Showing posts with label time-travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label time-travel. Show all posts

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Doctor Who The American Adventures by various authors


Rating: WARTY!

This is the first of two novels I got from Net Galley as advance review copies, thinking they were graphic novels! WRONG! Rest assured I shall be very cautious about selecting anything from Net Galley that comes in a flyer advertising graphic novels from now on! Nevertheless I have to read these and see what happens. In this one, the answer was nothing much. I was very disappointed. Had the stories actually been in graphic format, I would still have been very disappointed, because for me the story is more important than the art.

The book consisted of six short stories, each one an adventure featuring the current Doctor (Peter Capaldi) who has been conspicuous by his complete absence this year for reasons the BBC has utterly failed to justify. However, on the bright side, there is a new Doctor Who spin-off titled Class which is set in Coal Hill Academy, and features the exploits of a teacher and five students, and in the first episode, a guest appearance by Capaldi.

But I digress! The stories in this book are as follows, with a brief review of each:

  1. All that Glitters features an alien usurpation of a gold prospector in old California. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story lacked any real oomph. Yes, you heard me right: oomph!
  2. Off the trail is about a family traveling the Oregon trail in the old west, who are abducted by aliens. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. Wait! Isn't that essentially what the previous story was about?
  3. Ghosts of New York is about the discovery of a buried spacecraft under New York City during the excavation of the subway tunnels. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story happened to be very reminiscent of the 1967 Hammer film, Quatermass and the Pit, which I liked better.
  4. Taking the Plunge concerns a fun fair ride used by an alien to suck life-force out of human riders for later sale. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This story sounds very familiar to me, too, but I can't think of the Doctor Who story I saw it in. It's like the inverse of the episode The Unquiet Dead which featured Eve Myles before she became a Torchwood cast member.
  5. Spectator Sport is the story of a robot assassin who tries to murder an alien spectator at the Battle of New Orleans. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right. This has elements of the episode A Town Called Mercy, but mostly reminded me of the movie Timescape, which was released on video as Grand Tour: Disaster in Time.
  6. Base of Operations features aliens trying to take over Earth by emulating and replacing humans undercover of preparations for the D-Day invasion in World War 2. The Doctor just happens to arrive on the scene to investigate and put things right.

The problem with all these episodes is that they were predictable and boring. There was no companion, no humor, no risk that something might go wrong. This is quite literally how it happened - evil alien causes problems, Doctor shows up miraculously and fixes it, Doctor leaves. Rinse. Repeat. It was that monotonous. The stories were simply not entertaining. There was nothing really new or original here, and they failed comprehensively to exhibit the Doctor in a lovable light. The Doctor was boring and essentially a will o' the wisp; he had no real presence and so what;s the point of a Doctor Who story which feels like the Doctor isn't in it for all realistic purposes?

What's the point, for that matter of setting these in the USA? There wasn't anything in any of the stories that really solidly tied the story to the US. The gold rush story had really nothing to do with the gold rush. The Oregon Trail story could have been any road trip horror story in any country. The New York subway story could have been told of any underground railroad excavation anywhere there's an underground. The funfair story could have been any funfair. The spectator sport story could have been told of literally any battle anywhere at any time. The World war two story could have been set in England or anywhere in Europe for that matter, and not have lost a thing. I didn't get the US connection unless it was solely to try and sell copies of this this book in the US.

You can say what you like about Steven Moffat, but one thing he was not, was boring. He produced some of the most amazing Doctor Who episodes ever, he wove the old series into the new often and expertly, he had a great sense of humor, a great way with words, and I will miss him when he's gone. These stories are not a patch on the TV show. I'm hoping that Chris Chibnall will be able to not only carry this heavy mantle but to run with it. These stories didn't cut it for me and I cannot recommend this collection.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Get Back, Imagine...Saving John Lennon by Donovan Day


Rating: WARTY!

NOTE: I understand from the author that this book is undergoing some changes, so this advance review may not apply to the final published edition.

Erratum:
"They wanted a good more than that." A good bit more than that? A good deal...?
"We need to keep our stories straights." - too many esses!
"I’m going back to December 9, 1980" - you'd be a day late. He was killed the night of December eighth!

I finished this book yesterday, and while I went into it thinking "Don't let me down" and so wanting it to please, please me, in the end it didn't come together, and it can't buy my love. This fiction followed a long and winding road like an old brown shoe, as it asked the question, "What if someone could go back in time and save John Lennon from being killed that chill, early December night in 1980?" It sounded like a great premise to me.

Lenny's ("Is his name actually Lennon?" I initially asked, but no, it isn't, I'm sorry to say!) story is that he's staying with his granddad and his granddad's husband (which was a nice touch) while his mom is out of town. Dad left a long time ago for a girl he met at a ball game, and Lenny was angry. He became Lenny the Lion, stealing coffee cups from the display at Starbucks and selling them. This eventually earned him a trip to a psychiatrist's office, which is oddly where he learned to play guitar. Anyone who has actually tried to learn to play guitar is going to resent how easy it was for him. I know I do!

A day in the life of first person PoV Lenny Funk (which is why we get no perspective on Yoko) consists of him playing his guitar in the Columbus Circle subway station to make some cash. Yoko (not that Yoko! This is a younger, modern Yoko who isn't even Japanese) shows up when a bully is giving Lenny grief. Lenny talks her into singing with him, and we read, "A crowd of people gathers around us..." What would have been wrong with writing, "A crowd of people stopped and stared" - a line from the Lennon-McCartney song, A day in the Life, one of the few songs to which they actually both contributed significantly, and specifically, a line that Lennon himself wrote? That would have been so cool, but it was a glorious opportunity missed, and in the end, that came to signify the entire novel. I was guessing at this point that we'd be seeing very few Lennon or Beatles references of this nature, and I was right. It was one in a too-long line of chances which were squandered thoughtlessly. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da!

The real starting point of this story is where Lenny discovers that an iPod nano, given to him by his grandfather, is his ticket to ride a time portal. When he plays a song from a certain time, he can physically travel back to that time and interact with people there, although how this works is rather arbitrary and very convenient for Lenny and Yoko, and when a friend like Yoko says, "I wanna hold your hand" they can travel with him. This is a great premise which reminded me of the Kathleen Turner - Nicholas Cage movie, Peggy Sue Got Married, which I loved and which was also heavily influenced by music. This is a different story, but while it's technically well-written and was quite engrossing to begin with, overall, I can't recommend it as a worthy read because there was far too much wrong with the story to let it slide.

The first sickening problem I had was with the "women are only worth anything if they're beautiful" insult to which far too many writers seem addicted, and with which this novel is replete. I know Lenny is a high school kid and this is his PoV, but he gets on this one-note song and he never gets off it. Pretty much as soon as Yoko showed up, I read, "...but this girl is maybe the best-looking female to talk to me. Ever." A couple of screens after that, he's convinced he's in love with Yoko. This shallowness gave me no confidence whatsoever that Lenny would ever be able to do anything for John Lennon! Worse than this, and at the same time that we’re being told that only beautiful young women are worth anything, we’re also learning not a thing about how Yoko feels about anything, and this is serving only to reinforce what we’ve been told: that what’s going on in a girl's mind is unimportant because only her looks matter. It’s truly nauseating, especially from a near-adult make character.

The litany of beautiful was ugly:

  • Even the most jaded of commuters can’t ignore a beautiful girl singing her heart out.
  • Did a beautiful girl my own age...
  • I'm the one with the beautiful girl...
  • Yoko’s beautiful face pops into my mind.
  • ...where a group of beautiful women are crowded around the owner...
  • There are, of course, beautiful women with them
  • “I knew it was her because she looks just like you, just as beautiful.”
  • She is so beautiful.
None of this necessary, and it's not just with the word 'beautiful' either. It's a full-frontal assault on women's credibility as people as opposed to window-dressings and trophies. Consider, for example, "...the band members are posing with a young, hot Asian woman." It couldn't be merely an Asian woman, or even a 'young Asian woman' or even 'a cool-looking Asian woman'. It has to be a "hot" one. All others can just go home. Then there's this double-whammy: "Instead of beautiful English girls, this club is filled with stunning French women...."

The insults get personal too. Shakira gets this: "Shakira is an exotic beauty" - and this was to imply that Yoko was not, which is insulting at best and racist at worst. It;s insulting to Yoko and to Shakira nbecuase it implies she has little or nothignt o offer other than her looks, which is pure bullshit. I'll bet you didn't know that Katy Perry has nothing to offer but her looks, either did you? That's what this tells me: "Well, John is a man and Katy Perry is a looker..." That insults not only Katy Perry, but also John Lennon! It could have said, "Well they're both talented musicians" but it didn't. It could have said they were both about human rights, but it didn't. Instead, it deliberately took the low road and thereby promoted John as shallowly searching for a hot babe, and Katy Perry as a skin-seep sex doll with no self respect.

Yoko (her name means ocean child, but it can mean many other kinds of child - ko - depending on how it's written) Ono comes in for some abuse later, too. It seems evident from this writing that this author is one of those who blames the Beatles break-up on Yoko, when the truth is that she really had little to do with it. It implies that John Lennon, who had already left the band but had not yet publicized it, has no mind of his own, and it also ignores the fact that the break-up was actually about many things, including Paul's very public quitting. All of this in turn was really all down to the lack of effective and consensus leadership after Brian Epstein died. Paul's hissy-fit over the other three not wanting his father-in-law to run Apple Corps didn't help. Of course, there were more currents running, and running deep here, than can be detailed with any simplicity, but the absolute best you could argue is that Yoko was merely one catalyst. You cannot realistically or fairly make her carry that weight alone.

A major issue for me was how unbelievably expert these seventeen-year-old kids were about the sixties. Yes, I'm sure there are some young people out there who do know more than you'd expect, but these two (Yoko and Lenny) were Mary Sue and Gary Stu. They had an all access pass wherever they went, and they knew everything about everything no matter which time period they were in. it was too much. At the same time, paradoxically, they knew nothing, because their entire focus was on musicians and music and they were completely oblivious to everything else around them. This made then truly annoying, juvenile, and shallow.

