Review: Redshirts

Redshirts
Redshirts by John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely one of the top ten books I’ve read in the past year or so. John Scalzi takes the non-trademarked essence of the legendary “Trek to Madworld” short stories of the early seventies to their very meta and logical (kind of) conclusion. There’s a lot of weirdness along the way, and some very good writing. Several low-ranking crew members of a very USS Enterprise-like ship notice how their commanding officers never seem to get hurt on away missions, but half of them end up dying on a regular basis. The search for the reason why leads them on a VERY meta-fictional journey. I’ve probably given away too much already. Just get the book and read it. You won’t be sorry.

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Review: Phoenix of Megaron

Phoenix of Megaron
Phoenix of Megaron by John Rankine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one’s a good original Space 1999 novel, which some interesting characterizations. Rankine knows these characters and took some chances with the reader’s feelings with the way he structured the story. The novel would make a good starting point for a new series or a TV movie…

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Review: Round the Moon

Round the Moon
Round the Moon by Jules Verne
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, it’s really kinda hard (and presumptuous) to review a classic author like Jules Verne. Round the Moon is a charming story, and definitely a product of its time. Verne was definitely a visionary, and this book is a bit of a physics lesson for the reader – at least as how physics and space were understood back then. Reading this today requires a considerable suspension of disbelief, especially after years of Star Trek, Arthur C. Clarke, and more hard science fiction tales.

This book is a sequel to Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, and follows the travails of the three men shot towards the Moon in the Projectile created by members of the Baltimore Gun Club. Unlike the movie adaptation, there isn’t any youthful love story between stowaways (since they would’ve been squashed flat during the launch), and you won’t find anyone barreling down anything trying to hit a thermal exhaust port. This is still a tale that most every science fiction fan should read – it’s good to understand the beginnings of a genre you enjoy.

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Review: Out of the Silent Planet

Out of the Silent Planet
Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Excellent and very underrated science fiction novel!

I had heard about Out of The Silent Planet on IO9.com and did not recall reading it. I’m not a big C.S. Lewis fan, other than his Screwtape essays, but I decided to find a copy and give it a try. Definitely not disappointed, as this story is very archetypically British … a sort of combination of H.G. Wells, Dennis Wheatley, and many of the cheap British science fiction films of the sixties. It could fit into quite a few recent eras, but the first person relation of the events of Ransom on the planet Malacandra is more Wellsian than anything.

For the most part, there’s a lot of exposition about the flora and society of Malacandra, but it isn’t nearly as droll or sleep-inducing as you might expect; we get to see Ransom’s continually expanding viewpoint on this new planet and the strange creatures that inhabit it (strange to him, at least).

This book doesn’t hit you in the face with Christian theology like the Narnia books do, so I found it a very enjoyable read!

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Review: Star Trek Concordance-Updated

Star Trek Concordance-Updated
Star Trek Concordance-Updated by Bjo Trimble
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you like Star Trek: The Original Series, this is pretty much the book you want to get if you need a reference work about it. The book has been lovingly crafted by one of the original Trekkies and covers ALL of the original series, the animated series, and the movies. It also has most of the TOS cast appearances in the other Trek franchise shows (missing only “Trials and Tribblations” from DS9). Each episode is synopsized, and then there are several encyclopedic sections on terminology, starships, planets, and a list of actors and actresses from the program. The first and still the best print resource on the original Star Trek!

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Review: The Complete Mission Impossible Dossier

The Complete Mission Impossible Dossier
The Complete Mission Impossible Dossier by Patrick J. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great look at a classic TV series, which did a lot, at least for a few seasons, to make television a tad more intelligent. The book covers all seven seasons of the original MI, along with the eighties revamp. Lots of good interviews and background information from and about all the actors, creators, and the various situations that kept this on the air for seven years. It’s also a look at the other side of the Desilu/Paramount lot, when was alluded to in many Star Trek memoirs. A good read for media history fans!

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DVD Review The Six Million Dollar Man Volume 1

Yeah, I know, everything probably thinks it was a campy little show, but The Six Million Dollar Man was actually a pretty good sci-fi/action program. Back in the day, at least in the seventies when I was growing up,  we didn’t have a lot of TV super-heroes, and Steve Austin was the closest around until Spider-Man and the Hulk got their own shows.

sixmilliondollarman01I think everyone knows the story: Steve Austin, “a man barely alive” after a test piloting accident, is rebuilt to be the world’s first bionic man. He helps out Oscar Goldman at the OSI, with various secret missions that border from James Bond to Allan Quartermain. Lee Majors starred as Steve, in a role that normally would’ve typecast someone forever, but he managed to avoid it in the same way Bill Shatner did with TJ Hooker. As with a lot of seventies TV stars, I think you pretty much get Lee Majors as Lee Majors, which isn’t a bad thing.

