Book Review – Redshirts by John Scalzi

Title: Redshirts

Author: John Scalzi

Format: Hardback

Published: 2012

 

This book came to me as a recommendation of a co-worker and friend of mine.  He told me that if I liked the TV series Star Trek I would like this book.  I was told that it is a comedic take on the classic trope of red shirts always dying.  If you know anything about Star Trek it was always true in the original series that if there was a random person in a red shirt that was part of an away team mission, they were going to die.  The book tells the story of a ship where this fact is known and no one wants to avoid away missions as they might be that person destined to die.

 

I will admit that when I started the book it felt a bit flat, the story progressed slowly as the main characters who were all ‘red shirts’ were introduced.  It also bothered me for a long while that there were two similarly named characters Duvall and Dahl.  There were times it was hard to keep them straight even though Dahl is the main protagonist, a pacifist and male while Duvall is one of the supporting main characters who is female and a bit of a partier.  Still, when first learning names it is hard to keep track particularly when they are speaking to one another.

 

However, when the characters get on the ship and Dahl starts experiencing first-hand the oddness that is the spaceship Intrepid things grow to be interesting.  One minute, Dahl can be speaking with his fellow officers and the next minute they are rushing off to get coffee or have vanished to do inventory yet again.  When this happens a senior officer walks in and recruits him for an important and impossible mission, speaking about science that makes very little sense yet must be accomplished.   Given task Dahl is supplied with a box that works much like a microwave and will give the solution to the problem at the last minute.   In addition to this oddity there is a strange yeti man who seems to know that there is more going on than meets the eye.

 

While there is so much that can be said about this book a lot of it would blow the surprises contained within.  So without blowing the story I’ll say that the story is worth the read and the effort to get past the slow start.  The story picks up with good comedy, classic tropes of science fiction and a nice sense of adventure and impending doom.   You really aren’t left lacking or wanting in the story and it satisfies you in the end giving you a story that is well worth the read.  Over all I’d give the book 4 pages.  It isn’t a book I’ll go running out to buy a copy and tell all my friends about but for the right person looking for the right book?  You-betcha, I’ll tell them about Redshirts.

Book Review: Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Novel

TITLE: Catalyst (Star Wars): A Rogue One Novel

AUTHOR: James Luceno

PUBLISHED: 2016

FORMAT: E-Book

I’m just going to warn right now for potential spoilers for Rogue One, even though it’s been out over a month.  Also, yes, I am a huge Star Wars fan if you hadn’t guessed from my name.

Catalyst is a prequel novel to Rogue One, the latest movie in the Star Wars universe.  It starts near the end of the Clone Wars, and introduces us to Galen and Lyra Erso, their newborn daughter Jyn, and the complicated interaction between Galen Erso and Orson Krennic, the men behind the construction of the Death Star and it’s weaponry – whether they worked on it willingly or not.

The novel is an interesting bridge between the end of the Clone Wars and the rise of the Galactic Empire.  It mainly focuses on the two men, but we also get a look at Lyra Erso and her view of the war and how it affects the galaxy – and her family.  And how the players get from where they are at the end of the war, to where they are at the start of Rogue One.

This is not a book that can be read without any knowledge of the Star Wars universe, for certain.  At least familiarity with the prequel movies (Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) is needed as events in those movies are heavily referenced – and it actually answers a few questions I know I had about certain things seen at the end of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.  And the author’s writing keeps the story flowing well from start to finish.

For those who are fans of the Star Wars universe, this book is a good addition to the canon.  I give it 4 of 5 pages.

Book Review – Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Title: Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Author: Thomas Sweterlitsch
Format: Paperback
Written: 2014

Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a truly haunting take on the near future, as it is one that strikes as not only bleak and disconnected, but also truly possible. It’s the story of John Dominic Blaxton, a poet who lost everything when an explosion destroyed the city of Pittsburgh, claiming the lives of millions, including his wife and unborn child. Yet John continues to live in Pittsburgh–emotionally, at least–through a fully immersive virtual reconstruction of the city called The Archive, which taps into a visitor’s memories and video records of the cities to recreate their lost city.

When he’s not reliving every recorded moment with his wife in an endless cycle of desperation and despair, Dominic works as an Archivist, investigating cold cases within the virtual Pittsburgh for insurance companies. However, his latest cold case involves the murder of a woman whose very existence is somehow being deleted from the Archive. Dominic’s obsession with uncovering the truth behind the woman’s fate takes him down a path that begins to blur the line between physical and virtual reality, as he digs deeper into the illusions and the remnant threads of his own sanity.