The idea comes up in the story that Jim Morrison can be prevented from overdosing, and later, that John Lennon can be saved from being murdered, but never once do we hear it even suggested that they could go back and save Martin Luther King, or Bobby Kennedy, or the passengers on the Pan-Am 103 flight that crashed at Lockerbie, or some three-thousand people in the Twin Towers, or the sixteen thousand or so who have died from the Union Carbide incompetence at Bhopal. This complete lack of awareness and this obsessive-compulsive focus on The Beatles only made the characters seem more dull and more shallow than ever. I get that this was about one theme, but the failure to even mention, let alone address other possibilities made the two main characters callous and selfish. I didn't like either of them.

On a matter of a pet peeve which has nothing to do with this novel, I used the word 'murder' back there deliberately, because from everything I've read about John Lennon, he was one of the least pretentious and most down-to-Earth people there was, and I honestly don't believe that he would want to be put up on a pedestal or compared, via this kind of terminology, to people like Ghandi. If he was that kind of a person, he would never have returned his MBE.

On top of all the other issues, Yenny and Loko were shown to be incredibly stupid, making the same chronically bad decision twice in a row in allowing someone to stay back in time for a visit. Lenny in particular was shown to be thoroughly clueless and incompetent with his decisions. This occurs often in time-travel movies. For example, Marty McFly's decision in Back to the Future to add only a few minutes to his return time to save Doc Brown's life, when he could have added an hour or a day or a week is a direct parallel to Lenny's last minute idiocy. Authors so easily forget that these are time travel stories: you can go back and back and back again until you get it right, unless there is some feature to the travel which prevents it. Indeed, this was a feature of Bill Murray's Groundhog Day movie, but Lenny never gets it. Yes, his time is dwindling, but he still has plenty of time and he fails.

If this had been one of those 'butterfly effect' movies where something that's changed in the past results in a horrible dystopian future, I could see how the ending, while still poor, might have made a limp kind of sense, but we'd already been shown that this isn't he case, so that excuse wasn't on the table. If we'd been shown that fate intervenes to 'correct' changes that are made, this would have been another validation, of a weak kind, of the ending, but none of that held, so the ending made zero sense. However, it was infinitely better than the dumb alternate universe we did see, which was truly sad (and not in a good way).

Even the times he does go back he fails in an epic manner, and he's too stupid to figure out why. We can work it out, but he evidently can't. At one point, a simple call to the police would have fixed all of his problems, but he's quite evidently not smart enough to entertain such an idea. One of the best loved episodes of time-travel sci-fi series Doctor Who actually makes a virtue of the "Why don't they ever go to the police?" question, and is the better for it. Unfortunately, Lenny doesn't know how to ask for a little help from his friends!

The overall impression I had from this was that the story had not been well thought through, so it's hello, goodbye to this one, and I feel fine about that. It read more like a second or third draft than a finished story, and on top of that, something about the way it portrayed John Lennon, particularly in the later chapters, felt disrespectful. While I could bring up other issues, I think this is plenty to make my point. I can't in good faith recommend a story which is obviously lacking so much in plot and character and where, in the end, the sum total of what we learn about the main character is that all he needs is love, but the fact is that he's a real nowhere man and this bird has flown.


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Supreme Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay


Rating: WORTHY!

In this beautifully illustrated futuristic time-travel graphic novel, Diana Dane, an investigative journalist who is out of work at present and not able to afford all the meds she believes she needs, has a weird dream in which she's informed that she should not trust Darius Dax. Curiously enough that's the name of the man she meets during her appointment the next day. Dax hires her for a considerable sum - with even more on offer should she succeed in locating what it is that Dax seeks.

It's not an object he wants as much as it is a time and place, but in ignorance of this, Diana is driven away in a stretch limo by an enigmatic chauffeur to investigate what as reported as an airplane crash. Dax doesn't believe the press. Diana, who looks strangely like talented artist Tula Lotay (who incidentally illustrated this novel!), is expected to unearth the truth. Her problem is that her dreams seem to be bleeding into her reality. Or vice-versa. Wait, is that Diana's dreams or Tula's? I honestly can't day! But maybe that's just a result of time being periodically revised?

This novel penned by Warren Ellis was entrancing and haunting with a bit too much mystery, but definitely an alluring lead-in to what is at least a seven volume series.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

All Clear by Connie Willis


Title: All Clear
Author: Connie Willis
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Rating: WARTY!

Read shrilly by Katherine Kellgren.

This was awful! I can't believe how bad this was. I think it's very possibly the most irritating and boring novel I've ever not read - I listened to it. Or to as much of it as I could stand anyway. I got only 10% of the way through it before I threw it away. Not literally, I dutifully and promptly returned it to the library.

It’s book 2 in what’s at least a dilogy, something which I didn’t know, going in. Not that it really matters that much. Connie Willis herself warns at the beginning that you really ought to read book one before you start on this, but what’s the point, honestly, of issuing that warning when you’re sitting there driving down the highway (or even up the low-way) listening to it already? What I’m saying is that it’s a bit late at that point!

I got this from the library and there was nothing in the description on the library's website to warn me that I should read book one first – or even to say this was book two! Here’s the library’s blurb:

Nebula and Hugo Award-winning author Connie Willis returns with a stunning, enormously entertaining novel of time travel, war, and the deeds, great and small, of ordinary people who shape history.

“Connie Willis returns” tells me this isn’t her debut novel. It doesn’t tell me this is book two of a series! Shame on you librarians who evidently just lifted a blurb from somewhere and thought no more about it! (I love them really!) The reader was Katherine Kellgren, and her voice was appropriate to the era, but this merely meant that it was high pitched and shrill, which was really, and I mean really, off-putting. If you must read this, I recommend that you actually read it, and avoid the audio book version.

As for the story itself, I didn’t see the point. This is supposed to be sci-fi time-travel. To me there’s nothing more exciting, which makes me wonder why so many writers use that frame as nothing more than a bait-and-switch tactic to lure their readers into what is, in the end, merely an historical fiction, or worse, an historical romance. Seriously?

If all you’re going to do with your time-travel story is trap your main character in some historical setting, then I’m sorry but you’re really nothing more than a con-artist mis-representing your story! I will resent your tactics and read no more of your oeuvre. For me, there actually has to be some real sci-fi in a sci-fi story!

In this case, a team of time-travelers, who were evidently studying history (you’d have to have read book one to really understand what they were doing or why it even - supposedly - made sense), were somehow trapped in World War two London in 1940 during the blitz, of course, and were in complete disarray. For the first two disks they were obsessed with a store by the name of Padgett's and with whether three people or five people had died there. It went on and on - for two disks. God it was boring!

They're from the future, but were evidently and inexplicably completely bereft of any kind communication devices, and the entirety of the first two disks consisted of some time-traveler woman whining shrilly about her own personal circumstances amidst the destruction, death, and din of London. That was two disks too much ‘whining and dinning’ for me. I can’t recommend this.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Repeat by Neal Pollack


Title: Repeat
Author: Neal Pollack
Publisher: Amazon Publishing
Rating: WARTY!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

I requested to review this novel because it sounded very reminiscent of one of my favorites of all time: Replay by Ken Grimwood, which I reviewed last September. In that novel, a man in his early forties finds himself inexplicably transported back into his body as a college undergrad, and has to live his life over again - but he has all his memories intact from his original life. Rinse and repeat. There is a twist or two however, making for a varied and really engrossing read.

In this novel, a man named Brad Cohen, on the cusp of his fortieth birthday finds himself inexplicably being born again, and going through the entire forty years of his life once more, but with his original memories intact. Breast-feeding wasn't fun. Rinse and repeat. There are significant differences between this novel and Replay, the most immediately notable one being this issue of starting his life over from birth each time. Fortunately, we don't follow him through his formative years each time he cycles back.

After a speedy progression through his childhood in this first re-incarnation, we skip it in repeat visits to focus on the differing ways in which his life progresses because of the choices he makes. His first repeat is a much more industrious and serious life than his original was, the second much less so - and for me, boring because of it. I could have done without forty pages of his efforts to win on Jeopardy which for me, trivialized the whole reincarnation experience. I skimmed this part. In some ways it was understandable that he did this because he realized only too painfully after his first reincarnation that while he could predict accurately what was going to happen, he couldn't do anything to change it, and he'd given up trying. That surmise still didn't prevent it from being a boring read, though.

In his third reincarnation, the seriousness comes crashing back with a vengeance, but this is a very short recounting. Unexpectedly, the perspective changes after that and focuses somewhat on something upon which his focus has been entirely absent up to this point: his wife Juliet. I really appreciated this change of pace and view-point, but it didn't last long before Brad showed up, and this is where there's a really big give-away about what's been happening to Brad.

Two things bothered me here. The first is that Juliet wasn't bothered that Brad came across like a really creepy stalker. This kind of writing disturbs me. She doesn't know anything about him, but he knows everything about her, and whenever she expresses an opinion or a preference he tells her he knows, and this doesn't creep her out at all!

I know the both of them are pot-heads, but even given that, her evident lack of street smarts is off-putting to say the least. I'd have liked it better had it been written better here, especially the conclusion to this particular repeat. We know that Brad he isn't a stalker - at least not in the usually understood sense! - and we can believe that he's unlikely to do her any harm, but she doesn't know that.

The second thing which bothered me is Brad's complete lack of a clue on how to initiate his re-acquaintanceship with a woman whom he knew, in his original life, for years. You would think he would be smart enough to be circumspect on how he contacted her and how he came to ask her for a date, but he isn't. This shouted a complete lack of empathy for a woman he knew better than anyone else. It makes him look unfeeling at best, and like a jerk at worst. The fact that given his creepy approach, Juliet readily agreed to a date and was ready to jump into a car with him based solely on how cute she thought he looked was truly sad, and spoke badly of her mentality, too.

In the end I can't in good faith recommend this as a worthy read. Some parts are really good, but others (as identified above) were really not interesting. The basis of the plot was telegraphed way in advance, which in turn predicted the ending, so there really were no surprises, and it began to lag and drag a lot after that first reincarnation was over with.