The six discs of this DVD set contain the three pilot movies-of-the-week that spawned the production, as well as the entire first season of thirteen episodes. Guest stars include William Shatner, John Saxon, Gary Lockwood, Henry Jones, George Takei, George Montgomery,Noah Beery (right before The Rockford Files), Farrah Fawcett (right before becoming Mrs. Lee Majors), Don Porter, and many more.

The stories are actually pretty good, given the limitations of TV and the need for the special effects. One thing you’ll immediately notice is that the familiar hollow da-da-da-da-da sound effect for Steve’s bionics is missing from these shows; I had not realized that it wasn’t added to the aural repertoire until second season. It shows up a few times being used by other characters, like John Saxon’s robot double, but it’s really the only annoying thing about the shows themselves. The episodes are all solid adventure tales. I do have to say that the second TV movie veers a bit too far into James Bond territory, at least in my opinion, making Steve Austin too much of a cardboard cut-out. Also, the final episode of the season, “Run, Steve, Run” is, for the most part,  a cost-cutting flashback episode, but still has a decent half-hour of original story.

The sixth disc is a bonus with several interviews, including a nice one with the late Harv Bennett, and a segment on the creation of the main title and opening of the show, which rivals nearly any show out there for “most memorable”.

If you want the Steve Austin you remember as a kid, you’ll probably want to start with the Season 2 set (which I start watching tomorrow). If you simply love the Six Million Dollar Man as a series, then by all means start with this set!

DVD Review: The Flash The Complete Series DVD set

Ah, the 1990’s. Not a helluva lotta good came out of that decades. It was pretty lame for the most part, especially for comic book fans. Except for this one little gem: The Flash. But, alas, many people didn’t get to see much of the show.

91+2RFMQjmL._SL1500_The reason no one got to see much of it was because CBS was playing schedule roulette with the Flash, and then wouldn’t even show the damn thing when it did manage to stay in one time slot for more than a week. I remember they put it up against both The Cosby Show  and The Simpsons on a Thursday night. Thursday nights were owned by NBC’s sitcom block, so that was a losing proposition from the outset, and virtually guaranteed that an effects-laden, budget-heavy show was doomed. I remember at least two instances where the program was preempted for “breaking news stories,” meaning we missed out on 45 minutes of story (and on one night, the whole damn show). I know I missed at least three episodes when they were originally broadcast, which majorly sucked, since this show was fantastic! I heard that some of The Powers That Be at CBS went so far as to apologize to some of the cast for mucking up their chances for a hit show.

Re-watching this show, and doing so in color for the first time ( I didn’t get a color set until 1992; don’t ask), the show was, in my opinion, the best attempt to bring live-action comics to the small screen up to that time. The only better incarnation was Chris Reeve’s Superman (at least the first two movies). Everything was garish; four color sets, older, stylish cars, not quite Gothic architecture. Watching it now reminds me a lot of Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy  movie; the creators of The Flash  seemed to use the same approach to the look and color scheme of the show. And it’s a very good look.

The acting was pretty good as well. John Wesley Shipp, like Chris Reeve, was a soap opera veteran and played the role with aplomb and a certain goofiness that fit the proceedings perfectly. Amanda Pays was cast as Dr. Tina McGee, and manages to keep a steady head amid the strangeness. You also have some interesting roles for many noted actors and performers, like Richard Belzer, Alex Desert (as Barry Allen’s best pal Julio), Brian Cranston, Jeri Ryan, Bill Mumy, and David Cassidy. And, of course, Mark Hamill playing the Trickster, which seemed to be as much therapy for him as voicing the Joker on the Batman cartoon.

The plot of the show was fairly true to the comic books, with Barry Allen being hit by lightning and chemicals to transform into the fastest man alive. The show itself is a grand, if unintended combination of all three then-current incarnations of the Flash –this Central City reminded me of Jay Garrick’s roost in the original Flash Comics, and the science was similar to Wally West’s mid-eighties run as the Scarlet Speedster. The show was a little corny, a little campy, at times, but it was a lot of fun, like a good comic book (or a good television show) should be. It wasn’t as heavy on actual super-villains as the comic book was, with only a couple of the Rogues’ Gallery making it to the small screen. But TV budgets could (and still can) only go so far. Especially in those pre-CGI days.

I’m sure a lot of folks have been watching the newest incarnation of The Flash  on the CW, a spin-off of Arrow. It’s a great show, and features several stars of the original Flash series in supporting roles, particularly John Wesley Shipp as Barry Allen’s father, and Amanda Pays as a new version of Tina McGee.

This set runs for around $16.00 on Amazon.com, and it’s really worth the price – 6 DVDs with all 22 episodes of the show. The only drawback is that there aren’t any extras on the making of the show. But I can live with that. I binge-watched the whole series over the course of a few mornings and afternoons, but if you want to catch the really good episodes first, the pilot, “Watching the Detectives”, “Sins of the Father” (featuring M. Emmet Walsh as Barry’s father), “Ghost in the Machine” (introducing the fifties’ vigilante the Nightshade), and “Done with Mirrors” (featuring David Cassidy as the Mirror Master) are all great shows.