, which took place in the exotic 1940s, over the latter two seasons. I thought having Wonder Woman in the (then) modern day made her adventures seem more mundane. Now, I suppose, the 1970s seem to be just as exotic to a young person today as the 1940s did to me then. But like Captain America, Wonder Woman was a character that worked best in a period piece.

But another problem for me is that the e-comic feels very slender. Granted, it’s cheap (just 99 cents), but there’s not much meat on these bones; the story is cut off just when it feels like it’s barely getting started. Another little quirk that irked me is being forced to read this on the Kindle Fire in the horizontal format, only. This reduces the number of panels, which makes the ‘comic’ feel even slimmer. If I want to relive the true glory days of Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman, I’ll just re-watch the first season of WW. –SF

One For The Money — a book review

There's nothing like cuddling up with a big paperback.  Small paperbacks are good, too. So are Kindles. The ebook reader, not the firewood.

There’s nothing like cuddling up with a big paperback. Small paperbacks are good, too. So are Kindles. The ebook reader, not the firewood.

I saw the movie, One For The Money, starring Katherine Heigl, a while ago, and enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t a hit–far from it, the flick’s low box office gross seemingly ended Heigl’s theatrical film career (she’s back on TV with a new series as of this writing). But I liked the movie so much that when I saw the book at a marked down price in the store, I couldn’t resist the urge.

I really enjoyed the novel, which is the first in a series depicting Stephanie Plum, a 30 year old former lingerie buyer for a department store who loses her job. In seeking to keep the bill collectors at bay, Stephanie really gets desperate: she gets a job as a bounty hunter with her cousin Vinnie’s bail bonds business.

As can be expected, Stephanie is in over her head, and the author, Janet Evanovich, does a great job at showing Stephanie muddling through her crash-course training in becoming a bounty hunter–all while keeping her a sympathetic character. Evanovich also handles action sequences very well, but the entire book has a nice, breezy tone that makes you want to stay with it.

Something else the book does very well–and what the film fails miserably at–is capturing the fabled ‘Jersey Attitude’ that the Garden State is known for. I may have been born in New York City, but I was raised in New Jersey, and I recognize this ‘Jersey Attitude’ in Evanovich’s tome, which rings true. One For The Money, the book, effectively conveys the street-wise toughness of Stephanie and her fellow Trenton citizens. Both tough and tender, funny and scary, One For The Money is a great opening book for a series that I wouldn’t mind continuing to read.

Insurgent and Allegiant — a review

There would be more books, but they ran out of words ending in 'gent'.

There would be more books, but they ran out of words ending in ‘gent’.

When I reviewed the first book, Divergent, I wasn’t too impressed with it and didn’t think I would be reading the two sequel novels. But then something interesting happened.

My town got a library! Woot!

Yes, miracles of miracles, in this day and age of people reading e-books and throwing away print books (or so the hype would have you believe), an honest to goodness library actually opened less than two miles from my little house.

When I checked it out, I saw they had Veronica Roth’s Divergent series. And while I didn’t want to shell out anymore cash to read them, I certainly didn’t mind reading the two sequel books, Insurgent and Allegiant, for free. Thanks, library!

The problem I had with the first book, Divergent, was the lack of information about the world outside of Chicago, the closed-in city that our young heroine, Tris, must make her way through. Well, this is finally answered in the sequel novels, especially in the third book, Allegiant.

The story transforms nicely from the usual sappy Young Adult three way romance into a more thoughtful science fiction premise that examines how members of a society are controlled. But the second and third books feel very stretched out, with too many scenes of Tris just moping around, depressed about one problem or another.

I get the feeling that if they just cut out all the soap opera, this would have made for a great one-shot novel. Roth can spin a good story; she’s not afraid to be a daring writer and can create extremely sympathetic characters whom you root for, but there’s the need in the publishing world for the three part trilogy, because it sells more books.

The result of this need for trilogies–which I think is more the fault of the industry overall than the writer–are stories that run too long, that feel padded out with unnecessary scenes. I would normally hope that the film versions would cut the extra fat from the story, but I’ve just heard that the film version of Allegiant, the final book, will be expanded to two films.

Looks like padding out the story isn’t just a problem with the publishing industry….

Barnes & Noble: an unexpected visit

It's no longer in the bag.

It’s no longer in the bag.

