Saturday, June 29, 2013

Doctor Who Discovers Twists in Time

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 5.02

Title: The Kingmaker
Written by: Nev Fountain
Team TARDIS: Fifth Doctor, Peri, Erimem
Range and Number: Big Finish Main Range, #81
Release Date: April 2006

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -

Dr Who encounters one of the most notorious characters from the past as he journeys through time to solve the great Historical Mysteries...

Not surprisingly, the Doctor becomes mixed up with Richard III himself as he tries to unravel the perplexing problem of who exactly killed the princes in the Tower.

Peri and Erimem also encounter a suspicious time traveller. Someone from the Doctor's own past. Someone who shouldn't really be there at all.

So who did murder the princes in the Tower? Perhaps it's best not to ask a question like that...

You might not like the answer...

My Review:

Did you happen to notice the TARDIS Wiki synopsis for this story refers to the Doctor as “Dr. Who?” There is a very good reason for that. One that I’ll get to in a minute. But first, some background.

This was one of the first (if not the very first) Big Finish audios I ever listened to. I couldn’t tell you why I picked this one other than I’d recently finished up all of the Fifth Doctor’s TV stories and was feeling slightly depressed because I’d grown so attached to Fivey (it’s only gotten worse in the intervening years) and I wanted more of his stories. And, for whatever reason, I zeroed in on “The Kingmaker” to give me my Celery-Boy fix.

And, honestly, I could not have picked a better story.

The story starts in sixteenth-century London with Peri and original-to-Big-Finish-companion Erimem taking in the local cultural flavor in the form of Shakespeare’s Richard III. There are some brilliant and hilarious moments of culture clash because Peri accidentally spoils the ending of the play for the crowd and Erimem (a princess from ancient Egypt who came thisclose to being crowned Pharaoh) knows how to take care of lustful pigs who try to grab her bottom (her penchant for breaking arms becomes a delightful running gag throughout the story). Peri and Erimem wonder about the mystery of who killed Richard III’s nephews. Shakespeare, of course, asserts that Richard did it in order to become king.

Just a quick word on history and literature in this context - my college Shakespeare class spent a unit on Richard III and we discussed endlessly whether Richard really was this venomous, evil little troll who killed his nephews in order to secure the crown or if Shakespeare was just engaging in propaganda because anything that made Gloucester look bad made the Tudors (as in Queen Elizabeth I’s family) look good. Of course, as with any discussion in a college-level humanities course, there were never any definitive answers - only broad, disinterested speculation. And honestly, probably no one really knows and even fewer people care (just like all those missing episode rumors that a certain beclowned website keeps peddling even though the rest of us are well and truly sick of it).

(Sorry - tangented in the parentheticals there... now where was I?)

Actually, Richard comes off pretty good in this story. By no means is this story meant to be taken seriously. The tone of the storytelling reminded me a lot of “The Romans” - it’s grounded in history, yes, and there are plenty of serious moments. But on the whole, there’s plenty of dry humor and deadpan snark to balance it out and make it a good comedy.

But then there’s that whole scene where Richard tells the Doctor to kill the princes himself in order to keep the timeline stable - and there is not an ounce of funny to be seen for miles.

But then someone makes a short joke and Richard gets upset and you start laughing again.

This story is also quite meta. One of my favorite moments comes at the beginning when the Doctor gets cornered by a robot who is tasked with getting manuscripts from writers who have missed their deadlines.  Apparently the Doctor was hired to write a line of educational books for children that was supposed to be titled things like "The Doctor, Who Discovers Historical Mysteries."  Except somebody forgot the comma and designed a logo for the series (which looks suspiciously like the diamond logo from Tom Baker's era - going by the image on the CD cover) and the Doctor was stuck with the name of the series.  Considering how we fans constantly correct and argue about the title of the show and the name of the main character with the "not-we," it was amusing to hear Peri and the Doctor discuss the issue.

Also, this story is a classic example of the Fifth Doctor getting in over his head with certain wrong crowds, but still trying to be the consummate gentlemen.  Not that I enjoy watching Five in uncomfortable situations, but it is entertaining watching him getting out of those situations.

Peri and Erimem get separated from the Doctor, which makes for some great moments with the two of them trying to figure out how they’re going to get back (they really are a great team together in all their Big Finish stories. They remind me a lot of Jamie and Zoe - both from different time periods, but they become best friends and they each have someone to commiserate with when neither knows what the Doctor is doing).

Plus, the Ninth Doctor makes a cameo appearance in a total Big-Finish-not-going-against-the-terms-of-their-license-with-the-BBC-but-still-getting-away-with-it, so that's an added bonus (as is the appearance of not-Tom Baker on a tape recorder - it's actually the voice of an uncanny Tom Baker impersonator that totally had me fooled the first time I heard this one).

Anyway - it’s a really great story, one that I highly recommend. It’s quirky and fun and timey-wimey without being horribly confusing. But it's difficult to talk about this story without just repeating all the jokes and memorable moments.  It's much more worth it to listen to this story yourself and experience it on your own.  There is also a fantastic twist at the end which I won't spoil for you, but the Doctor definitely solves the mystery of Richard III and his nephews.

(But did the Doctor ever make his deadline? That's the next mystery - Doctor Who Discovers the Terms of Publishing Contracts).

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 5.03 - Breaking the Nice Ones

Previously -
Review 5.01 - "It's Too Late for Pity." Actually, No It's Not.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Throwback Thursday - "Something Happened" by Greg Logsted

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on April 19, 2011**

Title: Something Happened
Author: Greg Logsted
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Date: November 2008
Recommended for Ages: 15 and up

Synopsis:  (from Goodreads) –

"All around me I see people laughing, joking, and walking around with these huge, goofy smiles plastered on their faces. I've begun to wonder how they do it, and more important, will I ever be able to be like that again?"

Five months after his dad's unexpected death, Billy Romero is still struggling with the loss. Billy's mom spends more time talking to her Bluetooth than to him, and his best friend, Ziggy, just doesn't get it. There's no one who understands how alone Billy feels...except his new English teacher, the young and beautiful Miss Gate.

Miss Gate offers support and friendship, even giving Billy extra help with his writing outside of school. Billy isn't really sure how he feels about spending so much time with his teacher. It's a little weird, but it's also kind of exciting that someone like Miss Gate wants to hang out with him. But the closer they get, the more Billy wonders what kind of friendship this really is...

My Review:

“Something Happened” was a very intriguing book to read.  It deals with Billy Romero, a boy whose father died five months prior to the beginning of the story.  He’s become withdrawn and shy.  He’s somewhat resentful to his mother, who has buried herself in her job as a real estate agent, and toward his therapist, Dr. Bragg.  Billy’s English teacher, Miss Tess Gate, reaches out to Billy saying she wants to help him because her father died when she was Billy’s age and she remembers how difficult it was for her.

Early on in the story, it’s evident that Tess’s actions toward Billy are very inappropriate.  To say that it takes some time for Billy to realize this is an understatement - he doesn’t realize until Tess is chasing him down the street in her Mustang wearing nothing but a bathrobe.  Even though on some level I find that ludicrous, on another level it must realistic in these situations.

As someone who works around high school kids, I cannot imagine what would compel a teacher to try to seduce a student.  I’ve seen news reports of these things happening and every time I see them, I really don’t understand why.  I did enjoy the way Logsted told this story from Billy’s point of view, but it would be interesting to read it from Tess’s point of view.  Also, it would be interesting to read a story where the student reciprocated the teacher’s feelings, because that happens in the news as well and it’s another thing that I just don’t understand.

This was a nice, short read – nothing terrible happened in the book, but the situation still wasn’t good.  I wouldn’t recommend this to someone dealing with a death of a loved one, but it was a fluffy, guilty-pleasure sort of story.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Navigating Childhood Without a Compass - "Okay For Now" by Gary D. Schmidt

Title: Okay For Now
Author: Gary D. Schmidt
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: April 2011
Recommended for Ages: 12 and up

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

Midwesterner Gary D. Schmidt won Newbery Honor awards for Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boys and The Wednesday Wars, two coming-of-age novels about unlikely friends finding a bond. Okay For Now, his latest novel, explores another seemingly improbable alliance, this one between new outsider in town Doug Swieteck and Lil Spicer, the savvy spitfire daughter of his deli owner boss. With her challenging assistance, Doug discovers new sides of himself. Along the way, he also readjusts his relationship with his abusive father, his school peers, and his older brother, a newly returned war victim of Vietnam.

