REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The TV Movie” by Gary Russell (Target Novelization)

Most movie novelizations end up being a not-quite-final draft of the film’s script converted into prose. There’s the occasional deleted scene or expanded character backstory, but it’s mostly just a book version of the film, as you’d have seen it. Doctor Who: The TV Movie is precisely that kind of novelization. It’s well written, sure, and Russell’s prose adds a fair amount of depth to the story that a ninety-minute TV film simply can’t have. But it’s still a very safe, very standard novelization. It’s a little disappointing compared to how different some of the other recent Target novelizations are to their original stories, but I’m kind of okay with Russell’s adaptation being as faithful and safe as it is. I have quite the soft spot for the TV film, and Russell’s novel does a great job of capturing what works about the film. (4 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review features mild spoilers for Doctor Who: The TV Movie and its novelization. Read at your own risk.

Doctor Who: The TV Movie
(written by Gary Russell)
It’s December 1999, and strange things are happening as the new millennium nears. A British police box appears from nowhere in San Francisco’s Chinatown and the mysterious man inside it is shot down in the street. Despite the best efforts of Dr Grace Holloway, the man dies and another stranger appears, claiming to be the same person in a different body: a wanderer in time and space known only as the Doctor.

But the Doctor is not the only alien in San Francisco. His deadly adversary the Master is murdering his way through the city and has taken control of the TARDIS. The Master is desperate to take the Doctor’s newly regenerated body for himself, and if the Doctor does not capitulate, it will literally cost him the Earth… and every last life on it.

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REVIEW: “Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss / “Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson (Doctor Who Target Collection)

The Target range of Doctor Who novelizations has long held the ability to transform an otherwise average-to-bad episode of the show into a memorable and enjoyable book. Sometimes, what doesn’t work on screen is destined to work on the page, and granting the original screenwriter the opportunity to expand upon their script often yields exciting results. This is the mindset I approached the latest wave of the range with. Neither “The Crimson Horror” nor “The Witchfinders” are bad episodes of Doctor Who, but they are decidedly average ones, which means there’s quite a lot of room for them to be bettered in a novelization. While “The Crimson Horror” doesn’t really achieve this feat, “The Witchfinders” does. And, to be fair, both novels are immensely enjoyable and should prove pleasing to any Doctor Who fan who decides to read either story.

“Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror” by Mark Gatiss
Something ghastly is afoot in Victorian Yorkshire. Something that kills. Bodies are washing up in the canal, their skin a waxy, glowing red… But just what is this crimson horror? Madam Vastra, Jenny and Strax are despatched to investigate the mystery. Strangely reluctant to assist their enquiries is Mrs Winifred Gillyflower, matriarch of ‘Sweetville’, a seemingly utopian workers’ community. Why do all roads lead to the team’s old friends Clara and the Doctor? Who is Mrs Gillyflower’s mysterious silent partner Mr Sweet? And will the motley gang be in time to defeat the mysterious power that threatens all the world with its poison?

“Doctor Who: The Witchfinders” by Joy Wilkinson
The TARDIS lands in the Lancashire village of Bilehurst Cragg in the 17th century, and the Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz soon become embroiled in a witch trial run by the local landowner. Fear stalks the land, and the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But the Doctor soon realises there is something more sinister than paranoia and superstition at work. Tendrils of living mud stir in the ground and the dead lurch back to horrifying life as an evil alien presence begins to revive. The Doctor and her friends must save not only the people of Bilehurst Cragg from the wakening forces, but the entire world.

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QUICKIE REVIEW: NBC’s “Debris”

If you’re a sci-fi fan and you’re not watching Debris, you’re missing out on a fun show. Debris is one of those weird experiments in how little exposition a show can get away with giving. The pilot episode drops viewers in the middle of the action, with Brian and Finola having been tracking debris for several weeks already. It’s a gutsy way to start such a high-concept series, for sure. But it’s honestly a breath of fresh air in a genre that usually spends an unwieldy amount of time setting premises up before anything interesting happens. It’s nice getting right to the action, especially when the action involves a new piece of Debris each week that lets the writers explore a multitude of science fiction ideas. Want a story about clones? Check out episode two. Want something involving wormholes? Episode three’s your bet. Want to see an episode where old people can become young again? Watch episode six. I’m not always the biggest fan of procedural shows, but Debris offers a nice balance between fun cases of the week and an intriguing ongoing mystery—there’s some kind of terrorist group trying to find the pieces of debris before the various governments can and they seem to be up to no good. The mystery needs some development, but it’s enough to keep you coming back each week to see the newest strange case.

