Category Archives: Books

“Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen” by Douglas Adams & James Goss (2018)

(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #9.)

I’ve never hid my obsessions with Doctor Who: I started this blog as a place to talk about the show, as long forgotten as that idea seems now. Douglas Adams was one of the humorists that inspired me, and sometimes kept me sane, as a young man. Combine the two, and I’m in nerd-heaven. That doesn’t excuse the fact that Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is my fourth DW book this year and that I might end up reading at least two more. On the bright side, it will be the last book that I try to shoehorn into my playing of the Infocom Hitchhiker’s Guide game as I have completed it now (over on The Adventure Gamer) and will be posting the final rating in a day or two.

Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen is the third posthumous collaboration between James Goss and Douglas Adams, based on his archived papers and notes. The history of this book alone is worth the price of admission: Douglas Adams first wrote a treatment for Krikkitmen back in 1976, during the Fourth Doctor’s tenure with Sarah Jane Smith. The treatment wasn’t accepted for one reason or another, although they clearly liked Mr. Adams’s work enough to bring him onboard. Adams left on it the back-burner, at one point even considering it for a possible theatrical film. Never one to leave a good idea behind, aspects of Krikkitmen made their way into Shada and eventually the main thrust of the book was transposed into the third Hitchhiker’s book, Life, the Universe, and Everything. The Doctor and companion became Arthur and Ford, but otherwise many of the fundamentals remained: a terrible race of white-outfitted robots wielding cricket bats fought a war millions of years ago for the fate of the galaxy. It is the distant racial memory of this terrible war that inspired the game of cricket, although only the English could possibly make a game out of the slaughter of millions. The Doctor ultimately fights this scourge and protects the universe and at one point nearly blows it up by accident himself.

Continue reading “Doctor Who and the Krikkitmen” by Douglas Adams & James Goss (2018)

“Shada” by Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts (2012)

(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #8.)

Setting up this reading challenge, which I am dreadfully behind on, I did not expect it to focus on Doctor Who books. This is my third and there may be a few more, but I suppose that is better than not reading at all. Over on “The Adventure Gamer”, I have been covering the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game by Infocom and Douglas Adams. Without a doubt, it is one of the best adventure games of the 1980s, filled with humor, fun, and devilishly difficult puzzles. I highly recommend it! As background research, I have been diving deep into Douglas Adams lore. I have read most of two biographies (focusing on the 1980s), re-read the Hitchhiker’s Guide novel, already covered the radio plays, and now I find myself looking at Douglas Adams’s four serials for Doctor Who, of which only two were produced. The book that I have just finished, Shada, was actually Mr. Adams’s final script for the program and was partly filmed before an industry strike caused it to be shelved and eventually abandoned altogether. If I have time, I plan to read The Krikkitmen, The Pirate Planet, and The City of Death as well.

Continue reading “Shada” by Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts (2012)

“Rose” novelization by Russell T. Davies (2018) & “The Day of the Doctor” novelization by Steven Moffat (2018)

(These are 2018 Reading Challenge Books #6 & #7.)

There was a time for Doctor Who fans when books were an essential part of the fandom. In an era before home recordings, novelizations were the way that fans could rediscover past Doctor Who adventures long after they had aired. The first novelization, The Daleks, was published in 1964, only a year after airing. In the decades that followed, nearly every original story (barring a few written by Douglas Adams) were reproduced as a novel. During the “dark period” between the end of the original show and the launch of the new one, novels and stories were the only way fans could experience new Doctor Who adventures. Many of the writers of the new series, including both Steven Moffat and Russell T. Davies, wrote new adventures of the Doctor during that period. It may have been in part due to the success of the novels (and comics and audio books) that Doctor Who never really died, it only slept until it was time to arise again.

Continue reading “Rose” novelization by Russell T. Davies (2018) & “The Day of the Doctor” novelization by Steven Moffat (2018)

“The Original Hitchhiker’s Radio Scripts” by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (1978, 1980)

(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #5.) 

