Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories Science Fiction Vol. 2 Review

The fourth and final (at least for now) volume of Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories short story series was released back in February.
This outing was another visit to the much beloved genre of Science Fiction which, for those among you who haven’t been keeping up with the main show, is a genre I have taken a deep dive into since I read the first volume.
With these new experiences in that area, I was wondering how this collection would hit me.
Strap on your space suit and let’s space find out…in space!

I have to say, as per the usual with this series, I think the short intros he writes to each story may be my favorite part.
It really seems to give each story a bit more depth to hear where it came from, who or what inspired it, or how long he kicked it around before he dropped the final product on his editors.
Even with the stories that aren’t my favorites, it is at least interesting to have the back story.

As for the stories themselves, this go round I found myself engaging more with the shorter among them.
Not that the longer ones are bad, but I think it may be a bit of brain training and expectation with this anthological format.
The shorter stories here tend to have a bit more of a reveal or “Ah-ha” feel than the longer ones do which, to use TV as a comparison, I feel like most anthologies shows do better than episodic series.
And I like that.
I like the quick and clever economic nature of it all.

I think every subgenre of Sci-Fi gets its day in the sun in this volume, and a few have fun and interesting spins that almost make you forget you are reading a Science Fiction story, which I think is something that some of my favorites do best.
If you need some Military Sci-Fi stat, you are covered with a few novellas.
But there are also stories of time travel, genetic manipulation, alien contact, and a transformational hooker…you know, that tired old trope!

I always try to give you some of my favorite stories when I talk about short story collections, so in no particular order, the top 3 stories that I would say you can’t miss are:
Technomagic, a story of a stranded alien that becomes a world famous magician.
Prevenge, a time travel tale that is reminiscent of Minority Report, with a bit more investigation.
A Delicate Balance, a dark story about seed colonies and a severe miscalculation that leads to forced population control.
All are wonderfully distinct and showcase the variety of this writer and this genre.

So to wrap up I have to say that after reading and reviewing all 4 volumes of this series, I feel like a jackass.
For a decade or so, if folks would mention Kevin J. Anderson I’d always say “The Star Wars Guy!?” or “Awww, The Last Days Of Krypton!” and now that almost feels reductive.
Don’t get me wrong, Shamble aside, Last Days is still hands down my favorite KJA book, but the dude has way more shades and layers than just Krypton, Star Wars, & X-Files.
The goal of this series was probably to collect a bunch of stories he had the rights to and get them back in print, but they have been damn eye opening as well.
I’ll call that a happy accident and wait patiently for him to get enough material together for a fifth installment, and whatever else he’s ready to produce.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 and @gigiamk30 for their editorial assistance.

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A Million Ways To Die In The West Review

I’m not sure how many people are aware of this little nugget of truth or not, but back in the day, right around say…1882ish in a dusty town located eerily near a place that was somewhat reminiscent of Arizona, it was really fuckin’ rough, man.
And when I say rough, I don’t mean “awww balls, the wifi is down again, how ever am I gonna see porn stars hump in 4K ultra high definition now!?”, no, I mean everything seemed as though it was out to kill you.
To boil it all down, there were, in fact, A Million Ways To Die In The West!…ya see what I did there?
I’m feeling awfully clever now.
So let’s take a look at this filthy bastard of a book and see if there’s any gold in them thar hills!

As per the usual, this is your official ****SPOILER ALERT****

Seth MacFarlane, creator or co-creator of Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show, and The Orville made a big splash in the realm of feature films with 2012’s TED.
It quickly became one of the highest grossing R-rated comedies, and the inevitable question was hurled at Seth.
“What are you going to do next?”
His reply was this movie, and for reasons that I still don’t quite understand, it didn’t really light the world on fire.
Part of me thinks folks still aren’t ready to embrace westerns again and part of me thinks folks are still uncomfortable with such raw filthy jokes coming out of actual human mouths.

Whatever the reasons, I actually loved the movie and think it gets exponentially better with each subsequent viewing.
But one of the things I loved most about the entire experience of the movie was that it was announced that there would be a novelization of the movie written by the writer and director himself, MacFarlane.
Now, anybody who reads these reviews regularly knows that one of my favorite types of novels would be media tie-ins, especially movie novels.
And when after years of looking I finally found this, I was pumped to dive in…then I waited 2 years for it to call out and demand to be read.