In the end it seemed to me that this story was really a mash-up of Replay, Groundhog Day, It's a Wonderful Lifeand The Wizard of Oz, but it didn't have the best elements of any of those stories. This writer does have talent however, so perhaps another time, another story, I can reach another conclusion.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Cutting Room by Edward W Robertson


Title: The Cutting Room
Author: Edward W Robertson
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Rating: WARTY!

Erratum:
"pods'" should be "Pod's" since it's a possessive of the singular 'pod' referred to earlier.

This is a novel which originally appeared in episodic form, but which is now compiled into one complete volume. The premise here is that there are parallel universes (or at least parallel Earths!), but in only one of these is it relatively easy to travel back in time (which means you know that the plot is going to hinge on there being another one of these worlds where time-travel has also become possible). The inhabitants of this special one call it Primetime, which I found hilarious.

The problem is that the Primetime line isn't any better than ours: there are still sick and twisted people there who think it's wonderful to mess with other time-lines in destructive and murderous ways. How this interference and time travel is possible isn't explained, nor is it explained why these events seem to take place in the past of the parallel time-lines rather than concurrent with the present in Primetime or in the future. In fact, a lot of things go unexplained here, unfortunately.

It's the job of the time police in Primetime to go back and prevent these disruptions, so in some regards, this story is very much that of the Jean Claude Van Damme movie Time Cop (minus the parallel streams, of course), a movie which I happen to love. The story is narrated by one such cop, Blake Din, who is, when we meet him, back in a time somewhat prior to our present trying to prevent the (unsolved) murder of a child in that time-line.

It evidently takes far too much energy to travel back much further than the relatively recent past, which immediately begs the question as to how the villains manage to generate the energy and why the time cops aren't actively searching for such energy use. Another unexplained plot hole. Din believes that the murder was perpetrated by a time-jumper who simply left the time-line to escape being caught, and so he's following the child (and whatever leads pop-up) in an effort to figure out who this murderer is, to prevent the murder, and to reset the time-line back to its original path.

How they determined that this isn't the original path isn't ever explained. They seem to know when there's a violation, which means they have a record of the time-path in its pristine state, for each of the parallel worlds. That's a heck of a lot of data storage! The problem is that there are other times when they act like they can't be sure if there was s violation or not, which means they don't have a good record. Again this is bad plotting and confusion. It's really poor writing, and very annoying, when the story's internal rules change to accommodate the plot rather than vice-versa.

There's always a real problem in time-travel stories which I do not believe anyone has solved yet. Indeed, it may well be insoluble because of the cat-out-of-the-bag nature of time-travel: it's very effectively a get-out-of-jail free card. You can always go back and undo (or re-do) whatever anyone else has done/undone. Steven Moffat had great fun with that concept in a Christmas charity comedy broadcast of Doctor Who (featuring only non-cannon Doctor Who characters played by the likes of Rowen Atkinson, Hugh Grant, and even Joanna Lumley). It was titled The Curse of Fatal Death, and the master was played by the very estimable Jonathan Pryce.

But I digress. The problem I had with the investigator's behavior was that he was starting out several days before the child's murder trying to spot clues to who the perp might be. Why did he not simply go to the dumpster where parts of the body were found and track backwards (or forwards if back-tracking isn't possible) from there to discover who the killer was, and then return and prevent it? It made zero sense to me to do it the blind way he was doing it. Even that might have been fine if some explanation had been offered as to why he had to do it this way, but none ever was.

This same thing happened in the very next murder investigation he's on; then we get the Back to the Future plan of sending them back to the "wild" west, for no good reason other than that many writers seem to think it's cool to send time travelers back there. Other than these sorry plot holes, the novel was technically written well with some nice humor, but for me it was really boring with long periods of time with nothing happening, journeys back and forth, dead ends, none of which seemed to do anything for the plot.

I freely admit that the 1PoV didn't piss me off as it all-too-often does, so that was a nice plus for me, but in the end, the novel was too tedious to continue reading. I found myself skipping larger and larger portions of text and then I skipped the whole rest of the novel because I didn't care about the characters or about where this plot was taking them. Life's too short to waste on novels that don't addict you! I can't recommend this.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman





Title: The Wells Bequest
Author: Polly Shulman
Publisher: Audio Books
Rating: worthy

The Wells Bequest was read by Johnny Heller and I was not impressed. His voice was entirely wrong for this novel and his delivery, while not horrible, just wasn't there for me.

I pulled this off the library shelf thinking that it looked interesting. I had a choice between this and the first one in this series, and chose this because it was shorter (less time wasted if I didn’t like it!), and because the two entries in the series didn’t seem to be connected at first. They are connected, even employing some of the same characters, but they're not a series in the usual sense. The Wells Bequest is billed as a companion to the earlier volume (titled The Grimm Legacy), so it might help to have read that, but you actually do not have to have read the earlier one to read this.

It was an odd experience, listening to this, because I started out liking it, then became disenchanted with it, then started liking it again at the end. Maybe reading the novel would have presented me with a better experience, but my problem with this novel wasn't confined merely to the audio experience. The story itself appeared to be going nowhere. Yes, the reader wasn't right for this novel; his voice was way too mature, and of the wrong type for a story about sixteen-year-olds, and this was not at all helped by the fact that the story seems to have been written at a maturity level below that of the characters in it, but the novel itself wasn't interesting in large part. The characters were flat and a bit tedious, and I found myself skimming tracks rather than listening all the way through because there were a lot of uninteresting bits.

The novel is the second in a series about a circulating library which lends out not books, but objects from fiction, which have the same powers in real life as the fictional objects did in their initial setting. I don’t see how this is supposed to work within the framework of the novel. You possess HG Wells's time machine and you’re going to loan it out like a library book so anyone can play with it?! That's simply not going to happen in any realistic story framework! So the premise doesn't work unless you're writing this for ten year olds or younger, which the style in this volume supported. Unfortunately, the characters are in the mid teens, which made no sense to me.

The villain was once again a Brit. They seem to have taken over from Middle Easterners as the designated villains in movies and novels lately. The problem with this villain was that his only motivation was unrequited "love", and for this he was prepared to petulantly destroy whole cities. It doesn’t work, and especially not when his entire life's philosophy is turned around at the end by true love, and so rather than face consequences for his actions, he's rewarded, and he magically forgets all of his interest in his previous obsession? It doesn’t work. Neither does the issue of time-travel unless it’s exceptionally well done, because no matter what goes wrong, you can always go back to an earlier time, and fix it. Too few writers seem to get this, or they do get it, yet they cook-up really asinine excuses as to why it’s not possible to fix things that way in their novel!

I adore time-travel stories if they're done well and as I said, I had the chance to pick the first in this series (not actually realizing it was any kind of a series), but I rejected that because it had more disks than the second and I wanted to start in on this author with a relatively short tale in case it was less than thrilling! It was less than thrilling; now I don't want to listen to anything longer by the same author, and certainly not one which is read by the same reader!

One reviewer said, "Leo and Jaya figure out a plan to use the time machine from Orson Wells' book, go back in time, and warn Nicolas Tesla" Someone has a wire or two crossed! I rather suspect the reviewer meant HG Wells's book, and Nicola Tesla! This same reviewer added later; "There were a lot of fun historical notes in this book, about both historical figures (such as Leo Tesla)..." Ah, the value of a good editor! Having said that, it seems that a significant number of those who disliked this novel actually did like the first in the series, but I can't comment on that.

I mention other reviews not to make fun but to demonstrate what a hard time I had in deciding how to rate this. Like I said, I was all set to declare it warty, and then I listened to the last disk and it turned out that I started liking the novel a lot more at that point, so I'm prepared to rate it worthy with a note that I didn’t like all of it (but I did like just enough, apparently!). One of the biggest problems, as I've mentioned was Frank Heller's reading. I think that had a much larger influence on my view of the novel than it ought, and certainly more than I thought I was allowing for. There's a caveat there for future reference!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick






Title: The Time Fetch
Author: Amy Herrick
Publisher: High Bridge Audio
Rating: WORTHY!

Very competently read by Luci Christian

This is one of the rare occasions where I don’t start the review until after I finish the book, which means I have to review the book - literally - to write the review. Weird. The basis of the novel is that there's a parallel world inhabited by creatures which live off time energy - rather like the Weeping Angels, of Doctor Who fame. They periodically open a portal into this world and travel through in a tiny ship (the Fetch) that looks like a rock. They exit the Fetch and wander off like tiny flies, harvesting the moments in time which will not be missed - that minute or two you zoned-out? They took it. That hour you were having so much fun that it zoomed by? They filleted it.

There's a problem here in Herrick's logic in that she offers nothing to show how these little "Time Flies" (lol!) discern what are non-missable moments. How do they know how to take ones which will not be missed - which will cause no harm? Or do they simply take whatever and we subsequently perceive it as zoning-out or time flying by? That latter explanation makes more sense given what comes later, but Herrick doesn't make it clear. The problem is that there's a queen in each Fetch, and she calls the Time Flies back before they can gobble up every moment, so clearly they don’t have any way to know what they're doing. They're just parasites. The queen dies in singing them back, but the Fetch seals them in and it’s safe, ready for retrieval. The problem is that in this novel, some of them escape, they start multiplying and literally do start eating all the time (so to speak; this is such fun to write!).

The time gobblers disguise the Fetch like a rock because people ignore rocks, but this shows a serious deficit in Herrick's understanding, I feel. OTOH, she had to have something which would be stolen or the Fetch would never have got off the ground. Literally. I'm loving this! The problem is that people pick up rocks. They collect them. They throw them. They skim them off water surfaces. If the time fetchers really didn’t want their ship to be disturbed, they should have designed it to look like bird droppings, or something like that! But they didn’t.

Edward's school project was to go to the park and find a rock representative of a moraine deposit. He didn’t. Edward is a slacker who tries to be invisible so he can glide through life with the least hassle. He picks up a rock from under a tree in his yard on the way to school that morning, and it's the Fetch, of course. Now that it's been touched, it appears on the radar of people who want to steal it for their own ends. Edward discovers that he attracts these people to him as long as he has the rock, but he doesn’t know why, and these events begin to weird him out. Eventually, the Fetch passes through the hands of three of his school-mates: Brigit, Danton, and "Feenix" (Herrick stole my name from a children's book I wrote years ago! I know she did!). The novel is told from several different perspectives, but fortunately not in the obnoxious first person. kudos to Herrick for that.