My Review:

I started this book yesterday (Sunday) afternoon.  I finished it yesterday evening before I went to bed.  Barring a few moments where I actually had to put down the book and take a deep breath because of certain scenes, I pretty much read the whole thing straight through.

The whole story is told more or less in a stream-of-consciousness, which I'm not usually a fan of.  But for some reason, Schmidt's thirteen-year-old protagonist, Doug, kept me riveted to the story.  It's almost like Doug is telling the story all in one breath (except that the story takes place over the course of a year - but I guess you can do that kind of stuff in prose).  What's remarkable about this book is how Doug basically treats events in his life like they're no big deal, but you know that they're a very big deal to him.  But he doesn't want to let on that they mean too much to him because he's use to disappointment and he doesn't want to act like he's gotten his hopes up.

In so many ways, Doug Swieteck reminds me of Scout Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. Doug is just a kid trying to navigate his way through events that are so much bigger than him and he does it in a way that his young mind can understand. The main difference between Doug and Scout is that Doug doesn't have the Best Literary Dad Ever to help translate these events into his thought processes and he more or less has to figure it out on his own (though he does have plenty of people to guide him along the way). The reader knows what's going on, even if Doug doesn't or can't say it in so many words. I love stories that can take a kid's point of view and make it compelling and honest - like reminding you what it's like to be a kid and have to deal with adults' problems when you don't quite understand why the adults are doing the stupid things they're doing.

I think another reason I connected with this book so much is that it reminded me of some things that have happened in my own family - much that happened long before I was born, but also some that I have vague memories of from when I was very little. Not all of it was good, but it's also a reminder that you can still love your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles despite all the stupid things they may have done (and remember that your kids and your nieces and nephews may think of the stupid things you've done years down the road). I just have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this book and very little of it's really about the technical aspects of the writing and it's all about relating to the characters and the time period and how you deal with the world and make sense of it all when you're a kid. And I'm still trying to make sense of the world at twenty-eight.

But as long as I can find books like Okay For Now to help me work it out, well that's a pretty good start.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"It Is Too Late For Pity." Actually, No It’s Not.

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 5.01

Title: Warriors of the Deep
Written by: Johnny Byrne
Team TARDIS: Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Turlough
Adversary: The Sea Devils, The Silurians, Nilson and Solow
Originally Aired: January 5-13, 1984
Number of Episodes: 4

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -

The Fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough arrive on Sea Base 4, a nuclear warhead station under the sea that has some very nasty neighbours.

My Review:

“You can see the strings and stagey bits, and if you agree to believe it, you’re off to the races. It’s a show you must meet half-way, which I do, and I’ve been repaid for it many times over.”
     - Tycho, (speaking of Doctor Who)

In all my geeky pursuits in all my life, the one thing that has drawn me to different series is story. Plot, characters, motivation, humor, drama - whatever you want to call it. If a series can tell a decent, good or amazing story, I don’t give two shits about special effects or costuming or any of that other technical drivel. If you can get the SFX on par, then pat yourself on the back and give yourself a cookie. But without story, you haven’t got enough to offer me and I don’t have any time to spare for you.

Case in point - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (batten down the hatches because Hurricane Christina is about to make landfall!) Until Half-Blood Prince came out, this book was my absolute favorite of the series. There were so many intricate plots and characters and moments and everything fit so well together and called back from the first three books - it was an absolute delight!

And then the movie of the book came out. And it sucked balls. I have no nice way of putting it - all the Goblet of Fire movie served to do was to pad the SFX department’s interns’ resumes. Mike Newell pretty much came in and took a huge dump on the Potterverse (I also blame Alfonso Cuaron - he who ruined Prisoner of Azkaban - for telling the studio that Goblet of Fire didn’t need to be split into two movies. I’d like to tell Cuaron where to stick it, if I ever get the chance). They ignored the entire plot and character development in favor of an exhibition of what they could do with CGI - and threw in a completely useless dragon chase scene. That movie is a prime example of what happens when you give something so marvelous and special to a big-time movie studio and all they want to do is make money off it - they didn’t even care about being faithful to the source material or the fans. I mean, there was no attempt at faithfulness here - not even a halfhearted attempt. If they’d tried and failed, that’d be a different story. But in reality, they just didn’t give a damn.

*deep breath* I knew I’d go on a tirade about that if I brought it up, but it serves to illustrate my feelings on special effects in movies and TV (and they got Order of the Phoenix right anyway, so there was some forgiveness. Not much, but some). Special effects are great and wonderful if you can get them right and if they support the story. But if you don’t have a good story to hang the special effects on, nothing else matters. It’s the story that matters the most. You can’t depend solely on effects to carry your franchise (George Lucas and James Cameron, I’m lookin’ at you!)

Which is why I love “Warriors of the Deep.” Long maligned and often seen as the start of the demise of Doctor Who in the '80s - I actually adore this story, for the simple reason that I can look past the bad effects and rushed costumes and see it as a brilliantly written piece of television. I can even forgive the ill-timed karate kick against the Myrka* (hell, I can forgive the Myrka. He’s actually kind of cute - if you squint and look at him sideways). But all the elements are there for a fantastic and atmospheric story - right there in the script, before any of the effects crew started in on it.

I wanted to test if the story really was that good or if I was just defending this story simply because it belongs to my Classic Doctor and I was loathe to hate on anything Fifth Doctor (it’s been known to happen - I regret nothing!) So, I found a used copy of the Target Novelization on Amazon, purchased it and read it. Even though I’d seen the televised story, I managed to ignore that fact and imagine that reading the story was my first experience with it. And the story holds up spectacularly!

The Story -

“Warriors of the Deep” is basically “The Caves of Androzani” without the Doctor dying. The Doctor tries his damnedest to get the two sides to listen and cooperate... but everyone dies because the people the Doctor’s dealing with are hell-bent on destroying one another and never mind who gets in the way. When you have even one side in a conflict who is so determined and so set in their ways, not even the Doctor can stop them (okay, maybe this isn’t so much “Caves.” More "The Sea Devils" - which is a classic in and of itself.  But my point stands).

Apart from Team TARDIS, there really are no good guys in this story. The Sea Base is being sabotaged from within by Nilson and Solow  and the Silurians just show up to speed along the process. The Doctor tries to get all sides to calm down and work out their differences - but neither side is remotely interested in doing that. And the story ends with the Doctor sporting a spectacular black eye, having put everything on the line for these misguided idiots, surrounded by dead bodies lamenting “There should have been another way.”  And there probably was - but nobody was going to tell the Silurians or the humans any different.

Truly, the best thing the Doctor could have done is get Tegan and Turlough back into the TARDIS and let Sea Base 4 implode upon itself - good riddance to bad rubbish. But this is the Doctor and he is similarly determined to get the humans and Silurians to calm down and talk about things rationally (sweet, sweet Fivey - so lovable and idealistic, such a gentleman, but also so naive). This story is first and foremost a commentary on the Cold War, but I can’t help but see this scenario repeated throughout history and even in today’s world - just with different names and faces. There are certain people you just can’t rationalize with because they refuse to be rational. So, the best thing you can do is bunker down and protect yourself and your own and let these crazy bastards destroy each other.

(Kind of a pessimistic way to take it, but lately I’ve been seeing so much destructive behavior on the large and small scale in real life and no one seems to care that it’s happening. Consequently, I’ve given up on much of humanity. Honestly, there are days where I’d just rather the world get on with the business of ending. There’s really nothing I can do to fix anything and no one’s going to listen anyway. My patience has been tested to the edge and there are so many people that I am just *wipes hands* done with it all).

Other Things That I Liked (in list format) -

- “What have you been eating?” THAT is a funny line. And not just once - but twice!