Sweterlitsch tells the story beautifully, using his own intimate knowledge of Pittsburgh to paint the city in such a grounded, intricate way that the reader easily finds themselves immersed in the Archive. His use of Dominic as a narrator, tapping into his grief and despair, and his persistent instability, adds the factors of an unreliable narrator to the mystery, leaving the reader at times questioning what is really missing from the Archive and what is truly just the delusions of Dominic’s detached obsession with solving the mystery of the lost girl.

This story also provides a great reflection of technology itself and how we use it today. The Archive serves not only as a great plot device but also as a mirror on our own dependence on digital interaction, the escapist mentality of digital culture, and our need to constantly relive the past. Sweterlitsch not only paints a detailed science fiction landscape, but does so while yearning for a more analog age, with real human interaction in a tangible world.

Overall, Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an immersive, thought provoking, and very fun read. I would give it four out of five stars, and would recommend fans of the science fiction or mystery genre give it a good read.

Book Review: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds by Manly W. Wellman and Wade Wellman

Title: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds

Author: Manly W. Wellman and Wade Wellman

Format: Paperback edition by Titan Books

Published: originally 1975, Titan Edition 2009

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As this is my first review for Book In The Bag, I should probably explain a thing or two.  I never go into a book looking to hate it or looking to love it. I have been reading as long as my conscious brain can remember and I enjoy it more than I do even breathing, even though the latter is more necessary, some would argue.  I go into every book I read with little expectation of anything except whatever may come.  Having said that, I tend to review positively more than I do negatively, and I think that has much to do with my absolute love of reading.

Secondly, a bit of why the heck I should be a reviewer anyone reads and/or listens to. Well, I probably shouldn’t, as all of us have our own tastes and such. Having said that, I am a Publisher (www.prose-press.com) and have been an author, published since 2010.  I also have an academic background that supports review and critique and that sort of thing.  Plus, it must be noted that I am quite opinionated and am not bashful about sharing such.  So, none of that may prove why you should read and follow my advice, but it at least hopefully explains why I feel like I’m someone who can do book reviews.

So, with all that out of the way, let’s get to the first review, which, you’ll learn, will completely go against the comment above that begins with ‘Having said that, I tend to review positively more than…’  And, in terms of this particular book, that actually sort of breaks my reader’s heart.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds was written by Wade Wellman and his well known author father, Manly W. Wellman.  By the title, the book obviously blends two iconic concepts- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  What is not so obvious by the book’s name is that it also heavily focuses on another classic character of Doyles, Professor Challenger.

The premise of the book is that Holmes, Watson, and Challenger are all present in London when Wells’ War of the Worlds unfolds. As a matter of fact, we are told in the opening pages that Holmes and Challenger are in possession of an object that allows them to see across the vastness of space to what they deduce is Mars.  What happens next is essentially a travelogue of sorts of what Holmes and Challenger do leading up to and during, and even after the invasion from Mars.  Told initially in an omniscient way, the Wellmans halfway through the book, which started as a series of short stories, give a view of the actual ‘War’ first from Holmes’ perspective, then the same days from Challenger’s perspective, allowing us later in the work to hear a bit of Watson’s experiences over the same time frame as well.  The book carries through Holmes’ and Challenger’s study of the other world prior to the invasion, the actual landings, and the siege of London, all the way through the end of the war.  There are bits of action throughout, but largely this is a book of observations and summations by two of literature’s most exciting characters.  That is, until they were used in this book.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds is not only boring, but it is a complete and utter misuse of all of its source material.  The Holmes portrayed in this work is not anything like the Holmes of Doyle or most who have deigned to utilize Holmes since his creation.  Actually, the Wellmans go out of their way to illustrate that the Holmes we are all used to is nothing more than a mask, a parlor act hiding a man who is actually quite normal and prone to usual passions, one in particular.  We see a very cardboard version of Holmes in this book, one who in the very beginning makes a leap of logic that makes me want to eat my deerstalker cap, were I to own one.  Holmes’ ready acceptance of what the object he has shows he and Challenger is not only hackneyed, but it shows absolutely none of the deductive processes that I hoped I’d see.  It would have been absolutely wonderful to watch Holmes work through, deduce, and even struggle with what would have been the obvious result of his investigation into what the object revealed. But, no, he instead readily jumps to the conclusion and accepts that he and Challenger are seeing another world.  What happens following concerning Holmes leaves me positively riddled with boredom and is a complete waste of character.  And to top it off, the authors attempt to tie the end up by connecting something directly to Holmesian canon that really doesn’t belong and is obviously a sloppy ‘we need the fans invested in Holmes’ moment.

