Thursday, October 31, 2013

Exodus Code - the Barrowman's deliver!

Torchwood Exodus Code
John and Carole E. Barrowman
BBC Books Sept. 2013

Review by Ann Wilkes

This nineteenth novel written in the Torchwood world created by Russell T Davies for the BBC show of the same name (2006-2011) was written by Torchwood star John Barrowman (Captain Jack) and his sister, Carole E Barrowman.

Torchwood Exodus Code begins with madness. Jack falls from an airplane without a chute in 1930 Peru, survives (Captain Jack is from the 51st century and - unlike other humans from that time or any other - can’t stay dead) and gets prepared for sacrifice to the mountain. The Cuari tribe have been expecting a god to fall from the sky.

All the while, his mind is slipping. Reality is shattering. He’s flooded with tastes and smells and unnatural reactions to sensations.
For a beat Jack realized the chamber was inside his head and outside it. Behind him and in front of him. He laughed at the absurdity and let himself sink back into the rock. The silver veins threaded themselves across every muscle, every limb, every part of him. Closing his eyes again, he could see himself being folded into the rock.

The sensation was wonderful, yet Jack heard himself thinking that this was not a good wonderful. It was a bad wonderful. It was the wonderful at the end of a thrilling journey. It was the wonderful after intimacy. It was the last hurrah, the final chapter, the kiss goodbye, the beginning of the end.

Jack lifted his arm and tore it away from the wall, snapping the threads.

He heard a sob. It tasted like ginger.
Back in present day Cardiff, Gwen Cooper encounters a madwoman in the aisles at a grocery store who tries to end her suffering by tearing off her own ear. Gwen is also succumbing to a madness that is affecting clusters of women around the world. And it has to do with heightened and crossed senses. Like synaesthia on steroids with some delusion and hallucination thrown in. Torchwood, an organization that investigates alien threats and defends the world against invasion, having suffered grave losses and being org-non-grata with the government, has been, for all practical purposes disbanded. Only Gwen and Captain Jack Harness are left.

When Gwen realizes there’s something wrong on a worldwide scale, she contacts Jack through a computer she’s stashed away down the street while her baby sleeps in her crib. She has the baby monitor. It will be ok, she thinks. She then hears footsteps on the stairs of her house. She’s worried Rhys will get to Anwen and realize she’s not home. Then he'll really be done with her.
Gwen stopped typing. Her hands frozen in mid-air. What if it wasn't Rhys?”
Gwen comes completely unglued and attacks and nearly kills her own husband. Jack comes just in the nick of time. Gwen is put on a ward with other women suffering the same “masochistic madness”. Jack and Rhys try to figure out what’s going on, but without Torchwood computers, it’s slow going.

Meanwhile, something is happening in the Earth’s oceans. Tremors, which are inexplicably not setting off tsunamis, are opening hydrothermal vents in the ocean floor and spewing toxins. Jack enlists the help of an old friend with a arsenal of special tech equipment aboard a ship in the Atlantic.

All the characters in the story come to life. I could picture all of them. Felt I knew them. Exodus Code is the first tie-in novel I’ve ever read. Well, that’s going to have to change. What a ride! It was like getting to experience a two-part episode of Torchwood with more detail and drilling down deeper into the minds of the characters and the forces at work against them.

No real familiarity with the show is necessary to enjoy this book, but being familiar with the characters makes it come alive. It’s a swashbuckling adventure meets sci-fi meets mystery. You are in Captain Jack's muddled head as he tries to unravel the puzzle. If he doesn’t figure it out soon, the world will end. No pressure.

The Barrowmans make a great writing team. The pacing, plot and scenes were very tight. Loved this book cover to cover. More please.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Win a Plantronics Gamer Headset - Odds are Goods at ScifiODD!

The Minister of Chance is in its final countdown before production of the short film The Prologue with Paul McGann which reprises the role of Durian. Tim McInnerny will play The King. 

The audio series remains free to download via and thery have exciting perks on the Make The Film page. Search "minister of chance" in the Google search box to the right on this blog to read my many reviews. It's a fabulous sonic movie that will surely be a hit feature movie.

Here's another look at the next Hobbit movie.

This is on my watch list. Coming out in December.