After The Hobbit and the Prydain Chronicles, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series is one of the most influential on my childhood. I long since lost count of how many times I read the various books; I even owned the “bible bound” edition, much to my mother’s consternation. This series changed the way that I saw the world, influenced my sense of humor, and made me smile when almost nothing else could. It’s also a series that I have largely “grown out” of as I haven’t picked up any of the books in more than a decade and my last interaction with the series was watching the 2005 movie when it came out.

In 1984, Infocom collaborated with Douglas Adams to produce an adventure game based on the book. It’s quite a famous game, in the circles where such things can be famous, and I’ll be reviewing it shortly for TAG. Although most people think of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series as books, in fact the first novel was Mr. Adams’s fourth revision of the material: the original radio play, an album version, a stage play, and then finally the novel. For all that I loved the book, I had never experienced any of the original versions. For this project, I picked up the original scripts (published in 1985) for the radio series. The series itself aired in two seasons and a special: a first batch in early 1978, a “Christmas special” that year that had nothing to do with Christmas, and a second season in early 1980. Most of the episodes are written by Douglas Adams, with co-writing credit given for a number of later first season episodes to John Lloyd.

Continue reading “The Original Hitchhiker’s Radio Scripts” by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd (1978, 1980)

“Crystal Phoenix” by Michael Berlyn (1980)

(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #4.) 

For “The Adventure Gamer”, I have been reviewing Infocom text adventure games from the 1980s. If you are not familiar with the genre, these are games without graphics where you interact with them only through text commands like “pick up the key” or “eat the sandwich”. Sometimes called “interactive fiction”, the form branched out from its Dungeons and Dragons-inspired roots to mysteries, science fiction, pirate adventures, and just about everything else. Since the best “interactive fiction” games were well-written, Infocom experimented with hiring real writers to design the stories, working with their programmers to implement them. Although bigger names would come later, the first writer that Infocom hired was Michael Berlin, a science-fiction writer from Brookline, Massachusetts, who had at that point had published three novels and two computer games. Because of his mix of experience both writing stories and writing software, Infocom felt he was just what they needed. I’ve reviewed the first two (of four) of his games with Infocom already, but as I am about to play his third, now seemed like a great time to dig into his published work starting at the beginning: 1980’s Crystal Phoenix. Let’s just say it wasn’t what I expected.

Continue reading “Crystal Phoenix” by Michael Berlyn (1980)

“The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” by Don Rosa (1994)

(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #3.) 

For my third “book” of the year, I selected to read a comic that I have been wanting to look at for some time: Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. For this, I have been the subject of incessant teasing from my wife who keeps asking me why I am reading those “duck comics”. Since this isn’t a novel and comics are faster to read, I read both the original Life and Times stories (written 1992-1994) as well as the official “companion” stories which were written as one-offs between 1988 and 2006. All in all, it’s more than 400 pages of comics and supplementary material, so I think it counts.

So, why am I reading “duck comics”? As a kid, I was a fan of Ducktales (1987-1990) and those stories featured the adventures of Scrooge McDuck with his great-nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie, as well as a cast of other characters. Unknown to me at the time, Ducktales was based in large part on the “Duck Universe” established in comics, especially those by Carl Barks. (Originally a Disney animator, he worked on Disney comics from the 1940s to the 1970s.) It was during his run on these comics that Mr. Barks created the character of Scrooge McDuck as a one-off in Christmas 1947 (“Night on Bear Mountain”), but the character became a breakout star and eventually was fleshed out with his own universe of eccentric supporting characters.

Continue reading “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck” by Don Rosa (1994)

“The Storm Before the Storm” by Mike Duncan (2017)

(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #2.) 

I have been a fan of Mike Duncan’s work for a very long time. I became hooked on his History of Rome podcast somewhere around 2009-2010, during a period where I became sick of news radio after the excesses of the 2008 election. It was a simpler time! I followed him onto his new Revolutions podcast. He is one of the best serial history storytellers on the planet; many other podcasters have tried to match his scope and style (I regularly listen to a dozen of them), but no one quite manages to be as engaging on a week-over-week basis. I could write forever on the strengths and weaknesses of my favorite podcasters, but perhaps another day.