Danton is a school jock, but he befriends Edward, so he's not the clichéd stereotype you might fear. I had thought his name was 'Denton' from the audio, but it’s not. That's another problem with audio books: we have no idea how the characters spell their names! Feenix is mischievous and likes to get people going, particularly her teachers. She consistently refers to Edward as 'Dweebo'. Some might see her as mean, or even as a bitch, but she's actually insecure and protects herself by means of presenting a thorny exterior. Brigit is the most pointless character. She's almost a mute, which means that the ending will hinge on her voice being found at the right time - no spoiler there - but she really has very little going on for almost the entire novel. It seems a bit unfair on her as a character. It’s just as well that these four touched the Fetch, because as time starts to end, they're the only ones who notice it.

One thing I really liked about Herrick's book is that she delivers on something which is sadly lacking in YA fiction; good, solid, sound science! She offers none to explain how all this fantasy works, but she offers more than sufficient to give you have a handle on what real science says about the why and how of things that are happening in the novel - like dimensions and time, for example. If there were only two dimensions - everything had no height, for example - then you would not see it. It’s not like you could see it from overhead, but not from edge-on: it would quite literally disappear, because it has absolutely no height, not even a nanometer - there is no edge-on view. She argues the same thing for time - like it’s the fourth dimension, and if there is no time, then you can’t see anything, any more than if there was no width or breadth. Things would disappear, and this is indeed what starts to happen as the Time Flies eat all the time.

She screws up here, IMO, because she depicts all this as things aging - both people and buildings. I can see how she derives that (if moments are extracted, then everything ages faster), but this seems at odds with her stated premise that things become invisible when one of the dimensions is missing. It makes a kind of sense, but it seems odd; then most things in advanced physics do! She reverts to the original premise as the story continues, with great gaps of nothingness opening up all over the city in the space-time fabric of the universe. I loved the novel for this. Given the poor state of science and math education in the US, it's shameful that more YA writers don’t do a better job, but then those writers are a product of the same society which turns out people with a lousy understanding of science and math in the first place, so how are they to do better? Vicious cycle! It’s sad though, especially given that so many YA writers are university or college grads. So huge kudos to Herrick for this.

There are, as I've indicated, some plot holes and some problems, but overall, this was a really good novel. You may find yourself struggling through some parts which should have been trimmed severely or edited out altogether, such as Feenix's pointless sojourn with the three witches, and Edward's bizarre disappearance and reappearance at a crucial time in the finale, but there are also joys to be had as one oddball thing after another crops up, and is integrated effortlessly into the story like another piece in a jigsaw

The characters are good, if a bit thinly-sketched. Feenix was my favorite. Brigit seemed like she need not have been there. I liked the interaction of the four, and that they came together as a team whereas before, they weren't even friends. There's no sappy absurd romance here, or love a triangle. They're simply four people - equals, gender checked at the door. This was wonderful. I liked the part where Herrick aged the four of them rapidly, and they got to see each other as grown-ups. I found it inexplicable as they reverted back to their original ages when there seemed to have been nothing to account for the reversion! Plot holes!

Overall, I rate this a very worthy read. Yes, it’s sad that there are some poor parts which you just have to wade through, but the good parts more than made up for that. Overall it’s well worth the time for as interesting, inventive, original, and fun story as this was.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Emerald Green by Kerstin Gier





Title: Emerald Green
Author: Kerstin Gier
Publisher: Henry Holt
Rating: WARTY!

I started blogging novels just this year, and the first two novels I blogged were the first two of the Edelstein (or Ruby Red) trilogy, so it's fitting that I end this year with a review of the final volume of the trilogy, Emerald Green You can read my review of Ruby Red and of Sapphire Blue.

Once you've skipped the prologue as I did (this is the third in a trilogy! Were not the two previous volumes prologue enough, for goodness sakes?! Enough with the worthless prologues!) this novel starts out with the ultimate in cut-price fakery: Gwen having a nightmare of being stabbed in the heart. That cheap fraud was entirely unappreciated, but it does have a small bearing on a prediction her supposedly psychic relative makes later in the novel. Then we're plunged into Gwen's rather tiresome moping over leading male Major Jerk Gideon (that's not his rank and name, it's merely his entire personality). Gier repeats this type of cheap thrill again at the end of chapter nine. I thought she was a more seasoned writer than that.

I love Gier's trilogy, but for pity's sake can we not find any YA writers who can write a decent love story? The fact that this is a juvenile novel does not automatically entail a juvenile romance! Can we not find YA writers who can write a novel which actively teaches young women that pricks like like Gideon are not worth an ounce of emotion or a teaspoonful of tears? Must we brainwash our young women into thinking it's okay, even normal, to be a puppet in some manipulative scum-wad of a guy's self-idolization side-show? That it's okay to be abused and ill treated? Seriously, something needs to be done about this.

Gier does provide some humor (notably from Gwen's awesome friend Lesley) that lightens the load, and the 'fairy dies' remark was hilarious and very welcome, but even the humor is severely retrenched as compared with the first two volumes. Lesley carried the first volume, and Xemerius the animated gargoyle carried the second, but no one is shouldering that task in the third and it suffers for it. Gier doesn't lard-up the pages with tragedy anywhere near as thickly as some other writers do, but it's still tedious to read repeated references to "Gwen's tragic love life" on page after page after page. We get it. She broke up and she's broken up. Enough already. If I wanted to read reams of trash like that I'd buy a Harlequin or a Mills & Boon for goodness sakes!

In this volume, it turns out that Gwen is really Harry Potter and must die before they can be free of the evil! I am not making this up. On the good side of things, Gwen does start taking charge of her own life at this point, which is a welcome relief. Aside from her sorry and debilitating poor judgment with regard to Gideon the Asshat, she's making her own decisions and not at all willing to be buffeted around by the winds of male whim. She even makes a time travel trip when she's already in a time travel trip, which was much welcomed, and very cool. Nothing bizarre happened from it, however, which I confess I found a bit disappointing!

She finally starts to get somewhat suspicious of Count Saint-Germain, which is about bloody time, but even when she tries to impress upon Gideon how important this is, he's still a jerk. Her sister Charlotte is a jerk, too. The 'no-one is telling anyone anything' rule is still in play, so despite Gwen's importance to this project, no one is telling her a thing, not even her "mother" whom I have long suspected actually isn't her mother.

We do finally get the reverse angle on the scene from the first novel where, on her third accidental time-travel trip, Gwen sees herself in an upstairs classroom at her school. We also get a rather limp attempt by Gier to explain away one of the big issues I had in the first two volumes with this urgency to have Gwen do this on that date and time, and do that on this date and time. She can time travel for goodness sakes! It doesn't matter if she goes to the ball on this day or ten years from now - it's in the past and she can go there whenever she wants! Nor does Gier's "explanation" cover the fact that there were mysterious events in the past which a quick and surreptitious time-travel trip would have resolved, but for unexplained reasons, no one ever did this or even thought of it! Amateur hour.

Gier's excuse is that the Count is orchestrating all this and calls the shots, but neither Gwen nor I bought this! And personally, I see no reason whatsoever for her to actually go to this ball at all - except that there's this serious fracas at the ball (which would not have taken place if she and Gideon had not been there). Nothing else happens, so this stands out as no more than a really weak attempt at plotting on Gier's part.

So in the end, for once, I was pretty much right about everything I'd predicted for this trilogy! You know the writing's bad if my guesses are good. I never thought I'd do this after enjoying the first two volumes so well, but I have no choice but to rate this volume as warty. The story was dull; I found myself skipping page after page because it was, quite simply, uninteresting. The secrets were not even secret. Gwen's tiresome behavior was, well, tiresome. Gideon's big reveal that oh-so-predictably won her clueless heart in the end did nothing to excuse his behavior. The ending went on for far longer that was tenable, dragging out forever with tedious and pointless fancy dress party, and then a lousy excuse for a showdown that was over before it got underway. The epilogue wasn't worth reading. Sorry, but WARTY! What a horrid way to end the year - and to wait so long to end it this way! Then it was Twenty-THIRTEEN...!


Friday, November 1, 2013

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill





Title: All Our Yesterdays
Author: Cristin Terrill
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WARTY!

All Our Yesterdays is actually the name of an old British TV shows. I found this in the library and wished I hadn't! It's another one of those novels that, even though it's not technically badly written you wonder how it ever got past an editor, much less a publisher. It's a YA time-travel novel and I think this will be the last one of that combination I ever read since they seem to be almost universally garbage (Kerstin Gier being a notable exception, of course!).

Have you noticed how nearly all these writers have a dot com address for their personal web site, not a dot net? Interesting, isn't it, in this day and age? They may write ebooks, but unlike Elvis Presley (here at his most charming in G.I. Blues), they do have a wooden heart: still rooted in trees for books and traditional publishing business!

All our yesterdays is a mess, yes, and since I didn't even hope to finish it, I can't tell you what it's all about. The story begins with Em, in a harsh prison cell (harsher than you might expect, let's say!) next door to a guy called Finn with whom she's evidently in some sort of love (but with no explanation for this). She has been tortured, as has Finn, who was apparently tortured when Em wouldn't give up information. She's obsessed with the drain in the floor of her cell, and finally (and improbably) opens it using a plastic spoon, to find a piece of notepaper in a plastic bag, written in her own hand-writing and at different times. Of course, she can’t simply write, "Here's what you need to do to fix this…" and detail it, she has to be obscure even to herself, which struck me as downright stupid. The final words on the note were "You have to kill him", without specifying who or why (or if it does, that's not shared with we readers!). My feeling out of nowhere is that it’s Finn she must kill because he's the bad guy here. I would hope that's the case and we can thereby dispense with awful teen YA "no-mance", but I guess I'll never know because I could not finish this crap. Yawn.