- Turlough - “If the Doctor had intended to destroy it, it would be lying in pieces at your feet!” My friends, Vislor Turlough, Snark Master Supreme.

- Actually, Turlough is pretty awesome in this story. He storms into the command center of the base demanding that the captain open the bulkhead so the Doctor and Tegan can escape (“I know what the commander’s orders were, but now I’m giving you mine!”) Turlough may be a little shit from time to time, but if you’ve won his loyalty you’ve won a fantastic friend and ally for the rest of your life.

- When the Silurian says “Release the Myrka,” I can’t help but think of “Wewease za secwet weapon!” from An American Tail

- The subplot of Nilson and Solow sabotaging the Sea Base while everyone else is running around after the Silurians is really compelling stuff. Solow may suck at Myrka kung-fu, but she definitely works as a diabolical enemy scientist. The scene where a brainwashed Maddox is forced to kill Karina (who has been a friend to him so far) is so striking, even when intercut with the crew facing the threat of the Myrka breaking down the door. It’s a smaller scene by comparison, but it’s underscores the larger threat of Nilson and Solow’s betrayal.

- Can’t forget also that “Warriors of the Deep,” to it’s everlasting credit, gave us this:

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and this:

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(Any story that’s going to give me Peter Davison in the Doctor Who equivalent of a Wet T-Shirt contest has bonus points before it’s even started. Like any fangirl, I have my shallow moments).

The Effects -

And yet, I still hear the perpetually-malcontented whining “But - but - but - the Myrka! Wobbly sets! It sucked!”

Well, yeah. If you’re looking at it through the lens of a modern audience.

The fact is that special effects don’t age well (hell, there have been brand new effects in New Who that were just a wee bit dodgy two or three years ago) and the technology available to a 1980s television station wasn’t that great compared to today’s standards (hell, the technology available to George Lucas in 1980 isn’t great by today’s standards).  I expect the technical side of Classic Who to be a bit subpar. But that's nothing to apologize for or be ashamed about. I don’t use that fact as a stick to beat up on the series. That’s like hating on an orchestral performance just because the third flutist was off-key. The effects help tell the story, true, but they aren’t the whole story. There are so many other wonderful elements at work here that bring everything together. And as long as the story is compelling and the characters are engaging (which, the important ones are in this story), then I am on board.  And, like Tycho in the opening quote, I have been repaid for my efforts hundreds of times over.  People who dismiss Classic Who because of production values and other bits of technobabble are missing out on something incredibly special (and really, I don't really want those complainers and whiners in my fandom, mucking things up and ruining my fun, so it's probably just as well).

(I do realize that people were beating up on Doctor Who at the time and it is not a new thing to bitch about 1980s Who. I will have words on that in a future TV story review. Don't worry, you'll all have your turn).

For all the media’s insistence that the sets wobbled and the budgets weren’t that good (which, I believe the latter. But I call so much bullshit on the former - more on that in a future post), the one thing Classic Who got right consistently was the storytelling. From 1963 through to the Wilderness Years and beyond, Doctor Who has been about superb storytelling and wild imagination. That fact might have given set designers and costumers a little heartburn back in the day, but the people that get drawn to Who are the people who are drawn in by amazing stories, not necessarily by effects and whizbang (leave that nonsense to Michael Bay and the hoards of braindead who keep him in business). This is why I can love things like “The Sensorites” and “The Curse of Peladon” and, yes, even “Timelash” - the stories are fantastic and compelling and the angst over production values can go hang.

Since the Fifth Doctor is my Classic Doctor, I could have chosen any of his stories to gush about.  While "Warriors of the Deep" was the obvious choice (unloved and mistreated as it is), I still wanted to acknowledge all the wonderful and brilliant TV stories of this time.  So, here is one of my favorite fan videos featuring Fivey. Enjoy -

*If it means so much to you, Big Finish has an audio with the Sixth Doctor called “Bloodtide” that features the Silurians and the Myrka. The Myrka in that story is portrayed as much scarier and the Doctor mentions that the only Myrka he ever met was just a baby. Which means that the "Warriors of the Deep" Myrka was more akin to a clumsy toddler learning to walk than a terrifying sea beast hellbent on destroying everyone.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 5.02 - The Fifth Doctor Does Historicals (or Everything Shakespeare Told You Is Wrong!)

Previously -
Review 4.04 - Well, That Was a Book. Yup. Definitely a Book.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Throwback Thursday - "Gregor the Overlander" by Suzanne Collins

**Originally Posted on cj's bookshelf on April 15, 2011**

Title: Gregor the Overlander
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of Publication: August 2004
Reading Level: 7th grade and up

Synopsis: (from Books in Print) -

When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor's arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland's uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it -- until he realizes it's the only way to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.

My Review:

This was a good enough book – typical kiddie-fantasy-quest fare.  It’s the first of a larger series that seems to follow the formula set forth in books like “Fablehaven” (or maybe “Fablehaven” copies “Gregor"?)  Basically, Gregor and his two-year-old sister, Boots, wind up falling down below the streets of New York into the Underland where humans live alongside gigantic cockroaches, bats, spiders and rats and they have done so for years.  Oh – and Gregor’s father mysteriously disappeared two years ago and Gregor has to be the “Man of the House.”  When Gregor and Boots find themselves in the Underland, Gregor is named as a great warrior put forth in a prophecy to fight off the rats that threaten the unsteady peace in the Underland.

I actually lost interest partway through the book.  This is another book I might not have finished if I wasn’t planning on writing a review of it.  The plot is so formulaic and trite – just the names and places change.  Eleven-year-old Gregor could be any number of pre-teen hero in any sort of young adult adventure novel – Percy Jackson, Kendra and Seth from “Fablehaven,” Meggie from “Inkheart,” Jared, Mallory and Simon from “The Spiderwick Chronicles.”  Those are the ones that I thought of initially, but I’m sure there are others.  The pre-teen fantasy/adventure genre has been around for a long time and the formula’s hardly changed much.  The main difference is probably that Collins includes Gregor’s little sister in the story.  Boots is easily the best character here.  She is unafraid of the giant creatures and even befriends two of the cockroaches (they call her their “princess”).  I think she saves this story from being a completely mechanical plot.  In fact, I would much rather have had the story told from Boots’ point of view than Gregor’s.

Having read “The Hunger Games ,” I sort of expected more from Suzanne Collins.  I do understand that this was her first foray into YA literature, so this could be a case of an author’s talent getting better with time.  Or maybe I just expect more from the books I take the time to select and read.

(6/20/2013 Note - Some extraneous information and formatting has been edited out for the "Throwback Thursday" version of this review)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Well... That Was... A Book. Yup. Definitely A Book

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 4.04

Title: Festival of Death
Author: Jonathan Morris
Team TARDIS: Fourth Doctor, Romana II, K-9
Adversary: Repulsion, Dr. Koel Paddox
Originally Released: September 2000
Range and Number: Past Doctor Adventures #35

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
The Beautiful Death is the ultimate theme-park ride: a sightseeing tour of the afterlife. But something has gone wrong, and when the Fourth Doctor arrives in the aftermath of the disaster, he is congratulated for saving the population from destruction – something he hasn't actually done yet. He has no choice but to travel back in time and discover how he became a hero. And then he finds out. He did it by sacrificing his life.

My Review:

I have tried for two weeks to read this book. But I’ve only gotten as far as page 70. Every time I sit down to read, I get through a couple of pages and get bored. Even yesterday (Sunday, June 16) I tried to force myself to read for an hour so I could at least get halfway through.  I even promised myself I could watch "The Three Doctors" afterward because I had borrowed from the library and I hadn't had a chance to watch it yet.  I ended up falling asleep for 45 minutes and watching "The Three Doctors" after I woke up anyway.

(Note: When you have to force yourself to read anything, it’s probably a good indication that you are just not enjoying it. And since I am not in school anymore, I don’t have to force myself to read anything I don't want to. So, nyeah!)