Albert Stark is a sheep farmer (and not a good one at that) who hates the raw, untamed west with a passion.
It’s hot, everything and everyone wants to kill, cut, trample, squash, harm, or otherwise mame and dismembered you, his heartless girlfriend just left him for a douchenozzle, and he’s ready to head to civilization, San Francisco!
But a strange and breathtaking new woman, that won’t talk about her past, comes to Old Stump and gives him a reason to hang around town for a spell longer.

This novel really is a strange one, since you rarely see comedy movies get novelized.
In a way, this book reads like a narrative joke book.
Which oddly actually attracts me to it more because it’s so different than most movie novels.
Really, the worst thing I can say about this is that it follows the movie too precisely, which is a trend I am noticing more and more in recent years with novelizations.
There is very little flourish or expansion on what you see on screen, at most there are about 10 alternate lines or jokes.
Mostly, the new prose is added contextual content that you can infer from looks and the relationships featured on screen.

Honestly, the real draw here is seeing how Seth’s voice sounds in a richer and fuller story format.
We know he can handle the coldness of the script format, but there are some writers who seem to struggle in jumping between the 2.
Yeah, well, Seth ain’t one of them.
His descriptions pop (especially if you’ve seen the astoundingly beautiful movie), his pacing is brisk but not rushed, the characters feel as defined on the page as they did on screen, and it’s just plain fun.
The only problem I have with his style would be that there are no chapters in this book at all, it’s just one long piece.
Sure, it has the normal transitional breaks you expect, but if you are a goal oriented reader that loves the mini accomplishment of “I’m gonna read two chapters before bed.” you are S.O.L. and J.W.F. my friend.

Bottomline, I love this story in both formats.
I don’t know what his plans are, but I would love to see Seth write more novels, but originals in the future.
Something that allows him to not feel like he has to so closely follow a prelaid path.
I want to see him unleashed.
Or, hell, I’m sure he has an idea for an episode of The Orville that’s just a bit too big for Hulu!

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

Movie novels can be a strange beast, I love them but they are sometimes the most mixed of bags.
In some cases, movie novels put lip stick on a pig and give you the false impression that a terrible movie is watchable.
In most cases, a solid movie novelization can make a good movie slightly better by giving each scene more depth, impact, and context.
In the best cases, a great movie novelization gets you inside the characters heads in most scenes, elevates what is there and then gives you great shit that’s not in the movie but fits in so well that you wish it was.
Which category does this fall into?
Let’s find out!

This is as good a time as any to give the obligatory ***SPOILER ALERT***

Let’s start off with my only real complaint, there’s not much new content here.
By my count, there are about 6 new scenes in this novel that weren’t in the movie.
And, sadly, all of them are super short and zip by too damn fast.
This is really one of the stand out things about movie novels that I love, even if they’re spectacularly non-canonical.
The Star Wars Episode III novel notably had a ton of them, including the Dooku/Sidious scene before Obi-Wan & Anakin come in to battle Dooku.

Now, like I said, that’s pretty much my only complaint.
The rest of this novel is, appropriately, golden.
Waggoner, unlike some folks who get tasked with adapting a film/script into a novel, handles this with ease.
Perfectly describing and embellishing what I know and love from the movie while still somehow making it feel fresh and not like he just added “said Eggsy” type of stuff to the script…which happens painfully too often in this line of work.

His prose flows in an incredibly easy to breeze through fashion as well.
I was thoroughly impressed with his abilities here.
His skill at getting into the characters’ heads is refreshing, especially his grasp on Poppy (the leader of The Golden Circle drug empire) and the President’s Chief Of Staff Fox.
We get background on Poppy and how her militaristic parents raised her to be the batshit cornball loon that she gleefully is.
In Fox’s regard, besides what we see in the movie, we learn how it is to work for a man baby world leader that has his staff so on edge that they self medicate to the point they are doped to the gills on illegal pills in their off hours.
Also, as you may glean from the description of Fox’s situation, the political subtext is easy to spot in here, made more obvious by checking when it was written…if ya know what I mean…***WINK WINK***!!!

Bottom line, not only are these movies great, this Novelization is rock solid, gang.
I really can’t thank @MemeEmSteveDave enough for talking these movies up a few years back when I talked to him and getting me interested, because I feel deeply in love with both of them when I saw them and this novel is a beautiful extension of the 2nd movie.
If you haven’t watched them, get on it.
Then check this out and wallow in the universe for a bit longer while we wait for the next one and, with any luck, Waggoner’s return to adapt it.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Star Wars: Maul: Lockdown Review

This book ended up being the final novel released in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, aka Legends, timeline.
I have no clue if Joe Schreiber knew at the time he was writing it that he was the penning the swan song for an entire line of continuity or not, but none the less he was swinging for the fences.
The question at this point is did he get it over the wall or did he swing wild and fling his bat at the pitcher, slamming him in the face and unleashing a torrent of blood, causing a bench clearing brawl the likes of which have never been seen before or since that will go down in history as…I may have gotten carried away just then, and I don’t even like baseball, but I think you see my point…let’s answer that question in less gory detail.