It is also quite obvious that the Wellmans based their interpretation of Doctor Watson solely on the Nigel Bruce portrayal, and not even the moments when Bruce was actually allowed to play Watson well, but all the moments of buffoonery.  Watson in this book is not only not intelligent, but he spends much of the time talking about his abject fright and fear and is no way a companion suitable for Holmes.  Add to that the amount of time that Holmes and Challenger both spend literally picking on him for being a dullard and you have everything anyone who has hated the awful ways Watson has been portrayed previously in the pages of this book.  One major issue I have is that there is a secret that exists that Holmes is keeping, one Challenger is privy to, and yet we are led to believe that Watson is in no way aware of this secret and is not smart enough to pick up on clues dropped by Challenger’s actions, including continually getting Watson away from Baker Street or yelling louder than necessary when the two approach Holmes’ door from being away.  I was not only disappointed by the portrayal of Watson. I was outright disgusted.

And then there’s Professor Challenger of The Lost World fame. In aforementioned book and other Challenger appearances written by Doyle, his creator does a wonderful job of showing us not only how intelligent Challenger is, but also of illustrating his high opinion of his intelligence.  Doyle does it like a surgeon, with a cutting comment here and there, a well placed scene showing Challenger’s superiority every now and again.  The Wellmans instead decided to hammer the reader with every chance given with just how arrogant and pompous and self inflated Challenger is.  The character portrayed here is so overly misogynistic, so entirely convinced of his nearly allegedly untouchable level of intelligence, that there is no way to invest in or like Challenger. Not only that, but every character in the book, including Holmes, seems to bow and genuflect at Challenger’s feet, taking him at his word that he is simply smarter.  The Challenger the authors present here would have been more an enemy, or at best a sparring partner with Holmes, and much of the book would have been spent with the two doing mental gymnastics with each other, which would have been much more enjoyable than what was put on the page.

As I read this book, I really hoped by the end of it I would be able to say that had the Wellmans written this with original characters, not using Doyle’s creations, then maybe it would be palatable.  But no, that’s simply not true.  The characters, original or not, are not likable, are not enjoyable, and have very little for readers to connect with.  The only linking factor is that they are Holmes, Watson, and Challenger, and the portrayals fail miserably here.

Lastly, the use of Wells’ Martian Invasion as a backdrop should have been something that invigorated this book, that made it more interesting, regardless of the characters.  Except that the Wellmans decided to cherry pick what they wanted from the original story, even going as far as Watson writing a letter pointing out what Wells got wrong in his version.  To be honest, the authors of this work seem quite angry at H. G. Wells and that is evident through the statements made by the characters.   The invasion of Mars was yet another point that the Wellmans could have just made up their own alien race, their own invasion, and nothing would have been lost from the work they produced.

I was first going to give this book a 2 of 5, the whole ‘if you must read, be warned’ thing, because it does have an appeal being about Holmes, Challenger, and the War of the Worlds.  After thought, though, I really, really can’t.  The complete misuse of the concept and characters, the lack of action and total reliance on almost monotone reporting of a rather lackluster event as they paint it, and the general overall style of The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The War of the Worlds makes it nearly impossible to read, especially for a fan of Wells or Doyle.  1 of 5 most assuredly.  Or, using my own scale, utilizing bullets rather than numbers or stars, I wouldn’t even load my gun for this waste of time.

Book Review – The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Title: The Maze Runner

Author: James Dashner

Format: Hardback

Published: 2009

 

A very long time ago back in the days when I was working at Walmart, I found myself in the book section for a few minutes either looking to kill a bit of time or on a break looking at the books house near by my electronics department. That was where I first stumbled upon The Maze Runner. The cover of the book and the title caught my attention. I read the blurb about the book and was intrigued and continued to be so as I read the first page or two.   I put the book back on the shelf thinking I would keep it in mind as I wasn’t enticed enough to spend my limited funds on the book.