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REVIEW: “The Future is Yours” by Dan Frey

Have you ever read one of those books that immediately envelops your interest? One that just grabs your attention and holds it like a vice, daring you to put the book down? There’s nothing quite like reading a book like that. It’s a high that all readers chase as often as they can. Reading Dan Frey’s newest sci-fi techno-thriller, The Future is Yours, created just that experience for me. The Future is Yours is an epistolary novel and tells its story through writing found within the novel’s world (like emails, text messages, blog posts, transcripts of congressional hearings). As a result, it creates a reading experience unlike those found in prose-based novels. The Future is Yours is a face-paced, thrilling read that asks what might happen if humans could access information from the future and then thoroughly unpacks all the reasons why humans shouldn’t be allowed to do that. It’s a nuanced page-turner with fully-fleshed characters and a well-executed premise that’s well worth a read for all sci-fi fans. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC of this novel from NetGalley. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, this review is spoiler free.

For Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry, the answer is unequivocally yes. And they’re betting everything that you’ll say yes, too. Welcome to The Future: a computer that connects to the internet one year from now, so you can see who you’ll be dating, where you’ll be working, even whether or not you’ll be alive in the year to come. By forming a startup to deliver this revolutionary technology to the world, Ben and Adhi have made their wildest, most impossible dream a reality. Once Silicon Valley outsiders, they’re now its hottest commodity. 

The device can predict everything perfectly—from stock market spikes and sports scores to political scandals and corporate takeovers—allowing them to chase down success and fame while staying one step ahead of the competition. But the future their device foretells is not the bright one they imagined. Ambition. Greed. Jealousy. And, perhaps, an apocalypse. The question is . . . can they stop it?

Told through emails, texts, transcripts, and blog posts, this bleeding-edge tech thriller chronicles the costs of innovation and asks how far you’d go to protect the ones you love—even from themselves.

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REVIEW – “Star Wars: Into the Dark” by Claudia Gray (The High Republic)

It’s great that Disney is finally starting to expand the Star Wars universe past the confines of The Skywalker Saga and the time frame it’s set in. I’ve always believed the Star Wars universe was one rife for exploration, and what better way of exploring new aspects of it than with a big, multimedia event? That’s exactly what Disney and Lucasfilm are doing with The High Republic, a multi-media publishing event spanning novels and comics. Set some 200 years before The Phantom Menace, The High Republic looks to explore a new corner of the galaxy’s history—and that’s exhilarating. While the first few titles of this event came out last month, I haven’t read any of them. Instead, I wanted to start my High Republic journey with Claudia Gray’s entry—the YA novel, Into the Dark. Gray is one of my favorite Star Wars authors and the book’s synopsis had a very claustrophobic Alien vibe. So, I was pretty excited to read it. And, having read it, it lives up to my expectations. Star Wars: Into the Dark is an exhilarating, character-driven story that deftly explores this new era. It’s a quick-paced, satisfying read, and I’m eager for more. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine. Additionally, this review will be as spoiler free as possible.

Star Wars: Into the Dark (The High Republic) by Claudia Gray
Padawan Reath Silas is being sent from the cosmopolitan galactic capital of Coruscant to the undeveloped frontier—and he couldn’t be less happy about it. He’d rather stay at the Jedi Temple, studying the archives. But when the ship he’s traveling on is knocked out of hyperspace in a galactic-wide disaster, Reath finds himself at the center of the action. The Jedi and their traveling companions find refuge on what appears to be an abandoned space station. But then strange things start happening, leading the Jedi to investigate the truth behind the mysterious station, a truth that could end in tragedy…

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REVIEW: SyFy’s “Resident Alien” Never Manages to Take Off

Who doesn’t love a good fish out of water comedy? There’s just so much joy to be mined out of watching a character from one environment have to navigate the ins and the outs of a totally new and alien environment. This trope is especially successful in sci-fi settings, where either a human has to adapt to an alien culture or vice versa. It’s this trope that first attracted me to SyFy’s Resident Alien, a TV adaptation of the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name. Here, Alan Tudyk plays an alien who’s crash-landed in a small Colorado town and is forced to blend in with the local townsfolk as a quirky doctor, Harry Vanderspeigle, while searching for the remnants of his ship and the device he intends to use to destroy the world. It’s one of those premises that seems destined to become a classic sci-fi fish out of water story. Unfortunately, Resident Alien never quite manages to take off in its first seven episodes. It’s not a bad show, just a wildly uneven one. Its plot is unfocused, it struggles to balance its comedy with its drama, and many of the characters feel underdeveloped, at best, and paper thin and annoying, at worst. There’s plenty of potential here, but there’s a lot of work to be done before this show is as good as its premise is. (3 out of 5 wands.)

NOTE: This review is based off of the first seven episodes. It will be as spoiler free as possible.

Resident Alien (created by Chris Sheridan)
Based on the Dark Horse comic, SYFY’s RESIDENT ALIEN follows Harry, an alien played by Alan Tudyk that crash lands on Earth and passes himself off as a small-town human doctor. Arriving with a secret mission to kill all humans, Harry starts off living a simple life… but things get a bit rocky when he’s roped into solving a local murder and realizes he needs to assimilate into his new world. As he does so, he begins to wrestle with the moral dilemma of his mission and asking the big life questions like: “Are human beings worth saving?” and “Why do they fold their pizza before eating it?”

