Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book review: Doctor Who – The Twin Dilemma

Cross-posted from my Hardcore Nerdity blog:

Title: Doctor Who - The Twin Dilemma
Author: Eric Saward
Publisher: Target Books
Publication date: 1986

"The Twin Dilemma". Oh dear. Oh dearie, dearie dear. Okay, some background on this novelisation of a Doctor Who story.

A couple of years ago, the Doctor Who franchise hit its 200th televised story (not episode, but story - back in the day, stories were several episodes long) with "Planet of the Dead". So Doctor Who Magazine held a poll, wherein readers picked their favourite stories. The 1984 story "The Twin Dilemma", written by one Anthony Steven, came dead last. 200th out of 200. Sure, some story had to come in last. Such is the nature of lists. "The Twin Dilemma", however, mostly deserved it. It's really not a good story. Really, really not a good story.

"The Twin Dilemma" was the first full story for Colin Baker, the 6th actor to play the part of the Doctor. Having just regenerated from the Peter Davison incarnation, the new Doctor goes completely insane for much of the story, shouting at his companion Peri, attempting to strangle her, deciding to become a hermit (with Peri in tow) to atone for the strangling, and choosing to wear the ugliest coat in existence. Somewhere in there, in a setting of the year 2300, there's a couple of brilliant, but annoying, young twins (played by a real-life pair of annoying twins who can't act), an old Time Lord friend of the Doctor, a space cop and a giant slug named Mestor. It's not as good as it sounds.

So, why the hell did I read the novelisation of this story? Because I'm a hardcore Doctor Who fan, who will read, watch or listen to pretty much anything to do with the program. Plus, I thought, surely the story must be better in written format. Right? Right!?

Well, it might have been better, if it hadn't been adapted by Eric Bloody Saward! Eric Saward was the script editor for Doctor Who for a number of years, including most of Colin Baker's time in the role. Saward, unfortunately, was kind of a prick. He seemed determined to suck the joy out of the program. Every interview I've ever seen with the man makes me want to slap that self-important smirk off his face. But, hey, maybe he'd write a good novelisation and improve the story a little. He did, after all, write at least one decent story for the show, 1982's "Earthshock".


Saward even writes smug. He really does. He tried to liven up "The Twin Dilemma" by giving it a little humour. But Saward is trying to write like Douglas Adams, with bizarre tangents, which might have been funny if worked into a story that was humourous in the first place. It just comes across as... annoying. "Hey, look at how funny I am!" Just when the rambling plot finally starts to do something, along comes another comedy aside, which is almost certain to include a reference to a fictional alcoholic beverage called Voxnic. Maybe Saward was drunk when he penned this. (Hell, I'm willing to bet he was drunk through much of his time as story editor for the show.)

He screws around with the characters a bit too much as well. Azmael, an old friend of the Doctor, is a renegade Time Lord too, not content with life on their home world of Gallifrey. In this adaptation, Saward turns him into a mass murderer, having, in a fit of pique, killed the entirety of a previous Time Lord Council as part of his back story! And we're supposed be sympathetic towards the guy! Hugo, the space cop, is made into a shallow mercenary, who only cares about getting a promotion. Saward's answer to a story full of unlikable characters, is to make the characters even more unlikable.

The plot, like the original, just sort of ambles along until the Doctor stumbles onto things. He doesn't really have much to do with what's going on, something that much of Colin Baker's tenure suffers from.

So, no, I guess I wasn't terribly impressed with this novelisation. Still, onwards. What's up next in my Doctor Who pile? "Attack of the Cybermen". Enh. Again, not a highlight of the Colin Baker years. Still, it might be an all right adaptation. Let's see who wrote-- Oh, frak me.

Eric Bloody Saward!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Book review: The Bird of the River

Cross-posted from my Hardcore Nerdity blog:

Cover of The Bird of the River

Title: The Bird of the River
Author: Kage Baker
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: 2010

The Bird of the River is the third and, sadly, last (due to the author’s untimely death early last year) novel set in the fantasy world introduced by Kage Baker in her 2003 work, The Anvil of the World.

Baker’s fantasy world features two different (although both essentially human) races: the red-skinned, industrial Children of the Sun and the green-skinned, tree-dwelling Yendri. Also populating the world are demons and gods. However, the demons are not your evil, hosts of Hell type of demons. They’re elementals, given physical bodies (usually in a variety of colours and often sporting fearsome features like tusks) to interact with the world. Some are good, some are bad. None of them fear death because if their bodies are destroyed, they just go off and have a new form made. As for the gods… well, they’re rarely seen. But they are most definitely real.

Of the three novels in the series, Bird is certainly the most… the word I want to use is “gentle”. It’s not nearly as cosmic as the others. Anvil ended up involving nothing less than the fate of the world, while 2008′s The House of the Stag told the epic tale of the rise of the Master of the Mountain, the dark whom most demons serve. Bird, however, tells a simpler story, one about a sister and brother on a long trip aboard a river barge named The Bird of the River.

