Book Review: DOCTOR WHO: The Pirate Planet

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doctor who the pirate planet

James Goss
BBC Books

There is a joy to taking one’s first steps onto a new planet. How it looks, how it smells, the general planety feel of the planet, the pleasingly imminent threat level. These were all things the Doctor tried to calculate on the threshold of his ship by the beloved scientific formula of throwing open the door and having a gander.

  • The hugely powerful Key to Time has been split into six segments, all of which have been disguised and hidden throughout time and space. Now the even more powerful White Guardian wants the Doctor to find the pieces. With the first segment successfully retrieved, the Doctor, Romana and K-9 trace the second segment of the Key to the planet Calufrax. But when they arrive at exactly the right point in space, they find themselves on exactly the wrong planet — Zanak. Ruled by the mysterious ‘Captain’, Zanak is a happy and prosperous planet. Mostly. If the mines run out of valuable minerals and gems then the Captain merely announces a New Golden Age and they fill up again. It’s an economic miracle–so obviously something’s very wrong.

With the publication of The Pirate Planet, all three Doctor Who serials that Douglas Adams had a hand in have now been given an official novelization. My collection is complete. I just wrote that with a Darth Vader voice.

Anyway, The Pirate Planet was originally the second serial in the 16th season of the original run of Doctor Who, which went under the umbrella title The Key to Time. This was where the Fourth Doctor was enlisted by the White Guardian to find all six pieces to what was the titular McGuffin, a cosmic artifact that, when fully assembled, looked like a crystal cube and maintained the equilibrium of the universe. Douglas Adams wrote the script for the second serial, but–like with City Of Death–was never given the official Target Books adaptation due to disagreements with the author. It was covered in the City of Death review, in case you need a refresher. But, also like with City of Death, The Pirate Planet was finally given an official novelization written by James Goss, who did a bonnie job with the previous adaptation. And, almost like it’s a time-honored tradition, I’ve managed to read this novelization long before watching the original televised episodes that it’s based on.

On with the plot, then: The Doctor and Romana, on the search for the second piece to the Key to Time, land on what they think is the planet Calufrax, but are a bit confused when, considering Calufrax is normally cold, boring and–most importantly–not populated with people, the planet turns out to be anything but. As a matter of fact, not only is there an abundance of people and communities, but sometimes precious gems rain from the sky onto the populous. They then meet a mysterious bunch of psychic-like people called the Mentiads, and then they meet the Captain, the planet’s leader and benefactor. Turns out, the Doctor and Romana happen to be on a hollowed out planet named Zanak, which is rigged to materialize around other planets for the purpose of plundering all of their resources. The TARDIS just happened to materialize on Calufrax at the same time that Zanak did. So then, the Captain decides his next target would be Earth (because of course it would be), meanwhile the Doctor discovers that the real menace behind the Captain and his Death Star Pirate Planet is Queen Xanxia, an ancient tyrant and immortality enthusiast, currently frozen in a Time Dam to stave off death and using the resources pirated by the planet to gain immortality. A younger version of her is projected by way of a solid 3D device (predating the Holodeck’s hard photon projections in Star Trek TNG…neat-o) and poses as the Captain’s nurse. Meanwhile, the aforementioned Metiads seem to have their psychic abilities strengthened by the destruction of entire worlds, along with a strong sense of malaise over all the people dying as a result, so they and the Doctor work to stop Zanak from materializing around Earth, and destroying the engines and stopping the queen once and for all. Oh, and it turns out that Calufrax wasn’t really a planet after all, but the disguised form of the second piece of the McGuffin of Time.

As with reading anything that was even remotely inspired by the plump, succulent brain of Douglas Adams, the story to The Pirate Planet manages to take several random acts of nonsense and craft a bloody good yarn in the process. I envy not what James Goss had to do, with taking what was essentially a teleplay and expand on that into an actual science fiction novel that emulated the style and feel that Adams was famous for. And I do believe he managed to capture this for the second time in a row. The story was complex yet fun, the dialogue was snappy and witty, and I came away rather satisfied with the tale. Which is what a good sci-fi novel–or any novel, for that matter–is supposed to do. I did, however, have a habit of picturing the Lalla Ward iteration of Romana when she was in the story, rather than the Mary Tamm version that was being used for the original run of the televised version, but that has to do with not having known any other kind of Romana in my watchings of the classic episodes. I really need to rectify that some time.