Consider this your official ***Spoiler Alert***

Sidious sends Maul undercover into a prison to meet with a mysterious weapons dealer to get a device to further one of his many secret plans and bring forth the Sith takeover we all know is coming.
Through algorithmic match making, this prison is a hub of fights and high stakes betting that brings the attention of the galaxy and some of its more seedy underworldy types.

This is the 3rd and final of Joe Schreiber’s Star Wars novels and I’m trying to decide if this is better than the 1st or not.
The race is so damn tight.
Death Troopers brilliantly handled Han & Chewie appearances while mixing in some kickass Zombie attacks.
This has Maul, Sidious, Plagueis, and Jabba in Pre-Phantom Menace action.
He has a way of dealing with these legacy characters that makes them feel less like untouchable art pieces and more like action figures that are going to get beat up and thrown back in the toy box for the next writer to take out and toss around for a bit, and I mean that in the best possible way.

His handling of Maul is great, displaying the pure stoicism of this brutal fighter is spot on.
Sidious takes lightsabers and the Force out of the arsenal of the horn headed apprentice, to keep his dark side allegiance secret, and it gives us a great insight into how his mind works and how he has been trained to adapt.
We see a new detective side to him as well as we follow him chasing down leads and rumors in the prison, hunting the arms dealer and coming to multiple deadends.
He almost comes off like The Punisher in that respect, and I loved it.

There are twists aplenty, and not a one had that all too familiar feeling of “are you seriously gonna try this hokey shit?” that can often be found in books/story that try to be too clever or deep for their own good.
They all have an air of “aw hell, why didn’t I see that coming?” to them.
One unexpected twist I’ll share is when Darth Plagueis shows up and starts undermining the plans of Sidious, confronting him about it to pretty much let him know he’s aware of the ongoing shenanigans, and then he cooly moves past it to discuss the grand plan for the approaching Sith takeover.
It’s tense as hell and almost worth the price of admission alone.

Tip to tail, this is a damn good book.
And while I enjoy the new main continuity, I hope at some point in the future that Disney/Del Rey will open the door and let the EU/Legends continuity thrive again.
Because if this is the level of story they were pumping out at the end, there were plenty more great stories to come.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

The Incredible Hulk: Stalker From The Stars Review

Back in wild and wonderful 70’s, the Marvel Universe was still in its formative years.
16 years after The Incredible Hulk made his 4 Color Debut, the rage filled Jade Giant stars in his very 1st prose novel.
But at only 179 pages long, does this story delve any deeper into the character and his history than the low page count would lead you to believe?

As per usual, consider this your official ***41 year old Spoiler Alert***

I knew from the Stan Lee introduction that I would love this book.
You have to understand, this was Stan at the height of his comic ambassador powers, before Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man made Marvel a beloved household brand.
In these few paragraphs you can see why everybody loved him, his energy and charisma seeps through the ink and paper.
His death was still incredibly fresh in my mind as I started reading this book and it ended up making for a great tribute to The Man.

As for the actual prose content of the novel, it did not disappoint.
A guilt ridden Rick Jones (the often forgotten kid that Bruce Banner saves, leading to the birth of the Hulk) makes his way to an idyllic small American town in search of renown gamma scientist Rudolph Stern’s help.
Once he gets to Crater Falls, a sinister plot of mind control and ancient extraterrestrial evil unravels and brings The Hulk, General Thunderbolt Ross, and a long buried beast to a climactic battle with Earth ending ramifications.

If you listen to the pod you have heard us bitch and complain numerous times about the overcomplicated nature of modern comics and their stories.
Well, this is a perfect encapsulation of what we keep saying we want.
The story has depth, detail, and a sense of history without bloating into a tale that’s mired in frustratingly unnecessary nonsense.
The overall vibe of the book feels like the perfect parts of the comics of the day mixed with the simplicity of what is probably still the most well known version of Hulk, the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno show.