Eliss is a young woman, about 15 or 16 years old. Her younger half-brother, Alder, is a half-breed; Child of the Sun mother, Yendri father. However, he looks Yendri, which causes some problem around certain, less enlightened Children of the Sun. They live a nomadic life with their mother, Falena. Unfortunately, as the death of Eliss’ father, Falena fell apart, becoming a drug addict, and hooking up with a string of “uncles”, including Alder’s Yendri father. While never abusive to her children, she became unable to look after them adequately, forcing Eliss to grow up quickly.

Very early in the book, Falena dies in a diving accident, leaving the children to become members of the Bird of the River‘s crew. The crew are generally a kindly bunch and Eliss and Alder begin to fit in quickly, especially Eliss, who has a tremendous talent for observing detail and made a look-out (and nicknamed “Vigilance” by Captain Glass). Alder, however, is restless, longing to experience life with the Yendri, and perhaps find his father.

There follows a series of adventures as the Bird makes its way down the river, adventures made all the more, um, adventurous by a certain young man coming on board. A young man who is secretly an assassin, intent on avenging the mysterious death of a nobleman.

I loved this book. Kage Baker can literally have me laughing out loud on one page and then tearing up on the next and this story was no exception, from the young assassin’s self-effacing humour (laughing) to moments when Eliss realizes she may have to let her brother, the only family she has left, leave her and follow his own path (tearing up).

Baker’s writing seems effortless. Although she rarely uses the grandiose language often used in describing fantasy words, it’s easy to visualize the story’s environment. The dialogue is casual, making even the minor characters believable (with the deliberate exception of the occasional villainous-type).

And there’s a pretty good mystery amidst the human drama. I realized one page before the big reveal what was up and actually blurted out “Son of a bitch!”

So, to sum up: high adventure, genuinely funny humour, touching drama, all brilliantly executed. Definitely recommended.

(Okay, my first ever book review ended up being a gushing one. The timing worked out that it was a book by one of my favourite authors.)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hardcore Nerdity

A quick little post to let folks know that... Hardcore Nerdity is finally back! Woo hoo! I'm a member, and you should be, too. If you're a nerd. And, if you're reading my blog, you probably are. So go on, already.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My current laptop wallpaper

This is my current laptop wallpaper. Because it must be so. It must.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A whirlwind trip to Toronto: Part 2

The following day saw me getting up in time to quickly visit actor and internationally renowned children's author Adrienne Kress for a photo op with her cat, Atticus. The first results were mixed, with Atticus and me seemingly unable to both look at the camera at the same time. Eventually, though...

Ta-da! Unfortunately, poor Adrienne was under the weather, so, rather than impose on her, I went on my way.

I stopped by the Silver Snail and Bakka-Phoenix Books for a browse. Lots of "Oooo, cool... but I don't really want it myself" at the Snail and "Oooo, cool... but I can borrow it from work" at Bakka-Phoenix. Awesome stores nonetheless.

Then, that evening... the main event! The Tempestuous launch at the Dom.

Wow. One hell of a party. I have never spent such a long, continuous time in a bar or pub. I was there from a little after 6PM and didn't leave until 3AM. Yes, that's right, 3 of the morning clock. Fortunately, my internal clock, still on Pacific time, felt it was only about midnight. (On the other hand, getting up for breakfast at the hotel meant my internal clock also felt like I'd been up since 5 in the morning.) I'll have to confess that for the first couple of hours, I went into my default "wallflower mode". This tends to happen at parties where I only know about 2% of those present. However, by the end of the night I was having an absolute blast!

The launch officially started a 7:30. Folks mingled, ale was consumed (okay, I had Sprite) and, in a back room, the full trailer for Tempestuous was screen on a continuous loop. Largely thanks to director and effects fella Joe O'Brien, it felt more like a trailer for a Lord of the Rings film! Check it out:

After a while, it was time for Lesley to do a reading from the book, which I took a video of:

After the reading, Lesley was then put behind a table to meet fans and sign books. This went on for damn near four solid hours. And somehow Lesley managed to keep her energy high, as well as her enthusiasm for meeting her fans.

A bit of weirdness: There I was, visiting from Victoria, BC, to attend the launch for a Lesley Livingston book. The two important facts there are A) Victoria, BC, and B) a Lesley Livingston book. So, the very day I'm there, the front page of the Victoria, BC, newspaper has an article on the murder of an elderly couple. And the photo of the woman used in the paper is this:

Yup. She's reading one of Lesley books. OooooEEEEEoooo.... Jon Llyr brought the article up on his iPhone and the universal reaction to this from party attendees was, "Oh my God!" Okay, end of eerie tangent.

A few of us who are regular posters at Hardcore Nerdity managed to find each other for some chat. We were eventually joined by Lesley, once she finished signing 823,000 books. And then...