My inability to get into this story really bothered me. There was absolutely no reason I shouldn’t enjoy this book. Even if I don’t have much to say about it in my review (as was the case with “The Last of the Gaderene” - it was an enjoyable story and I was interested in the plot and characters and it fit the definition of "page turner", but I didn’t have much to say about it when I went to review it. Which is why that review is so short).  “Festival of Death” starts with the Doctor and Romana landing on a planet where everyone knows them and are grateful to them both for saving their planet - but they haven’t even been there yet to save the planet! It’s an interesting premise - one that Steven Moffat would be proud of (timey-wimey and all that). There are even some really great moments between the Doctor, Romana and K-9 early-on.  Some examples -

       - The Doctor and Romana leave K9 in the TARDIS. K9 quips that there’s a high statistical probability of him needing to come rescue them at some point (talk about being self-aware within a story).

       - Doctor: “Where would I be without my sonic screwdriver?”
       - Romana: “Probably still locked in a cellar in Paris.”

But the other characters... I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Not in a rage-inducing, Hulk-smash sort of way (I’ve done that already in this project, to my great chagrin). No, the green rage monster stayed safely caged away for this. It was more of a “Oh - that’s a thing? Hm... don’t care... I’m going back to sleep” sort of way.

It took me finally getting into chapter five of this book to realize why I was not enjoying this book as much as I hoped I would. And this realization also answered a lot of questions of why I’m just not as enamored of the Fourth Doctor’s era as most people are.

Buckle up, Dear Reader, because it's Story Time!

Back when I was doing my undergrad degree at Utah State, I had a roommate who I shared plenty of common interests I am still good friends with (if she’s reading this - Hi Shelley!) It was a little odd that an electrical engineering major (that’s her) and an English major (that’s me) would get along so well, but we did and still do to this day. One of her favorite authors is Douglas Adams and she was appalled that I’d never read any of his books. I promised her I would read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when I graduated (when you’re in the English department, you never get to read anything for fun. You have to read shit like “The Bell Jar” and then go stab your eye out because it’s so hideously horrible but your professors have wet dreams about it so you have to smile and nod for your grade. Sorry for the swears but “crap” just isn’t going to cut it in this case).

After graduation I got a job, I lost said job (long story - don’t ask), I went on a mission (another long story - ask me later), and when I came home, I ended up working at my old high school which is out in the middle of the desert (yet another long story - which I’ll probably tell you whether you ask or not). West Desert High is probably the smallest high school in Utah (I’d have to look up the numbers to be absolutely sure that there isn’t a smaller one out in Four Corners or something), but the library had always been very well-stocked because, well, there isn’t a whole lot to do out in the desert. School, church, farm chores, sports and reading - that’s about all we have to do for fun. When I took up the librarian post in 2010 (as well as my assistant teaching duties), I started looking through the books we had and doing routine collection maintenance. And I discovered that we had Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was in my master’s program at the time, it was a 3/4-time program and while I was busy, I could find time for some fun reading. Plus, one of my students was reading Hitchhiker’s Guide and she loved it, so I thought I’d better give it a whirl.

Well, I read it. And I have never felt so much indifference towards a book in my life (well, not one that I hadn’t been assigned to read for school). On the one hand, I can see why other people like Douglas Adams’ stuff. On the other hand, I couldn’t give two craps about it. The most excitement I could respond with was “Well... that was a book. A book I read. Yup. That’s it.”

(This confession probably will mean the forfeiture of my geek card, but I think I already lost that when the most excitement I could muster over the prospect of meeting Mark Sheppard at Gallifrey One was an apathetic shrug).

So - what does all this have to do with my indifference toward “Festival of Death?” And why did it take me five chapters to figure it out? Well, “Festival of Death” is written very much as an homage to the Douglas Adams’ era of Doctor Who. The writing style and the characters - even the names (Chapter five introduces a character named Hoopy - that was an immediate clue) all point to the influence that made that particular era of Who a success. And I’m certainly not one to knock success - if people like Douglas Adams' writing, that’s wonderful. I’m glad that they found something they like so much. And his influence is felt even all these years after his death and he still has plenty of fans (one evidence comes from my friend Brittany’s “The ABCs of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” photo challenge - it’s on Instagram with the tag #TheABCsOfHGTTG, if you’re interested).

As for me - I tried. I tried to like Douglas Adams and I really just don’t connect.  It's like trying to load an ebook file meant for a Kindle onto a Nook.  It just doesn't compute.  One of the first Tom Baker stories I ever saw was “City of Death” and my first thought was “This is what all the fanboys pee their pants over? I don’t get it...” Luckily I’d seen “Genesis of the Daleks” before that and I knew that not all of the Fourth Doctor’s stories were like that - it’s quite deserving of the praise and love it gets. “City of Death” is all right - I just don’t think it’s quite as good as everyone says it is. At least, I don’t connect with it the same way everyone else does. Maybe the section of my brain that would normally love Douglas Adams is too occupied with loving the black-and-white era of Who. Because I will say this - if I’d followed conventional advice and started with “City of Death” and the rest of the Douglas-Adams-as-script-editor stuff, I think I would have dropped Classic Who like a hot potato and stuck with the New Series. As it is - I’m glad that I went with starting at the very beginning with “An Unearthly Child” and making my way through the early Hartnell stuff before the recons became too much and I skipped ahead to the Fifth Doctor (it’s a strange jump to make, but I made it and it worked quite well for me).

I suppose that this realization of mine is quite fitting in my attempt to review and recap significant stories and give attention to hidden gems and opinions in Doctor Who's history.  Douglas Adams is such an integral part of the history of this show and his influence shaped something that lots of people still love and he deserves credit for that.  Just because I don't see the appeal doesn't mean that I need to slag off the whole thing.  But don't expect me to be anything less than totally honest in my opinions of it either.  But I can just as easily go off and watch "The Sensorites" and leave you all to your "Shada" recons.

In conclusion - if you’re a Hitchhiker’s Guide fan, you’ll enjoy “Festival of Death.” I’m not, so I didn’t.  But it's not like I didn't try.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 5.01 - The hill that I am more than willing to die on: Storytelling vs SFX.

Previously -
Review 4.03 - So Much Cooler Online

Saturday, June 15, 2013

An Ideal To Strive For - Review of "Man of Steel"

Just came from seeing Man of Steel. Initial thoughts (and spoilers) -

- A lot of what makes Superman the way he is is the whole "All-American-Boy-Scout" persona.  Nowadays, I guess that makes Supes the butt of many jokes because our society's become so much more cynical.  But after this movie, I'm glad that Kal-El was adopted by such good, decent, salt-of-the-earth people like Jonathan and Martha Kent.  If he'd been raised by a world-weary hipster couple - man, that would make for such a different character (and such a different story.  Hipster!Superman would probably jump up and be Zod's right-hand man.  Because humans are sooo mainstream).  This movie, however, made his upbringing a vital part of the story and not at all something to be parodied or laughed-at.  I appreciated that aspect of the character.  It makes Clark a hero you can respect and admire because he doesn't ask for respect or admiration.  But he ends up getting it because of the kind of person he is.

- The way Superman learned how to fly was really cool.  It reminded me of the scenes in John Carter when John first arrives on Mars and he's learning how to deal with the lighter gravity on that planet (remember - Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' short stories when they created Superman).  It reinforces the idea that while Superman is an alien with different abilities and what-have-you, he is also the product of his practice and experiences.

- When I was a kid, "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" was the big TV show on Sunday nights.  Now that I think about it, I'm not sure why my parents let me watch it, but it was enjoyable. Because of this, I knew full well who Lex Luthor was and for a long time, I thought that was Superman's only real nemesis (well, the only recurring one anyway).  But General Zod - now that is a supervillain.  He matches Superman strength for strength and presents a true challenge (I mean - what chance does a crazy genius really stand against the Man of Steel?)

   - Though I couldn't help but wonder - why not just terraform Mars or Venus or some other planet that doesn't have anything living on it?  Why take out Earth? Does his vendetta against Jor-El have to extend to Kal-El and his adopted home planet?  I mean - if his m.o. is to defend and protect Krypton, shouldn't he make that his priority instead of destroying an entire species for the sake of revenge? (then again - he is a supervillain in a superhero movie. Disbelief is gladly suspended).