Next thing we know, Em has traveled back in time and we're suddenly confronted with airhead Marina, who is frankly sickening, but who is also Em four years previously. It's pretty obvious when you get over the initial shock of reading a story in present tense first person PoV (which I thoroughly hate and avoid like the plague these days unless a particularly interesting-sounding story comes along - I guess I learned my lesson huh?!) and then having a flashback and it's still in present tense! There are some authors who could carry time travel and tenses. Terrill isn't one of them. The novel then swings violently back and forth, less like an Einstein-Rosen Bridge and much more like the Tacoma Narrows bridge right before it collapsed.

The story begins with Em, in a harsh prison cell (harsher than you might expect, let's say!) next door to a guy called Finn with whom she's evidently in some sort of love (but with no explanation for this). She has been tortured, as has Finn, who was apparently tortured when Em wouldn't give up information. She's obsessed with the drain in the floor of her cell, and finally (and improbably) opens it using a plastic spoon, to find a piece of notepaper in a plastic bag, written in her own hand-writing and at different times. Of course, she can’t simply write, "Here's what you need to do to fix this…" and detail it, she has to be obscure even to herself, which struck me as downright stupid. The final words on the note were "You have to kill him", without specifying who or why (or if it does, that's not shared with we readers!). My feeling out of nowhere is that it’s Finn she must kill because he's the bad guy here. I would hope that's the case and we can thereby dispense with awful teen YA "no-mance", but we'll have to wait and see.

The problem is that it goes nowhere, and doesn't look like it has any intention of going anywhere - not in the first 200 pages, anyway. And I skimmed most of that once I found out how bad it was. It's deranged. It doesn't change. It doesn't move. It doesn't improve and it sure doesn't groove. The first chapter was great, but then we went back four years in time and got stuck with a twelve-year-old who was utterly wretched in every regard, clueless, uninteresting, and irritating, and the story never recovered from that set-back for me, nor did it pretend it would. The worst part about it is that it's the start of a frickin' series! Can you believe that? WARTY!


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Erasing Time by CJ Hill





Title: Erasing Time
Author: CJ Hill
Publisher: Katherine Tegen
Rating: worthy

I detest book "trailers" but there's one here if you like them. Personally I think this one's pretty sad. There's a sequel to this novel due out in December 2013.

OTOH, I love a good time-travel novel and this one starts out rather intriguingly 435 years into the future (from the publication date of the book) in 2447. The people there live in a disturbingly changed society where there is no democracy, and where every citizen is tracked by means of a data disk in their wrist. We're told that all animals have died out, but the citizens still have meat to eat because they create it with their technology. When the twins have a ham sandwich, it tastes like the real thing, so this raises the same point made in the movie The Matrix: if all animals have died out, how could they replicate the taste of various forms of meat? Or is this extinction a complete lie, and this meat actually comes from real animals?

The remaining city states, we're told, are isolated, existing under protective domes, and are at odds with one another. This particular domed city in which the twins reside, Traventon, owes a lot to the capital city depicted in The Hunger Games in terms of fashion sense. Some of its architecture is odd. None of the stores have walls, but this begs not the question the twins ask (why does no one steal?) but a different question: why do they even have stores 400-some years from now? Why, in such a controlled society is there even money?

Another big difference is that speech has changed as much between now and then as it has between Shakespeare's time and ours, so while the spoken word isn't exactly clear, it is discernible with a bit of effort, although how this difference is presented in the novel is not done very well IMO. On the good side, organized religion has been banned as being nothing but fairy tales and a nuisance at best (but that might be a very misleading situation! More anon).

Into this world are brought twin sisters from 2012. By means of a "time strainer" they were scooped out of their present, converted into an energy stream, and reassembled in the future. The scientists conclude that something went wrong: the time strainer aimed for a scientist, whose name (Tyler Sherwood) is quite similar to the combined first names of the twins; Taylor and Sheridan. Interesting, huh? Taylor is an advanced placement student and is very much into science. Sheridan is also smart - not as geeky smart as her twin, but she is in honors English. The novel is told largely from Sheridan's perspective (fortunately from my perspective, not in first person!).

How this time-travel is supposed to work is a bit of a mystery. It's supposed to key on a person's DNA, the atoms of which vibrate at a unique frequency for each individual, which is how they lock on to someone to "strain them out", but this is patent nonsense to begin with! If Hill had said the DNA had a vibration, she would have been better served with this scheme, if still adrift, but the fact is that while genes differ between people they don't differ much, and every single gene is composed of the same small set of atoms, regardless of which person it resides in!

Taylor and Sheridan are identical twins, not clones, per se, but even clones are not completely identical. There's more to DNA than simply the codons. There's epigenetic material and there's some 90% of the genome which is junk - it neither is genetic nor does it regulate the genetic material, and so it can mutate dramatically and vary wildly even between "identical" twins. All of this is ignored by Hill. So the problem is this: since the twins, while identical, are so different in their behavior, there is clearly significant difference in the make-up of their genome, so I have to wonder how the strainer managed to latch on to both of them, especially given that the scientists can have access to only a very small amount of DNA to work with when trying to specifying exactly who to strain out of the time-stream. But let's let that go before I get a headache!

There's an interesting paradox here, too, which is what really makes time-travel interesting. The way Sheridan and Taylor are scooped up is that they're both attracted to an inexplicable ball of light in one of the rooms upstairs in their home. They would not have been in that particular place had they not seen the light (so to speak!), so if they would not have been there but for the light, and the light is caused by the portal opening where the twins are known to have been, how does that work exactly?! Yet another conundrum for any time-travel writer to solve.

But anyway, the fact is that the twins do get "strained" into the future, where they meet a younger man. His name is Echo, and he warns the two of them not to reveal that they're twins. This was the first thing which really struck me as stupid. They’re identical twins and everyone there knows that they're sisters, so why they think this twinship can be kept secret is a mystery. Why they haven't even been asked if they're twins is a bigger mystery given how obsessed this culture is with avoiding twin births. Echo advises them of this because he is a twin himself: his brother died only a month before, under violent circumstances. Twins are considered excessive in this society where all birth is regulated. Young girls are nipped in the bud so to speak: they cannot have children and all births are managed and controlled (probably by men - so what’s new?!) in order that only healthy children will be born, virus-free and protected against the savage plagues which have assaulted society in the last four hundred years.

Given the level of technology these people enjoy, it’s a mystery why they seem so strapped for things in their society (especially cures for viral plagues!), and why they can't resurrect animals! Indeed one of the twins asks this very question: if they can scoop people from the past, why not animals, and repopulate their world? She gets no answer. I found that revealing: perhaps the truth is that they don't actually need to resurrect any animals. It certainly suggests that there are big fat lies being told somewhere along the line. It's also hilarious because people have pet robots in the form of all manner of animals which never would have become pets had they been real. But this also poses a writing problem: why is it that we see animal robots galore, but no utility robots anywhere? The closest thing they have to a robot is the transportation system, but these are merely small automated cars which run on fixed tracks.

Taylor and Sheridan discover that they cannot be returned to their own time. They are prisoners: the time strainer is a one-way trip. For now, their captors have to let the twins enjoy status quo in case more information is required from them in this dedicated pursuit of Tyler Sheridan. As this novel continues, the twins' situation grows steadily more precarious. The futuristic city looks ever more like a prison camp and less like a home, and word comes down that the twins are going to be given a memory-wipe to integrate them better into this society, although Echo and his father Jeth seem to think they can short-circuit this order and erase it from the computer. How they hope to get away with that without the powers-that-be knowing that they have derailed the order is a mystery, but in the end it never comes to that.

Sheridan and Taylor begin hatching a plan to escape, and turn to one of the people working with them, Elise, for assistance, since she knows The Doctors - a group of people who might be able to help. There's bad blood between Echo and Elise, which has me wondering why he would tell them that Elise is someone who can get them out of the city. Is Echo merely setting them up? In pursuit of this escape, they request a trip to see the city - and the city walls. The whole complex lies under a dome, and the 'walls' are of the 'force-field' variety, yet we're expected to believe that they need huge support beams? I don’t get that bit at all. The relationship between Echo and Sheridan heats up somewhat as he kisses her. Sheridan is confused and she vows not to let that happen again, but it's patently obvious that she's completely deluding herself in that resolve.

On a note of propriety, this kiss was actually a form of abuse, since Sheridan and Taylor are being held under the authority of people like Echo. It’s not very kosher for someone in a position of power, as Echo is, to take advantage of his charge. But this isn't the only problem with this relationship. Echo is nothing but a YA trope male as we can tell when we're notified of this standard tedious trope trash: his eyes are startling and piercing, he has "well-defined" muscles, and he's rumored to be a bad boy. Sorry, but I call nauseous maximus on that. Echo also demands to join them when they escape, and funnily enough, Elise demands this same thing! So which of these two is going to betray them?

When we, along with the twins, learned that Echo's twin brother Joseph was shot by the Dakine, a criminal organization (shortly after it became known to Elise that Allana preferred Joseph and was going to dump Echo) my mind started working overtime, which is a real time-strain, let me tell you! A video of the shooting was recorded by a security camera, and it was while I was reading about Sheridan watching this video that it occurred to me that Echo isn’t Echo at all, but Joseph. It was Echo who was killed that night of the shooting and Joseph took on his identity! Of course, this is pure supposition, and we all know where those go when they emanate from me. Having said that however, I have to add that I was very nearly exactly right about 'Tyler Sherwood' and there is some entertainingly ambiguous writing going on when Echo reminisces about his and Joseph's past!

Another interesting thing we learn during the twins' trip through the city concerns religion. At one point Echo gives Sheridan a picture of Santa Claus. He's under the impression that this is god and he was worshiped in the past! On top of this, and despite religion being supposedly banned, the twins notice that some people have their clothes, hair, and make-up so designed as to convey a religious affiliation. One woman looks like a nun, for example, and another is espied with a red spot on her forehead in the manner employed by some Indian women. Not that the bindi spot really has any religious significance per se (if it ever truly did). At one point Sheridan notices a store which is decorated with Stars of David. I got the impression, rightly or wrongly from all of this, that the real power behind the throne in this society is religion. Or perhaps, given Taylor's proselytizing, religious groups are fighting against the status quo under the guise of being 'doctors'?