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REVIEW: “CODE 404” (Peacock Original)

I love a good sci-fi comedy. The melding of sci-fi concepts and comedy is often endlessly entertaining. However, there seems to be a general lack of sci-fi comedies on TV – especially in America. There are the occasional horror comedies and fantasy comedies but you don’t see many sci-fi comedies. This is where Peacock’s newest show, CODE 404 enters. A blend of traditional buddy cop comedies and entertaining sci-fi concepts, CODE 404 is an enjoyable, dryly funny show. Plus there’s a pretty fun mystery at the heart of the series. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: There may be mild spoilers for Code 404 ahead. You have been warned.)

CODE 404 (created by Daniel Peak, Tom Miller, and Sam Myer)
DI John Major (Daniel Mays) and DI Roy Carver (Stephen Graham) are the best of the best at an elite undercover police team. When Major’s cover is blown and he is met with his untimely death, he is brought back to life with some glitchy AI technology. Now, he’s better than ever – or so he thinks.

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REVIEW: “Tenet – The Complete Screenplay” by Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan’s films are always a bit hit-or-miss for me. When they work, I enjoy his dramatic tendencies and his sense of scale and spectacle. But when they don’t work, they really don’t work. To this day, Inception remains one of those films that I can watch repeatedly without growing bored. But I haven’t liked a Nolan film since The Dark Knight Rises. It’s with this level of trepidation that I approached Tenet. With movie theaters in my state closed for the foreseeable future, I can’t see the film anytime soon. But I can read its recently published screenplay. Based on the writing, alone, Tenet is weak. It’s devoid of any meaningful characters, hampered with a premise that never fully makes sense, and reads less like a film and more like a collection of loosely related set pieces. (2 out of 5 wands) 

(NOTE: There are mild spoilers for Tenet ahead. Read at your own risk.)

Tenet: The Complete Screenplay (written by Christopher Nolan)
Tenet is a global thriller whose action stretches across time zones, and stars Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington. The film displays Nolan’s preoccupations, especially how Time can shift from one moment to the next.

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REVIEW: “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars” by Christopher Paolini

I never read The Inheritance Cycle as a kid. I tried reading Eragon a few times and I made it partway through the film, but it was never something I could get into. I’m very picky about what kinds of fantasy books I like – the higher the fantasy and the more complex the world, the less likely I am to like it. Which is exactly what happened with Christopher Paolini’s beloved books. It was a classic case of it’s me not them. In that context, I was unsure what to expect when approaching To Sleep in a Sea of Stars, Paolini’s first book for adults, and his first foray into science fiction. While I love a lot of sci-fi, would I like this? Would this novel connect with me in the way I wanted his others to? In short: yes. To Sleep in a Sea of Stars is a masterclass in genre storytelling. Intricately plotted, stuffed with multidimensional and endearing characters, and filled with enough action to make Hollywood jealous, it is a thrill from start to finish. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: I won an advance copy of this book from BookishFirst. All reactions are my own. Additionally, there may be mild spoilers.)

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
During a routine survey mission on an uncolonized planet, Kira finds an alien relic. At first she’s delighted, but elation turns to terror when the ancient dust around her begins to move.

As war erupts among the stars, Kira is launched into a galaxy-spanning odyssey of discovery and transformation. First contact isn’t at all what she imagined, and events push her to the very limits of what it means to be human.

While Kira faces her own horrors, Earth and its colonies stand upon the brink of annihilation. Now, Kira might be humanity’s greatest and final hope . . .

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REVIEW: “LaGuardia” by Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford

I’m always on the lookout for new comics. I don’t follow the industry particularly closely, so a lot of titles slipped my attention. But I kept hearing about Nnedi Okorafor’s LaGuardia. It was part of Dark Horse Comics’ Berger Books imprint, a line of titles spearheaded by Karen Berger of Vertigo Comics fame – an editor whose work I’ve adored. It was a sci-fi comic that imagined an alternate Earth where aliens had integrated themselves among humanity – a premise that’s right up my alley. And it just won Eisner and Hugo Awards. So, I finally read it. And, man, it’s good. While I wish it was a bit longer, LaGuardia is a superb read. Featuring gorgeous artwork and intriguing world-building, it’s reflective of our current societal problems and a wildly captivating read. (4 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review may contain spoilers.)

LaGuardia (written by Nnedi Okorafor, illustrated by Tana Ford)
In an alternate world where aliens have integrated with society, pregnant Nigerian-American doctor Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka has just smuggled an illegal alien plant named Letme Live through LaGuardia International and Interstellar Airport…and that’s not the only thing she’s hiding.

She and Letme become part of a community of human and alien immigrants; but as their crusade for equality continues and the birth of her child nears, Future—and her entire world—begins to change.

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