I was visiting friends for Easter when I made a wrong turn which led me onto a completely different highway–but no worries, because this different highway still took me to where I needed to go. However, I also noticed something else this highway had: a Barnes & Noble store.

Let me back track a bit and say that when I moved to the wilds of my rural paradise back in 2003, I had never stepped foot in a Barnes & Noble since then. I have none near my home–or at least the drive to the store nearest to me would take the better part of a day (or more).

I have a bookstore nearby, but it’s a second-hand store that sells paperbacks for three bucks ($2.00 if you bring a book in to give them). And for the last five years, I’ve been buying (as well as selling my own) books on the Kindle ebook reader.

So I haven’t been in a Barnes & Noble store in nearly eleven years, not since the days of the 1990s and early 2000s, when I would make a run up to the store to check out the magazines. I bought all of my books at B&N then, and my weekly visits there was one of the things I missed when I moved. There’s nothing like browsing through a good book store.

As you can imagine, I was eager to relive the glory days by walking around a B&N store once more, even though it wasn’t the exact same B&N store where I used to shop.

The first thing I noticed was the massive display for the Nook, the Barnes & Noble ebook reader. The second thing I noticed was that a third of the store was taken up by the DVD/Blu-Ray section. Another large portion of the store was taken up with toys and comic book collectibles. And still another part had coffee mugs and other snack time items that was associated with the cafe.

I’ve read online that B&N was having financial trouble, and this place reflected that depressing news. Instead of being a book store first and foremost, the merchandise layout looked like a desperate attempt to try and appeal to many different interests, while losing what made the store great in the first place.

I felt the urge to buy a book, but ran into a problem. Between the great second-hand bookstore in my area, and the Kindle, I’m pretty much backed up with a number of books to read. And checking the prices of the books that I already have in B&N, I saw that I managed to score them much cheaply than what B&N sells them for.

So I bought two movie magazines (Fangoria and Total Film) and a comic book, the first issue of yet another Aquaman book. I notice that DC keeps trying to update their lame Aquaman character for a new generation…to the sound of crickets. No matter how hard they try, he’s still pretty lame.

It’s sort of the same situation that B&N finds itself in. But unlike Aquaman, B&N isn’t lame, it’s just the victim of changing times. I feel sorry for them. If this store was closer to me, I’d go back every now and then. But, alas….

If nothing else, I finally scratched an old itch.

Divergent: the book review

The weather reports clear skies...except for that big firey eye! Ah! Run!

The weather reports clear skies…except for that big firey eye! Ah! Run!

I saw this on sale at the store (just $6.00! W00T!), so I bought it. I enjoyed the first Hunger Games novel very much and was hoping that this book, another young-adult dystopian novel in the same vein, might be just as good.

In short, nope…not really.

Set in a post-apocalyptic Chicago, on the banks of the great marshlands, which used to be the Great Lakes, Divergent deals with a teenager named Beatrice Prior, who has to chose between five different social factions. These factions were created as a means to more efficently run a new society that arose from the ashes of the old.

What exactly happened to the old world? The author, Ms. Roth, never really explains. Like the Hunger Games, Divergent is told in the first person–but unlike the Hunger Games, we’re not given much details of the overall Divergent world, which is frustrating. The main character, who shortens her name to Tris, comes off being very flat and uninteresting, as she spends the better part of the book pining for a boy.

Yes, I know it’s just a young-adult novel. But so was The Hunger Games, and that book managed to rise above the limitations of the genre. You cared deeply about Katniss Everdeen, because she came across as being a fully realized human being.

But Roth not only makes Tris one-dimensional, she also makes her something of a major league twit. But in order to discuss this, I will have to warn you of Spoilers Ahead.

Spoilers: About halfway into the book, Tris and her boyfriend uncover a plot by one of the social factions to take over control of the city. Once they find this out, they promptly…do nothing.

Yep, that’s right. They just sit on this vital information until the bad guys pull the trigger on their plan. And the result is that hundreds, if not thousands, of people get slaughtered in the streets. This makes the lead characters look very shallow and stupid. End spoilers.

I realize the film has just been released, and despite my misgivings for the book, I’m still actually looking forward to seeing it. The main reason is because it’s directed by Neil Burger, who gave us the superb The Illusionist. We shall see.

But while the first Hunger Games novel made me want to read the two sequels, Divergent’s thin plot and cardboard characters makes me want to skip the remaining two installments. Maybe the movie will be better.