Last Chance to See, Douglas Adams and Mark Cawradine

Stoddart, 1990, 208 pages, C$??.?? hc, ISBN 0-7737-2454-0

British writer Douglas Adams has already earned a place in SF’s hall of fame with a series of zany SF comedies beginning with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Depending heavily on a keep sense of the absurd and a deep knowledge of genre conventions, the series has known enormous success, and rumors of a cinematic adaptation have been going on for at least twenty years.

This has made Adams simultaneously rich and annoyed. Sure, now he’s worth millions due to enormous sales. On the other hand, it must be tough to deal with those hordes of fans constantly demanding a sequel to the Hitchhiker’s series. (Some conspiracy theorist insist that the fifth and so far final book of the series, 1992’s Mostly Harmless, was deliberately awful and depressing to ensure that no one will even demand another sequel.)

With Last Chance to See, Adams gets as far away from interstellar adventures as possible, yet wisely keeps all the elements that have made the success of his best-known works.

Last Chance to See is about animal species being driven to extinction. With a subject like that, you’d be forgiven to expect preachy moralism and dramatic didactism. But that isn’t Adams’ style: He makes the unusual choice to go for comedic earnestness. In short, he considers Earth as a foreign planet.

Fortunately, he’s got a lot of material to work with: As most endangered species are located in hard-to-reach places far from civilization, the travel accommodations of Adams and straight-man zoologist Mark Cawradine often make up for quasi-alien strangeness. Not everyone around the world believes in punctuality, honesty, integrity or even safety. To see our intrepid -but incurably British- travelers deal with the travel difficulties is one of the highlights of the book.

And this is a book with so many highlights, so many delights, so many laugh-aloud moments that it’s hard to isolate favorite excerpts. Adams plays a perfect buffoon, and makes of co-writer Cawradine a splendid foil. Their comedy duo adds a lot to a book that’s already quite enjoyable as it is. I defy anyone to come up with many other examples of such compulsively readable travel journalism. Not only won’t you be able to put it down, but you’ll also want to give copies to your friends.

But don’t get the impression that even though the book is a laugh riot, that it’s completely without deeper meaning. If anything else, the comedy makes the pathos even more poignant, giving to the book an air of playing a funny violin air as a library is burning. Adams’s talent at perception reversion through absurdity illustrates splendidly the oft-unbelievable ironies of the world. It’s not hard to imagine Adams as an alien journalist commenting upon the world. But they again, he’s had plenty of practice at that.

Simultaneously moving and unbelievably funny, Last Chance to See is a curiosity, a moralistic book that can be enjoyed without guilt, and a goofy style that’s nevertheless devastatingly intelligent. It’s going to hold up very well to a re-reading in some time. You might have a hard time finding a copy, but it will be worth it. It would be even better if some publisher re-edited the book with an updated epilogue.

If Douglas Adams wants to give up SF comedy for non-fiction on a regular basis, consider me subscribed.

Death du Jour, Kathy Reich

Pocket, 1999, 451 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-01137-5

It has to be difficult, being a mystery fiction author. Not only do your stories have to be sufficiently easy to read on the bus (where, I’d wager, most of America’s crime-fiction reading takes place), but it’s got to be sufficiently complex as to not disappoint die-hard fans of the genre. Add to that the usual trappings of a writer’s life (like, oh, finding inspiration, finding the time to write, finding an audience and keeping all of those) and you really feel sorry when a novel somehow doesn’t match expectations. Such is the case with Kathy Reich’s second novel, Death du Jour.

As a French-Canadian, I have a natural liking for Reich’s series of novels featuring Temperance Brennan, an American forensic anthropologist working in Quebec. Most of Brennan’s adventures take place in or around Montreal, the other characters are often francophones and the Quebec-related details are usually adequate. Brennan (and Reichs) being outsiders in “my” culture, they can bring a different perspective that’s always interesting. I can never quite escape the feeling of “animal in a zoo”, but that’s not so bad.