One of the problems with reviewing a book that has multiple authors like this is figuring out where to lay blame or praise.
Thankfully, I don’t have a single complaint.
Len Wein & Marv Wolfman are giants of comics (Len actually had a run on Hulk before co-writing this novel) and Ron Goulart (Joseph Silva) wasn’t a slouch.
I think Len brought the Hulk experience/knowledge and they all brought the writing skill and when it’s mixed this well you get a hell of an adventure.

To wrap up, I love the story of a lonely tortured man that the show did so well and is on display here.
I love the over the top feats of strength and heroics included that we never saw on screen until the movies.
This man, this monster, and this story are all so worth your time.
Reading this only makes me want more of those early Marvel novels, and the hunt is on, gang.
I really hope I can find them and tell you all about them soon.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

The Shining Review

After years of watching and loving countless adaptations of his work (including the Stanley Kubrick version of this very book), this is my 1st dive into the prose of Stephen King.
I think it’s been made obvious by this point that if I’m reviewing a book I dug it, so no suspense there.
But, at this point, after hearing for decades that King is one of the greatest writers around, this is my chance to finally find out the answer to a question that has kept me from reading his work: Can he possibly live up to that mountain of hype?

Consider this your 42 year old ***SPOILER ALERT***

The first thing I was struck by while reading this is how different the movie is from this book.
Which is something I knew going in, but was still a bit shocked by.
It feels like somebody sat 2 writers down, gave them the same thin description, and had them craft their own versions of the same story.
The book is the story of a man on a sad & slow descent into sorrowful madness, while the movie is balls out batshit crazy almost from the start.
It’s strange and makes them feel like two entirely separate entities that have to be judged as such.
It feels a lot like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince actually, with all of the backstory being savagely ripped out of the movie versions of both.
As far as The Shining goes, I only saw the movie once and I loved it.
I feel mostly the same about this book.

I say mostly for two reasons.
1. Would be because there are a few places in this book (specifically in the middle three hundred pages or so) that I feel dragged a bit because they got a bit too monologue-esque in the way he focuses on one character for such a long period before shifting to another character for a long period.
I feel these chapters would benefit from a bit of crosscutting between characters/storylines the way the chapters in the latter fifth of the book do.
In that last one hundred or so pages, I found it incredibly difficult to put this down, in fact I read the last seventy five or so pages in just about two hours while it took me three weeks to read the middle bits.

2. Being closely related to 1, chapter length.
Nothing slows me down like bloated chapters.
Once it starts hitting seventeen pages or there abouts, my focus starts to drift and it takes far more effort to concentrate on what I’m reading.
Thankfully, that last seventy five pages had quick and snappy chapters as well.
From what long time King fans have told me, that’s something I’ll have to get used to if I continue reading his work.
And make no mistake, I plan to read more of his work eventually.

To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this review: Yes, he can!
Which is honestly shocking, because few things can live up to that much hype.
I mean, for fuck sake, the cover has a pull quote from the LA TIMES calling him a master storyteller.
But he damn well earns the moniker.
The slow burn to madness in Jack Torrance is gutwrenchingly inevitable, but still amazing to watch unfold.
Danny growing in both age and ability over the course of the story is also smooth as silk, deftly handling what could easily come off hamfisted.
His bond with fellow Shiner, Dick Hallorann, also comes through the page with ease.

The bottom line is this was more than worth the wait.
I’ve said many time that I’m more into the journey than the destination, and I’m happy to report Stephen King sure knows how to spin a hell of a journey.
Given the detail he wove into this, it almost seems like his work should strictly be adapted into TV miniseries rather than movies.
The dozens of little seeds that are planted along the way and grow into wonderfully paid off moments make it all come together, to quote the LA TIMES, Masterfully.
I may need some time to catch my breath before I tackle another tome from King, but I’m definitely looking forward to the trek.
Who wouldn’t want to know how little Danny turned out?

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Services Rendered Review

Back to the offices of Chambeaux & Deyer we go for more fun & spooky cases in this collection of 9 new stories.
The whole gang is along for the ride too!
Dan Chambeaux: Detective extraordinaire & Zombie.
Robin Deyer: Precedent-setting lawyer for all unnaturals & all around sweetheart.
Sheyenne “Spooky”: Receptionist & Dan’s ghost girlfriend.
Officer Toby “McGoo” McGoohan: Beat Cop & Dan’s BFF, emphasis on the 2nd F.
Let’s see what kind of trouble is about to go down in the UQ, shall we?