 

It took me until recently to remember the book a lark and decide to pick it up. Little did I know that a movie has been made of the book which would entail a long wait list of over 50 people to get my hands on the book but I went for it and finally go my hands on the book and it was pretty decent. It took a while for me to get into the story and the world of the book. It was slow going and there were points where I thought I would give up and stop reading the book I think part of it is because I felt like there were similarities between the book and some other books I have recently read. Though they are vastly different in some respects I was reminded of Ender’s Game as well as a little bit of Lord of the Flies. Maze Runner takes on a different story despite some similar elements.

 

Once the story gets going it is pretty decent and worth the push to get into it even though it wasn’t what I expected based on the blurb, it was still something I enjoyed and with the last few chapters holding me fast such that I skipped half of my lunch to finish reading instead of going to get myself something to eat. I will also say the story surprised me in the fact that I originally thought this book was a one and done to discover it is a series, which I’ll be intrigued to see what comes of the series and have the next book on hold.

 

A brief over view of the book is a post apocalyptic world where the main character is lifted up via a elevator type box with hardly a memory to his name and a whole new world that is filled with nothing buy young boys aged 12 – 17 and he’s told that their job is to survive and figure out the maze it is a simply and straight forward existence filled with a lot of questions and oddities that get even more odd as the first girl ever is brought up the elevator and everything begins to change as she is marked as the beginning of the end. In a lot of ways this book is a survival story much akin to the Hunger Games just less death and possibly for a better reason than was had in the Hunger Games. We shall see in future books. Over all I would give this book a 3 out of 5 page review and say that it is a decent read.

Book Review – Maplecroft

I might have enjoyed the story more had I been able to sit and read it in one sitting, as I was continually being interrupted and therefore unable to immerse myself into the world. As it stood, though, the story bothered me because it felt like the characters were constantly chasing their tails, unable to solve the mystery and unwilling to work together (until the doctor finds out, and even then there’s very little of them working together).

Like I said, I can see how this book would appeal more to people who really enjoy the horror end of things, and the writing was easy enough to read. For me, however, this book came out as a low 3/5 and I have no interest in reading the sequel.

Book Review – Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Title: Ender’s Game

Author: Orson Scott Card

Format: Paperback

Published: 1991

 

As of late I’ve been simply hunting for books to read. I’ve been wanting something different something science fiction in nature and I don’t know what else. I’ve been struggling to find books for what I was in the mood for and decided to suck it up and read Ender’s Game. Not that I have issues with Ender’s Game. I guess it was just a matter that I read the first page once before and it didn’t grab me and it is a book that has been raved about to me before. Now as a blog that talks about books and gives recommendations it seems almost hypocritical of me to reject a recommendation, particularly when I say I take recommendations rather seriously but there is a difference between a person saying, “I think you would like this book or, I really like this book and think that everyone should read it.” Versus “This is the best book ever you got to read it! See look there is a movie so yeah read it!” The Rave I had received was a long the lines of the latter and it felt like it was a matter of the recommendation being part of the movie craze rather than being a legitimate recommendation.

 

Any way, I finally check it out of the library and started to read it and found my self uncertain. I kept reading knowing that as early into the book as I was that I couldn’t say it is bad and give it up. I kept reading and before I knew it I had devoted a whole night reading finishing the next day only because I couldn’t remain awake long enough to finish the last twenty pages, otherwise this would have been a 1 day book.

 

Normally for me a one day book indicates that it is that good of a read but I think it was more a matter that I was very much in the mood to simply read a book and Ender’s Game wasn’t bad and had a bit of intrigue to it. Over all, it is hard to say what my official opinion about the book is. The story is chiefly about a young boy named Ender who is hoped to be the answer to a long fought battle. Thus at the young age of 6 Ender is taken off to Battle School where he is pushed to his limit s to become the commander they hope he can be. The book goes through Ender’s struggles and his training and the extreme conditions that he finds himself placed under.

 

Over all, it is a bit of an odd book and in a lot of way s though it was written between the two book felt a bit like a mix of the Hunger Games and Lord of the Flies. With it obviously pre-dating the first and post dating the later. Having read both books, I feel that the shock value that this book could provide did not for me. In the end I think I would give this book a 3 out of 5 page review stating that you are not wasting your time with the read but it isn’t a book I’ll be running to tell people about. Though if you have read the book I would gladly welcome a discussion about it because I do feel it is a good book to have a discussion on, much like Lord of the Flies.

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