Doctor Who Returns after Summer Break with ‘Let’s Kill Hitler’

"Let's Kill Hitler" aired on BBCA 08/27/2011
"Let's Kill Hitler" aired on BBCA 08/27/2011

I suffered through some disappointing summer science fiction television recently (most notably “Falling Skies” on TNT).  But all that is behind me now with the return of the Doctor and the best ‘bad girl’ in any time or space: River Song.   Amy and Rory continue their quest to reunite with their daughter, Melody Pond, also known as River Song, although her parents are still coming to grips with their daughter’s incorrigibility, knack for mad-cap adventures and an obsession with the Doctor not of her own making.

And River, as Mels, Amy’s BFF from childhood, who coins the episodes title ‘Let’s Kill Hitler‘ when she finally meets the Doctor, after Amy and Rory destroy a wheat field with a crop-circle calling card.  Holding the Doctor and the TARDIS at gunpoint, Mels corrals everyone into the TARDIS for a trip back to pre-war Berlin.  Mels manages to shoot the TARDIS and forces a crash landing in Hitler’s office, interrupting a shape-shifting humanoid robot containing miniaturised humanoids has assumed the form of a Wehrmacht officer and attacked Hitler.

And it’s at this point where Hitler becomes a minor impediment to the ongoing conflict between the newly regenerated River Song and her immediate assassination attempt on the Doctor, Amy and Rory kidnapped by the miniaturized humans, and a dying Doctor.   Hitler is locked in the cupboard by Rory.  My husband and I laughed repeatedly on that dialogue.

The tiny robot-occupying humans reveal themselves as time-traveling Justice Department personnel who mete out punishment to infamous criminals by snatching them in the last seconds of their life and torturing them for thousands of years for their crimes.   They switch gears from Hitler (they arrived too early anyway in 1938) to River Song, who has a criminal record including killing the Doctor.  So now we spend the last thirty minutes of the Doctor’s life arguing whether River can be tortured for killing the Doctor when he is in fact still alive.

Best bit of lore gleaned this episode about the Silence (spoilers follow, obviously):

Robot Amy: Records Available

Doctor: Question.  I’m dying.  Who wants me dead?

Robot Amy: The Silence.

Doctor: What is the Silence? Why is it called that? What does it mean?

Robot Amy: The Silence is not a species.  It is a religious order or movement.  Their core belief is that Silence will fall when the question is asked.

Doctor: What question?

Robot Amy: The first question, the oldest question in the universe, hidden in plain sight.

Doctor: Yes, but what is the question?

Robot Amy: Unknown.

This episode did not have the impact of ‘A Good Man Goes to War‘ (but how could it with the big reveal of who River’s parents actually were).  However, I loved it (as I do most Doctor Who episodes) for the great writing, story-telling and acting.   I know where I’ll be every Saturday evening … wherever the TARDIS re-appears.

Book Review: Divergent by Roth (4 Stars)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to Post-Apocalyptic Chicago, where the trains never stop (even to take on or drop off passengers) , the streetlights go dark by midnight and Lake Michigan is now the Marsh. The surviving remnants of humanity think they’ve found the cure for war in the five factions: Amity (the peacemakers), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the scientific), Dauntless (the brave) and Abnegation (the self-less). Choose your path (for life) when you turn sixteen or live destitute among the faction-less, a fate worse than death for anyone raised in a faction.

We meet Beatrice as she approaches her sixteenth birthday, the day of her aptitude test, designed to help her decide what faction she will join. Raised in a prominent Abnegation family, she feels like a constant failure because she isn’t self-less enough. Beatrice struggles to be the first to serve others or lending a helping hand, not always thinking of others first as she’s been taught. Her aptitude test confirms her confusion, when the results are inconclusive and she’s labeled secretly by her helpful Dauntless tester as Divergent and advised never to tell anyone that she is.

At the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice watches her brother, whom she considers a perfect living example of Abnegation, choose Erudite. Through this shock, she strives to select between Abnegation (and her family) or Dauntless (and never seeing her family again). She chooses Dauntless and soon Tris flies free, proving to herself and all her doubters that she believes in ‘ordinary acts of bravery, and in the courage that drives one person to stand up for another.’

The Dauntless initiation process taught Tris fighting skills, forging friends and enemies, and facing her fears. But her Divergence, her uniqueness, gave her the tools to fight for the helpless. For all her inner struggles with her perceived selfishness, Tris excels at self-sacrifice.

Many reviewers compared Divergent to The Hunger Games and I will grant some small similarity. But I liked Divergent much more for its intelligent plot, nice character development, affirmation of core values, re-iteration of corrupting influence of power (or the pursuit of controlling power) and I even enjoyed the innocent romance.

A very quick read (and hard to put down once you start) which I highly recommend Divergent to teens (and adults).