- I loved how they wove Clark's formative years throughout the action - make his childhood and adolescence a part of how he fights against General Zod and his minions.  Hammered home the theme of Kal-El being part of Earth just as much as he's part of Krypton.  It was very nicely done and made for a believable story.

- I really liked what they did with Lois Lane's character.  She's neither a wilting damsel, nor a hardcore badass. She's a real person. She does her job and she does it well. She follows the story and gets the truth.  But she also knows when to hold back on a story when it's necessary.  It speaks volumes to her character that she actually found out about Clark Kent, but decided to back off because it might have negative repercussions on Clark's life.  Honestly, I think Lois was the first real friend Clark ever had and the first person (besides his human parents) who came to understand - at least in part - what growing up as a Kryptonian on Earth really meant.  Lois got her moment of badass awesome, just by being a decent human being - and by doing so, she got to be in the middle of the action and play a vital role in saving the world, even if she wasn't out fighting the bad guys directly. She proved that she deserves to be Superman's love interest and be on equal footing with him (plus, Jor-El seems to approve - so that's both sets of in-laws sorted ^_^)

- Speaking of Jor-El - I think I can forgive Russell Crowe for Les Mis with his performance in this movie.

- I FINALLY get some decent story for Krypton!  I've said before that I'm not a real big comic book reader (too many issues, too many storylines, too much to keep track of) even though I enjoy superhero movies.  I just remember seeing the Christopher Reeve films and wondering when I'd get more backstory about Krypton because it seemed like such a cool place with a lot of history.  The way they handled it in Man of Steel made me think of a blend between Asgard from Thor and Coruscant from Star Wars.  It felt like it was a real place with a society, civilization, culture and a rich heritage that would be awesome to explore further if there was ever a reason to do so.  As it is, I'm good with what I got, but the feeling that there could be more is enough.

- The Army captain at the end (and I forgot her name.  Forgot the other guy's name too, so whatever) - "Sir, I think he's kind of hot."  Yes. Yes they went there (hey, we were all thinking it. She just said it).
       - Also - "I grew up in Kansas. You don't get any more American than that." That was a nice note to end on.  Kept the general feel of the movie light.  This isn't The Dark Knight, after all.

Man of Steel is the movie that a legendary superhero such as Superman deserves and he finally got.  The character was treated with respect and honor and he was given an origin story fitting for his character.  It feels like something our pessimistic and cynical society can look to with hope and positivity.

Now, when can we get Christopher Nolan to do something awesome for Wonder Woman?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Throwback Thursday - Jack and the Beanstalk Take on Steampunk America

**Note: I used to keep a book-review-only blog called cj's bookshelf. I've decided to let that one go because I'd rather have content and upkeep over here on cj's notebook. However, I'd like to keep the reviews I posted on the book review blog (as amateur as some of them are - well, that could be said of some of my current writing as well, so never mind).  Over the course of the next few months, I'm going to repost them on this blog, the intent being that this will be a weekly thing called "Throwback Thursday" (very witty and original, I know).  Hope you all enjoy.**

**Originally posted on cj's bookshelf on July 17, 2011**

Title: Calamity Jack
Authors: Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrator: Nathan Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: January 5, 2010
Reading Level: 12 and up

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) –

Jack thinks of himself as a criminal mastermind with an unfortunate amount of bad luck. A schemer, a trickster ...maybe even a thief? But, of course, he's not out for himself he's trying to take the burden off his hardworking mum's shoulders. She'd understand, right? He hopes she might even be proud. Then, one day, Jack chooses a target a little more ...'giant' than the usual, and as one little bean turns into a great big building-destroying beanstalk, his troubles really begin. But with help from Rapunzel and other eccentric friends, Jack just might out-swindle the evil giants and put his beloved city back in the hands of the people who live there ...whilst catapulting them and the reader into another fantastical adventure

My Review:

First time reviewing a graphic novel – hooray!

Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors. I loved The Books of Bayern and Princess Academy, so I know she can write for the YA set. Her adult fare isn’t too shabby either – check out Austenland and The Actor and the Housewife for those prime examples. But I hadn’t yet read her graphic novels – which she co-wrote with her husband, Dean Hale. I found Calamity Jack at one of the libraries where I work, so I had to check it out.

Calamity Jack is actually a sequel to Rapunzel’s Revenge, sadly the library didn’t have a copy of the latter when I was there. Luckily, I could follow Calamity Jack fairly well without the backstory. From my short time working at the library, I have learned that the first book in a series is usually checked out and all you have to work with is the second, third and so on, so it’s nice that I could read this story and not worry that I’d missed too much by starting with the second book (but I will go back and get Rapunzel’s Revenge when it becomes available again).

This story is a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk, with Jack and his mother living in a steampunk-ish city full of fairy tale creatures. It’s like Shrek meets Leviathan (which is also a very good book and highly recommended). All his life, Jack has been the “mastermind” of all kinds of pranks, shenanigans and low-brow thievery as he helps his widowed mother keep the family bakery afloat. But things go wrong when he grows a beanstalk and raids Blunderboar’s (the local corporate giant’s) mansion. When I say “corporate giant,” I mean it’s an actual giant that runs a corporation – like one of Rubeus Hagrid’s relatives. Jack later meets up with Rapunzel (who I gather he met in the previous installment of the series) and the pair team up to save the day!

This is a brilliant story, really. I mean, you have fairy tale creatures living in a place akin to late 19th century America (it’s never stated outright, but Jack and his mother are drawn as Native Americans) – complete with a jabberwocky named (interestingly enough) Mr. Jabbers. There’s plenty of humor (wait until you meet Prudence, Jack’s partner-in-crime pixie friend) and the artwork is fantastic – nods to Nathan Hale for his wonderful work.

Like I said, I picked this up because I’m a fan of Shannon Hale’s novels which by and large appeal to a young female audience, but this Hale-times-three team work pretty well together (though I don’t think Nathan is related to Shannon and Dean) and this story could appeal to both boys and girls. I haven’t heard if another project is in the works, but I would not be opposed to another graphic novel by these three. It wouldn’t even have to be in this universe – but I wouldn’t complain if it was.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013



(I have to go be really, really happy about this now. Have fun, peeps!)

Monday, June 10, 2013

So Much Cooler Online

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 4.03

Title: Babblesphere
Written By: Jonathan Morris
Team TARDIS: Fourth Doctor, Romana II
Adversary: The Babble Network
Release Date: April 2013
Range and Number: Destiny of the Doctor #4

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -

The violent, volcanic world of Hephastos is home to a colony of composers, painters, authors and poets, all striving to create the greatest works of art the universe has ever seen. But in pursuit of their goal, artistic collaboration has been taken a stage too far...

When the Doctor and Romana arrive, they discover the colonists have neglected their well-being and their once beautiful habitat, which has now succumbed to decay, and they are enslaved to the Babble network which occupies their every waking moment. Every thought, however trivial or insignificant, is shared with everyone else and privacy is now a crime.

The colonists are being killed and the Doctor and Romana begin to suspect that a malevolent intelligence is at work. With time running out, the two time travellers race to discover the truth before they too are absorbed into the endless trivia of the Babblesphere...

My Review:

I had THE hardest time deciding which audio story to review for the Fourth Doctor. I just want you all to be aware of this. I listened to a few Companion Chronicles and some of the new Fourth Doctor Adventures range from Big Finish, but none of them were really good enough (in my mind) to warrant a spot on this list. They weren’t bad, exactly, but I wasn’t excited enough about them to want to write much. But Traveling the Vortex (man, how many times have they saved my bacon in this project? They deserve all the publicity I can give them right now - EVERYONE! LISTEN TO THEIR PODCAST!!) is reviewing the Destiny of the Doctor series this year in conjunction with the various 50th Anniversary celebrations (which, Destiny itself is an audio series celebrating the 50th Anniversary, produced by Big Finish and AudioGO). Anyway, I listened to “Babblesphere” a few weeks ago in anticipation of Traveling the Vortex's review of it and I loved it! Truly, it’s the only Fourth Doctor audio story I’ve heard that I enjoyed enough to want to write about. Make of that what you will.