Hill offers some amusing observations on 21st century society, but there are some real clunkers tossed in with them. I have to disagree with her when she says at start of chapter 22, "High heels weren't some sort of punishment inflicted by men on the female gender." Indeed they are, when you get right down to it! It's just another example of men playing with dolls, except that in their case, the dolls are real women, not toys. I rhapsodize humorously on this topic in my forthcoming Baker Street, Ace 'tec' which I hope to have out before the end of the year. But be warned: that novel will wreck your brain.

As the twins feel the net closing in on them, their fledgling plan for escape is kicked out of the nest far too early, and they find themselves hitting the ground running. Sheridan and Elie escape, and Elise puts Sheridan into a car and sends her to a misleading location from which she's supposed to walk two miles north to the real venue - but in a domed city, how do you tell which way is North?! LOL! In the end, both twins are recaptured, but Echo (or is it Joseph?!) engineers their escape by allowing the Dakine into the mix, so now the two are still prisoners, just with a different jailer. Taylor, desperate to get free of all of this, programs the Dakine door alarm so that it sounds continuously. This forces the Dakine to eventually turn off the alarm until a fix is arranged, and this, in turn, permits the twins to escape by any exit they choose, without fear of triggering an alarm! Kewl!

The twins, of course, escape and set off towards the safe city of the "Doctors", but that's all I'm going to reveal. I liked this story well enough to finish it, so I give it a worthy rating, but I honestly don't feel any compulsion to read any sequels. It's not that enthralling. You'll have to make up your own mind, of course! Hopefully this review has given you sufficient material to get your teeth into and figure out if it's worth looking at this one for yourself.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Shada by Douglas Adams






Title: Shada
Author: Douglas Adams and Gareth Roberts
Publisher: BBC Books
Rating: Worthy

I can't believe I'm reviewing a Doctor Who book! Doctor Who is very much a visual medium and it's very much influenced by the personalities of the guy playing the doctor and the people playing his companions, so I never read the books, but I decided to make an exception for this particular one since it's canonical (in an important sense!) and since it is Douglas Adams, after all! You can read my reviews of the Doctor Who TV shows here (reboot seasons 1 - 5) and here (reboot season 6 and onwards).

Shada is a novel taken from an untelevised (due to a strike and the ep only being some 50% completed) TV script written by Douglas Adams for the long-running Doctor Who TV series - which is in its fiftieth anniversary year this year. Adams is best known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a series of novels in which I've never had the slightest interest, nor in the radio series, nor in the TV show, nor in the movie! I do like Adams, though and went to a lecture given by him on one occasion which was quite entertaining.

I've also read Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic written by Monty Python's Terry Jones based on an idea by Adams, and published in 1997. That was good. Even better was the non-fiction Last Chance to See written by Adams with Mark Carwardine, and published in 1990. This book focused on animals facing extinction and was a most enjoyable read.

Though this episode was untelevised because it was never completed, it was later put together as a show for the DVD release. This ep is shorter, because there is much missing, but it is narrated by an older Tom Baker, with his hair somewhat silvered, and minus the mass of curls it sported when he played The Doc. The image quality is somewhat lacking, too, just so you know.

Shada is evidently the Time Lord prison planet, although neither The Doc nor Romana recognize the name. This amnesia is explained admirably in the story, which concerns a villain by the name of Skagra, who escapes confinement by stealing the minds of his five fellow confinees and somehow makes it to Earth. He has discovered that there is a book secreted away in a professor's office in Cambridge university which is from the Time Lord home planet of Gallifrey and which contains ancient and secret knowledge of one of the founding fathers of Time Lord society: the great Rassillon himself. The professor, a Time Lord himself, also happens to have a TARDIS in his room!

As Skagra looks from a bridge over the River Cam (in Cambridge, of course!), who should be punting beneath it but the fourth doctor and his then companion, Romana. It's a clip from this sequence which is one of two clips from this episode which are used in the Five Doctors - an anniversary episode in which Baker, for reasons unknown, declined to appear. In that anniversary ep, The Doc and Romana are captured (as are the other doctors) but the capture goes wrong and the two are trapped in the time vortex (or something!), thereby explaining why they don't appear in the rest of the show until the very end.

It’s heartening for us amateur writers to note that even a professional of Adams's stature screws up! On page 20, The Doc is punting, thrusting his punt pole into the dirty water, and then in quite literally the next sentence, Romana is trailing her fingers in the clear water! Romana is played by The Honorable Lalla Ward, who was once married to Tom Baker (who plays the fourth doctor in this episode) but is now married to Richard Dawkins, who was introduced to her by Douglas Adams!

Romana is one of the only two companions the Doc has had who has also been a Time Lord. The first such companion was his own Granddaughter, Susan, who hung out with the first doctor back in the mid-sixties. Romana is known as Romana 2 because she is a Time Lord who had regenerated in the show and was being played a this point by a new actress to the part.

As The Doc and Romana pass under the bridge, they both hear faint voices, which are indistinct, but which sound like people suffering and calling out for help. On the bridge is a guy wearing a silver cape and carrying a carpetbag. He is Skagra, and those voices are coming from a sphere he carries with him which contains the knowledge and experiences of his five companions from Shada.

Both he and The Doc (with Romana) make their separate ways to professor Chronotis's room. The groundskeeper, who knows The Doc, lets him in, but refuses access to Skagra, who retreats back to his ship, capturing the mind, and stealing the car of a human on his way. Why he didn’t do this same thing to the groundskeeper is an unexplained plot hole! It’s heartening for us amateur writers to note that even a professional of Adams's stature screws up!

In Chronotis's office, The Doc and Romana learn of this dangerous book, but the professor cannot find it. It turns out that one of his students took it by accident when he was borrowing some books from the professor earlier that day. This same student, Chris, is also conducting experiments on the book because he as discovered it has some very weird properties indeed. He calls a girl of his acquaintance, Clare, someone with whom he would love to strike up an intimate relationship, to share his discoveries with her.

While Romana is in the TARDIS retrieving some milk for the endless cups of tea they drink, Skagra suddenly shows up at Chronotis's room and extracts his mind into the grey sphere. Now Chronotis is one of those many voices the sphere contains. Romana returns after Skragra has left, to discover that Chronotis is dying. As she applies a med-collar to try and preserve his life, Chris shows up. Chronotis is only able to give them a cryptic warning about Skagra, using his hearts-beat as a form of Morse code!

Romana discovers that The Doc is in trouble, and takes the TARDIS to rescue him. Meanwhile Skagra has encountered the Doc, who has the book, and given chase. The Doc loses him, but cannot lose the sphere. In his haste to escape, he loses the book, which Skagra recovers. He's saved from the sphere by Romana retrieving him in the TARDIS (this is the second clip used in The Five Doctors). They return to Christ to discover that Chronotis has dematerialized. The Doc then reveals that Chronotis must have been on the last of his twelve Time lord regenerations, and is now gone forever. But he's really not. And indeed, he's really not Chronotis either!

The three of them enter the TARDIS and give pursuit when they detect another event with the sphere, and they end up in a field outside Cambridge, where Skagra's spaceship is parked, but made invisible to outsiders. The three of them enter the ship, and are separated, Romana, Chris and the robot dog confined in one room from which they cannot escape, and The Doc with Skagra, who uses the sphere to extra The Doc's mind when he will not agree to help Skagra. Romana is sprung from her imprisonment by Skagra and he steals the TARDIS, using The Doc's mind to open and fly it. He takes her to an asteroid way out in space, where he has set up his base of operations. Part of his operation is creation the Kraag, sentient beings made from crystallized carbon, which do his every bidding. He orders the head Kraag to set production of Kraags into overdrive.

The Doc, whom Romana had thought dead, revives. He had fooled the sphere into thinking he was dumber than he is, and so only a distorted part of his mind was extracted. Now the ship's sentience thinks he is dead, and no therefore longer an enemy of Skagra, so according to its limited logic, he is not a threat. This gives The Doc some leeway to ask favors of the ship, including taking them to the last place which Skagra was at before he went to Earth.

The last place Skagra was at was, of course, the prison he was in. The Doc and Chris visit that while Chris's girlfriend discovers that Professor Chronotis isn't quite as dead as he seemed, and his room at Cambridge is actually an old TARDIS, which is in working order, even though he isn't supposed to have one. Meanwhile Romana tries and fails to dupe Skagra!

Finally I finished this. It seems like it took forever to get through it, but it's only been a week! Graham wraps up the novel nicely by bringing Skagra to book in a delightful way when all seems lost, and getting Chris and Clare together as you knew he would. Note that while the screenplay and notes for the Doctor Who story were written by Adams, it was Graham who turned it into a novel and I think he's done a fine job. He lets Adams shine through, and emulates the latter's wit and writing style admirably where he had to fill in the blanks. He explains exactly how it was done in an afterword. I recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of Adams and/or of the Doctor Who TV series.


Friday, April 26, 2013

Ripped by Shelly Dickson Carr






Title: Ripped
Author: Shelly Dickson Carr
Publisher: New Book Partners
Rating: worthy with reservations!


DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration of any kind for this review. Since this is a new novel, this review is shorter so as not to rob the writer of their story, but even so, it will probably still be more detailed than you'll typically find elsewhere!

I started out liking this although the Cockney nonsense is way overdone. Yeah, Whitechapel is within a mile or so of St Mary Le Bow - the church within the earshot of which you have to be born to be a true Cockney, but let's not run away with ourselves, shall we?! Cockney hasn't always meant what it means today. FYI, St Mary's was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who also designed St Paul's. The chapter titles of the book are based on Oranges and Lemons, an old nursery rhyme the words of which seem to be tied to the sound the various bells supposedly made. But with sixty chapters, there's an insufficiency of verses in that ditty to title them all so the author has to make up a few weird ones to fill the gaps.

The first interesting thing about this novel is that it's purportedly written by Shelly Dickson Carr, but it's copyrighted to Michelle Karol. There's no explanation for this that I can find in the ebook, and there's no information about Carr or Karol on wikipedia. I can only conclude that the author is trying to siphen off some publicity value from her renowned grandfather, John Dickson Carr whose novel The house at Satan's Elbow I reviewed back in July 2013.

