14 February 2017

Books: The Gunslinger: The Dark Tower I by Stephen King (1982/2003)

For a long while I had been tooling with the idea of re-reading some books. But a part of me had thought this a really dumb idea, mostly because I have way too many unread books to really take this on.  There is a thing, an issue only readers can fully understand, is that while I surround myself with books, and continue to buy books, and take books out of the library, I sometimes think that while I bought those books to read, I  just don’t want to read them now. And as a matter of fact, I need to go out and buy some more.

This has escalated to a point where I now have hundreds of unread books sitting next to my bed, my computer, my living room, and in boxes in the garage that I do want to read, but not just right now. But I should be reading those because time is always running short, because I have less days in front of me than behind and I really should never re-read a book because I have so many other books huddled around me like frightened children.

But my mind is dulled by work related issues and my will is loose like a dead leaf blowing in a angry wind and have decided to do this anyways. So I begin with Stephen King’s epic seven-volume Dark Tower series.

While the original book was released in 1982 by Donald M. Grant, a specialty press anchored in New Hampshire, it was, essentially, a compilation of five short stories King wrote between 1978 and 1981 and published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. While King was already super popular by then, the mainstream reader was not aware that the book was released until 1983 when Doubleday published Pet Semetary and included The Gunslinger as one of King’s previous works. Of course, by then, the original limited printed book was long out of print. While Grant did reprint more copies, the book would not get a general release –in Trade Paperback by Plume- until 1988. This was the edition I would first read. 

Of course, the series would continue, first through Grant and then through King’s mass publishers. There came The Drawing of the Three (1987), The Waste Lands (1991), Wizards and Glass (1997), The Wolves of Calla (2003), The Song of Susannah (2004), and The Dark Tower (2004). An eighth novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole, was released in 2012. While not wholly part of the original seven books (and King call it book 4.5) it can be read before The Wolves of Calla or just after the last book. Plus there was a short story prequel that took place just before the events of The Gunslinger called The Little Sisters of Eluria, which originally published in 1998 in a collection called Legends: Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy. In 2002, it was included in King's Everything Eventual, which also featured another story that introduced us to a character that would pop up in later books. But it was a near fatal run in with a van in 1999 that eventually convinced King to really finish his Dark Tower series, which was why the last three came out so rapidly.

Since much of my Stephen Kings books are stored in boxes, I decided to obtain the used versions of the mass market versions of the series, including this 2003 revised version of the first book. While some may quibble that King should leave well enough alone, the reason he felt the book needed to be revised was that by now The Dark Tower novels had become the linchpin that tied together much of King's body of work outside the series. He felt changes were needed to not only make the earlier book more accessible to new readers, but to make the storytelling more linear and consistent with the later book, especially the last one. It also gave him a chance to clear up continuity errors that would introduced in the final books. The changes amounted to 35 new pages. 

I do remember a lot of the book, especially the introduction of John “Jake” Chambers, the boy who “died” in our world, pushed into oncoming traffic by The Man in Black, only to find himself “re-born” in a world that had “moved on.” His horrific death, with the wheels of the car breaking his back, with blood spouting out of his mouth left a deep impression on me. Part of the reason Jake resonated with me was because King, in his writing, did not hesitate to kill kids (‘Salem’s Lot and Pet Semetary come to mind). Up until I became a Constant Reader of his books, most writers avoided killing kids off. Much like in movies and TV then, children were rarely seen dying or being killed, it was considered taboo (though in 1936 Alfred Hitchcock film Sabotage, the legendary director has the camera follow a boy who is carrying a canister with, unbeknown to characters on screen -though the audience knows this- has a bomb implanted in it. The camera follows the boy for several minutes, heightening the tension, before he boards a bus, which eventually blows up killing the child –and which one critic at the time called “brutal and unnecessary.”) 

So King kills off kids, which scared me, yet made sense. While re-reading this, I did notice now the early mention of the Crimson King (called just “the Beast” in the original edition) who’s real first appearance –and first mention- came in King’s 1994 novel Insomnia (the first book outside his Dark Tower series that many noticed really began to connect things). The Crimson King would get fleshed out in 1997’s Wizards and Glass

I still like this book and will always recommend this series, as I find it enjoyable. And being a long-time reader of King I also appreciated that he rewarded us with the Dark Tower universe and the many other novels he released that were –in some obvious and less obvious ways- connected to it.