A word on Destiny of the Doctor - This series is most comparable to Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles where one of the Doctor’s companions is featured and the actor playing that companion narrates. One other actor is brought on to play one additional supporting character. The main difference between Companion Chronicles and Destiny of the Doctor is that the story isn’t necessarily narrated from the companion’s point of view (this is how, for the Second Doctor’s installment “Shadow of Death,” you can get Frazer Hines presenting Jamie’s point of view, but he can also step in and do a fantastic scene with just the Second Doctor and... another character that I won’t spoil for you, but it’ll probably be spoiled in this review, so never mind). It’s kind of a blend between traditional audiobooks and Big Finish’s Companion Chronicles and it works really well (at least, it has so far).

"Babblesphere" is narrated by Lalla Ward (who played Romana II on TV and continues to do so for Big Finish audios) and she does a fantastic job. About half of the story is told from Romana’s point of view, since the Doctor gets captured early on in the story. That’s an interesting flip of the typical trope of the companion getting captured and the Doctor has to face down the baddies. It’s a nice twist that I really enjoyed and Lalla Ward seems to have fun with the narration as well. Romana can more than hold her own as she explores the planet and meets up with what could be best described as The Knitting Circle Resistance (seriously - love these older ladies fighting against the Babble Network). Though I think the Babble Network later dismisses these ladies a little too soon when he (she, it, they, whatever) says that he can’t stand boring people. I mean, Romana seems to find them interesting enough. Hell, I think they’re wonderful!

While this entire story is fun and clever, the moment when I think the Fourth Doctor really shines is when he and Romana are overwhelming the Babble Network with mundane trivia. If there’s one thing the Fourth Doctor does well, it’s making a scene with mundane trivia compelling and exciting. Remember - this is the guy that randomly offers jelly babies to hardened adversaries in the midst of great danger. If there was ever a Doctor made for non-sequitur references, it’s the Fourth Doctor (Douglas Adams has his fingerprints all over that, certainly).

One thing that is fun about doing Classic Who stories in modern times is the ability to bring these characters forward into the future. You don’t have to be tied down to the time period in which their stories were originally produced, even though you do have to be careful about what characters from 1960s and 1970s Earth know on their own. Even then, you can handwave it as “Oh they traveled with the Doctor to two-thousand-whatever and saw the internet and smartphones and stuff like that” (but how fun is it to have mentions of creatures introduced in New Who - like the Krafayis and the Ood - in a Classic Doctor story? Not to mention Zagreus from Big Finish! Yay!)

So, it’s easy (and a lot of fun) to depict what I call for this story “Social Networking on Steroids” and have the Doctor and Romana fight against an entity bent on finding only the most interesting people and disposing of the boring ones (though, how the Babble Network got away from duck-faced selfies and Beliebers I have no idea) (and, just to depress you even more - Google Drive recognizes “Beliebers” as an actual word. There is no red squiggly line denoting it as not in the dictionary. God help us all).

As the Doctor and Romana leave the Babblesphere after the Babble Network is defeated (spoilers, sorry), Aurelius and Phyllis voice concerns about how the people are going to communicate to one another, since they’ve been so used to connecting telepathically on Babble. And I laughed at Phyllis’s complaint that people are still sharing more information than anyone wants to hear. And while this song is more about using social networking to project a more impressive version of yourself than what’s reality - it’s still funny (and William Shatner's in the video, so bonus nerd points for that).

Next Time, On Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 4.04 - That Was... A Book. Yup. Definitely a Book.

Previously -
Review 4.02 - Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tell the World - "Rose Under Fire" by Elizabeth Wein

**This review is for an eARC version of this title**

Title: Rose Under Fire
Author: Elizabeth Wein
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Projected Publication Date: September 10, 2013
Recommended For Ages: 16 and up

Synopsis (from NetGalley) -

While flying an Allied fighter plane from Paris to England, American ATA pilot and amateur poet, Rose Justice, is captured by the Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious women's concentration camp. Trapped in horrific circumstances, Rose finds hope in the impossible through the loyalty, bravery and friendship of her fellow prisoners. But will that be enough to endure the fate that’s in store for her?

Elizabeth Wein, author of the critically-acclaimed and best-selling Code Name Verity, delivers another stunning WWII thriller. The unforgettable story of Rose Justice is forged from heart-wrenching courage, resolve, and the slim, bright chance of survival.

My Review:
How many books - fiction and non-fiction - have there been written about World War II and the Holocaust?  How many of them have I read?  And how many of them leave me shaking and sick to my stomach? I almost wonder why I keep reading them. I'm sure I could find something more light and fluffy to enjoy.  But that would defeat the purpose, I guess.  But maybe that's why it's important to keep reading these books.

I read Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity last December during the nomination process for the Children's Literature Association of Utah's Beehive Award (Code Name Verity was nominated in the Young Adult category, in case you're interested).  That book hit me hard.  But I loved it.  So, when I saw Rose Under Fire on NetGalley, I knew I had to give it a go.

Rose Under Fire follows a similar format as Code Name Verity - it's the journal entries of Rose Justice, an American pilot during World War II who starts out as a delivery pilot for the Allies.  But she gets off course during a routine delivery and ends up as a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp.  She's the only American in the Ravensbruck camp, even though she's mislabeled as a French prisoner (clerical error - but that's the least of her problems).

The first part of the book describes Rose's day-to-day life on an Allied military base in England - it seems pretty tame.  Sure, she knows people who've been killed in the war and it's really bleak and there's not much to be happy about.  But she's safe and the Allies are well on their way to liberating Europe after the D-Day Invasion.  She writes in her journal about her friend and fellow pilot, Maddie (who readers will recognize from Code Name Verity).  Maddie gets married and things are going pretty good.

Then, suddenly the writing in the journal changes to letters talking about how Rose has been lost behind enemy lines and she's presumed dead and her family is grieving.  All within the first 25% of the book (my Kindle app doesn't have reliable page numbers - sorry).

Rose falls in with a ragtag group of women nicknamed "The Rabbits" because they were prisoners who survived the medical experiments the Nazis performed to research how best to treat war injuries and infections like gangrene.  They all look out for each other, even to the point of hiding the ones who they find out are scheduled for execution.  All the while, they hold out hope that the Allies are going to liberate their camp (the scene where they get the news that Auschwitz has been liberated is fantastic).

The entire book is lyrical, yet stark. Obviously, Rose survives to write about it later (she often refers to how she's now in a hotel in Paris recovering from her ordeal), but you're never quite sure if she really will.  She peppers her memories with poems that she wrote during her imprisonment and that poetry serves to remind you that these things happened to real people.

Rose's character voice is so real and so calming that I could almost handle the horrifying descriptions of the conditions of the camp and even the medical experiments the Rabbits were put through.  But the section of the book that got to me was the third part where Rose has to go back and testify against the Nazi officers who are on trial for crimes against humanity.  She can barely stand to hear her poems read in a university setting because it reminds her of that awful time.  It's like, she could survive actually being in the camp and fighting back against her captors, but once she's safe and people ask her about the experience after the fact, she can't do it.  That's the part that really got to me.

All through the book, the Rabbits tell Rose (they tell each other, actually) to "Tell the world."  Tell the world what happened here.  I think we see documentaries and read books about the Holocaust so much that we are kind of flippant about it, but this is one historical event that I think we shouldn't be.  When I was in eighth grade, I took a school trip to Washington D.C. and while I saw some really neat things there, two things have always stuck with me: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National Holocaust Memorial Museum.  When I read the descriptions of the camp and the medical experiments, I kept thinking of the exhibit at the Holocaust Museum that talked about the experiments they did on people there and I'm not sure if I really understood what I was seeing at the time.  Now that I'm older and I've had more time to think about it, I get it and it really shakes me up.  I don't know that I could go back and see that exhibit again, but I'm glad that I did.  As horrible and terrifying as this history is, the fact is that it's real and it happened and we need to remember it so that it never happens again.