The first novel, Deja Dead, was decent, though it nearly approached cliché in its depiction of yet another crazed serial killer and the spunky female protagonist that tracked him. (Readers across North America yawned in unison when the two finally fought each other in the heroine’s apartment at the end of the book. Deja vu, all right! Pundits bitch about the effect of movies on people, but I bet they never mean that.)

At least Death du jour avoids dealing with yet another another crazed serial killer by focusing on… something else. Though initially about a set of corpses discovered in a burned-up house, it’s quickly obvious that Reich’s second novel will be about crazed killer sects. How quickly obvious will depend on your knowledge of Quebec criminal history and general crime-fiction. On that, in turn, will hinge your appreciation of the novel.

Allow me to explain: Quebec is such a small province (7 million people, roughly half that around Montreal… that’s even less that only the city of New York!) that major criminal matters tends to be infrequent, and well-publicized when they do happen. Hence the publicity made around “L’ordre du Temple Solaire”, a cult that ultimately self-destructed by mass suicide, in Quebec and in Switzerland. The fallout of this affair, a mysterious fire that took a few more victims, made news for a week or so.

Guess what happens in Death du Jour? Granted, not everyone will make the links, but those who do will have to tolerate another hundred pages as the cult angle becomes clear.

Worse is Reichs’ frequent use of interconnections between the novel’s characters. A randomly-chosen university professor is tied with a cult leader and with a student whose friends are coincidentally discovered murdered and so on and so forth. Those who hate coincidences in novels should stay clear of this one, where it smacks of bad plotting.

The complete cluelessness of the characters is another sore point, as they fail to links event that are nevertheless obvious to the reader. It doesn’t help that Reich’s is downright lazy in her plotting: When Brennan’s sister attends “a lifestyle seminar” in the middle of a cult-driven novel, you don’t have to be a genius to know what’s going to happen.

Oh, and the climax takes place during The Ice Storm of 1998. Isn’t stealing from The Montreal Gazette wonderful?

Reader reactions will vary depending on their tolerances for such writing laziness. Even though I really wanted to give a chance to Death du Jour, there were simply too many annoyances to give it anything better than a disappointing grade.

Cave of Stars, George Zebrowski

Harper Prism, 1999, 276 pages, C$35.00 hc, ISBN 0-06-105299-X

It often happens, especially in Science-Fiction, that a book that starts off in an entertaining, dynamic, innovative fashion runs out of steam midway through, falling back on stock situations to resolve an intriguing premise. Not every writer can sustain far-out speculation and appropriate style for 300+ plus pages. Then there’s the Hailey syndrome (from Arthur Hailey, the author of contemporary docu-fiction such as Airport, Hotel and The Moneychangers) in which the author spends almost half the book exploring a neat setting, even or concept, only to wrap a quick, trivial and unsatisfying story at the end to justify the “fiction” label.

It’s far less common, however, to encounter a novel that starts out in a dull and tepid fashion, only to become steadily more interesting as it goes along. Given that the first few pages of a novel are supposed to hook the reader and give his the impetus to read the whole book, authors often consciously take care to punch up the introduction.

Not with George Zebrowski. Cave of Stars begins as so many bad SF novel begin: A few scenes on a distant human colony, sketching a rigidly conservative society whose power is wielded by priests all the way up to the emperor/pope. Stock characters are also introduced; the star-crossed couple from different social levels, the assistant to the emperor, etc… Not a very good start, because we’ve seen all of this before, and usually handled in a more entertaining fashion. It’s dull, it’s boring, it doesn’t show any sign of improving over the first thirty pages. If anyone quits reading at this point, it’s perfectly understandable.

But stick around; in a short while, a massive space colony (a macrolife habitat from Zebrowski’s previous novel Macrolife) arrives in the vicinity of the colony and makes contact. They bring new technology that worry the religious elite. Among them; a cure for mortality, which immediately interests the pope who seeks it for himself. His petition is refused, which provokes an answer so terrible that it alters the whole course of the novel to something you really haven’t seen before.