My first problem with it arose with the instadore Toby character who was your typically profoundly boring he-teen and the masturbators of the universe type. Seriously, can we not get away from this tedious rubber-stamp male love interest? Apparently not. It would be nice if he turned out to be the villain, but it never looked like that was going to happen. I find it abhorrent that women - especially modern independent women like Katie - are constantly attracted in these novels to men who treat them like dirt of which calling her 'pet' and 'lass' are the least of his infractions. This is an appalling message to send to young women.

Anyway, the novel begins with Katie, an American teen living in London with her grandmother. Her sister is Courtney (as in Courtney Love, but not really) who is in a punk band which is apparently very successful, but this sister can’t be bothered to call her sister, and she plays no part in the story. Katie and Courtney's parents are conveniently dead - a major trope for YA novels. While Katie is getting ready to visit Madame Tussauds waxworks (yes, bad grammar, but that's the way it is!) with Collin (yes with two L's), a cousin, she notices how much the portrait (which her grandmother has conveniently dug out of storage and placed in her room) looks like Courtney. Note that Katie is a history buff - yeah, we get it, time-travel, history buff, going to see the waxworks exhibit of Jack the Ripper, etc etc. Let’s get on with the story instead of reading the Daily Telegraph, shall we?! So off they go to Tussauds where they meet Collin's friend Toby, of course, with his dark eyes, cleft chin, unruly hair, and devilish manner.

Aforementioned issues aside, the story is reasonably well written, and very readable. As long as it didn’t insist upon straying over the line, I could see myself enjoying it, but it all depended on how strong that line was and how good Shelly Dickson Carr/Michelle Karol was at coloring inside it, which promised to be problematical given that Toby inappropriately kept grabbing at Katie as they entered the chamber of horrors, as though she was a worthless weak slip of a girl who needed to be manhandled or she would wilt away and die like a plucked flower. That Katie reacted so limply to his inappropriate behavior gave me little hope that she would turn out to be a decent female protagonist.

I have to say that Madame Tussauds has improved dramatically since I went through it if it’s anything like Karol/Carr describes (although I doubt it actually is anything like Karol/Carr describes!). I was disappointed in the sad, tired, and dusty exhibits, but Karol/Carr has the exhibit featuring lasers and holograms, and narrated by animatronics figures. It's been a long time since I was there, so maybe it improved.

Carr also goes well past the accepted victims of the Ripper (which numbered five), adding three fictional ones. Molly Potter was never a victim: it was Elizabeth Stride who was part of the double murder along with Catherine Eddowes. And no, Eddowes was neither buxom nor a singer by profession, although she did sing to herself apparently, but I prefer George Carlin's version of the 'Tara-raboom-de-eh' (Tara-raboom-de-eh, did you get yours today? I got mine yesterday, that's why I walk this way...!), so Carr was evidently planning on having Katie change history. There are those who argue that Stride was not a Ripper victim, and others who argue that she was, but that the Ripper was interrupted before he could carry out his grisly obsession in full, and that's why Catherine Eddowes was murdered just an hour later. The Ripper's blood lust had not been slaked. The actual last victim was Mary Jane Kelly - and no, she didn’t look like Marilyn Monroe or Anna Nicole Smith, not even close, but Carr has the last victim as Lady Beatrix Twyford, who happens to be the same woman who was in the portrait back in Katie's room at her grandmother's! So yes, an interesting twist, if that's what it is. It reminds me of my own Timeless in some regards.

So there's this exhibit called The London Stone which is fictional (The London Stone actually resides in Cannon Street, but it was once a part of St Swithun's church). The stone has magical powers according to Carr, and of course when Katie touches it, determined to save her distant relative's life, she's transported back to 1888 London, where Collin and Toby also conveniently exist, but their Victorian versions! That was a little too convenient for me, but I decided to give her some rope and see if could anchor this ship or hang herself with it!

So Katie ends up in the Duke's house and Katie overhears him arguing with his granddaughter Lady Beatrix's intended fiancé - except that the Duke of nuke 'em, doesn't intend any such pairing to take place. So conveniently for the plot, he makes a deal with Major Brown that if he gets himself elevated significantly in rank at Scotland Yard, then the cantankerous Duke will give his consent to their marriage, otherwise he leaves Beatrix alone. And of course, Lady Beatrix is indeed the woman in the portrait in Katie’s room.

Katie goes to a play (Jekyll & Hyde) at the Lyceum theater, which happens to be managed by Bram Stoker, who is married to a prior love interest of Oscar Wilde, with whom they travel to the theater. This sounds far fetched, but it is in fact true! Whether Wilde went to see Jekyll & Hyde at the theater I can't say, but he was a friend of Stoker, contrary to the inaccurate and inappropriate way the relationship is portrayed n the novel. Indeed, Stoker visited Wilde in France after his self-imposed exile subsequent to the imprisonment which effectively shattered Wilde and robbed us of his talent.

Also at the theater is actress Lily Langtree, and the Prince of Wales is in attendance as well, but this was after their affair, so there was nothing untoward going on there. However, since Langtree was in the USA in August 1888, it would have been just a bit difficult for her to have been at the Lyceum that night! I have no explanation for why Carr felt such an interfering need to drag historical characters around like this and for no reason at all: none of this contributed to the novel. On the contrary - it distracted from it. James Whistler, for example, became very happily married in 1888, so it's highly unlikely that he'd be hanging out in cheap and nasty London pubs and be haring around London with Oscar Wilde, with whom he'd had an increasing rift since the mid-1880's.

There's also a major (I use that term advisedly!) red herring afloat in trying to implicate Gideon Brown, Beatrix's fiancé, as the Ripper. This is tied to missing opera glasses, the absence of which is completely done to death to the point of being really annoying. I don't know if this is a ham-fisted attempt to implicate him and mislead us, or a ham-fisted attempt to point to the true killer. Brown's motive might have been to generate a series of high profile crimes which he will solve and thereby garner a much-needed promotion for himself, but if that was the case, he failed, because the Ripper's crimes were never solved! I don't buy Brown as the Ripper. I might buy the Duke as such, perhaps not directly, but indirectly, in a desperate attempt to thwart (yes, thwart, I said it!) Brown's ambition for his granddaughter's hand, but even that is weak.

The opera glasses are of interest only for the fact that a set were found by the body of the Ripper's first victim (in this fiction, not irl). That victim was indeed Mary Ann Nichols. The opera glasses were quickly purloined by this guy Cross (whose first name is changed in this novel for reasons as unexplained as they are unnecessary). Carr demonstrates an apparently whimsical bent for altering the details of the Ripper murders and for no reason at all that I can discern. By all means play with history if it benefits your fiction, but random change without any purpose is merely annoying to me. She apologizes for this in an end note title "Notes to the curious" but nowhere in that does she offer a rational accounting of the myriad and gratuitous changes in details, which she misleadingly describes as "changed slightly" and a "bit of factual tinkering". No, they were not! They were changed wholesale, manufactured out of nothing and for no reason. I was set to give this novel a somewhat disapproving 'worthy' once I saw the loose ends being tied off at the end and figured that other readers might take to it a lot more readily than I did, but after reading the notpology "note" I was so annoyed by it that I really wanted to renege on that agreement with myself; however, I shall hold to my promise.

So naturally we wonder about the perp in this story, and there are several possible candidates. I discount Brown, as I've mentioned. There's also something not quite right with the Reverend Pinker who is with the theater party, and while I would like it to be him, I excluded him, too. I still can find no explanation for his meandering through this tale; it would have remained almost exactly the same story had his character been entirely absent from it.

I've also considered that Lady Beatrix herself - a character who is hardly in this story at all - is a potential Ripper, but after all this, my suspicions fell heavily on Collin right from the start. Of course, as you all know if you read my reviews, my guesses are typically worthless! So were they in the case? You'll have to read the story to find out. Perhaps I'm supposed to mistakenly think it's Collin; Carr is dropping endless, really clunky blaring announcements that it's him, while having Collin point an accusing finger at Brown. This ought to make me think it isn't Collin. OTOH, perhaps Carr is being so brazen with the clues because she wants us to think she wouldn't drop these massively telegraphic "hints" if it actually was him! Who knows - maybe it's Toby and he's implicating Collin out of resentment that he has to spend so much of his life keeping him out of trouble?

There are some serious errors over Mary Ann Nichols. She was not in her early twenties as Carr claims, but in her early forties and rather grey-haired! That's hardly a slight change, and the reason for it, which we learn of later, isn't exactly a plot killer. But even if we allow this first one to slide, where is the logic for changing any of the others? Contrary to their popular portrayal, the Ripper victims were not the young innocent women they're all too often misrepresented as in such stories. With the sole exception of the Ripper's last Canonical victim, Mary Jane Kelly who actually was in her mid 20's, all of the victims were in their forties. These poor women were old before their time, and were worn and rather rough people, down on their circumstances and leading sad lives as casual prostitutes. This doesn't, of course, mean they merited death, nor does it mean they merited ill-treatment of any kind, so let's not disrespect them by mis-portraying them.

But the real problem with Carr's story here is that Nichols was killed at about 2:30 am, so there's no way in hell she could have died while Katie and her party were at the theater! And on the topic of 'whilst' vs 'while' - it's highly unlikely that a lower class seller of peanuts in the theater would say 'whilst' as opposed to 'while'! But we writers sometimes have a hard time not writing 'whilst' don't we? I torment myself over it often! Anyway, the theater trip was a mess, and it was glossed over in some respects, so we cannot tell who was in their seat and when. Also it was a long way from where Mary Nichols died, so it wasn't like someone could have slipped out, killed her and slipped back in very conveniently. Does this mean that no one at the theatre did it? The only one absent was Brown, who arrived very late and was the last one in possession of those opera glasses....

Other than the absurd obsession with those damned opera glasses, what bothered me most was about the theater was that Katie sat next to Oscar Wilde during the performance, was talking with him often, but never once thought to try and warn him to beware of the Marquess of Queensberry!