Overall, The Pirate Planet is a fine Doctor Who story, and it’s about time we have a good novelized edition of the thing. Recommended highly.

Book Review: The GHOST FILES

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ghost files 1
Apryl Baker
Limitless Publishing

  • Cherry blossom lipstick: check. Smokey eyes: check. Skinny jeans: check. Dead kid in the mirror: check. For sixteen year old Mattie Hathaway, this is her normal everyday routine. She’s been able to see ghosts since her mother tried to murder her when she was five years old. No way does she want anyone to know she can talk to spooks. Being a foster kid is hard enough without being labeled a freak too. Normally, she just ignores the ghosts and they go away. That is until she see’s the ghost of her foster sister… Sally. Everyone thinks Sally’s just another runaway, but Mattie knows the truth—she’s dead. Murdered. Mattie feels like she has to help Sally, but she can’t do it alone. Against her better judgment, she teams up with a young policeman, Officer Dan, and together they set out to discover the real truth behind Sally’s disappearance. Only to find out she’s dealing with a much bigger problem, a serial killer, and she may be the next victim… Will Mattie be able to find out the truth before the killer finds her?

The second e-book I read from the cluster of free Kindle horror books I downloaded (as mentioned in my article for The House Next Door), The Ghost Files was one of those books that, in hindsight, was probably not intended for my particular reading demographic. But, it was free. So I read it. And thus, I am reviewing it.

As with the other authors in the Kindle Kluster (see what I did there?), I was unfamiliar with Apryl Baker. Her biography at the end of this book–as well as on her blog–doesn’t really inform much, and kind of goes for the Lisa Frank style of whimsical fluff, but in word form. Yep. Modern Young Adult author. A peak at her entry at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database shows she’s been publishing since 2011, with the Ghost Files series starting up in 2013 and already five-ish volumes in.

Let’s take a look at the first book in that series: The Ghost Files.

In this first outing, we meet 16-year-old Mattie Hathaway, a foster child who is getting ready for a party. Within the first few paragraphs, we’re clued in to the fact that Mattie can see ghosts, as one appears behind her in the mirror she’s grooming in. Apparently, Mattie’s been able to do this since she was a young child–5, as a matter of fact–so she just ignores the specter and heads off with her boyfriend to the party. But then, after encountering the ghost of her foster sister–who was alive and talking with here not even an hour or so beforehand–she’s shocked to learn that there might be a serial killer targeting foster children. Getting some help from the dreamy 20-something policeman and the ghosts of the victims, she’s getting close to figuring out who the killer is…and she’s not going to like the answer to that mystery, or even survive…

For a YA novel, the story with The Ghost Files wasn’t all that bad. Mind you, it had its flaws: while not necessarily a full-blown Mary Sue character, it does seem that all the boys wanna git wit’ sweet Mattie. This includes the 20-year-old policeman who more or less declares his love for, I have to point this out, this 16-year-old girl. A girl who, when she’s not going on with the mystery and the trials and tribulations of a foster child, actually stops the narrative to fawn over the hot guys she comes across. She even gets the hots for a ghost of a boy. Again, I realize I may not be the demographic for this genre (even back when I was the right age for this type of book, I was cutting my horror fiction teeth on Stephen King and Clive Barker, so I may have a bit more of a disadvantage), but it seems more than a bit arbitrary, really.

On the plus side, though, once we get past the fact that I more or less guessed the big twist reveal before I finished the fist chapter, The Ghost Files does manage to end on a satisfactory note. Sure, there was the obvious sequel bait (this is an ongoing series, after all), but at least the ending didn’t tie everything up in a nice neat package where everything works out in the end. Mattie is a tragic hero, here.

Overall: While there were points where I found myself rolling my eyes at the parts that were clearly not written for my particular demographic, this first volume of The Ghosts Files held my attention with a pretty good supernatural mystery that had some spine-chilling moments. It did prompt me to get a few more volumes in the series when the chance presented itself. Worth a look-see.