Book Review: Day of War by Graham

Day of WarDay of War by Cliff Graham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I snagged this novel from one of the Barnes & Nobel free Friday offerings for Nook owners. A Christian fiction, with heavy emphasis on Bronze Age/Early Iron age military tactics, retelling or ‘filling in the blanks’ of David and his warriors (and Jonathan and his army).

In his Note to the Reader, Cliff Graham references 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11 as inspiration for his retelling of David and his ‘Dirty Dozen.’ He warns the reader about the battle violence and after-battle pillaging and plundering, although compared to some of the dark fantasy I’ve read, Graham did an admirable job restraining himself from too much gratuitous violence or sex.

He modernized the language (both internal and external) to such a degree that I found it distracting. And he repeatedly lapsed back into passive voice, despite his riveting active voice fight scenes. A compelling read, but I’m not the intended audience (which probably requires a lot more testosterone than I have flowing through my estrogenized veins).

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Book Review: Leviathan by Westerfeld

Leviathan (Leviathan, #1)Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this in mid June 2011 as a member of the Fantasy Book Club group read. A quick, easy read, as I expected from a young adult novel, and one of my first (if not the first) steampunk stories. I learned quite a bit about pre-World War I Europe through my tangential research to better understand the alternate view of those events presented by the author. I definitely related to the Clankers, one of the political powers of this world represented by the familiar Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The Darwinists, on the other hand, fascinated but left me queasy (similar to how I feel now about genetically modified flora and fauna). The inevitable intertwining of the two worlds from our two protagonists provided good action and drama, and some character development, but the ending just frustrated me. If you don’t like very abrupt cliffhangers, you might want to have the sequels, Behemoth and Goliath, on hand when you finish Leviathan.

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Watching the Hugos … Live and in Color … on My Nook

I have been so busy with home remodeling projects I completely forgot about the Hugo Awards ceremony Saturday night.  Not that I could have attended in person, since I was safely in Kansas and not attending WorldCon in Reno, Nevada.  After a long day of window and swatch shopping and incremental steps forward on a couple of renovation projects, I stumbled into bed.  Before nodding off, my nightly routine includes a quick check of four mobile sites via my Nook Color – my e-mail, RSS news feed reader, Facebook and finally Twitter (and sometimes the weather if it’s thunderstorm season).   Several people I follow (authors mostly) were simultaneously posting about the Hugo Award ceremony, occurring at that exact moment and some of my bookworm Twitter friends posted they were watching the ceremony live via the WorldCom Ustream video feed.  I clicked on the link in one of the Tweets and connected to the live video stream.

And for the next ninety minutes (and into Sunday morning), I watched somewhat choppy video (probably my fault since my master bedroom is as far away as I can get from my wireless access point without leaving the house) and listened to the presenters (Robert Silverberg was hilarious!) and acceptance speeches (some of these folks need professional help or less partying and more sleep) from my Nook Color.  If you’d asked me twenty years ago when I embarked on a career in Information Technology if I’d be watching something like the Hugos (or any live event) on a small color touchscreen tablet, I would have probably snorted in disbelief.  Such technological wonders came from the minds of Star Trek writers.  Oh me of little faith.

Below are the results from my four favorite categories:

Best Novel (Presented by TimPowers)

I read 3/5 of the Best Novel nominees (click on the title links to peruse my reviews).  I’m glad Connie won (again … this is her eleventh Hugo) for her massive and excellent novel.

Winner: Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis (Ballantine Spectra)
Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)
Feed by Mira Grant (Orbit)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Best Short Story (Presented by David D. Levine)

Each of the title links below take you to a discussion thread at the Beyond Reality GoodReads group that also includes a link to the story.

Winner: “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal (Asimov’s, September 2010)
Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn (Lightspeed, June 2010)
Ponies” by Kij Johnson (, November 17, 2010)
The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form (Presented by Bill Willingham)

The only film I did not watch this past year was “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” which I’d never heard of until I saw the trailer via the awards ceremony stream.  I’m satisfied with the winner, as Inception definitely made me think and wonder for days after watching it.

Winner: Inception, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Warner)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, screenplay by Steve Kloves; directed by David Yates (Warner)
How to Train Your Dragon, screenplay by William Davies, Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders; directed by Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders (DreamWorks)
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, screenplay by Michael Bacall & Edgar Wright; directed by Edgar Wright (Universal)
Toy Story 3, screenplay by Michael Arndt; story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton & Lee Unkrich; directed by Lee Unkrich (Pixar/Disney)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form (Presented by George R. R. Martin)

I watched all the Doctor Who episodes listed, and would have had a devilsh time deciding which was the best.  I’m partial to the ‘A Christmas Carol’ episode from last December,  but the other two were equally well done.  I apologize for the crude language below, it’s the actual title of the work.