It takes time, but Cave of Stars really cooks past the novel’s halfway point. As if the weak planetary romance of the first few pages was only a setup for one of Zebrowski’s big “What if?” concept. The writing becomes clearer, the goals more sharply defined and the narrative tension definitely heightened.

By the end, Cave of Stars doesn’t somehow become so good that it overwrites the bad impression left by its weak beginning, but it becomes a decently entertaining novel. (It’s not as if the latter part is so good; some choices are definitely bizarre, and the ending is a half-downer. It’s obvious that this is an author-driven novel as compared to a character-driven novel, and the result is a bit too forced to feel entirely natural).

As a side-show to Macrolife it’s actually better than the middle portion of Zebrowski’s 1979 novel. (Which was, as stated in my previous review, so idea-packed that the rotten fictive aspect of the novel didn’t really matter.) As a stand-alone SF novel, it comes out as being average, dogged by its beginning and ill-defined characters but partially redeemed by a steadily interesting plot. Goes straight in the “if there’s nothing else to read” pile.

Blood Moon, Sharman DiVono

DAW, 1999, 441 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-88677-853-0

In 1997, the movie EVENT HORIZON arrived in theaters… only to disappear almost immediately, unseen by most moviegoers and destroyed by critics, who saw in it yet another slasher film crossed with yet another ALIEN clone. Not a bad description, really; In the film, a rescue crew sent to investigate the mysterious appearance of an experimental ship discovers evidence of supernatural influence in the original crew’s demise.

I was one of the lucky few who saw EVENT HORIZON in theaters, and somehow loved the film unconditionally. For some reason, it worked very well on me and even today, you can get me going on a ten-minute monologue on the rationality-versus-superstition motif in EVENT HORIZON and how, with a few tweaks, EVENT HORIZON could have been a modern SF/horror classic. It remains one of the few horror films which made me lose some sleep, though I was kept awake more by the potential of the film than its execution. And the same elements that attracted me to EVENT HORIZON are probably those which compelled me to read Blood Moon.

The novel wastes no time in starting in full-blown hard-SF mode. As a rescue team lands on the moon, the reader is subjected to a barrage of acronyms, technical details, techno-speak and steel-gray descriptions. In this context, the initial horrors contained in Moonbase (where, is it useful to add, a previous astronaut team has abruptly ceased all communications with the home planet) seems all the more shocking. Graffitis everywhere in dried blood (“Food for the Moon” plus a few extra occult signs and obscenities), trashed equipment and no sign of anyone are the initial jolts. Worse is the presence of swarms of flies, not only because of their unpleasant associations with devil imagery (Beelzebub by any other name) but mostly because of their invasion of a traditionally antiseptic environment.

Things go from bad to worse, as a survivor dies of fright upon seeing the rescue team, and the only last live member of the previous team is stark raving mad. The novel then shifts in procedural mode, as everyone, on the Moon or on Earth, tries to figure out what’s happening.

Things get weirder after that, as we’re constantly see-sawing between rationality and pure horror in trying to reconstruct the last moments of the previous expedition. DiVono drags things out for too long, unfortunately, and the novel could have used tighter editing. No less than two romantic subplots seem tacked-on for no useful reason, and the continuing lack of commitment to either hard-SF procedure or occult manifestations eventually grates when carried on for this long. Most characters are indistinct and there aren’t as many “cool scenes” as you would expect from the above premise. Fortunately, the conclusion is rather good (not to mention fascinating in its cosmological implications), which goes a long to redeem the novel.

(Alas, there are also a few errors. From a cursory reading, at least three minor mistakes really stand out: The moon isn’t a planet, mass is not equivalent to weight (which is why a hammer does not have to be heavier on the moon) and it is the Apollo 1 astronauts which died in their capsule, not Apollo 7, though you can probably chalk the last one to the copy editor. None of these mistakes really affect the plot, but -hey-, if you’re going to play the hard-SF game, you might as well play it right!)