A rock concert broke out. Really. The music for the evening was supplied by one John Stuart Campbell on guitar and eventually people went up on stage to sing some tunes. Most notably Jon and Lesley. Lesley pretty much blew my mind by completely substituting her own voice for a another as she did the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues":

I found myself wanting the whole shindig to never end but, alas, the time came when I had to leave. I had a plane to catch the next day for what would be a 12-hour trip back home.

It was awesome seeing these ridiculously talented and cool friends again and I look forward to visiting them again. Lynn and I hope to head out their way again for next Halloween. Now, we just need to figure out what costumes to wear...

Here's a couple more images from the evening:

Fairies attended the launch. Here's photographic evidence.

Lesley on stage about to rock out with John Campbell.

Jon Llyr in the process of rocking out with John Campbell.

Lesley drinking something blue from the Wondrous Strange-themed martini bar.

Lesley and me with fellow HcNers James Marshall and T. Gregory Argall.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A whirlwind trip to Toronto: Part 1

Some time in December, I received an e-mail invite from Harper Collins Canada, saying "Come on out for the book launch party for the new book, Tempestuous!" It was just a generic thing sent out to people subscribed to news about my friend, internationally renowned young adult author (and former Waitron-9000 portrayer), Lesley Livingston through the HC website.

And, while it certainly crossed my mind how much fun it would be to attend, I didn't seriously consider doing so. But, as I'm reading it aloud to Lynn, she suggests I use a chunk of our AirMiles (unfortunately not enough for us both) and just go. And that I not even tell Lesley, but just show up!

So it was that, a month later, I found myself getting up at a quarter to six in the morning in order to catch a flight to Toronto, Ontario. From Victoria, BC. For a single evening's party. As a surprise. (Although I had told Lesley's boyfriend, Canadian nerd célèbre and former Grot-portrayer, Jonathan Llyr. Who is da man. Hold on, do people still say "da man"? Well, if they do, Jon is da man.)

The trip didn't start at 100% goodness, though. The airport security people had to take the teeny-tiny, fake (well, duh) laser gun that was on my keychain. At least they were apologetic about it. They seemed to realise how silly it was to treat this like a threat of any kind, but still had to enforce the rules. "Is it your Jedi laser?" (I was wearing my Back to the Future t-shirt, so I think they knew I was a nerd.) And, no, I did not point out to them that Jedi don't use guns; I wasn't going to abuse the goodwill that I was getting from them over the issue.

The rest of the trip east was a pretty standard, uneventful (if long) flight and I safely reached my lavish suite in the luxurious Holiday Inn Express in downtown Toronto. Afterwards, at Jon's suggestion, rather than wait until the party the following evening, when Lesley would be swamped talking to and meeting Lord knows how many people, I wandered down to the Dominion on Queen, walked in and plunked myself down in a seat opposite Lesley and just gave a little wave.

Now, I don't usually cause people's jaws to drop, but that night I did. (And, Lesley's mom, if by some chance you read this, I apologize for causing Lesley to cut your phone call short.) After Lesley getting over the initial shock, she, Jon and I sat around for a nice long talk, with subjects ranging from Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's idiocy to having molds made of your head, from music to kids hurting themselves trying to remove their tongues from frozen metal. I even Skyped Lynn using my PSP (which I discovered you can really hold like a phone while using Skype), so she could briefly say hi.

And so, a couple of hours later, I left the Dom with a warm glow (multiple hugs from Lesley will do that to you) to counter the chilly Toronto weather and headed back to the hotel.

But, that was only the first day...

More to follow in a later post. This time with pictures. And maybe video.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What up?

So, what have I been up to for the last... well, never mind how long exactly long... since I last tended to my blog? Here's a quick bullet list sampling of my life over the last couple of years. Things I might have actually blogged about had I been blogging.
  • Went on Alaskan cruise.
  • Visited friends (including the SpaceBar cast) in Toronto, also attending the big Silver Snail Halloween party in the process (I was the 10th Doctor, my wife Lynn was Clara from "The Guild"). Best. Halloween. Ever.
  • Launched my Doctor Who Chronology version 2.0.
  • Subscribed to and became quickly addicted to Netflix.
  • Got my very own advance reader copy of Lesley Livingston's Tempestuous. (Read. Her. Books.)
Aaaand probably lots of other stuff that I can't think of at the moment. Anyway, there ya go. Caught up.

Now, I suppose I should see about update the layout of and information on the page.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A triumphant(-ish) return!

Okay, let's get this thing rolling again! Cough! Cough! Right, gonna have to do some dusting around the place...

All right, I've realized something. I avoid putting anything new on the blog largely because I feel bad about not posting anything in a long time. And I hate starting every post with "Sorry I haven't posted in a while..." So...

I'm just going to post whenever, without starting with "Oh, it's been such a long time!" Maybe I'll post several times a day, maybe it'll be months between posts (because, let's face it, I hardly need the most exciting of lives). All right? All right. We'll see how things go from here.