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THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE By John Scalzi


Isaac Asimov wrote about a collapsing interstellar empire in his Foundation trilogy. Harri Seldon figured out “pyschohistory” that could predict the Future. And Seldon’s equations predicted that the Empire would fall and Dark Ages would begin. Seldon and a band of scientists, armed with their knowledge of the Future, try to cut the Dark Ages short.

In The Collapsing Empire, John Scalzi writes about an interstellar empire that’s linked by “The Flow” which allows a short-cut between far-flung planets and human colonies. A scientist on a planet called End figures out the Flow is going away and all the human colonies will be isolated. The Empire will collapse. If you’re a fan of this kind of 1950’s story-telling, then The Collapsing Empire will entertain you. Scalzi sets up the plotting to suggest further sequels. GRADE: B

DC SUPER VILLAINS: THE JOKER [DVD]


The Joker collects seven episodes from Batman: The Animated Series. There’s 158 minutes of entertaining adventures on this DVD. TARGET has this DVD at the best price of $8.99. The episodes on this disk are: “The Joker’s Favor,” “Vendetta,” “Fear of Victory,” The Clock King,” “Appointment in Crime Alley,” Mad as a Hatter,” and “Dreams of Darkness.” If you have the box sets of Batman: The Animated Series you can skip The Joker which is just compilation. But, if you’re a fan of Batman and the Joker, this is an inexpensive way to acquire a few hours of fun viewing. Who’s your favorite comic book villain? GRADE: B+

FOREVER AND A DEATH By Donald E. Westlake


HARD CASE CRIME found the lost Donald Lam/Bertha Cool mystery (my review of The Knife Slipped is here) and published it. Now they found a missing Donald E. Westlake novel, Forever and a Death which is based on scripts Westlake wrote for a James Bond movie that was never made. Richard Curtis is a zillionaire who has a secret plan to punish the Chinese for taking over Hong Kong and ruining his business prospects. But, Curtis’s convoluted plan takes over 400 pages to accomplish. That’s one problem. The other problem with Forever and a Death is that there really isn’t a protagonist. George Manville, an engineer, starts out in that role but then disappears for large chunks of the book. Henry James called novels like this “loose, baggy monsters” and just about fits. For a more positive review, you can check out Bill Crider’s take here. What’s your favorite Donald E. Westlake novel? GRADE: B-

DOCTOR WHO: SEASON 10 PREMIERE [BBC AMERICA]


For those of you who wanted to watch DOCTOR WHO but felt that you were going to be confused by a series that’s been going for decades, here is your chance to get up to speed. Steven Moffat, the show runner, says the premiere of Doctor Who, Season 10 has been carefully designed so that newcomers to DOCTOR WHO will be oriented to the series and will feel comfortable with the characters. Peter Capaldi returns as the Doctor and he has a new companion, “Bill” Potts (played by Pearl Mackie). Some theaters are bringing this episode to the Big Screen. Check Fathom Events online for details. This looks like a very good season of DOCTOR WHO based on the trailers I’ve seen.

FORGOTTEN BOOKS #419: THE PLEASANT GROVE MURDERS By John Holbrook Vance



John Holbrook Vance is better known as Jack Vance, famous Science Fiction writer. But, back in the 1960s, Vance wrote two mysteries featuring Sheriff Joe Bain of bucolic San Rodrigo County in California. I reviewed the first Sheriff Joe Bain mystery, The Fox Valley Murders here. The Pleasant Grove Murders opens with a dead mail carrier. Sheriff Joe Bain investigates the wealthy community and finds plenty of conflicts under the surface of this pleasant neighborhood. If you’re looking for a “Small Town” mystery with a clever twist at the end, The Pleasant Grove Murders delivers. GRADE: A-

DREAMS OF DISTANT SHORES By Patricia A. McKillip


I’ve been a fan of Patricia A. McKillip’s fantasies since I read The Riddle-Master of Hed 20 years ago. In addition to writing finely crafted fantasy novels, McKillip is a gifted short story writer. Dreams of Distant Shores is a new collection recently published by Tachyon with a great Thomas Canty painting, “By the Window,” on the cover. “Weird” is a clever puzzle story. “Mer” gives us a witch turned into a sort of mermaid. “The Gorgon in the Cupboard” explores the mysteries of Love. “Which Witch” provides an insight into the Witch World. “Edith and Henry Go Motoring” takes the reader on an exotic trip. “Alien” explores what that word really means. “Something Rich and Strange” is the longest story in Dreams of Distant Shores and presents the implications of obsession. I found McKillip’s “Writing High Fantasy” full of insights into McKillip’s work. And Peter S. Beagle’s “Afterward” both praises and analyzes McKillip’s stories in this volume. Dreams of Distant Shores is one of the best fantasy short story collections of the year! GRADE: A
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Weird
Mer  (original to this collection)
The Gorgon in the Cupboard
Which Witch
Edith and Henry Go Motoring (original to this collection)
Alien (original to this collection)
Something Rich and Strange
Writing High Fantasy (original to this collection)
Dear Pat: Afterward by Peter S. Beagle

AGENTS OF DREAMLAND By Caitlin R. Kiernan


Over the years, I’ve admired Caitlin Kiernan’s work as a fantasy and horror writer. In Agents of Dreamland Kiernan embraces her inner Lovecraft and delivers a chilling tale of doom. The two major characters, the Signalman (an agent for a top secret government organization) and Immacolata Sexton (who has the power to move back and forth through Time), race to prevent a cult from triggering the invasion of Earth by Lovecraftean “Messengers.” This slim 123-page novella delivers a punch to your equilibrium as Reality spins out of control and the Future looks bleak indeed. I’m hoping Caitlin Kiernan is busy at her word processor weaving new adventures of the Signalman and Immacolata as dark forces surround them. GRADE: B+

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY [Blu-ray]


I enjoyed Rogue One when it was in the theaters. You can read my review here. Now, this Blu-ray disc is in stores and selling fast. When Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise, they developed a strategy of “one-off” movies like Rogue One and the upcoming Han Solo movie to keep fans satisfied while the main Star Wars movies are being filmed. Special features on this Blu-ray edition include: “The Princess and the Governor,” “Rogue Connections” (Easter Eggs), “A Rogue Idea,” and “Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One“. The TARGET edition of Rogue One includes exclusive content: “Inside the Creature Shop” with Neal Scanlan.” GRADE: B+

HOW THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN: THE ELECTION OF 2016 By P. J. O’Rourke


P. J. O’Rourke asks the question torturing most of us. How did things go Wrong so fast? O’Rourke traces the Presidential Campaign from New Hampshire to the Republican Convention (O’Rourke claims he slept for four days!) and the Democratic Convention to the Debates to the Election. A lot of Bad Memories for me. You’ll find the analysis of the candidates humorous. Since How the Hell Did This Happen is one of the first books on the 2016 Presidential Campaign, it lacks the insights into “Fake News,” and Russian hacking. War clouds loom over Syria and North Korea. What do you think happened in the Election of 2016? GRADE: B