But ultimately, none of these problems detract from the sheer curiosity of a book willing to try to merge hard-SF and horror. Good or bad, it doesn’t really matter when it’s so interesting. In a time where publishing genres are merging, fusing and borrowing from each other, Blood Moon stands as a particularly absorbing and unusual offering. Base readers will love the entertainment and serious SF scholars will delight in its meta-fictional significance, but Blood Moon is worth a read one way or the other.

Too bad it’s not all that scary. But then again you can’t put a shrieking violins soundtrack in a book.

What Lies Beneath (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">What Lies Beneath</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, October 2000) This exasperates the seasoned moviegoer at the same time than it thrills everyone who seen only one of two films a year. The endless use of jump shots (you know the drill: everything goes quiet when suddenly -WHAM- something appears in the frame.) is not only overused (there are nearly a dozen of them in the film) but they’re so obviously predictable that they’ll cause more groans than shrieks. The plotting plods along, wasting at least forty minutes of everyone’s time (and a few million dollars) with useless subplots and red herrings while, at the same time, the poster, trailers, ad copy and video box cover all jump-start the film by basically telling everything but the last fifteen minutes (which can be easily predicted by, again, the seasoned moviegoer, who’s seen this stuff far too many times already.) The setups are all so obvious that they might as well be underlined with subtitles stating Pay Attention. This Will Come Up Later. Still, not everything is awful; the film is boring until maybe thirty minutes before the end, when we move in true thriller territory and the directing itself seems to break loose from the pedestrian form it had followed this far. (And so we find ourselves peeping through floors and tracking someone from a long shot of a bridge to inside a truck cabin.) The awfully convenient ending (crashing through all this shrub to end up at this exact spot?) is way overboard, but by this time, the audience (seasoned or plain) is just grateful that stuff’s happening and special effects are used that it doesn’t really matter any more. A shameless, big-budget, big-stars film that doesn’t have a clue, but which will most certainly fool every casual viewer that it’s somewhat good.

Tremors II: Aftershocks (1996)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Tremors II: Aftershocks</strong> (1996)

(On VHS, October 2000) I didn’t have much hopes for this straight-to-video sequel, mostly because I consider the original Tremors to be one of the best (if not the best) pure B-movies I’ve ever seen. Things aren’t off to a great start as Fred Ward is the only lead actor to return from the original film, but looking like a greasy slacker rather than the cool cowboy of the prequel. Things pick up somewhat as soon as they start blowing up the “Graboids” (there are a few nice references to the event of the first film) and even more so when the Survivalist character of the original movie returns for more mayhem. The film takes what may have been a fatal turn about midway through, as new creatures are introduced. Fortunately, the film treats their new capabilities with the same cleverness that made the success of the first film, and this decision merely proves to be half-misguided rather than catastrophic. I won’t try to kid anyone that Tremors 2 is a must see, or even a good film; but it is an acceptable sequel to the first film, and if it doesn’t even begin to match the original, it delivers enough not to disappoint too much.

Taxi 2 (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Taxi 2</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, October 2000) Straight sequel to the hugely entertaining French car-chase/shoot-em-up action/comedy that somehow still hasn’t been re-made by Hollywood. Luc Besson wrote the script, and it shows, what with the simplistic plotting, trite -even juvenile- humor, broad clichés and punchy pacing. It doesn’t matter very much, as we’re there to see car crashes and gunfights. On that level, Taxi 2 works well, and if the film isn’t as good as the first one, it’s as sympathetic and even a bit funnier. The direction is rather good, if at time needlessly hectic. Worth a double-bill with the first one, if you can find it…

(Second viewing, On DVD, February 2003) Dumber than the usual, but maybe a little bit funnier, this is a film that’s best seen right after the original for comparison purposes. (Some slight gags also make more sense.) The “impregnable car” still looks cheaper than anything that deserved to be on-screen. There isn’t much to say about this film, really; it’s slightly offensive in its casual racism and definitely a lot of fun nevertheless. The Region-1 DVD contains the film, the trailer and a too-short making-of featurette that still offers some good behind-the-scenes footage.