Winner: Doctor Who: “The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang,” written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: “A Christmas Carol,” written by Steven Moffat; directed by Toby Haynes (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: “Vincent and the Doctor,” written by Richard Curtis; directed by Jonny Campbell (BBC Wales)
Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury, written by Rachel Bloom; directed by Paul Briganti
The Lost Thing, written by Shaun Tan; directed by Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan (Passion Pictures)


And for the true math geeks (myself include) who want the nitty-gritty number-crunchiness stats, here’s a link to the Hugo voting overview.

Dog Day Doldrums

Mid-August usually simmers, steeping the Midwest in heat and humidity; yet we’ve been graced with temperatures in the 80s and relatively low humidity.   Daily (or nightly) thunderstorms greened up the lawn, found a leak in my new roof (or old chimney) and delayed the second major home improvement project to replace our disintegrating driveway.

My daughter and her boyfriend fled the persistent Texas drought and constant triple-digit temperatures to bask on the beaches of the Bahamas this week.  They returned to the Heartland yesterday, making a brief layover at KCI in the early evening.  She called us as we were driving to a friend’s 50th birthday party.  No word yet if they made it back to Texas (but I’m assuming they did and were just too tired to call).

Roxy between Royna and Derek
Roxy between Royna and Derek

Roxy, one of our Rottweilers, made a trip to the vet this week, ostensibly to have a stubborn tick removed from her inner left thigh (and also for some advice for her mobility as she ages … she’s over seven or eight years old now).  Terry and I found the ‘tick’ Sunday evening.  We tried several times to remove it, but could not find the head or legs (only the ‘body’).  The vet got a chuckle when he explained that what we thought was a tick was actually a skin tab … it just looked a lot like a tick.  I really should have put my reading glasses on Sunday evening and saved poor Roxy the abuse.

Looking east/northeast from Parallel and 110th near the Legends.
Looking east/northeast from Parallel and 110th near the Legends.

I only got to ride in the van one day this week.  I took Monday off, rode Tuesday and then drove the van the rest of the week.  I saw some fantastic sunrises and tried to snap a few photos with my cell phone (while driving).  As we near the autumnal equinox, the sunrise coincides (inconveniently for eastbound drivers) with our commute from Leavenworth to Kansas City.  By the time we reach Parallel or State Avenue, the sun sits just above the horizon, so a bit of cloud camouflage eases the eye strain and makes driving safer.  Finally, after nearly ten days of driving a loaner van, the vanpool returned our van to us from the repair shop.  I opted to swap the vans Friday morning after dropping off the other two riders at Hallmark.  I got almost all the way to the Plaza before I realized I’d left my cell phone in the loaner van.  The guard at the KCATA garage probably thinks I’m blonde or something.

Jupiter, to the left of the Waning Moon
Jupiter, to the left of the Waning Moon

I missed the Perseid meteor shower, like most of the rest of the United Stats, thanks to a full moon (and hazy clouds or even thunderstorms).  My husband sat outside one night this week, but he reported the moon lit up the atmosphere so much, he could hardly see the brightest stars.  In fact, he had trouble finding the constellation Cassiopeia, normally very easy to spot as it looks like a W or an M (depending on it’s current rotational position around Polaris).  I did spy the waning moon one morning approaching Jupiter and snapped a photo with my cell phone since I was headed to the van and running late (so couldn’t setup the good camera on a tripod for a more professional-looking amateur photo).   Saturday morning (early early early), if the clouds had been absent, would have shown Jupiter within five degrees of an even thinner moon.

Sunset Thur 18 Aug 2011
Sunset Thur 18 Aug 2011

Wednesday night, WolfGuard auditioned a drummer to replace the drummer/lead singer who recently moved to New Mexico to pursue better employment opportunities.  Thursday night, Terry and I ventured into North Kansas city to the other Sears store (as opposed to the one down south on Metcalf).  Sears seems to be the sole remaining tenant of the dying Antioch Center shopping mall.   We’re still wrangling with Sears over a refrigerator we purchased in May, so we went looking at different, hopefully better models.  We also stopped at two office supply shops to look at shredders, during which a beautiful sunset occurred and once again I only had my cell phone camera with me (sigh).

We wrapped up the week spending some time celebrating the life of a good friend at his 50th birthday party.  We had a great time visiting with old friends and heckling the over-the-hill dude.  I’ve still got a couple of years to catch up with him.

Book Review: Consider Phlebas by Banks

Consider PhlebasConsider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars

My first attempt to read Consider Phlebas began a couple of years ago. I made it to the fifth chapter and abandoned the book. This past June, the SciFi and Fantasy Book Club selected Consider Phlebas as the science fiction group read. The discussion leader provided two avenues for discourse: by topic or by chapter. I opted for the chapter course, hoping that by only absorbing one chapter per day I might actually finish the novel. Some chapters made better lunch reading than others (for example, if you’re squeamish, you might avoid the sixth chapter, or at least avoid masticating and digesting dinner while reading it).