Elizabeth Wein's books are stark and terrifying, but in a way that makes you think and remember.  It isn't sensationalized horror but honest, truthful, and jarring reality.  Both of these books - Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire - should be on the reading list along with The Diary of Anne Frank and Night because they are just that good.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Sweetest Homewrecker You'll Ever Know - Review of "Wreck-it Ralph"

When can we do this again?
I'd heard tons of great stuff about the movie Wreck-It Ralph when it was out in theaters last year, but due to some upheaval in my personal life at the time I never made it to see it on the big screen.  But I was determined to see it on DVD when it was released.  And I finally got to see it (thanks to a currently-employed-at-Blockbuster roommate.  Hey, the wait list at the library is insanely huge!)  And my short review is - I LOVED IT!

It would have been so easy just to play Wreck-it Ralph off as Toy Story with video games instead of toys.  On some level, that's the basic concept.  There's a world of video game characters that interact with each other when the arcade is closed, but when it's game time - these games exist for the purpose of making gamers happy.  But this world also goes both ways - these characters want to be loved by the gamers as well.

Which is why Wreck-it Ralph has such a hard time being the bad guy.  He wants to be loved just like Fix-it Felix, Jr. is loved - both by the gamers and the citizens of Niceland.  He doesn't mind being part of the game Fix-It Felix, Jr.  He doesn't have a problem with wrecking things or even living in the dump.  But he just wants to be respected.  Acknowledged. Invited over for a piece of cake during the 30th anniversary celebrations of the game.  But the citizens of Niceland are scared of Ralph.  Felix barely tolerates the guy.  And, honestly, can you blame Ralph for going off in search of respect?

Turns out that Ralph going AWOL (he didn't go Turbo - I just want to make that clear.  Going Turbo is something quite different) is just what Felix and the Niceville people needed.  Ralph needed it too.  Everyone needed to realize that Ralph has a place in the Fix-it Felix, Jr. universe.  Without Ralph (and the other bad guys in the other video games), there would be no game to play.  There would be no reason for a 30th Anniversary celebration.  Yes, he breaks windows and is generally clumsy and a big galoot - but he's a big galoot that means well and just has the misfortune of being programmed to wreck things.

This comes out in Ralph relationship with Vanellope von Schweetz - a similar misfit from the racing game Sugar Rush (which, I would play the hell out of that game if Disney decided to create and market it for real).  While Ralph and Vanellope start out as adversaries, they come to see something of themselves in each other.  Ralph watches as the other Sugar Rush racers demolish Vanellope's racer and he feels bad.  Up to that point, Vanellope's been a right pain in the assular area - but that's because she doesn't have anyone to depend on other than herself.  She doesn't have any friends because nobody wants to hang around a "glitch," so she just does without them.  Actually, she does without everybody.  Because she has to - at least, until Ralph comes along.  And they are so adorable together!

Which makes the scene [SPOILERS!] where Ralph destroys Vanellope's go-cart (the go-cart he helped Vanellope build so she could compete for a spot on the gamer's avatar board when the arcade opens again).  Ralph thinks that Vanellope's on-screen glitching will cause the gamers to think Sugar Rush is defective and it'll be shut down.  So, he has to stop it from happening because he's come to care for the kid - but that scene is one of the saddest things Disney has ever come out with (yes, even up there with Tod being left in the forest in The Fox and the Hound - I still bawl over that part).

Another great appeal of Wreck-it Ralph is that the first generation to grow up with video games (my generation) are now adults and we can look back at video games with nostalgia. Even the most casual gamer understands how video games work as a medium (and even I got the "Aerith Lives!" blink-and-you'll-miss-it Easter Egg joke).  Sure, you still have the doomsayers who predict that video games are the end of civilization as we know it (and I could go on a whole rant about that attitude, but I won't right now), but most people have at least played a round of Super Mario Bros. or Pac-Man (hell, how many people have Temple Run on their phones?)  Personally, I love that an old school 8-bit  (or is is 16-bit? I get my bits and pixels mixed up.  I never said I was a hardcore gamer) game like Fix-it Felix, Jr. coexists with a high-end graphics first-person shooter like Hero's Duty.  Rather than feel old (I mean, Fix-it Felix, Jr. is celebrating its 30th Anniversary and I remember playing games like that when I was a kid), I feel more like video games have come of age and they're now an integral part of our culture.

(Also - I LOVED how the movement of the Nicelanders was animated.  Even though the characters themselves are computer generated, they still walk and move with that jerky pixelated movement that I'm not describing very well, but if you've seen the movie you'll know what I'm talking about).

In the end, Ralph learns that his abilities as a video game bad guy are what make him endearing both to gamers and the video game characters who depend on him to create a scenario for the game they inhabit.  It's the role of a villain in anything - be it a book, a movie, a video game or any kind of fiction.  The villain is a component of the story that creates conflict that creates action that creates plot that creates story.  The Nicelanders also learn that Ralph is important to their world and even Felix embraces Ralph as a friend and a brother by the end of the movie.

If there is a message in this story, it's to embrace what makes you different from others because there is something that you can do that other's can't - be it a skill or talent or some other gift that other people don't have.  It's about being your very best self and finding what you're best at.  It's also about accepting the different things other people can do and celebrating those talents and abilities - even if they aren't immediately apparent or obviously desirable.

Who says video games aren't educational?

Also - any movie that includes this song on its soundtrack is damn good in my book! (love Owl City - If I could get my video-making software to stop being so buggy, I have a video idea for it).

Reach Up For the Stars - A Doctor Who Fanvid

Fiddling around on YouTube late last night (you know, as you do) I came across this wonderful video.  I posted it to Facebook, but it deserves a place on my blog.  It's just a happy little video featuring the Doctor and all his companions (I think it was made after "The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe" but before Series 7).  I've been humming the tune and doing that little happy-head-bounce all day.

Just a nice way to kick off the weekend. Enjoy -

Monday, June 3, 2013

Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere Before?

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 4.02

Title: Meglos
Written by: John Flanagan and Andrew McCulloch
Team TARDIS: Fourth Doctor, Romana II, K9
Adversary: Meglos, General Grugger
Originally Aired: September 27-October 18, 1980
Number of Episodes: 4

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) -
On Tigella, two factions are irrevocably divided over a fundamental issue: the Dodecahedron, a mysterious object which provides the entire planet's energy.

The Savants and the Deons are locked in a crippling stalemate. Their civilisation is on the brink of collapse. The Tigellan leader, Zastor, seeks the Fourth Doctor's help. The Doctor and Romana have been trapped aboard the TARDIS in a time loop by Meglos, the last of the Zolfa-Thurans. He will stop at nothing to steal back the awesome power of the Dodecahedron.

My Review:
Another TV story? For Tom Baker?? What is the meaning of this???

Okay, so I’m cheating. BUT I HAVE A VERY, VERY GOOD REASON!!

When this project was a mere twinkle in my eye, I sat down and decided on the format of one TV story, one audio and one novel for each Doctor’s era. I then selected each story that I would review. Some of these selections were easy. Some... not so much. I’ve already recounted how I more-or-less hit a wall when it came to selecting stories to represent the Fourth Doctor, so I turned to my go-to-guys for the Fourth Doctor - Shaun and Glenn of Traveling the Vortex. They both gave me some good suggestions, but one that intrigued me greatly was one that Glenn said was a personal favorite of his, but Shaun isn't a huge fan of.  That story is “Meglos.”

Funnily enough, I already owned “Meglos,” but just hadn’t watched it yet. I got it when my local FYE was going out of business and I took the opportunity to get a lot of Doctor Who DVDs for cheap. “Meglos” was on the shelf, so I grabbed it, but for whatever reason I just never got around to watching it.  So, when Shaun and Glenn gave me their recommendations, I was torn between "The Android Invasion" and "Meglos."  I wanted to gush about Sarah Jane at least once in this project, but I also was intrigued by "Meglos" and thought this would be a great opportunity to review it - for better or worse.  And then I thought - Kid, it's your blogging project! Do with it whatever the crap you want!

And that, Dear Reader, is what I did. I haven't thrown the rulebook out entirely, but just this once, I'm bending it a little.