Jui Kuen II [Drunken Master II] [The Legend Of Drunken Master] (1994)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Jui Kuen II</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">Drunken Master II</strong>] [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Legend Of Drunken Master</strong>] (1994)

(In theaters, October 2000) Maybe not Jackie Chan’s overall best film (uneven pacing, some feeble comedy, unconvincing plotting) but that would be unjustly belittling the exceptional individual sequences that make up the rest of the film. At least four great battle scenes truly showcase Chan at his best and teach the rest of the filmmaking world about action scenes. Jaw-dropping, amazing stunts, fights and choreography should impress even those who don’t particularly care about this particular genre. Maybe not the best martial arts film ever, but definitely in the running.

(Second viewing, On DVD, September 2001) Comedy doesn’t translate language barriers very well and so a first view of Drunken Master II is understandably focused on the action rather than the comedy. A second viewing, though, might ease some flaws (such as the difference between Jackie Chan and Anita Mui’s ages versus those of their characters), make you appreciate some jokes a bit better and still knock you over with the action sequences. Mui’s comic performance is much better the second time around (“Help!”) and the various ginseng antics are, for some reason, much funnier. The Canadian DVD version of the film has a lot of trailers for other martial arts film (great), French and English dub (good), an interview with Jackie Chan (fine), not enough chapter stops (annoying, especially given that they bury the action sequences, which is why you want to have chapter stops) and no original Chinese soundtrack (Atrocious! Eek!)

Calculating God, Robert J. Sawyer

Tor, 2000, 334 pages, C$34.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-86713-1

The last few years have seen a resurgence of interest for issues related to religion and science. Mostly fuelled by the evolution versus creationism debate, these questions more or less seek to explore the relationship between faith and proof, or the place of religion in a secular western civilization obviously ruled by the objective standards of science.

Few authors have dealt with this theme as often as Canadian SF writer Robert J. Sawyer. His novels have often featured, either as vignettes, sequences or significant subplots, faith issues. (With an appropriateness that is often disputable.) With Calculating God, his twelfth book in eleven years, Sawyer finally devotes a whole book to the issue and, hopefully, gets it out of his system for some time.

It’s a measure of how theme-oriented Calculating God is that the thin plot begins like what may sound like a really bad joke: See, this alien lands at the Royal Ontario Museum and asks to see a paleontologist… Fortunately, things get more serious shortly after that, as it becomes apparent that the alien is there to investigate human studies of the archaeological record. Seems that the aliens, themselves believers, have noticed a troubling pattern in extinction events, and they want us to confirm it… which we do with our own extinction events.

Sawyer cheats and stacks the deck in his faith-vs-science debate by positing an alien Theory of Everything that denies the luxury of the anthropic principle. (ie; the “isn’t it infinitely improbable that we’re here?” creationist argument is usually answered by the “we’re here to see it, otherwise no one would care”.) What if, in other words, we had increasingly convincing proof of the existence of God?

Make no mistake; this polite, reserved, even restrained novel is supposed to make you think! It covers a vivid intellectual argument, presented rigorously and treated fairly. (How Canadian!) Don’t assume, however, that this is pro-creationist propaganda: Sawyer knows his stuff, obviously can’t justify creationists and never questions the basic foundations of evolution. His argument runs deeper than that, going beyond the simple superficial debate created by creationism.

In a speech delivered to the First Canadian Conference on Science and SF in Ottawa in October 2000, Sawyer argued that the new role of SF would be to promote rationalism, and Calculating God is a model for this type of new SF. While pro-God, Sawyer’s novel isn’t exactly pro-religion, but it is in fact pro-faith. If that’s not middle-ground enough to make you think, what is?