With my support and therapy groups ready and willing to urge me on, I reluctantly consumed a chapter a day and finished my first (and perhaps last) Culture novel. Many of my thoughts and comments can be found in the discussion threads here.

Banks’ writing style lent itself to rich cinematic visualizations, especially of some of the action sequences (escaping from space ships, orbital rings, runaway trains). Those images, created by Banks’ prose and my own imagination, are forever seared into my memories, some of them as vivid and visceral as a strobe light flash in a Halloween haunted horror house.

My most intriguing find resulted from the epigraph which quoted two lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and directly relate to the title and the tone of the novel. My research lead me to further contextual reading in The Waste Land to include the entire section surrounding the epigraph quote:


Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

I found few likable or relateable characters, with the exception of the robots and Minds (Banks’ AI permutation). Knowing nothing of the Culture prior to reading Consider Phlebas, and in light of the quote above, I can understand and appreciate the author’s endeavor. Just not my cup of tea.

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Space Opera Showdown without the Corral

September is Space Opera month at the five thousand strong (and growing) SciFi and Fantasy Book Club on GoodReadsWikipedia offers this definition of Space Opera:

Space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in outer space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing advanced technologies and abilities. The term has no relation to music and it is analogous to “soap opera” (see below). Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale.

Sometimes the term space opera is used pejoratively to denote bad quality science fiction, but its meaning can differ, often describing a particular science fiction genre without any value judgement.

So help us choose from among these excellent contenders and make our September space opera adventure glorious!

Pandora's Star by Hamilton
Pandora's Star by Hamilton
The Tar-Aiym Krang by Foster
The Tar-Aiym Krang by Foster
Heir of Empire by Zahn
Heir of Empire by Zahn

A Deepness in the Sky by Vinge
A Deepness in the Sky by Vinge
Downbelow Station by Cherryh
Downbelow Station by Cherryh
Leviathan Wakes by Corey
Leviathan Wakes by Corey

NPR’s Fun Summer Popularity Contest for Science Fiction/Fantasy Fans

NPR Books: Top 100 Science Fiction, Fantasy Books
NPR Books: Top 100 Science Fiction, Fantasy Books

Sixty thousand of us (and by us I mean fans of science fiction and fantasy novels) helped NPR in a completely unscientific endeavor this summer.  We nominated our favorite science fiction and fantasy novels, then we voted, and now the results are in.

Follow this link for a printable version of NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction, Fantasy Books and this link for the less printable, but more eye friendly list, including book covers.

I also enjoyed reading an article at NPR written by Glen Weldon about parsing the results.  The most gratifying tidbit reinforced my belief in all things Tolkien.

Who among us can read a list like this one and not, on some level, chafe against it? But that’s okay. Lists like this one are not meant to be definitive, but to spark discussion and debate.

— Glen Weldon

As if I needed an excuse to add more books to my already toppling to-read pile!  Still, I encourage everyone to review this list and read one, some or all of them.

Ad astra per aspera!

Falling Skies Finale Fizzle

Falling Skies, the TNT summer science-fiction (vaguely and loosely associated with that genre) summer series concluded it’s first ‘season’ last night and delivered hype, hype and more hype, together with more questions than answers.  I restrained myself from reviewing any of the individual episodes in the series for the last few weeks, mostly in an effort to avoid spoilers, but also because I hoped for some movement in the plot and some growth from the main characters.  I would say all of the characters grew, changed and learned from their experiences, but at a more gradual rate than I had hoped.

If humanity is on the brink of extinction, would we truly throw away the few lives left on a futile attack on supremely superior alien invaders who had already effortlessly wiped out billions of us?  I guess if you’re a military gung-ho sort of guy, the obvious answer is “Yes!” or more likely “Sir! Yes, Sir!”  At least the science bits, where the surviving civilians learn how the ‘skitters’ communicate, how to interfere in that communication, and begin to ascertain the origins of skitters, provided the most satisfactory story elements.

The boundaries of my belief stretched to near breaking when confronted with the sub-par special effects and off-screen encounters between our surviving military and the alien invaders.  While that helps the ‘bottom-line’ and saves money in production, as a viewer I feel cheated.  Case in point: the attack on the school (where the 2nd Mass volunteers, those not involved in throwing away their lives by attacking the local alien entrenched HQ, and civilians) by seven (yes, only seven) mechs underwhelmed. Nor was I convinced of the human victory (insert overly melodramatic human ingenuity here) that drove the mechs to retreat.

And to leave me, after ten hours (well, more like 420 minutes) of stringing me along, without answers, for at least another ten months, frustrates and angers me.   I don’t expect happy endings, especially in the dystopian SF subgenre, but I do expect some respect for my intelligence.

I can’t wait for Doctor Who to commence again.