10 February 2017

Books: The Rise of Io By Wesley Chu (2016)

“Ella Patel – thief, con-artist and smuggler – is in the wrong place at the wrong time. One night, on the border of a demilitarized zone run by the body-swapping alien invaders, she happens upon a man and woman being chased by a group of assailants. The man freezes, leaving the woman to fight off five attackers at once, before succumbing. As she dies, to both Ella and the man’s surprise, the sparkling light that rises from the woman enters Ella, instead of the man. She soon realizes she’s been inhabited by Io, a low-ranking Quasing who was involved in some of the worst decisions in history. Now Ella must now help the alien presence to complete her mission and investigate a rash of murders in the border states that maintain the frail peace. With the Prophus assigned to help her seemingly wanting to stab her in the back, and the enemy Genjix hunting her, Ella must also deal with Io’s annoying inferiority complex. To top it all off, Ella thinks the damn alien voice in her head is trying to get her killed. And if you can’t trust the voices in your head, who can you trust?”

I will admit that I was hesitant at first to delve into The Rise of Io. I really enjoyed Wesley Chu’s Tao trilogy and I was worried that all he was going to do was reboot his series by just adding a female protagonist set in India. While I did find some of the early plotting of the story to be very similar his first trilogy, eventually the author won me over with Ella, a feisty, street-smart heroine. Her snarky attitude and just as often, her bullheadedness became the high-point of this new series. 

And Io is a complex Quasing who has made more mistakes in her long-time on Earth. In some ways, she reflects humans whom seem to make one misstep after another and thus begin to have conflicted loyalties. You root for her, and Ella, but as the story progresses you see that like many of us, she is the author of her problems. 

What I liked was Ella, a well conceived character who is flawed, but can take care of herself. She belongs to the new reality of modern science fiction writing where a diverse cast is all on equal footing. But while Ella does not really need anyone, including Io, she is still a human being. So under that tough exterior, that snarky dark humor, is a girl who has taken care of herself most of her life, who really does not care about the alien conflict going on around her, but who shines with pride when someone acknowledges that she is not helpless. 

A nice start, The Rise of Io is.

03 February 2017

Books: Zeus Is Dead by Michael G. Munz (2014)

“You probably saw the press conference. Nine months ago, Zeus's murder catapulted the Greek gods back into our world. Now they revel in their new temples, casinos, and media empires—well, all except Apollo. A compulsive overachiever with a bursting portfolio of godly duties, the amount of email alone that he receives from rapacious mortals turns each of his days into a living hell. Yet there may be hope, if only he can return Zeus to life! With the aid of Thalia, the muse of comedy and science fiction, Apollo will risk his very godhood to help sarcastic TV producer Tracy Wallace and a gamer-geek named Leif—two mortals who hold the key to Zeus's resurrection. (Well, probably. Prophecies are tricky buggers.) Soon an overflowing inbox will be the least of Apollo’s troubles. Whoever murdered Zeus will certainly kill again to prevent his return, and avoiding them would be far easier if Apollo could possibly figure out who they are. Even worse, the muse is starting to get cranky.”

For the most part, Zeus is Dead is very clever, witty, often laugh out loud funny. It has an inventive story that does take a bit time to finally kick into gear, but when it does, it becomes a fun read. While it does not have the depth, social and satirical genius of Douglas Adams, Munz does pull off a close emulation –even if that was not his intent.

The book is still a bit chaotic, though, as he tries to cram in as many puns, bad jokes, sitcom one-liners, fourth wall breaking, and geeky references into a 437 page book. And its satire, while there, is sometimes overrun by the Gods themselves. Yes their out-sized personalities are part of the book –they are caricatures really- but at times to really hard to find the commentary within the jokes.

Still, Munz’s long love of Greek legends is obvious. And that makes this a sort of alternative take on the ideas that Rick Riordan gave us in his Percy Jackson series.

01 February 2017

Expect Another Long Gap Between Doctor Who's 10th and 11th Seasons

With Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi bowing out as the 12th version of the legendary Time Lord, book makers in the UK are already setting bets on who'll become the 13th Doctor. 

But while some want to claim the actors announcement was "shocking" it's fairly clear that when showrunner Steven Moffat announced his departure last year it was a good bet that Capaldi would step down after three seasons as the intrepid time traveler, mirroring 11th Doctor Matt Smith's three year run. 

But while awaiting for a new Doctor is both scary and exciting, the BBC continues to test the will of its long-time fans by lengthening the gap between seasons.When Doctor Who returned on Christmas Day 2016, it had been a full year since the last time the show had aired an original episode. But another four month gap is following, with April 15, 2017 now being the start of the 10th season. And baring no interruptions, that 12-episode run should air through early July. But there will be another five month gap before the Christmas episode airs. This story, of course, will be Capaldi's final episode as the Doctor.