Book Review: AMISH ZOMBIES FROM SPACE (Peril in Plain Space #2)

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amish zombies from space
Kerry Nietz
Freeheads Publishing

If it wasn’t for the roaming bands of dead, it might not be such a bad place.

  • First, vampires in space. And now…zombies. Really? Jebediah and the others are trying to get over the horrors they faced in deep space, and now this. It’s been five years, and the Amish colony on Miller’s Resolve has finally gotten settled. Jeb and Sarah have a son. Elder Samuel is happy not being in charge. Darly has a private practice. And Greels is out of jail at last. But when a mysterious ship from space arrives on Resolve, it unleashes a horde of undead that might spell the end of the survivors and their dreams of peace. Will the specters of the past save them, or seal their fate?

Of course there’s a sequel to the surprisingly awesome book Amish Vampires in Space. Of course it would involve zombies this go-around. And, of course I would immediately read this one after experiencing the first book. I would have been disappointed in myself if I hadn’t. So let’s get to this, shall we?

Just as the back cover blurb states, it’s been five years since the wackiness on The Raven transpired. The surviving Amish have settled and flourished on a new planet called Miller’s Reserve, one with a sun that won’t be so keen on going supernova any time soon. Jebediah and Sarah have moved on from the Amish community they helped to save; Jeb shaved his beard and Sarah lost the bonnet, and both run a joint handmade furniture shop and bakery in the city of another planet, while their five-year-old son Issac is way into monster hero videos. Seal and Singer are now married, and flyin’ around the galaxy in their own private ship and discussing possibly starting a family of their own. Doctor Darly has her own private practice, as well as a bit of an unhealthy dependency on her virtual assistant. And then there’s Greels, who didn’t fare very well after the events in the first book; he’s just getting released from jail, he discovers that his severance pay and any evidence he ever worked for the Guild have been wiped out of existence, and he only has $200 to his name. Meanwhile, back on Miller’s Reserve, a ship with a bunch of annoying tourists shows up and insists on checking out the quaint Amish way of life for themselves. Only, they may have a secret ulterior motive about visiting and disrupting the good folks, and it may or may not have something to do with another strange ship that has just crash landed nearby the community, bearing some very gruesome cargo. Soon, the community is overrun by the undead corpses of the Amish and their animals. Also, Greels has just kidnapped Issac and taken him on a space-trip in a stolen Guild cargo shuttle to a mysterious base on the edge of uncharted space, a place that may have a clue to what went on in the last book, and also to help defeat the zombies that have overrun Miller’s Resolve.

Once again, Kerry Nietz manages to take the concept of a bunch of future Amish settlers on a planet in far-off space being overrun by zombies, and make it seem rather plausible. Sure, this book takes the more scientific route when explaining the source of what made the zombies, as well as shines some more scientific light as to the origins of the vampires that plagued everyone in the last book. But, this being birthed from a sci-fi writer, I would have been disappointed if it didn’t.

And just like in the previous book, Amish Zombies from Space manages to blend the sci-fi with the horror, action and drama in a rather cinematic way, to which you can vividly picture it all in your head. And really, the book does manage to do something different from the standard way this could have ended. And thus, I would once again mark this book as Recommended, especially if you’ve already read the first book.

Movie Review: STARGATE Continuum

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stargate continuum
MGM Home Entertainment

“Have you ever tried to find the bathroom in a pyramid?”

  • While SG-1 attends the execution of Ba’al, the last of the Goa’uld System Lords, Teal’c and Vala inexplicably disappear into thin air. Carter, Daniel, and Mitchell race back to a world where history has been changed: the Stargate program has been erased from the timeline. The remaining SG:1 members must find the Stargate and set things right before the world is enslaved by the Go’auld.

The second of the direct-to-video sequel movies to the Sci-Fi favorite Stargate: SG1, this one involves time travel, that favorite go-to plot device employed in rather good science fiction. Of the two, I believe I like Continuum over Ark Of Truth…but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, here.