On the topic of language, Carr does a pretty decent job, but she comes off the rails once or twice as I discuss here. Worse than this, however, is the Cockney. It grated on my nerves with every obsessive-compulsive use of it, and it's way, way, w-a-y overdone. On language in general, a Brit would never say 'spigot' for faucet, for example, as she has present-day Toby do. They wouldn't say 'faucet', either; it's 'tap'. And I've never encountered an example of anyone of the upper classes refer to a friend as 'old sod'! I have no idea where she dug that one up. Neither would the old Duke say 'insure' in place of 'ensure'.

The common Cockney for suit is 'whistle' as in 'whistle and flute', not 'bag of fruit' That latter one might be allowable, but I've never heard it used! Later she has Toby use the term 'Scapa Flow' rhyming with 'go', but this usage would never have occurred in 1888 since 'Scapa Flow' refers to a British naval base not used before 1919, so Toby would not have known it. It has nothing to do with the term 'scarper' which does mean to beat a hasty retreat and is much more the kind of term Toby would have realistically used.

Carr also has the 1888 boys use the term 'rum and coke' rhyming with 'joke', but this term was not in use either, since Coca Cola had not been invented! Its precursor was only invented in 1886, and the Coca-Cola Company wasn't even incorporated until early 1888, so it was very highly unlikely that it would have crossed the Atlantic and been in sufficiently popular usage as a drink to be appropriated by the Cockney tongue in only five months. Carr tries to get around this by having them claim that 'coke' refers to a form of coal, but this excuse isn't even worthy of respect. It makes no sense whatsoever to talk about rum and coal!

She also has Collin use the phrase "That's not bleedin' funny", but I seriously doubt that the well-bred son of a Duke would drop letters or use the word 'bleeding'. Toby, yes, but not Collin; it simply didn't strike me as realistic. She has us believe that the Duke would issue Collin with a pocket knife for use in fights. This, again, didn't have any veracity in it for me at all. I keep trying to like this story, and it would be easy to do so in general terms, if the suspension of my disbelief wasn't let crash to the floor so frequently!

Anyway, having failed (for that matter, not even tried!) to save Mary Nichols, Katie unaccountably goes to her inquest. I can see no reason for this, especially since the bulk of the 'inquest' is completely fictional. Carr has Mary Ann's father, for example, show up, and she names him Jeffrey Nichols! It's 'Geoffrey' which is the English version of this name and which would most likely have been in use in that era, but all of that part of this novel is complete nonsense! Mary Ann's father was actually Edward Walker. I have no idea why Carr has completely fictionalized this.

Before Katie turns up at the inquest, she's forced by circumstances to share her secret with Toby and the increasingly obnoxious Collin, but instead of telling them that she'a a time-traveler, she claims she's clairvoyant. After passing a test set by the skeptical - or is it sceptical?! - Toby (who isn't quite skeptical enough!) she wins them over to her side in her attempt to stop Jack the Ripper, and this puts a fly in my Collin-is-the-Ripper ointment, because on a trip back to the future, Katie learns something. She also learns that future Toby has time-traveled and that she can only make one more trip: three's the charm evidently for time travel using the London Stone.

I must say that Carr has her menu rather heavily larded with herring regarding Collin's implication in the murders at this point, but whether they're red or not remains to be seen. The fly in the ointment regards Collin's short lifespan. Note that when Katie attends the inquest, Collin has less than a week to live - according to a glance at her family Bible back in the future which, of course, records births, deaths and marriages. In that Bible, Katie discovers the the Collin from the past died on September 9th, which means he couldn't have murdered Mary Kelly on November 9th.

However, since Katie returns to the past resolving to save Collin from his premature death, perhaps in rescuing him, she condemns Mary Kelly to die? The problem with the family Bible in this context, is that this is a rather peculiarly (although not exclusively) American thing, not really a British thing. Though Bibles were used for such records in England in the Victorian era, the tradition died; however, lets assume that this particular Bible may have been used in Victorian times and then simply kept in storage without the tradition continuing. See - I can compromise!

I have to say I think Katie's assessment at the inquest (prompted by the smell!) that people only washed once per week seems overly generous of her! There was a phrase in England 'Ne'er cast a clout 'til May be out' which means no-one takes off their winter clothing until the weather warms up. They live work and sleep in their one winter outfit, and perhaps take a bath in the spring, so bathing even once per week is stretching it IMO! The problem is that none of us lived back then, and we have little to go on as to the daily lives of your everyday working classes which I find really sad. So once/week it is!

But if I allow that, then I have to say "No! Shelly Carr, it's libelous to tell your readers that people were still jailed for witchcraft in the Victorian era in Britain, even if those words leave the mouth of one of your characters!" That accusation isn't true at all. The last trial for witchcraft in Britain was in 1712, and that woman was reprieved. Such superstition! That doesn't mean people didn't believe in such absurdities, but it's not illegal to believe crazy things. Not even in Britain. And let's contrast that with the USA, shall we? The Salem witch trials took place in 1878, just a decade before the Ripper era, and we all know how evil those were!

Carr also gives us misinformation about "Long Liz" Stride, one of the five Canonical Ripper victims, but one who may not actually have been killed by him (or her!). Katie conveniently happens to run into Liz in a pawn shop where she, Toby, and the obnoxious Collin are attempting to buy back the opera glasses which Cross has pawned. Stride is pawning her wedding ring which is dated 1881 (the year of the famous gunfight at the OK corral!), but Stride actually married in 1869, and her husband didn't disappear, as is implied in this novel. The two of them simply broke up, and Stride had no children. The dock worker she lived with (not married to) was named Michael, not Alfred. Why Carr has changed all of this remains at mystery.

Toby, in an attempt to find the truth from Katie about how she knows what she knows, takes her, in a Matrix-moment(!) to the 'Oracle' at the Tower of London (about which there's a rather large and unnecessary info-dump which I skipped), but the Oracle cannot see or hear Katie. Yes, the Oracle is blind, but she can't see her psychically! It's like she doesn't exist. This spooks Toby, so he takes her onto a London Underground train - at that time hauled by steam engines, where the carriages supposedly fill with noxious fumes. I can't buy that. Yes, I can buy that it smelled down there and was less than the most pleasant experience, but not that it was the gas chamber which Carr portrays. But Katie gives in and 'fesses up to Toby that she's a time-traveler.

So off Toby and Collin go to warn "Dark Annie" Chapman that she's made the cut next on the Ripper's hit parade. Why they do this is a complete mystery, Why not simply follow Annie around on the night the Ripper gets her and apprehend him there and then, before he can kill her?! Again Carr gives misleading information about Chapman. Carr describes her as tall when she was actually the shortest of all the victims, at only five feet. And Carr claims that in age, she looked thirty but could have been anywhere between twenty and forty, when she was in fact the oldest victim at almost fifty. Carr gives her black hair when it was actually dark brown, and has her married to a military man when she had never married any such person and was living with a sieve maker when she was murdered. Again, why change these facts? It makes no sense, adds nothing whatsoever to the story, and is just plan annoying, to say nothing of outright insulting to these murder victims. What does Carr hope to gain by this behavior, other than alienating an intelligent, thinking readership?

Annie Chapman is murdered as is "Georgie" Cross. Both Toby and Katie now are convinced, because of the circumstances, that Brown did it, but the fact remains that Collin had the opportunity to kill both of them. Toby was there at the time and failed to prevent it. Katie and Toby tell the Duke what happened and that they believe it was Brown, and the Duke believes them. He's now convinced that Brown is setting up Collin in order to use his implication in the Ripper murders to blackmail the Duke into consenting to his suit for Beatrix.

I have to say that the further this story is drifting from what actually happened. the less I'm enjoying it. It's like reading historical fiction about Martin Luther King and finding that he's white, or reading that Oscar Wilde was a little wuss who couldn't defend himself...oh, wait a minute, Carr actually did imply that! I'm anxious to see how this pans out if only to learn whether Carr actually can account for the disturbing number of stretchers she's employed, because I find it hard to believe that a writer would take this many liberties without having a good reason for it. Will this confusion of victims pan out? What will actually happen to Dora Fowler, for example - who absurdly turns up at Annie Chapman's house (which is where Carr has Chapman killed) after the murder? Must we suspect Dora as the Ripper now?!

After an absurd chase around London's Whitechapel district, Katie runs into Dora and they both start climbing the skeleton of Tower Bridge, which was two years into an eight-year build at that time. The ostensible reason for this is that Toby and Collin are up there, but we're offered no good reason at all as to why they are up there, so all we can conclude is that Carr is taking a page out of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes movie and having her finale on the structure.

The problem with this scheme is that the superstructure couldn't have been started until the two deep anchor pilings were in place and those had to be excavated and filled with 70,000 tons of concrete before the twin towers could be built on them. The towers themselves were only half finished in 1892, so there would have been precious little to scale four years earlier in 1888, as this drawing confirms!

Once again, Le Stupide prevails as Katie abandons Dora on the scaffolding, and continues alone to try and reach Collin and Toby up top (which of course didn't exist in 1888). Note that this is the girl who came back to the past with the express intention of thwarting Jack the Ripper, leaving one of his known victims (known to Katie, not known in reality) defenseless as she climbs up in a brain-dead effort to find Toby and Collin. When she gets up there, she finds both of them: Toby unconscious, and Collin fighting Major Brown. At this point we know one fact for certain: We know that Brown is going to fall into the river and be presumed dead, but that he will actually not be dead, and sure enough, that's what happens (at least the first part). Oh, and the Reverend Pinker is also in the area. What? Yes, you heard me. Let's lard-up this already convoluted "plot" with yet another red herring. Pinker is not only pink in name but also in hue, so red herring is particularly appropriate in his case.

I'll finish this up here, since I've gone into way more detail than I intended. Hopefully it will be more than enough for you to judge for yourself, because you're going to have to make your own choice about this (as I hope you always do!). Yes, Ripped intrigued me, but in the end it just didn't get my bunny hopping. It wasn't that the story itself was so bad, but there were too many inexplicables for me - where I was left asking "what?". I don't like stories like that, but maybe you will like this one. Maybe this one for someone who knows a lot less about the Ripper murders than I do - but then that was the sole reason I opted to read it in the first place!

And no, I don't know who did it! No one does; that's why the true events are so fascinating for writers. You can make up your own explanation, as indeed I did in the Manuscript Found in a Lead Casket short story which is contained in the Poem y Granite collection.