Continue reading “The Storm Before the Storm” by Mike Duncan (2017)

“Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” by Lois Bujold (2012)

(This is 2018 Reading Challenge Book #1.) 

I still love the “Vorkosigan Saga” books, but recent events have caused me to reflect more on what is in them and I am finding some aspects uncomfortable. I had tried reading the “Ivan Book” once before and gave up halfway through, but this time I knew I had to power on and it was worth it, in the end. We have a fun, if meandering, science fiction adventure which ends with a literal bang. Ivan isn’t my favorite protagonist as he just lets things happen to him much of the time, but when he needs to be crafty, he is. Tej, the second viewpoint character, is craftier but she gets completely subsumed when her family reappears in the midpoint of the book. (I had given up just prior to that point, during a long section of continuity-porn as Ivan had to interact with as many of the established Vor Saga characters as possible.) That said, I love her love of languages and only wish that Ms. Bujold had gone deeper into how languages evolved on the planet… but maybe no one else wants that.

Continue reading “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” by Lois Bujold (2012)

My 2018 Reading Challenge

Stated briefly: I don’t read enough anymore. In my youth, I could eat books like candy and go through multiple novels a day. Now, I hardly read at all except for research. Most of my information today gets digested in podcasts and audiobooks. In 2018, I want to change that. Naturally, I want to do it in an overly-complicated way.

My goal will be to read 24 books, fiction or nonfiction. Not that many, still doable even with a schedule of work, teaching, blogging, and family time. I’ve decided to select the books by somewhat randomly rotating through four categories:

  1. Books my wife recommends. She gets the lion’s share and she has never led me wrong before.
  2. Books that I want to read. This consists of a few that have been on my list for years (“Journey to the West” as a prime example) as well as books written by my friends. I am gifted to know many authors and a few I have not read more than a sampling of their work.
  3. Books that I buy. I am not permitted to buy any books this year which I will not read. For that reason, I already have “The Storm Before the Storm” by Mike Duncan on the reading list, as well as the new “Fire and Fury”. I am also going to randomly pick out books that I own but have never got around to reading.
  4. Finally, but most importantly, books selected by my friends earlier this year. Since they suggested 50 books, far more than I may get to, I have an overly complicated process for randomly picking which I will read.

As I read each one, I will write a little thing– not a full fledged book review, but my thoughts. This may interest no one but me, but writing it will help me to cement the book in my brain before moving onto the next one. I want to make sure that I savor each one, not just consume and throw away.

Onward to the first book: “Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance” by Lois Bujold (2012), selected by my wife. (Always the right way to start!)

“Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster” by Jim Lawrence (1954)

As I prepare to play Seastalker for The Adventure Gamer, I am continuing to read Jim Lawrence’s earlier juvenile fiction. Last month, I took a look at my first Hardy Boys story, The Ghost at Skeleton Rock. This time, I wanted to jump back to Mr. Lawrence’s very first (that I have been able to find) published novel, 1954’s Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster.

Tom Swift was, like the Hardy Boys, a Stratemeyer Syndicate series. Like all Syndicate series, Tom Swift stories were written by a pseudonym consisting of a collection of writers and editors rather than a specific individual. Individual stories could be outlined by one author, written by a second, and edited by a third before having a finished product. (And, in a few cases, completely rewritten by a fourth for re-releases.) Tom Swift stories were actually among the oldest of the series, with the first novel, Tom Swift and his Motorcycle, published in 1910. In these early stories, Tom Swift was an adventurer and inventor who solved problems using the power of his intellect and his increasingly sci-fi inventions. Unlike most of the later series, Tom Swift was allowed to age over the course of his adventurers, eventually getting married and having a son, Tom Swift Jr. His son then became the star of the stories from the 1950s onward, although from that point the characters did not continue to age through their original runs. The original continuity ended in 1971 although three further Tom Swift series were released through the mid-00s. It’s likely the stories will be picked up again.

Continue reading “Tom Swift and His Atomic Earth Blaster” by Jim Lawrence (1954)