Like I said, "Meglos" was on sale at a going-out-of-business sale at FYE.  But so were a lot of other things (that I also picked up, don't worry).  But you know what the real selling point was for me? (other than it being on sale) - it featured the return of Jacqueline Hill to Doctor Who.

For those that need a refresher, Jacqueline Hill played Barbara Wright, one of the very first Doctor Who companions. In fact, in terms of who came on screen first, she may well be the very first companion to make an appearance (I recently rewatched “An Unearthly Child” and I’m pretty sure I’m right on this one). From the word “go”, Barbara’s always been a particular favorite of mine. Back when I was first getting into Classic Who, Jacqueline Hill was one of the first people I looked up on Wikipedia and I was sad to find out that she had passed away back in 1993 (yes, I was saddened by something that happened twenty years ago - I’m that kind of person). Not that I had any real hope of meeting her or anything, but it’s just nice to think that people who were involved in the show at the very beginning are still around to see how much success and love it’s garnered through the years (also - seeing William Russell and Carole Ann Ford in interviews and DVD commentaries and Big Finish is always such a delight and it would have been fun to have Jacqueline in there with them as well). But, I think it’s very cool that she came back to the show, not as Barbara (though that would have been beyond awesome), but in a very different role as Lexa, a priestess of the god Ti. Though considering one of the best First Doctor stories features Barbara being mistaken for the reincarnation of an Aztec priest/god and she tries to end human sacrifice in that civilization (thanks to her knowledge of future history) - this role is quite appropriate. Almost serendipitous. (I wonder if anyone thought of that connection at the time “Meglos” was being made). Either way, it’s a fantastic role for her to play and she did a wonderful job with it (and I admit - I did my little Happy-Seal-Clap-of-Glee every time Lexa was on screen).

Beyond past Who connections (which are very squee-ful in their own right) - I quite enjoyed this story. I admit, this portion of the project was a little bit of a risk - I had one person telling me this story was good and another telling me that it really wasn’t. I want to keep things positive (ignore my review of “Ten Little Aliens” - I have a lot of things I want to go back and fix about the reviews I did early-on) and shower love upon my favorite shoe because, frankly, I prefer to keep a positive attitude. It’s much more fun to be happy and excited about something than it is to be mean and negative and beat-up on something. But what’s life without a little experimentation and risk? (as long as that risk doesn’t involve me strapped to the top of a bus parachuting off the Grand Canyon).

First - Meglos is an ingenious villain. He (it?) starts out as a cactus in a planter. How brilliant is that? You’re on a budget? That that potted plant that’s been in the BBC Television Centre accounting office for years? Wheel that thing in, do a few voice-overs and some witty makeup - boom! Villain!  And it's not like it stops there - oh no!  The idea behind Meglos is brilliant beyond brilliant. I mean, the thing can shape-shift AND control time? Dude - how come the Zygons get all the fanboy love and Meglos gets crapped on? (fandom, sometimes I just don’t understand you).

Second - the factions on Tigella. Savants and Deons. Science and faith. They’re set up to be at odds with one another, but it turns out that they both have a common interest in keeping the Dodecahedron around (and could you have chosen a more difficult word to type to name that thing? Honestly...) One side worships it, the other side wants to study it - but they both revere it. Just showing that science and religion actually do have a lot in common, when you think about it.

Third - Tom Baker acting for two. I sort of wish I’d kept “Double Vision” for this review (to be fair, I didn't know that was going to happen - but Lindsey Stirling's awesome and any excuse I have to put one of her videos in a review is okay by me). Doctor Who has done this prior to this story - it happened in “The Massacre” and in “The Enemy of the World” (both are sadly missing, but both audios are excellent) and it happened again in “Arc of Infinity” (another story that I simply adore). And, more recently, it happened in “Nightmare in Silver.” The trope of the Doctor’s evil doppelganger is well-used, but certainly not tired (as long as it doesn't involve vats of living yogurt, then I’m okay with it). It gives the actor a chance to do something new and be more awesome and I say that it’s a brilliant use.

Fourth - Can I get a big hand for General Gruggar and Lieutenant Brotadec? They aren't quite to the levels of Jago and Litefoot (those two are the only reason for watching “The Talons of Weng-Chiang,” by the way), but they were hilarious! Brotadec and the Doctor’s coats was just great. For them being the leaders of the villainous space pirates (whatever their real name was - I just called them “space pirates” in my notes) - they had some fun comic-relief moments.

Fifth - The pacing of “Meglos” is really great too. The writing is tight and interesting. Never once did I feel like watching this was a chore. I sat down to watch it before bedtime, thinking I’d just watch the first episode, but I ended up watching the whole thing PLUS writing up about half of my review (after taking notes while I was watching it). It’s got just the right amount of hard-sci-fi, but without being annoyingly pretentious and snobby about it. The characters are likable and the villain - man, a giant cactus! That shape-shifts! And controls time! That is... I mean... yeah, it's awesome!

Sixth - I have to mention the Earthling that Meglos possesses in order to be able to shape-shift (at least, that’s the impression that I got about how that whole thing works) - just when you’ve forgotten about the guy, he fights back and gives Meglos all kinds of trouble! It’s interesting that the story never gives him a proper name - that he’s just this random guy that the space pirates kidnapped while he was out getting milk or whatever.

Honestly, I don’t have a negative thing to say about this. That makes me happy because I had zero clue what this was about going in, but it's now on my list of favorites.  And as far as hidden gems of Doctor Who go, this certainly qualifies.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 4.03 - So Much Cooler Online!

Previously -
Review 4.01 - Fill My Eyes With That Double Vision

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Nothing So Constant As Change

Well, I didn't expect to be writing about this when I got up this morning.

The big news is that Matt Smith will be hanging up the bowtie at Christmas.  This means that he's got the 50th Anniversary Special and the Christmas Special to go and then we've got someone new.  Which means Series 7 was the last full season for Eleven and we didn't even know it at the time! (let that sink in for a bit)  While some have already started speculating about Doctor #12 (I'm not opposed to the idea of a female Doctor - but not Tilda Swinton. Just... no), I don't think this is quite the time for that.  There will be plenty of speculation about who'll be coming on next, but for now - I just want to say thanks.

My experience with Who has been well and truly documented (by me - of course) as a very emotional journey.  And all of the Doctors I've experienced have been hindsight-looking-back-how-cool-where-they-would-love-to-have-seen-it-first-hand sort of thing.  While I love everything that's come before and love and admire all the past Doctors and companions - there's something about the Doctor that's actually on TV when you are watching.  These stories have never been seen before.  You can ask a long-time fan "Hey - what's the deal with the Fifth Doctor's celery?" and you'll get an answer (it detects certain poisons that are lethal to Time Lords and if it turns purple, the Doctor eats the celery and he'll be okay). But speculation and theorizing - ah... that is a luxury for the present and future.  Never knowing what Eleven was going to do next - flailing with joy when all these cool things were brand new and exciting and fun to everyone - not just you.

I felt a sense of pride and ownership when I sat down to watch "The Impossible Astronaut" - it was the first episode of Doctor Who I ever watched brand new with everyone else.  I felt like Matt Smith was my Doctor - even though by then there were others I liked just as well.  I've gone back to the Classic Doctors and revisited the New Series over and over - but I always came back to Matt for the brand-new stuff.  Love him to bits.  Always will.  Just like I'll love whoever that comes next.

Doctor Who appeals to me because of its versatility and storytelling.  I love the change, I love the newness of it all.  But I also love the people and characters who make it wonderful and fun.  And you can't watch something for so long without getting attached to these people and characters.  I'll miss Matt a lot.  I will probably sob like a baby when he regenerates (and then laugh like a nut when the new Doctor does some off-the-wall goofy thing in the first two minutes of screen time).  But I'm grateful for what he brought to the show and how much love he has for it.

I have absolutely zero hope of him ever reading this (and I'm sure that I'm going to be a sentimental mess as I write this, but whatever), but I want to say - Thank You Matt for bringing such a sense of fun and joy to something that has brought me so much fun and joy.  Your era of Doctor Who was a time of growth and celebration and I hope that your last few episodes reflect that.  Thank you for being my Doctor!

(And yes, bow ties are cool!)