Now the giveaway for my gamer readers. Want to win one?

Leave a comment here about your favorite game to be entered to win. I'll put your name in a hat and have my cute little granddaughter pick a name. She can't read yet, so it's fair. ;) She'll pick the name from the comments on Tuesday next week and I'll post the winner on Wednesday morning.

For more information about this sweet gamer headset, read Plantronics' press release.

Finally, of interest if you're local, I'll be reading a ghost story 
by candlelight in a mausoleum tonight at 7PM. Santa Rosa Memorial Park on Franklin Ave. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Darwin Elevator grabs readers with unique post-apocalyptic premise

The Darwin Elevator
Book 1 of The Dire Earth Cycle
Jason M. Hough
Del Rey 2013

Review by Clare Deming

In this debut novel by Jason M. Hough, humanity has fallen on hard times after the mysterious arrival of an alien space elevator in Darwin, Australia. While first heralded as a promising technology, the elevator's appearance is followed by a plague which turns the majority of those affected into feral sub-humans, if it doesn't kill them outright. Only the protective Aura encircling the elevator can prevent the disease from infecting and transforming the population.

The underlying cause of the disease is unknown, but a few rare souls are immune to its effects. By the time the novel opens, nearly all of humanity has either died from the plague, been converted to a sub-human, or found refuge in the disease-free ring of land and space encompassed by the elevator's Aura.

Skyler Luiken is one of those fortunate immunes, and since he can travel outside the Aura without a sealed suit, he makes his living as a scavenger of earth's former civilizations, recovering items requested by those restricted to Darwin. His small team runs into trouble when the elevator loses power at the same time that Skyler's ship crosses the Aura on their return from a routine mission. His ship is subjected to a search and his crew draws the suspicion of Russell Blackfield, prefect of Nightcliff, a fortress built to guard the base of the alien elevator.

Humans also live on a series of orbital habitats, tethered along the elevator. They grow food for all mankind, while Nightcliff fortress oversees the exchange of this food for air and water from below. One of the Orbitals, scientist Dr. Tania Sharma, has developed a theory that the alien Builders are set to return in the very near future. Together with Neil Platz, the entrepreneur who built many of the human additions along the elevator, Tania launches a secret investigation into the aliens' imminent return.

Tania's research leads her to recruit Skyler to retrieve data from abandoned astronomical facilities. In the course of his missions, Skyler draws more scrutiny upon himself and his crew from the overbearing Russell Blackfield. Tension builds as repeated malfunctions in the elevator and political wrangling both threaten the fragile economy of Darwin. At the same time, the sub-humans are becoming more aggressive and dangerous to those outside the Aura, or even on its periphery.

The world that Hough has built in this book was very easy to visualize, and the plot kept me guessing with abundant tension and action that never became exhausting. After a few unforeseen surprises in the plot, I was truly enjoying myself. The vivid characters presented a realistic mix of cultural backgrounds, with both male and female personalities shining in their roles. For me, Russell Blackfield's actions became a bit over-the-top as the novel progressed, but it did not detract from the rest of the story.

The Darwin Elevator shows marvelous skill for a new author and was one of the best books that I've read all year. It is the first volume in The Dire Earth Cycle, but fortunately you don't have to wait for the next book - the remaining two volumes have already been released. I have the second book, The Exodus Towers, in my hands already.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gravity - Doesn't fall flat

Directed by Alfonso Cuarón
Written by Alfonso Cuarón and Jonas Cuarón
Released Oct 4, 2013

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney was much better than I expected. Honestly, after seeing the preview, I expected something like Castaway with Tom Hanks. One of those soul-searching, endlessly long waiting games. The trailer doesn't leave much to go on.

Debris hits the International Space Station after the Russians decommission one of their own satellites with a missile. Two astronauts, who were EVA, Ryan and Matt, survive the accident, but with the ISS trashed, they're on their own. Mission control, due to a chain reaction from the debris hitting other satellites in the same orbit, has gone silent. Matt and Ryan, stranded in space, with no help from below, did anything but wait for rescue. The suspense in this flick was non-stop.