In strict fictional terms, there isn’t much to see in Calculating God. The plot is an excuse to bring forth a debate and assorted arguments. The protagonist the same middle-aged scientist that has starred in the majority of Sawyer’s novels. The writing is limpid but not exceptionally polished. The introduction of stock terrorist caricatures near the end detracts from the novel’s intellectual suspense. The conclusion goes nowhere, aiming at a transcendental conclusion but ending as a muddled, perfunctory end.

But literary worth is not the point. The point is the debate, the respectful exploration of the boundaries between faith and logic. As a non-believer (most of the time), I wasn’t really convinced by Calculating God, but I wasn’t insulted or disappointed. That’s an unusually meritorious achievement for Sawyer, to manage to please and respect both believers and atheist. (One could make an argument that it took a Canadian to be able to be so vigorously non-threatening, but I’ll refrain for the moment.) In any case, Calculating God is a keeper, another good example of modern SF that faithfully (ho-ho) upholds the golden intellectual standards of the genre.

The Guns Of Navarone (1961)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Guns Of Navarone</strong> (1961)

(On VHS, October 2000) Anyone who seriously maintains that older films are boring should take a good look at this one, which seems to exemplify the modern action blockbuster years before the genre was redefined by Jaws. You’ve got dangerous heroes, exotic locales, a constant peppering of action and an explosive finale. Suspense everywhere and cool scenes of treachery and trickery. Sure, the special effects are now obvious (though they hold better than other films of the time) and the pacing -good as it is- seems leisurely when compared to the latest MTV-inspired material, but it’s good enough to keep you riveted to the screen. Worth a look.

Girlfight (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Girlfight</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, October 2000) A “tale from the ‘hood” crossed with a sports drama with a dollop of romance. (Plus a coming-of-age story. In some ways, it’s kind of a Fight Club for girls.) Though the plot is conventional, it’s hard not to be impressed by newcomer Michelle Rodriguez, who shines brightly as the aggressive protagonist. (“I love you!” THWAP!) The direction is surprisingly assured, with a neat white-flash trick during the fight scenes. Maybe a bit too contrived to be entirely believable. The kind of film that cheats no one and delivers what’s promised.

Ging chaat goo si [Police Story] (1985)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Ging chaat goo si</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">Police Story</strong>] (1985)

(On VHS, October 2000) Take away the last fifteen minutes, and you’ve got an average Jackie Chan film, with the expected stunning stunts, hilarious humor and stilted eastern style of acting. But add the end mall fight sequence, and you end up with one of his best films. Unlike American action sequences, this one ends up looking both dangerous and painful, as dozen of people crash through enough glass to keep janitors busy until well past closing time. (The opening cars-smashing-through-shantitown sequence is no slouch either.) Featuring Maggie Cheung as the girlfriend character.

Get Carter (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Get Carter</strong> (2000)

(In theaters, October 2000) Acceptable “revenge” B-movie; not too ambitious, but rather entertaining. Sylvester Stallone turns in a good performance (one of his best) in a role that seems custom-tailored for him. Rachel Leigh Cook continues a string of good roles in otherwise average films. The direction is showy, at times needlessly so. (The grainy film grain is intended to bring back memories of the seventies, but it’s more annoying than anything else.) The script is by the numbers. Strong similarities with the 1999 film The Limey (as with other “revenge” films), though Get Carter is more tightly plotted once you’re unkinked The Limey‘s nonlinear narrative. Not bad, not good: to be seen on TV.

Croupier (1998)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Croupier</strong> (1998)

(In theaters, October 2000) Few people can resist films about gambling, and so Croupier has a built-in fascination enhanced by its insider’s view of casinos and the thrill of playing with high stakes. The story of a ex-gambling writer who finds himself drawn back in the world of casinos as a dealer, Croupier isn’t showy, explosive or particularly funny, but I guarantee that it’ll hold your attention, and not only because you’ll be trying to figure out the English accent. Pay attention to lead actor Clive Owen; he’ll be back. It’s a story filled with betrayals, small and big, a twist ending that doesn’t entirely make sense and characters stuck in the choices they’ve made. But it’s the little details that count, such as the casino lore and the strangely compelling half-world the characters inhabit. Not bad.