The story of Continuum brings back the SG-1 crew from the last season of the show, as well as fan-favorite Richard Dean Anderson and my personal favorite from the earlier seasons, the late Don S. Davis, in a story that involves that pesky Goa’uld system lord Ba’al managing to go back in time and killing the crew of the Achillies, the ship that carried the Stargate to America back in 1939. This means now the Stargate program never happened, Teal’c and Vala never existed in this timeline, and somehow Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson and Cameron Mitchell retained their memories into this tangent universe. They somehow convince General Landry that they’re not raving lunatics (probably due to the fact that this reality’s Carter died previously in a space shuttle accident, and Mitchell doesn’t exist at all due to it being his grandfather being one of the the people who perished on the Achilles), but are denied permission to change the timeline, and ordered to lead separate lives with no contact between any of them. Then about a year later, Ba’al’s posse shows up at Earth, along with Vala–the Qetesh symbiote still residing insider her–and his First Prime Teal’c to totes take over the Earth, much to the chagrin of the other System Lords. So now SG:1 is reassembled to get the Antartic Stargate working, but things happen that prevent them to do that, so now they have to team up with the Russians, who had retrieved the Achilles’ Stargate, who agree to become friends with benefits, but then Qetesh-Vala and Teal’c show up, things go boom, and it looks kind of bleak with everyone dying, but then Mitchell manages to time-machine back in time and set everything right again. Hooray. And The End.

Oh, I loves me a good convoluted time machine story. A nice slice of “What If?” to dig into, here. Mainly, what if the Stargate was somehow lost, and the Stargate program never happened, and then the System Lords finally show up. What kind of wackiness would ensue? Also, what kind of paradoxes can we nit-pick?

As I mentioned earlier, Stargate: Continuum is my favorite of the two direct-to-video movies produced by MGM in leu of giving us more episodes of the show. Pity they didn’t produce more featuring the SG:1 cast. Regardless, Continuum works as a rather satisfying send-off to the cast and crew that kept us entertained all these years. Very much recommended to check out. Now, if only we can get some closure with both Atlantis and Universe…

Book Review: DOCOTOR WHO: Last of the Gaderene

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doctor who last of the gaderene1 doctor who last of the Gaderene2

Mark Gatiss
BBC Worldwide / BBC Books
2000 / 2013

The aerodrome in Culverton has new owners, and they promise an era of prosperity for the idylic village. But former Spitfire pilot Alex Whistler is suspicious–when black-shirted troops appear on the streets, he contacts his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart at U.N.I.T. The Third Doctor is sent to investigate–and soon uncovers a sinister plot to colonize the Earth. The Gaderene are on their way…

Third book re-released in the eleven-book 50th Anniversary series, and naturally this is a Third Doctor adventure, with Jo as his long-suffering companion. Originally released in 2000, Last of the Gaderene takes place soon after the events in “The Three Doctors”, which resulted in the Doctor being released from his exile on Earth by the Time Lords. To give you an idea of the timeline, here. No pun intended. Anyway…

Last of the Gaderene has a nifty Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe going on, with a story about a village beset upon by a mysterious group who turn up out of nowhere to build an airport terminal where the old aerodrome is. They have an eerie Nazi vibe to their look and mannerisms, so World War II vet Alex “Mother” Whistler (don’t ask) contacts his war buddy the Brigadier to send U. N. I. T. to investigate. They send The Doctor–who just got back from helping start a revolutionary revolt against a despot dictator on a distant planet–and Jo, where they discover the new management of the aerodrome and their goings-on to be a bit odd. And not just because they’ve always smiling and have a Mogwai-level aversion to bright lights. What are all of those coffin-like canisters for? Why are more and more members of the community suddenly acting oddly? How does a smallish glowing artefact found by Whistler during World War II tie in? And then the Master shows up. You kind of had to have seen that one coming.

I do believe this is the first full-length Third Doctor story I’ve read. No surprise, really considering how late in the game it was when I began reading the novels. Given what I’ve seen of the shows that feature the Third Doctor, I think that Mark Gatiss really captured the essence and mannerisms convincingly in prose form. Of course, it’s not just the Doctor that is brought to life–the Brigadier, Jo and the villagers that assist The Doctor with the adventure all are given depth, and even the story’s main villains–the titular Gaderene–have moments of sympathetic depth. But only a moment. They’re malevolent, no doubt about that.

Overall, Last of the Gaderene was good, spine-tingling sci-fi thriller, very well written, and featuring classic Doctor Who favorites and a rather explosive climax. Very good pick for the 50th Anniversary re-releases. Recommended.