Though there were a lot of "no way" moments, the story was a good one and the acting drew me in and made me forget the plot holes. But I'll still list some. ;) I didn't buy Matt's rationale for letting go when he did. Maybe they only paid Clooney for x amount of scenes. Seriously. Don't want to spoil it for you, but when you get there, you'll know what I mean. In fact, if you want to talk more and don't mind the spoilers because you've already seen it, or you just don't mind spoilers, read more in my comment below.

It was also way too full of coincidences, but I'll let that go for the sake of a good yarn. The distances seemed a bit far-fetched, or rather, not far enough fetched. Also, I wanted to yell at Ryan to calm down and quit using so much oxygen. Don't they teach astronauts any meditation or other calming techniques for when they need to reserve oxygen? And then Matt should have been making sure she's conscious now and then, but not making her talk more. Yeah, maybe that was to calm her down, but she still used more oxygen doing most of the talking.

Sandra Bullock delivered a believable, touching performance of an IT specialist on her first space mission. Though she admitted to being close to losing her cookies most of the mission, when spun at high speed in free-fall, she amazingly held it together. Hmmmmm.

Clooney played the cool veteran, enjoying tootling around with his suit jets, making fun of their fellow space walker (before the accident, obviously).  Post-accident, he kept Ryan focused and remained calm, if not a bit too lackadaisical. Stereotypical hot-dogging pilot, only in space. Not sure he was the pilot, but you get the idea. Not too complex. Ryan, on the other hand, has an interesting backstory.  I won't spoil that for you.

In the final analysis, I'd say this is a worthwhile movie and definitely one to see on the big screen. Don't forget to check out my comment below if you don't mind spoilers. I'm hoping to actually get a lively discussion going on that point. Come back here after you've seen the movie and weigh in.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Channel Zilch is a wild and funny ride

Channel Zilch
Doug Sharp
Panverse Publishing 2013
Review by Ann Wilkes

I loved Doug Sharp's sense of humor in Channel Zilch. He maintains levity throughout, even through dire straits (literally), guns in faces and threatened torture. Mick Oolfson, former NASA astronaut, reduced to spreading manure from his plane, The Flying Cow, is approached by a wealthy entrepreneur with a zany plan to go to space, make money and then buy a ticket home.

The plan is to steal the Enterprise shuttle before it heads to its next display gig and get it to Kazakhstan, strap it onto the Energia and launch into space . . . to broadcast a reality show: Channel Zilch. This guy, Manuel Chin, tells him about how he's got a ticket to use the Energia rocket because the Russian guy who's in  possession is a huge 60s rock and roll fan and Chin pays with old Turtles, Herman's Hermit's and Monkees albums and the chopper Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider.

Crazy, Mick says. But the more he hears, the less crazy it sounds. And then there's the gorgeous, but totally geeky daughter who is completely screwed up emotionally that knows just how to push all of Mick's buttons.
She shoots me a narrow-eyed, nostril-flared gaze that curls my toes, with a tight little smirk like I'd asked her the color of her panties. I see her fingers twitch and the light grid on her belly comes to life--flipping between




Pop Chin emits a guffaw. "Do not let my daughter pull your chain. Heloise has an unfortunate propensity to toy with men's psyches. What do you call this charming avocation, my dear?"

Heloise looks at me mock-sweetly and bats her lashes.

And here's some of Sharp's delicious sarcasm as delivered by Mick.
Right. Mustn't let the other Maritime Byproduct Moguls steal your killer business plan to branch out into media by launching a space shuttle. I ask, "What sort of aggressive security steps are you talking about? Just because I'm an astronaut doesn't mean I'm part ninja. Nunchuks are hilarious in microgravity."
He signs on and the adventure begins. They actually steal the shuttle, right under Mick's old nemesis' nose and manage (mostly) to hide the huge bulk that is the Enterprise from satellites and Navy Seals all the way to Kazakhstan. Just when I thought it couldn't get any more interesting, Chin gets them safely away from their pursuers with the help of the Russian Mafiya. As you can imagine, getting in bed with the Mafiya leads to more unpleasantness.

Mick is yanked around on Heloise's chain, driven to distraction by the nutty star of Channel Zilch and working long hours with little sleep while always pursued and occasionally attacked by the NASA creep who got him canned. Non-stop action with non-stop sweet sarcasm.

Now you want to read it, right? Find it here.