For the 20th time, this your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

Let’s get this out of the way right here at the top, just so we’re all clear.
This a Dan Shamble book so we really don’t need to pretend that I may not like it.
There is a 95% chance that I was going to love it and I damn well did.
With that all out in the open I have to say the worst part of this book is that it ended so quickly, and it’s getting sadder and sadder when the adventures in the Unnatural Quarter come to an end.
I just can’t get enough of this oddball family, their interactions, and this entire universe.
Flat out, I fuckin’ love this world and these characters.
It’s creeping dangerously close to Scooby & Star Wars levels of love.

Before we get too deep, go read my review of High Midnight, the 4th story in this collection.
I go a bit more in-depth on that than I may on some of the others.
Anywho, let’s get started on the other stories in here.

There are 2 entries in this collection that I was 100% fascinated by, 1st and foremost would be Paperwork.
This is the shortest of the 9, at about 8 pages long, and it’s basically a short way to get you introduced to this universe & this collection.
An Unnatural divorce sees the spurned husband, a poltergeist, tearing up the office and slinging case files all over the place.
The main cast comes together to reminiscence about the cases as they straighten up.
It feels like pure sitcom clip show set up fun, only without recycling old content.

I hesitate to call the following an issue, because I don’t really feel it’s a complaint as much as it is a hope/suggestion.
But having gotten used to how @TheKJA has done the intros to each story with his Selected Stories series, I would’ve loved to see this one story be multi-part intros to each of the following stories to give us a little bit more fun and help us learn more about these characters.
It really would have brought home the sitcom feel.
It works as is though, and we do learn about these characters and their personalities through the other 8 stories.

The other story that I was fascinated by would be Wishful Thinking.
As KJA said when I interviewed him in Series 5, Ep 2 of TNB Book Club, keen observers will realize that this is the Shamble half of the Kolchak crossover comic that he wrote (hear both Fitz and I review the comic in Episode 43).
The second he told me that I started wondering “now how the hell is that gonna work?”, and to answer that question…pretty damn well!
Obviously while reading this, I could see the changes clear as day, but even more interesting than that is seeing the switch from a visual story to pure prose.
I love comics, but the theater of the mind that simple words on a page can prompt can not be beat.
That alone makes this the better version of this story for me.
Not to mention the singular focus on Dan and this world gives it a less disjointed feel.

I only want to mention 2 other stories in this review, and part of me wanted to rip out 1 of them and make it a special review of its own as it’s seasonally appropriate.
Cold Dead Turkey gives us a story that must be an anthropologist’s wet dream!
Set at Christmas (you know, to take advantage of the extra magic), an Aztec Mummy and an Egyptian Mummy are at odds over a sacrifical turkey being specifically raised to fulfill a centuries long wish.
This one perfectly encapsulates why I love this series.
It is unabashedly and unapologetically ridiculous.
This is what I’m talking about when I say that this series feels like a mix of The Munsters & The Rockford Files.
It’s the perfect balance of humor, monsters, & detective footwork.
It’s up there with Role Model, Hair Raising, & Death Warmed Over as one of my favorite stories in the franchise.

Another one up there would be Game Night.
There’s really no mystery here at all, this is one of those stories that helps us learn a bit more about who these characters are.
This is pure horror, a new spin on this world.
After a rough day in the office for both Dan & Robin, Spooky decides they all need a break, invites McGoo over, and organizes a family game night.
McGoo, hot off of a case of his own, and due to some confusion, rushes over before heading back to UQPD Headquarters to catalogue a vial of evidence.
Contained in the vial is a wish substance a genie tried bribing him with.
They start playing a Zombie Outbreak board game and due to a mishap and some poor wording, the entire crew gets transported into the world of the game.
Seeing the entire gang thrown into a dire situation and how they handle it throws this up there with the stories I mentioned above!

Normally, in a collection this short, I would break down every story and give you reasons why I love each, but I think I’d rather leave some of them for you to discover.
Kevin J. Anderson’s love for this series is clear, the sly world building skills are razor sharp.
A few characters from previous books and stories come back for small cameos that go a long way.
And on a more personal note, as a fan of KJA, I absolutely loved the throwaway mention of the librarian who looks like she “suffers from chronic hemorrhoids”.
If you don’t get that reference, watch this and join the cool kids club.

I want you all to check this out, half because I’m greedy and great sales means I’ll get more.
And half because I genuinely think if you like me, my YouTube channel, Fitz, the Pod, and our collective sense of humor, you will love this series.
It’s so damn good and deserves your attention gang.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.