The Return, Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes

Forge, 2000, 352 pages, C$32.00 hc, ISBN 0-312-87424-3

Note from your reviewer: In these chronicles, I usually try to review every single new SF book I read. Alas, The Return is the type of satisfying thriller that doesn’t really warrant much extended critical thought. So, to get me out of my writing block loop, allow me to meta-review the five reviews currently up on Old-school moonwalker Buzz Aldrin teams up again with former Hugo and Nebula Awards nominee John Barnes (…)

Barnes hasn’t, unfortunately, fulfilled much of the promise he had shown earlier with such books as the massive Mother of Storms, the excellent A MIllion Open Doors, the juvenile Orbital Resonance or even his two first undistinguished novels that seemed to prefigure a strong socio-SF writer. His last few books have been a depressing sequel, a men’s adventure trilogy, an anthology and two unconvincing novels (Finity and Candle, both severely evaluated by critics.)

(…) the duo’s previous effort, 1996’s Encounter with Tiber (…)

To be fair, The Return is a lot more fun that Encounter with Tiber. Shorter, snappier, more interesting.

Part thriller, part infomercial for the Aldrin space manifesto,

…which only matters if you known about Aldrin’s commercial interests.

The New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas: The Return offers dovetailing accounts of a space emergency and rescue by three narrators … who sound like the same person.

Ouch! True, though.

f. from Massachusetts, USA: I enjoyed the beginning of this book. It started with a bang, and then just sort of fizzled out for me. The background, the launch and the “accident” I found interesting. It was the tedium of the aftermath that I found dull. The lawsuits, the guilt, the lawyers, that followed…yawn.

Oooohhh, there we disagree. The first chapters is nearly perfunctory; it brings the characters to the interesting situation. And this interesting situation is how, realistically, a private business would have to deal with disaster in space. That means media, lawsuits and lawyers. For all its faults, The Return has an air of realism that’s very well done.

(On the other hand, the book gets more an more far-fetched as it goes along and ventures from SF to techno-thriller.)

D.W from Rochester, New York: The first chapter of this book is AWFUL: a press conference with a smug first-person narrator just cramming back story down our throats.

Well… as I was saying…

After that, though, it really does get moving nicely, and by the end you do share Aldrin’s enthusiasm for getting us back into space.

Absolutely. There is no question that The Return is pro-space propaganda, and it does work quite well. There is a point in the novel where they essentially take away space’s practical benefit to modern society, and the desperation of everyone is real.

(…) and perhaps the most beautiful book I’ve seen in a while, with a translucent dust-jacket overtop of a glossy hard cover.

Eeek! No way! The dust jacket is translucent plastic, true, but the design is atrocious and, believe it or not, all the price, blurb, UPC information plus the author and title is only on the dust jacket. There is nothing on the glossy-bound book itself but an illustration! That, to me, is an unacceptable betrayal of the role of a dust jacket—to separate marketing from book, leaving title and author for “serious” library-builders. I can’t imagine the pain of shelving dust-jacket-free copies of this book. I really hope this doesn’t become a trend.

E.L. from West Palm Beach, FL: THE RETURN covers techno thriller territory familiar for readers of ENCOUNTER WITH TIBER.

Well, apart from the interstellar flights and the aliens…

D.S from Los Angeles California: The story tends to wander between courtroom intrigue, nostalgic family drama and techno thriller. (…) It is a fast and easy read at times exciting with the technical side explained in simple terms. A pleasant way to spend some summer reading time.

There really isn’t much more to say after that.

So what have we learned from this meta-reviewing exercise?

  1. readers know what they’re talking about. Usually.
  2. You can totally distort someone’s opinion with careful editing.
  3. Modern SF reviewers can steal stuff like never before
  4. The Return: Worth a look, but nothing overly impressive.