But what will happen with season 11? New showrunner, Chris Chibnall is currently in the final stages of editing the third season of his Broadchurch. With that series launch scheduled for February 27, and running 8 weeks, the writer will then finally be able to devote his full time energy to the 2018 season of Doctor Who. Which means that series eleven won't start until the fall of next year, providing at least another nine month gap between new episodes.  

But he has a lot of work to do. He must choose a new Doctor that everyone at the BBC likes, and has to write the bulk of episodes, which sort of explains why the show will need another long hiatus. But there is a line of thought that BBC does this deliberately, not because of costs (the show is expensive to make), but more so to build fan antici.......pation. 

Fair or not?

28 January 2017

How the Nazis Took Control of Germany

01.26.17 10:00 PM ET

"The key to understanding the transformation of Germans’ behavior is straightforward: power magnifies the ideas of those who hold it. Power enabled the Nazi regime to unleash the haters, to intimidate the squeamish, and to change the moral valence of prejudice from something frowned upon to something glorified as patriotic. Once that happened, individual self-interest took care of the rest."

26 January 2017

Books: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story by Alexander Freed (2016)

Reading novelizations of movies, for me, was once a great past time. But most, I discovered, were just a translation of the screenplay, with the writer not adding much –if anything- to what was seen on screen. I had always hoped, knowing how films were made, that we see new scenes because to keep a movie flowing, to keep the audience in rapt attention, some scenes are deleted. Novelizations have the ability to not only add those cut scenes (because books don’t have to be linear) back in, but expand the set pieces. Alan Dean Foster did that with the original novelization of Star Wars back in 1977 and again when he penned the book version of The Force Awakens. And for this novel version of the big screen film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Alexander Freed does –more or less- a straight forward work of the screenplay. However, as it’s become aware, Rogue One when through extensive re-shoots which meant that Freed needed to alter his book to fit the screen version. 

Still, we do get a glimpse at what was lost here. It seems clear that Bodhi Rook had a bigger part in the original script, and while that was curtailed back in the re-shoots, some extra stuff has been added to this book. Of course the question is how much is what Freed is just adding to extend the page count and what was part of the film before changes were made? Who knows?

And the while Jyn is on the tower getting ready to send the Death Star plans to Raddus on his ship, the Profundity, the TIE fighter that shows up in the trailers to the film is described here in the book. We also get a clearer –though never spoken- understanding of the relationship between Chirrut and Blaze. Freed dances around the subject, but much like in the film, here in the book it’s sort of obvious that the two were connected in more ways than being brothers in the Ancient Order of the Whills.

Finally, for me, I get a better sense of what I thought was a plot hole with the brief scene of Artoo and C3PO on Yavin 4. Near the end of the film we see R2-D2 and C3P0 in the Rebel base watching the X-Wings leave to fight over Scarif. Threepio and Artoo don’t appear to be leaving so they could be with Princess Leia on Tantive IV at the beginning of A New Hope. I missed it in the film, but Freed clarifies it in the book –they were likely the last to leave the base:

“Intercepted Imperial transmission, ma’am,” the private answered. “Rebels on Scarif.”

Mon Mothma fixed the private with a sober look. “I need to speak to Admiral Raddus,” she said. 

“He’s left already.” The man was almost stammering. “He’s in orbit aboard the Profundity. He’s gone to fight.”

“I see,” she said, and slowly smiled.

Note that he merely left Yavin, and was still in orbit, gathering the forces there at the moment. Then:

“Less than ten minutes later, sirens were announcing the departure of Red, Blue, Green, and Gold Squadrons along with the U-wing transports. Raddus had already contacted all capital ships within range of Yavin or Scarif.”

And as the last transports are filling, she sees R2-D2 and C-3PO going towards tarmac, meaning towards those transports being filled:

As the last transports began to fill, she turned back to the corridors of the ziggurat and set out for the communications center. She had to step aside for a gold-plated protocol droid and an astromech unit hurrying toward the tarmac, and faintly overheard the former indignantly declare:

‘Scarif? They’re going to Scarif? Why does nobody ever tell me anything, Artoo…?’”

And that meant –and reinforced by the Lucasfilm Story Group recently- that Princess Leia was on Yavin 4 during the events unfolding in Rogue One. And in the novel, her ship was under repairs on Profundity, and not fully completed when she made her escape, custodian of the stolen Death Star plans.